- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

The benefits of NCLB

Deborah Simmons’ agriculture-themed column critical of the No Child Left Behind Act (“Hog-slopping politics,” Op-Ed, March 16) deserves a response.

It’s important to remember the climate that existed when NCLB was passed. The law found fertile soil in a nation sick and tired of watching schoolchildren shuffled from grade to grade without mastering the basics. Despite our plowing billions of dollars into our public schools, reading scores for young children remained stagnant at best in the 1990s, while achievement gaps between black and Hispanic students and their white classmates grew ever-wider.

The No Child Left Behind Act was our response. The law gives states the freedom and flexibility to set high academic standards and identify what works. In exchange, schools are held accountable for results.

We already have seen the fruits of this approach. Across the country, more reading progress was made by 9-year-olds in five years than in the previous 28 years combined. Math scores are at record highs, and achievement gaps are finally beginning to close. More than 60,000 schools — more than 70 percent overall — are meeting their annual performance goals. We know this because states are setting standards and, more important, measuring their students’ performance against them. We cannot opt out of this vital responsibility.

As the No Child Left Behind Act comes up for reauthorization, we are working with members of Congress from both parties to strengthen it and build on results. The president has proposed new Promise Scholarships and Opportunity Scholarships for at-risk students that can be used at public, private or charter schools. We also favor giving parents and community leaders new power to restructure and reform chronically underperforming schools.

In more than two decades in public policy, I have never seen a perfect law. Nevertheless, the No Child Left Behind Act remains our best chance for bringing our children up to grade level so they can compete in the world as adults. We must not weaken or water down this important and effective reform. Let’s give every young mind its very best chance to grow.

MARGARET SPELLINGS

U.S. secretary of education

Washington

Subpoenas in context

Oliver North is incensed by the possibility that the Democratic majority in Congress may issue subpoenas to members of the Bush administration in regard to the recent firings of U.S. attorneys (“Tied in knots” Commentary, Sunday).

To make his point, he harkens back to the days of Iran/Contra, claiming that congressional attempts to determine whether members of the Reagan administration had violated the law amounted to nothing more than an attempt to “undermine a conservative commander in chief.”

Mr. North expresses similar disdain for current attempts to exercise congressional oversight of the Bush administration, asserting that their only purpose is to “damage George W. Bush and provide partisan advantage to his political opponents.”

I would like to offer the following. A Republican-controlled Congress issued 1,052 subpoenas to members of the Clinton administration. To date, Bush appointees have been served with three subpoenas. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, then chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, conducted extensive investigations to determine whether stationery or postage had been misappropriated in support of a fan club devoted to Socks, the Clinton’s cat. (No wrongdoing was discovered.) In still another exercise of the people’s business, Republicans compelled approximately 140 hours of testimony, under oath, in a search for possible misuse of the White House Christmas card list.

Perhaps Mr. North truly believes Christmas cards and feline fan clubs require more scrutiny than the possible politicization of the Department of Justice. If so, his judgement is called into question. If not, his faux outrage is laughable.

SCOTT KENYON

Vienna

John Edwards’ qualities

Though I could never vote for John Edwards, as I do not agree with his stance on almost any issue, I must say that the view into his private life that his interview with “60 Minutes” has given us shows a man and wife I can both admire and respect (“Edwards rejects votes of sympathy,” Nation, Monday).

The honesty and candor of Mr. Edwards and his wife, their commitment to each other and their family as well as their reasoning for staying in the race for president, shows a type of love and care that is missing in a large segment of the American body politic, on both sides of the aisle.

As a conservative who cannot endorse Mr. Edwards’ views, I do think he is a better candidate for president than I previously envisioned, and I certainly hold out better hope for the Democratic Party if he remains a part of it — even if he is a trial lawyer.

If Mr. Edwards takes the nomination from either Sens. Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton, the American people and the Democratic Party will be the better for it. I pray for the Edwards family to find peace and wish them well, for they have a very, very hard road ahead.

NORMAN HENDRICKSON

Bowie

An important message

Al Gore’s book and film “An Inconvenient Truth” have been suffering the slings and arrows of outraged conservatives (“Gore turns heat on Congress,” Page 1, March 22). But certain facts are undeniable.

Melting polar and Greenland ice caps will not only raise sea levels, though precisely how much is hard to predict, but also reduce the reflective power of the ice-cap areas, warm the oceans and contribute to global warming and climate change. Climate change is already being blamed, in part, for the tragedy of Darfur and the spread of harmful plants and insects to more temperate climes.

Switching from oil to ethanol is not a very good answer. It produces too little power and inevitably will lead to more soil depletion, more deforestation, more desertification and much higher corn prices.

Developing-country overpopulation, warned against by President Ford’s 1975 NSSM 200 report, which was classified and suppressed for nearly 20 years, is further contributing to climate change while condemning countless millions to poverty and misery.

What obviously is needed is immediate action to stabilize Third World populations and reduce dependence on fossil fuels through conservation and the development of renewable non-polluting power from wind, solar and geothermal sources. Rather than costing jobs, these measures will create a great many new jobs.

Three cheers for Al Gore.

EDD DOERR

Silver Spring


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