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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Margaret Spellings
White House Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
March 5, 2004

Margaret Spellings
Hi, it is good to be here again to take your questions. I'm was so thrilled that there was so much interest in No Child Left Behind, that we are doing a second one. I love talking about education. Let's start.

Meron, from Stuttgart, Germany writes:
Dear Margaret Spellings, Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. How is it that in spite of being far better off than most Western European countries and indeed enjoying more growth and prosperity than during most of U.S history, many people still don't seem to acknowledge these facts. How are you going to help get the message across to average Americans? Also, could you imagine President Bush would offer Rudy Giuliani a job in his cabinet before the elections? Sincerely yours, Meron Lipinski

Margaret Spellings
Hello Meron

How's everything in Germany? Good point. While much of our public education system is good and even great, unfortunately it is not good enough for our changing world. In other words, we are pleased but not satisfied.

80 percent of new jobs will require post secondary training. Currently, 67 percent of American students graduate from high school so while our focus on education in America must continue the bar is being raised for us to do better still.

Elizabeth, from Wise,Va. writes:
I have a child with learning disabilites. In addition to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, what other plans does the Adminstration have to ensure an equal educational opportunity for my child and ones like him? And is fair to expect children with learning disablities to perform as well as normal children on Nationally mandated tests, when they are already at a disadvantage? And finally, do you think it is fair to incorporate their low scores on these tests into the final average of their school, which could potential lower the schools overall score to a non-passing grade?

Margaret Spellings
No Child Left Behind really means no child left behind including special ed students. Of course, it is not fair to expect children with learning disabilities to perform as well as students in regular education programs. However, it is appropriate to make sure they are making progress on measures designed especially for them. Schools must pay attention to the performance of this group of kids so long as the measurement system is fair and appropriate.

Absent this, too many special-needs children, like poor children and others, are not attended to and end up left behind.

While I'm on the subject, the President has proposed major increases in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) with his '05 budget request funding for IDEA will have increased 75 percent.

One final point, assessments given to special needs children are designed by states and should be appropriate for the skill levels of those tested. They are not as you suggest in your question "nationally mandated."

Jessie, from New York writes:
How is it possible to make tests reveal the true progress and status of a child's education? If this system were in place when I was in school, I never would have made it to college. Fortunately for me, I had enough money to pay for SAT and AP tutors. I also went to a more progressive high school that allowed for expression of knowledge beyond multiple choice. I ended up graduating cum laude from NYU without ever being a quality test taker. How can we even pretend that there can be "standards" in this country which has the good fortune of being so diverse?

Margaret Spellings
Testing is and has always been an important part of the education process. Your question acknowledges the importance of measurement by understanding that SAT and AP were important indicators for you. Without measurement and assessment -- which we tried for a long time -- too many children had problems that went undiagnosed and uncorrected and were as the President likes to say "shuffled through the system."

The main educational reason for assessment is to find out the progress students are making, to correct deficiencies and to reward and praise progress.

Your ability to access tutors or additional help to meet required standards are important opportunities that should be available to all. Eliminating evaluation systems -- the ostrich approach -- is not the answer.

jill, from esquite, tx writes:
Who is running for Pesident in the next election?

Margaret Spellings
President George W. Bush is the only one I'm aware of. : )

Camilo, from Miami, FL writes:
Dear Ms Spellings, A couple of day ago I was listening to Glenn Beck on the radio and he was giving some statistics about the high school drop outs in NY city and in some other cities. He said that in NY city hispanics and blacks have a 70 drop out rate, if this is true I do not understand how Democrats complain about companies exporting jobs to other countries and only blame the schools and that there is not enough money for education when private schools spend about half than what public schools spend per student and make a profit. I believe the problem begins when we let this kids drop out of high school at age 16 to go to the streets and make a living stealing and joining gangs, why don't we force this kids that do not like school, to go into tech schools until they turn 18? I am pretty sure that some of them will love to learn how to fix cars and airplane engines, some will be very interested in learning how to create computer games, others will love to learn about space and space craft, and list goes on. Lets not leave this decision to them and to some irresponsible parents who don't care about their kids future.

Thanks for your time and your service to this country.


Margaret Spellings

You are so right. Let me give you a few statistics.

Today, 67 percent of American students graduate from high school. 38 percent enter college. 26 percent are still enrolled at their sophomore year.

As I mentioned earlier, 80 percent of the jobs now require post-secondary training. We must do a better job in ensuring better high school graduation rates as well as making sure that those graduates take a rigorous course of study that prepares them either for college or the workforce.

Two chronic impediments are a lack of reading skills and a lack of basic math skills. That is why the President spoke in the State of the Union about the need to invest resources in both of these areas.

Wendy, from San Diego writes:
Who on the TV show "West Wing" plays you? Do you find the show accurate? What has been the most memorable experience for you working for President Bush?

Margaret Spellings
Hello Wendy

Do I take it that since you are from California, you may have some 'ins' in Hollywood? At present no one on the West Wing plays me. Though I am hoping for a cameo. I watch the show too and find that some of it can be pretty true to life. Some of the policy issues discussed are real things we work on.

One of the most memorable experiences I had earlier in the administration was watching the movie "13 Days," which is about the Cuban Missile Crisis and takes place largely in the Oval Office, with the President and Senator Kennedy in the White House theatre, which is not far from the real Oval Office.

I thought "what the heck am I doing here?"

Raul, from El Paso writes:
Margaret, Do you believe that No Child Left Behind unintentionally rewards states and districts with low standards and penalizes those with high standards?

Thank you

Margaret Spellings
Hey Raul

Sure do miss Texas. Wish I were there to visit. No Child Left Behind is based on curriculum standard assessment systems. It is not a federal one-size-fits-all approach. Accordingly, state systems will vary from fairly rigorous to less so.

However, No Child Left Behind also calls on all states to participate in the nation's education report card called, "The National Assessment for Educational Progress."

That way we know how state accountability systems stack up compared to one another. For example, if a state says that all their students are proficient in reading but they show up dead last in the national assessment state policy makers and others can reconcile those differences.

Ruben, from Phoenix writes:
A lot of criticism out there about No Child Left Behind, I know. But I don't understand why there are people upset about accountability.

Test scores are important. Some believe we should also judge schools on: graduation rates, teacher attendance, parental satisfaction, and student attendance.

What do you think?


Margaret Spellings
You know Ruben, like you, I don't understand why anyone is upset over accountability. I think it is because people are unaware of the serious achievement gap we have in our country and how critical that is to the future of our country.

As I've said, testing is important but like you, we believe that states and schools should look at other indicators like graduation rates, parent satisfaction, attendance and the like. Do you want a job?

Brandon, from Tupper Lake writes:
Do you get your own special MandM's. I have a box of air force 1 MandM's from Clinton and wanted to know if you had some to.

Margaret Spellings
Hello to the Adirondack's Ten Rivers Region,

Yes, we have special M&M's too, not to be outdone by previous administrations. In fact, our M&M's are even red, white and blue. If you will send me your address, I'll see that you get a box.

Email me quickly before the form disappears.

Perry, from Badin School, NC writes:
Not really a question but an opinion from a crusty 29 year veteran of teaching. Scrap "No Child Left Behind"- Only 2 things affect positive learning- 1. Socio-economic status 2. Smaller number of teacher-student ratio. 1-15 was the latest findings. However, one man had a pretty good idea of the perfect number 2000 years ago- 1-12. We test kids to death and they know how to take a test. NC attests to that.(good pun, huh?)

Teachers don't want the extra money-we want more influence on our students' lives. This comes with more control in the classroom. Therefore, the smaller numbers.

National Teachers' Boards, our own End-of-grade tests, these have divided staffs and put undue pressure on teachers, students, and parents.

I think it was Ben Franklin who said, "All education needs is a good book and a good teacher." That is still the case. Thanks for your time and the opportunity.

Margaret Spellings
First, let me thank you for your years of service to schoolchildren. We must not let socio-economic status become an excuse for not educating all children. Unfortunately, that is a reality that schools and society must overcome. The good news is, particularly in reading, we have science that shows us how to teach nearly all children to read on grade level.

As the President said in the State of the Union it is not asking too much for 3rd graders to read at a third grade level. In fact, if they don't they are destined for a life of many challenges. We owe it to them to make sure they have reading and math skills to break the cycle of poverty.

The President likes to say that the best welfare reform or criminal justice reform is a sound education system.

As for class size ratios, this is a state issue and some states have taken strides to reduce class sizes. In fact, in Texas we have had a 22 to 1 class size ratio since the mid 80s (k-4).

The appropriate federal role is not to dictate things such as class size or other inputs, but to keep our eye on the results.

Margaret Spellings
Thanks again. Enjoyed getting your questions. I'll be back next week to talk about my recent trip to Afghanistan as part of the Afghan Women's Council. See you then.

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