Friday, November 12, 2004

A closer look at Spellings

I posted about two weeks ago that Margaret Spellings might soon be Education Secretary and now it looks increasingly likely.

So who is she?

Here's an excellent article from over three years ago in the Washington Post. In case you're wondering why -- policy wonk that you are -- you haven't heard much, if anything, about her, consider these two reasons. First, she used to go by Margaret La Montagne, before getting remarried. And second, according to the Post article, "She prefers to operate away from the limelight. 'The stealth thing,' as she puts it."

I wonder if she's too valuable as a domestic policy advisor to focus only on education, even though it's her specialty. The Post article quotes Rove as saying, "You name it, and it's hers," when asked about her areas of responsibility in 2001.

I'll have more on the only other foreseeable possibility, Sandy Kress. When the Dallas Morning News made suggestions for cabinet replacements last Monday, this is what they had to say:

Sandy Kress should become education secretary. The former Dallas school board president has worked alongside Bush on early reading programs and higher school standards since the Bush governorship. He also shepherded the president's big education bill through Congress. The Democrat knows how to build coalitions, which the president needs if Washington's going to improve special education classes. They're the next education cause.

(Via the Fort Wayne News Sentinel -- part of my daily reading, of course. Is it not part of yours?)

Paige set to resign

Sure enough, as I reported yesterday, it looks like Paige will indeed step down (linked from

His legacy will certainly be debated. Consider, for example, these very different stories from the LA Times and the New York Times. From the LA Times:

Paige, 71, arrived in Washington with a reputation as one of the most successful school administrators in the nation. During his seven years as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District -- the seventh largest in the country -- academic test scores soared, a sharply fractured school community became largely unified and violence in city schools fell by 20 percent.

Paige was the nation's first school superintendent to serve as education secretary. In that post, he tirelessly promoted the No Child Left Behind Act, one of the president's proudest first-term achievements. It requires schools to test students in grades 3 through 8 annually in math and English, and to show regular improvement until 100 percent of their students are proficient in the two subjects.

He's been absolutely firm that this country must start educating all of its students to high standards. The secretary has been a dedicated visionary in advocating for this principle," said Theodor Rebarber, chief executive of the Education Leaders Council, a Washington group that represents reform-minded state education leaders and others. "His tenure in leading that charge will be remembered."

And from the New York Times:

But he has also created political embarrassments. Earlier this year, for example, Dr. Paige called the nation's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association, a "terrorist organization," accusing it of opposing No Child Left Behind with obstructionist tactics. He later apologized to the teachers, but not to the union.

Reg Weaver, president of the N.E.A., which has been a frequent critic of the administration, said that he saw Dr. Paige as having carried out the agenda of the administration, but hoped that "the next person would be more amenable to finding common ground with the N.E.A.''

Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said Dr. Paige "certainly had his rough moments, but he has done an effective job of putting a human face on the issue. Symbolically, having an educator at the helm was helpful.''

But others, like Jack Jennings, a longtime counsel for congressional Democrats on education who runs the Center on Education Policy, said Dr. Paige failed to use his experience running an urban district to shape education policy.

"He was a good salesman for Bush," Mr. Jennings said. "But in terms of having influence on policy, he was a nonentity.''

He was a nonentity because Margaret Spellings and senior education advisor Sandy Kress wrote No Child Left Behind. Paige, as Jennings suggests, sold it. Spellings will probably be Education Secretary, but watch for Kress, too. He has two young children so he probably won't be able meet the travel demands required for the job, but Bush -- as we've seen with Gonzalez's appointment -- likes to promote from within. Both Spellings and Kress are definitely insiders. But Kress, as a former Democrat, could make a nice talking point for the Republicans on this "reaching out" business they've given a lot of lip service to lately.

Smart money's still with Spellings, though.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

More Republicans against NCLB

I hate to hold Utah up as an example to the nation, but I can't help it in this instance.

Yesterday, I posted about a Virginia legislative committee that came close to recommending that their state opt out of No Child Left Behind completely-- and forfeit the $280 million that comes with it. The committee voted against making that recommendation by an 11-6 vote. There's a new article out today in the Washington Post about it. Consider this:

"This is a punitive act that uses coercion," said Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax), chairman of the Education Committee and a long-standing critic of the federal program. "It's costing us additional money and all kinds of pain and suffering."

In the January vote on the House resolution, 98 delegates condemned the No Child Left Behind Act as unnecessary, because of Virginia's tough Standards of Learning program. The commonwealth was one of about 30 states that either passed resolutions or considered bills seeking waivers from the mandates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It appears that some Utah legislators also considered opting out of NCLB, but felt compelled to hold onto their $107 million piece of the pie. But they haven't totally abrogated their power. Here's that watchword again: flexibility. And here's yet another Republican legislator stressing its importance. From U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop in the Salt Lake Tribune:

We are going to make sure [federal officials] give a fair hearing to the state and that they don't respond in a reactionary way. I expect them to cooperate. They have a vested interest in being flexible with states.

The vested interest, of course, is to avoid open rebellion from the states. They won't rebel and lose hundreds of millions of federal money unless -- and this is key -- the inflexibility of the law starts to cost the states more than the money coming from Washington. Seems unlikely in the short term, but in the long term, the costs of transporting students to other schools, providing tutoring and constant test prep could overwhelm school districts and increase the pressure on state officials to pull out of the controversial program. I think, though, that before it gets to that point, national legislators (like Rep. Bishop, Rep. Saxton, see this post, and others) will soften NCLB's punitive measures enough to mollify the states and districts, and prevent open rebellion.

Look at these numbers out today from the Detroit Free Press: Of the state's 900+ schools, nearly 50% failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress on the standardized tests. If a significant amount of those schools fail again next year, they'll have to allow their students to transfer. Will the cost be more than the federal money coming in to Michigan?

I'll be watching with great interest-- and reporting on it here, of course.

Paige will probably resign

Looks increasingly likely that we'll hear within the next few days that Secretary Paige will step down. Consider this today from the Houston Chronicle:

When former Houston schools Superintendent Rod Paige accepted President Bush's offer to join his Cabinet as education secretary four years ago, he told friends he didn't want to work past his 70th birthday.

Now 71, Paige has kept quiet about whether he'll join the list of Cabinet members who won't be around for Bush's second term.

Bush has asked Cabinet members to let him know whether they plan to stay by week's end, and some of them, including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, have resigned.

Paige's friends in Houston said Wednesday they wouldn't be surprised to see Paige back in town soon, since he's accomplished his mission of implementing the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.

Of course, opponenets of NLCB can find no solace in a possible Paige resignation. As I've already reported, Margaret Spellings would probably take over, and -- no matter who takes over -- there would be an emphasis on continuity in the Department of Education. Very little will change, except, perhaps, the person in charge.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

More trouble in paradise

An attempt by a member of Virginia's House of Delegates to remove Virginia from the federal No Child Left Behind Act -- and forfeit about $280 million -- failed today. The vote was 11-6 in the legislative committee. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the embattled Act. If the choice is $280 mil and NCLB vs. no money and no NCLB and six go for the latter, is there any way to interpret that as anything but a potential sign of trouble?

Does anybody know of other State Houses considering similar measures to boycott NCLB?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The view from New Hampshire

Here's a fairly predictable article from the Nashua Telegraph. It's predictable because the unions and most teachers are against NCLB while the school board folks are for it. Nothing new there. But look at this:

Republican state Sen.-elect Peter Bragdon, a member of the Milford School Board, supports the idea of No Child Left Behind, but would like to see the law have more flexibility. He said some of the goals of the program are unrealistic.

“We can’t punish people because they’re at 99.9 percent,” Bragdon said.

The program is not as flexible as it should be, Bragdon said, because it is controlled from the top down. It allows the federal government to interfere in local schools more than is necessary, he added.

Flexibility. I hear it over and over again from people who are in the center on NCLB-- that is, people who aren't paranoid about a conservative movement to destroy public schools and people who don't believe that testing is the panacea for all of education's ills.

Also, I wonder whether we will hear more articulate, principled conservative opposition -- like that of Sen.-elect Bragdon -- to what is, in effect, the largest federal intrusion in education ever.

I'm teaching a unit on the Constitution this quarter. If I'm not mistaken, the Tenth Amendment states that any powers not specifically enumerated for the federal government are reserved for the states. Conservatives have historically jealously guarded this final piece of the Bill of Rights. Why not now?

To my knowledge, there is nothing in the Constitution that states that the federal government controls education (there was no formal education system in 1787). So shouldn't education be controlled by the states? Any conservatives out there want to comment on this? Isn't there a vital conservative principle at stake here? Doesn't NCLB constitute a dangerous precedent?

Problems for NCLB in the Senate?

It looks like Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) might become the next chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. If that happens, there could be some serious problems for No Child Left Behind as Sen. Enzi has expressed concerns with the effects of the law's inflexibility on rural areas. Key graf from today's story in the Billings Gazette:

Enzi and the others have raised concerns about the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to establish annual tests in reading and math. They were particularly concerned about a provision in the law that requires every teacher to be qualified in the subject they teach by 2006. They say this is a burden on rural communities that have a hard time attracting qualified teachers and have many teachers who teach multiple subjects.

He could be a powerful voice for amending the NCLB to be more flexible.

Monday, November 08, 2004

For the wrong reasons?

This is an interesting article from the Naples News (in Florida) that suggests that many students are switching schools for reasons entirely unrelated to academics. Under NCLB, they have the right to transfer -- and have the transportation costs paid for by the district -- once their school fails two years in a row. But one parent said she transfered her child because the new school was closer. And a student said he switched because the new school had a better baseball team.

The 220 students that switched in Collier County, Florida, cost the local system $183,000. Is this isolated, or are a lot of students switching for reasons other than academic ones?


No surprises here: the New Jersey Educational Aassociation opposes NCLB; the Republican Representative from their region supports it. Rep. James Saxton, however, admits that changes need to be made to allow teachers to have more flexibility. The fact that even Republicans are recognizing this only two years into the implementation of the Act is a very good sign.

And in that hotbed of liberal activism otherwise know as Wyoming, the Superintendent of Cheyenne, along with a school board member and a teacher, sent a letter to their congressional delegation challenging NCLB. Specifically, they worry that one provision which requires districts to earmark 10% of Title One money for staff development would force them to lay off teachers. Somehow they have the idea that laying off teachers is not the way to improve student performance. Obviously, they are misguided. (Note: I use sarcasm a lot.)

And here's an excellent editorial from an obviously liberal rag, the Roanoke Times:

We believe in setting accountability standards for public schools and sticking to them. Virginia's Standards of Learning, for example, have been useful tools for identifyingacademic achievement gaps among schools, with an eye toward closing the gaps - not closing the schools.

Then there is the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This landmark legislation of President George W. Bush's first term promised similar, lofty goals. But as it comes before Congress next year for reauthorization, the law is in obvious need of repair.

As Virginia's Gov. Mark Warner told a national education forum last week at the University of Virginia: "To have high standards without meaningful remediation programs is a recipe for failure."

The federal program is so inflexible and punitive, it leaves many educators wondering whether failure - of the public school system - isn't exactly what it was designed to achieve.

Officials sitting in Washington have mandated that all students will be proficient in
reading, writing and math by 2014. And schools that get federal Title I funding for low-income students face serious sanctions if they don't make Adequate Yearly Progress on 29 of 35 benchmarks for two years in a row.

Even schools that are improving dramatically by individual state standards are punished, though, if they don't meet these rigid federal goals. And differences among
student populations cannot be taken into account.

The idea is that no child will be left behind. But rigid benchmarks can be both unreachable and counterproductive. In California, where standardized tests must be given in English, one elementary school's student body is 90 percent Hispanic, the
children of very low-income migrant workers, for whom English is a second language.
How will sanctions - transferring students, firing teachers, losing federal money - help them?

Schools that don't fit the D.C. mold are threatening class-action lawsuits. Congress should avoid litigation, and put the money instead into remediation.

Why aren't more students switching?

Ugh... Just wrote a long post and it was erased. Lovely. The gist of it was that the LA Times has an excellent article today exploring why so few parents have decided to exercise the right to transfer their children from failing schools.

The reporters suggests that the role schools have in communities may be part of the reason. They also suggest that the financial strain on districts forced to pay for transporting the transfer students is considerable.

Why aren't more students switching?

Ugh... Just wrote a long post and it was erased. Lovely. The gist of it was that the LA Times has an excellent article today exploring why so few parents have decided to exercise the right to transfer their children from failing schools.

The reporters suggests that the role schools have in communities may be part of the reason. They also suggest that the financial strain on districts forced to pay for transporting the transfer students is considerable.

Listed on BlogShares