Following the conference theme “Asking the right questions, dispelling the myths,” U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings tonight addressed and challenged some of the myths surrounding the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Speaking to a roomful of reporters and other educational communicators at the Education Writers Association annual meeting, Spellings said, “We are making progress. We have made more progress with young readers in last 5 years than previous 20 years. And people often don’t realize that 70% of our schools are meeting NCLB targets.”
Challenging some of the misperceptions about NCLB, she said:
NCLB is not an unfunded mandate. It is not a mandate; it is a compact. If states want the federal resources, then the Education Department expects certain results. She added that education funding is up 50% since 2001.
NCLB is not a ‘one size fits all,’ federal system. It actually allows states quite a bit of flexibility. After all, the Federal government funds only about nine percent of public school costs and can’t expect to exert absolute control.
NCLB is not just about ‘teaching to the test.’ If and when standards are clear, and standards align with assessments, then there is nothing wrong with teaching to the test.
NCLB does not label schools as ‘failing’ and then provide ‘sanctions.’ The law never talks about ‘failing’; it says ‘in need of improvement.’ And there are things that need improvement. And there are consequences. We make some people squirm, and we should, she said.
So, given what we have learned in five and a half years of NCLB, we now can be more nuanced in our accountability system, Spellings said. We can be smarter about how we measure progress. Five states have been granted waivers to experiment with new growth models. We can now track cohorts and individual students.
NCLB is largely gades 3 through 8, but now we need to power up on high schools, Spellings said. “That will be an issue this year. We need to prepare more students to succeed in higher education. One third of the U.S. adult population have a BA degree, but 2/3s should have.”
She then took questions from the audience, including John Merrow of PBS; Kathy Baron, KQED Radio; Alexander Russo, This Week in Education; Tanya Schevitz of the San Francisco Chronicle, and Greg Toppo of USA Today, among others. Read about those interchanges in their publications.