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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.

Rod Paige
Education Secretary

August 24, 2004

Rod Paige

Good afternoon. It is exciting to see so many questions submitted over such an important issue to our nation - the education of our children. In the past few years the federal role in education has changed. The No Child Left Behind Act is a complex undertaking, so this exercise is extremely important. Let's get started.

Foden, from Australia writes:
How will your policies benefit children throughout the rest of the world?

Rod Paige
Thank you, Foden, for that excellent question. Peace and freedom are advanced through education. Quality education also will help young people meet the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. Perhaps not surprisingly, representatives from many countries have met with us to learn how our landmark education reform, the No Child Left Behind law, might benefit them.

We are fortunate to have President Bush’s strong commitment to education and Mrs. Bush’s active involvement in promoting reading. A former teacher and librarian, Mrs. Bush is the honorary ambassador for UNESCO’s Decade of Literacy. I am confident that one way our policies will help the rest of the world is working with the other 189 nations at UNESCO, which we rejoined in 2003.

We also have an active role in sharing information and education strategies with the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, including Australia, and other regional organizations. And we work with several countries on a bilateral basis. Last November, for example, we signed an agreement with Ireland to cooperate on special education, particularly related to autism.

Scott, from Mesa, Arizona writes:
Should an entire school be labelled underperformingfailing based on the absence of four students, and the performance, in one subject area, of thirty special education students? No politically-correct answers, please. It is a simple "yes," or "no," question.

Rod Paige
First of all, no school or district is labeled as "failing", neither in the law nor in the regulations. The term is "in need of improvement," and it was intentionally selected. Too often we mask the challenges of our education system in the aggregate of our success, thus excusing away how well "those children" are doing (special education, African American, poor students, etc.) because overall, the majority of children are achieving. NCLB insures that regardless of how well a student body is achieving as a whole, we can identify and address those groups of students that may not be achieving. Put another way, even schools that are high achieving -- schools no one would identify as "failing" -- have room for improvement. And, often those areas for improvement involve some of our most challenged -- and deserving -- students.

Second, there are numerous safeguards built into the law to insure that any identification that is made is a correct identification. The Department has worked with education officials in every state to develop a way of identifying schools that works best in that particular state. States have used such methods as averaging scores over many years, allowing accommodations for special education or other students, and/or allowing schools to challenge/appeal decisions they believe are inaccurate all to insure that any identifications are correct. This way the law makes sure that the resources are directed exactly where it should be.

So the bottom line is, yes, these are critical identifications to make. Only by making such identifications can we direct our attentions and our resources to those children most in need. And the evidence is beginning to show that NCLB is having this exact impact. All across the country we are seeing test scores go up in schools that have been identified, and that children, who use to be lost in the system, are now getting the extra attention they deserve.

Sandy, from Alabama writes:
Under the no child left behind program, some of the schools are intergrating the special education students into regular classrooms. Is this a good idea? Will they be expected to learn at the same rate as regular students? When they don't learn, what will happen to them then. Will the teachers be able to stop the teasing from the rest of their classmates? I have serious doubts about this program when the classrooms are already overcrowded with regular students.

Rod Paige
The integration of special education students into the regular classroom is not new nor has NCLB changed anything about that. Education of special education students in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE), which generally means in the regular classroom, has been required by Federal law since 1975. Most special education students have spent most of their time in school in regular classrooms for many years now.

Kevin, from Minneapolis writes:
Secretary Paige- Why do schools have to show 100 percent compliance with test scores for NCLB? Accountability is one thing, but it seems unfair to fail a school because two or three students do poorly on a test.

Rod Paige
Let me try to clarify the requirements under NCLB. NCLB asks that all students be at grade level in reading math by the 2013-2014 school year, not this year or even next year. This is the only way to ensure all students are reaching their potential and achievement gaps are closed. NCLB also does not label a school as "failing." Instead, the law says that schools that have missed the state-set goals for achievement -- reading and math scores, as well as other indicators like test participation rate, attendance and graduation rate, etc -- for 2 consecutive years, get identified for improvement. When a school is identified for improvement, it is actually eligible for additional resources to help it improve.

As to whether schools can be identified if only two or three students don't do well on assessments, that depends on a number of factors that are determined by the state. Every state sets a minimum group size, which is the number of students it takes to make a subgroup. This is done for privacy and statistical reasons. Once a state sets a minimum group size, then one must figure out how many students in that group attained grade level in reading and math. Say the group size is 40 and the state sets the goal for the number of students scoring at grade level in reading and math at 40% this year. That means 16 children out of the 40 in the group must be scoring at grade level in reading and math. In any situation though, whether it is this example or any other, there are minimum goals to be met by all schools in getting their students to grade level in reading and math, and there will always be several students on the cusp of making it to grade level. That is not a flaw in the law, but a central feature of its purpose -- it asks all students to reach grade level, and that leaving one, or two, or three students behind, no matter when it happens (now or in the future) or who it happens to, is unacceptable. We can and must do better for all children.

Robert, from Gonzalez writes:
The no child left behind rule appears ot be centered around a baseline of all children being on the same level. What plans are in place for children with handicaps such as being bipolar that affects their ability to maintain their mental capabilties during ceratin situations that may require more time and sometimes assistance in completing these test.

Rod Paige
This is a good question that I hear often. No Child Left Behind requires that children with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations on tests. Most students with disabilities are able to participate in regular statewide assessments either without accommodations or with appropriate accommodations that are consistent with the accommodations provided during regular instruction. Accommodations are changes in testing materials or procedures that ensure an assessment measures the student’s knowledge and skills, rather than the student’s disabilities or English proficiency. A student's IEP team determines if the child needs accommodations on the test, or if the child cannot participate in all or part of the State assessments, even with accommodations. If a child cannot participate in the State assessments, even with accommodations, the State must provide for one or more alternate assessments for a child with a disability. For a student enrolled in special education with bipolar disorder, the IEP team, including the parents, determine how the child will participate in the assessment and what accommodations, if any, the child needs to best demonstrate what they have learned.

Robert, from Worcester, MA writes:
Mr. Paige, I saw that you grew up in a time when schools were segregated. Do you believe that segregation still exists in our school systems? If yes, what are we doing to change that? If no, I invite you to visit the 5 local High Schools in Worcester, MA and explain to me the differences between the schools and the people who go there. Its class warfare and the poor are losing the battle.

Rod Paige
I do believe that there has been a de facto system of segregation in our nation's schools. The segregation we see now is between those that are receiving a quality education and those who are not. That is exactly what the No Child Left Behind Act is aiming to erase. Schools that are deemed "in need of improvement" should be getting more help. Subgroups that aren't achieving need more help. NCLB shines a light on where there is some inadequacy and directs help to those areas. But, I think we need to get away from this notion that focuses on the racial make-up of schools. The bottom line is that we need to provide all children in America -- every single one -- with a quality education. It doesn't matter where the school is located, whether it's majority-minority, or what its history is. Once children enter the schoolhouse door, they all need to be given the attention they deserve and they need to be held to high standards and high expectations. A quality education and high expectations are what will lift kids out poverty and break the cycle which leads to this segregation.

Clarence, from Bloomfield Hills, MI writes:
Where does Home Schooling lie in the No Child Left Behind Act?

Rod Paige
No Child Left Behind includes a number of federal education programs that serve private school students and teachers, and that have a requirement that private school students and teachers be provided with equitable services under those programs. Whether home schooled children may be served by these federal programs depends on whether the state in which the home schools are located considers them to be private schools. If a state considers home schools to be private schools, then the home schooled students in the state, similar to other private school students, would be eligible to receive benefits and services under these federal programs.

Gregory, from Houston writes:
Thanks for increasing funding for our children, our future for america. what can we as parents do to increase our children's awareness of the importance of a great education.

Rod Paige
Education is in fact invaluable. It nourishes not just the mind, but also the soul. The Department of Education recently put out a back-to-school checklist for parents to help them get more involved in their child's school. It helps busy moms and dads ask the right questions on topic such as curriculum and achievement, communicating with teachers and principals, teacher training and quality, and student discipline. You can find the list at

Also, it's important to stress that education pays and pays off. The longer you stay in school, the better your earning power. There is an interesting interactive website from a think tank that actually lets people calculate their earning depending on their profession. Here is the website for more information: .

Lois, from Womack writes:
In the "no child left behind" program, isn't it true that if there is no alternative school in your district, then your child can not participate in the program? Therefore in a neighborhood like Roosevelt, Long Island, New York, where there is only one high and Junior high school, there is no alternative and there by leaving my child behind.....??????

Rod Paige
There are several things that your school district can do to offer you and your child choice, even in a neighborhood such as Roosevelt where there is only one junior high and high school. For example, your district can enter into agreements with neighboring districts (or with charter and "virtual schools") to accept Roosevelt students as transfers. Or, your district could offer students "supplemental services," which is free tutoring and other academic assistance outside of the school day. Finally, you district could be thinking about creative ways to expand capacity in the long term, such as by creating new, distinct schools, with separate faculty, within the physical site of an existing school (this is known as a "school-within-school"), and encouraging the creation of charter and virtual schools.

Roger, from San Francisco writes:
What is No Child Left Behind? I am asking this question to secure any doubts or misconceptions that the general public might have.

Rod Paige
No Child Left Behind represents a fundamental reform of our nation's educational system. But it is really a very simple concept: it asks that children read and do math at grade level. The law gives parents information about their child's school and options if they don't think the school is serving their child well. It raises the level of teaching. And it makes the system accountable to parents and taxpayers. Schools are now measured on their progress so that we can see where the most help is needed. President Bush has ensured that the resources are there to get the job done -- he has invested 36% more in education than when he took office four years ago. And the law is working: Early results from the states of the law’s reforms show that student achievement is increasing among all groups of students. We have seen a greater impact on student achievement nationally in the few short years under No Child Left Behind than under any previous federal education reform effort.

Shannon, from Spokane, WA writes:
Dear Mr. Paige, How does the No Child Left Behind Act apply to private schools? I am 15 and have been going to private school since kindergarten, and I want to know what the government is doing to help our education. Just because we choose to pray doesn't mean we don't need to learn to read and write and add and subtract. I've always felt like the governemnt thinks kids in private schools don't deserve as good of an education as the kids in public schools, just because we choose to pray. Not only does it seem unfair, but it's also hurtful. After all, our education is important, too.

Thank you for your time.

Rod Paige
Actually, private school students and their teachers have received many benefits through federal education programs since 1965. Today, No Child Left Behind Act continues to provide many benefits and services to private school students, teachers and other education personnel and requires that local educational agencies (or other grant entity) provide for their equitable participation in many of its major programs. While many of the NCLB provisions, such as adequate yearly progress (AYP) and mandated testing, do not apply to private schools, there are programs that are available to private school students, teachers and other education personnel. These programs include: Title I, Part A, Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies; Reading First; Even Start Family Literacy; Education of Migratory Children; Teacher and Principal Training and Recruiting Fund; Mathematics and Science Partnerships; Enhancing Education Through Technology; English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, & Academic Achievement Act; Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities; 21st Century Community Learning Centers; Innovative Programs; Gifted and Talented Students.

Durr, from Idaho writes:
Hello Rod,I'm now preparing for my personal statement which is a must for university entrance,could your give me some suggestion on what is most important in writing PS?Thanks in advance.

Rod Paige
You should focus on conveying who you are as an individual. Universities want to see what makes you special and how you would contribute to college life. Explain what drives you to succeed and what matters most to you in the world. This is your chance to talk about your most important attribute -- the strength of your character. Your answer should say something about you that an admissions officer would never know from reading the rest of your college application. Be honest, and let yourself shine. I wish you the best of luck.

are the school voucher bill going to be passed

Rod Paige
Actually, I am pleased to let you know that we were able to pass a small pilot program for the District of Columbia this year. This 5-year pilot offers approximately 1,500-2,000 low income students in DC a scholarship of up to $7,500 to attend a private school of their choice in the District of Columbia. This program is currently being implemented by the Washington Scholarship Fund, and though they were just selected to serve as our local grant implementer, they have already signed up over 1,000 students to attend a private school this fall. What's more, this program will be rigorously evaluated so that we can better understand how school choice programs work and if they can raise student achievement.

Kevin, from Corona, CA writes:
What words do you have to say to those who do not believe that the "No Child Left Behind" program is working?

Rod Paige
I would tell them to look at the facts. All across America -- from Georgia to Wisconsin, Illinois to Maryland, Arkansas to Indiana, New Mexico to Ohio -- test scores are rising. Children are learning. And we're seeing that children previously left behind, those who had lost hope, are making some of the biggest gains. The achievement gap is finally closing. Also, this is still a young law - it's just beginning its second year. We need to give it time to work. But the early results are already encouraging. I am sure that if we stay the course and have the courage to keep at it, we'll continue to see good results.

Bradley, from Monroe, Michigan writes:
Being that your department has indicated that charter schools do actually worse on testing (the apparent evaluation model the department choose to rate schools) than public schools, can we finally stop funding these for profit centers? Also, do the negative sanctions (e.g. calling them failing schools and closing them down)that apply to public schools also apply to charter schools?

Rod Paige
While the data shows that students in these schools are not doing well academically, it does not show that charter schools lead to students falling behind. We need to do far more and better types of studies of charter schools to reach any type of conclusion about the effects of chartering on student achievement, something that I have asked to be done by this Department.

Furthermore, charter schools are public schools. While some are managed by for-profit companies, the majority of them are operated by non-profits. In fact the percentage of charters run by for-profit companies is only 10 percent. Those 10 percent often include non-profits that simply contract with for-profit companies for services such as business operations and personnel recruitment. Finally, to answer your last question -- yes, the No Child Left Behind Act applies to charter schools including the sanctions for poor academic performance.

Joy, from Virginia Beach writes:
Are charter schools part of No Child Left Behind? I just read a very discouraging report about their low rate of achievement at the fourth grade level. I was hoping for a stronger endorsement. What happened? Our public schools serving low economic, single parent homes are making much greater progress in this area.

Rod Paige
Charter schools are public schools and are a part of NCLB. The report that you mention was prepared by the American Federation of Teachers, a union. The report uses faulty methodology to draw a correlation between charter schools and student achievement. At this point you cannot draw a correlation between the two because most charter schools in the U.S. are on average less than three years old. Most of the students attending charter schools have not been in that school long enough to blame or credit the school. The study did not take into account how long students had been attending the charters.

Lais, from ARdmore,PA writes:
Dear secretary Paige, If you really believe that the " no child left behind" is working, why don't we see more of you in the public eye defending it?

I am sure that the parents across the nation would take your feedback on this topic more seriously than the "experts" guests of the TV networks. If it is working, go out, have televised educational townmeetings, defend the President's policy Thank you, Mrs. L Bobula Ardmore,PA

Rod Paige
I very much understand your point. I am on the road a lot. I have been to 47 states in just 3 and a half years. Unfortunately, the national news media and to some extent, local media enjoy controversy and bickering. What most people don't see is the hard work of our teachers, administrators and parents who are complying with the law and flourishing under it. I make a point in every speech to tell groups and the media that we are seeing results. The achievement gap is closing. More 4th graders can read on grade level this year than last. More 4th graders are proficient in math than last year. Good news doesn't get the same attention or print space that bad news gets. That's what is unfortunate.

Maurice, from Washington, DC writes:
I've read that "no child left behind", is a program that increases a childs chances for success by adding programs and improving parentteacher awareness in the early stages. This helps all children pass standardized tests, and essentially equalizes the playing field for all children. I agree that all children should be encouraged to do their best; however I am curious how this policy affects gifted and talented children? Is there any evidence that the new policies have helped children that already had above average testing results?

Rod Paige
No Child Left Behind is about ensuring that all children can meet challenging state standards. In many places, that requires much more than being "above average." As a result of NCLB, teachers and parents will have much more data to use to improve classroom instruction and push all students to higher levels, including gifted and talented students. So while the focus of No Child Left Behind is to close the achievement gap and raise achievement in high poverty areas, it also raises the bar and expectations for all students by ensuring that there is more infomraiton available about how children are doing. It is still early in the implementation process, but we are seeing promising signs of achievement gains throughout the country.

Rod Paige
Thank you very much for these excellent questions. I hope I have answered them fully. Please check our web site for more information. I hope to have this opportunity again soon.

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