- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

Education Secretary Rod Paige told state education board members yesterday that in return for flexibility to use federal school aid as states and local school districts want, there will be no flexibility in national requirements for student improvement in reading and mathematics achievement.
"My greatest nightmare would be, when the next person comes in and sits down in the chair that I occupy now, they look back and say the reading improvement for students in the United States has not occurred and it is at the same place it was in 1984," Mr. Paige told a legislative conference of the National Association of State Boards of Education at the Wyndham Hotel in Washington.
"I am absolutely obsessed with the idea that it is going to be different," he said of two decades of stagnant student performance in basic academic achievement in public schools.
"Now in order to make a difference, we have to operate the situation differently. That change is difficult. But change is required."
Kathleen N. Straus, a Michigan State Board of Education member from Lansing, complained that Mr. Paige's department was being too rigid in its implementation of the No Child Left Behind school-reform law, which was enacted one year ago.
"We're on the same page as No Child Left Behind. We want to do that. We understand what you and the president say about local control and flexibility. But we find that the Department of Education gives us very little flexibility," Mrs. Straus said. "And we wondered if there's any chance of that flexibility showing up in their interpretation of what we are supposed to do?"
Mr. Paige responded that he and President Bush are holding firm about implementing accountability on national requirements in reading and math achievement. "The amount of flexibility in this bill is historic, compared to the way the federal legislation has been written in the past," Mr. Paige said. "This legislation says that almost one-half of the dollars, $23 billion, can be used in a flexible manner. We don't tell you how to use it."
But states and local school districts will be held strictly accountable for "adequate yearly progress" so that all public elementary and secondary school children perform at the "proficient" level on state reading and mathematics tests by 2013-2014, he said.
"One year after the signing of this bill, I think we're making great progress. We're moving forward. We're making friends and we're making a few enemies. But the essential winners are going to be the children of the United States of America," Mr. Paige said.
"What we have done in the past is not sufficient, because if good can be better, then good is not good enough. … Education is a civil right to me and to this president. It is just as much a right as the right to vote or the right to be treated equally," he said. "I think we have an absolute duty, it is the nation's duty, to see that each child has an opportunity to maximize their potential."
Sue Gamble, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education from Shawnee, said the state had requested a waiver this year from a federal requirement to report classes that do not have a "highly qualified teacher" but that Mr. Paige's department had refused the request.
Mr. Paige said the new law requires states and local school districts to measure and report success for boys and girls, various racial and ethnic groups, family income levels, and other demographic indicators.
"We count success through disaggregated averages," he said. Highly qualified teachers will be required in all classes by 2005-2006, he said, because "we're saying you have to help everyone."

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