- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings plans to fundamentally change the enforcement of the No Child Left Behind law, giving preferential treatment to states that prove they’re serious about raising achievement, Bush administration officials say.

The change could affect the education of millions of students as states seek federal approval on everything from teacher quality to the measuring of student progress.

In the first change, the Education Department plans to give some states more freedom in how they test hundreds of thousands of children with mild disabilities. But only states that can prove progress or a strong commitment to improve will be seriously considered for that flexibility, administration officials told the Associated Press yesterday .

The idea is to get something in return for offering such flexibility, said one official familiar with the changes, such as increased learning and “narrowing the achievement gap.”

Shrinking the test-score gap between white and minority students is a central goal of the 2002 law, which aims to get all children to grade level in reading and math by 2014.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policies had not been formally announced. Mrs. Spellings has invited top school officers from the states to Mount Vernon tomorrow to discuss the new enforcement approach and the special education policy.

Education Department leaders declined to comment until then.

The new enforcement approach is the first significant change under Mrs. Spellings, who helped write the law as President Bush’s domestic policy chief in the White House before becoming secretary in January.

Mrs. Spellings has determined that the Education Department hasn’t focused enough on the big picture — whether students are learning — when it reviews and approves state education plans. States must get approval if they want changes in how they hold schools accountable.

Therefore, the department plans to more closely review the states’ progress in graduating students, showing gains in early reading and providing report cards to the public.

“If they’re going to judge states’ efforts on meeting the intent of No Child Left Behind, then I think it’s going to be a great move and something everyone will be in support of,” said Scott Young, senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The department’s plans to give states different treatment based on good behavior raise political and legal questions, said Patricia Sullivan, director of the independent Center on Education Policy. Administration officials said lawyers have cleared the idea.

“Who is going to decide whether you have a different level of commitment than another state?” Miss Sullivan asked. “Will it matter whether you’re a red or blue state? Will it matter whether you have something pending in your state legislature to send the federal money back?”

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