- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Expanding the No Child Left Behind Act to help the nation’s 15 million public high school students prepare for higher-paying jobs and college is the administration’s top education priority this year, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told The Washington Times yesterday.

“We know that 75 [percent] to 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require at least two years of college, so we’ve got to ratchet up the level of accomplishment, and then, we need to broaden the number of people who are achieving that level of accomplishment” in ninth through 12th grade,” Mrs. Spellings said.

Nationally, almost one-third of all students entering ninth grade do not get out of high school, and of those who graduate, just one-fourth are in college after their first year, according to the latest Education Department data.

As part of his 2006 budget just sent to Congress, President Bush has proposed a first-year $1.5 billion high-school initiative to bolster literacy and math achievement with required testing in ninth, 10th and 11th grades.

Several governors have recognized a growing crisis in their states’ high schools and are “very engaged on this issue,” Mrs. Spellings said. Among them are Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat, and Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, both Republicans, she said.

“They know that if they’re going to attract jobs, if they’re going to remain competitive, if they’re going to be successful economically and civically in their states that they’ve got to ratchet it up a notch” in the literacy, math and science achievement of all high school students.

“We’ll muster, I hope, these forces that we’re seeing around the country” to convince lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill “why we think this is righteous,” the secretary said.

In an expansive interview in her office, Mrs. Spellings pointed to “multiple factors” for the large high-school dropout rate, primarily that students either cannot keep up with their studies or become bored.

Reading deficiency is one factor, which prompted the president to include a $200 million “striving readers” initiative for remedial research-based instruction for all high-school students who read below grade-level, she said.

“We know that kids at that level don’t have a lot of patience,” so remedial reading materials used in elementary grades are impractical, the secretary said. “So we need to figure out how to ratchet up reading skills in a very rapid way, so that they can consume the content at the 10th- or 11th-grade level, and do it proficiently and rapidly so that they can keep up.”

The president wants Congress to provide $64 million so high schools can make “a richer curriculum more widely available,” the secretary said.

The money would subsidize programs such as the Advanced Placement and the State Scholars programs, in which states are asked to offer a college-ready curriculum in every high school.

So states can “tie some rewards” as an incentive for college-bound students to take such courses in high school, she said the president wants Congress to approve “enhanced Pell Grants, $1,000 additional for the first two years of college” beyond a regular grant of $4,150.

Mrs. Spellings expressed great frustration over Congress’ habit of adding unrequested money to the department’s budget each year for specified purposes that do not help the entire country. She said categorical grant programs and directed projects called “earmarks” undermine NCLB’s philosophy “of clear results, lots of flexibility on the how-to, including allocation of resources.”

The president’s budget asks Congress to scrap 48 categorical programs totaling $4.3 billion in order to pay for increases under NCLB.

“Our grand scheme is that we ought to be about results for kids, and we ought to be clear about our expectations for states and for kids and for schools and for districts, which we’ve got in No Child Left Behind,” Mrs. Spellings said.

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