During a confirmation hearing in which she received accolades from senators of both political parties, Margaret Spellings shed some light on President Bush’s rationale for expanding No Child Left Behind into high schools. Spellings, who received unanimous approval from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to serve as President Bush’s choice to succeed Rod Paige as U.S. Secretary of Education, is expected to face an easy confirmation by the full Senate later this month.
During her testimony, Spellings discussed the need to extend the policy foundation of the No Child Left Behind Act to the high school level. Citing the nation’s 67 percent high school graduation rate, she drew attention to the president’s proposals to help middle and high school students who have fallen behind in reading and math, extend assessments to grades 3-11, and create a high school intervention initiative that focuses on reading skills in the “critical ninth-grade year.”
In responding to a question from HELP Committee Chairman Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) on how the administration would ensure that more students graduate from high school, Spellings said that the president believes that “what gets measured, gets done.” She explained that the assessment and data information systems that were put in place in grades 3-8 by NCLB are working to let teachers and parents know how students are doing and are really working to improve education at that level. She said that the president believes that same theory should work for high schools. She also highlighted the importance of reading and stressed that far too many kids have gotten through middle school and into high school without the requisite reading skills to be able to perform successfully.
In her previous job as the president’s domestic policy advisor, Spellings helped draft the No Child Left Behind Act and worked behind the scenes, from the White House, on implementation issues. This experience, combined with her time advising Bush when he was the governor of Texas, led Senator Enzi to tell Spellings, “You have more than ten years of experience with these issues on the local, state, and national level and I don’t think anyone has a better understanding of the president’s position on them. You will now be in the perfect position to promote his agenda and ensure that we continue to make progress on an issue that I know is as important to you as it is to him.”
Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) also praised Bush’s decision to tap Spellings to replace Secretary Paige. “I hope it’s not the kiss of death for the right wing,” he said, “but I’ve welcomed the opportunity to work with Margaret Spellings over the past four years on education. We’ve had our differences, but I believe she’s an inspired choice to be Secretary of Education at this critical moment in our nation’s history, and I look forward very much to working with her in the years ahead.”
During a year when Congress is scheduled to debate reauthorizations of the Higher Education Act, the Workforce Investment Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, Spellings noted the “great opportunity” to “meet the needs of older students and adults to help them compete and succeed in our ever-more-competitive world.”
Video of Margaret Spellings’s testimony is available at
Senator Enzi’s opening statement is available at http://www.senate.gov/~enzi/spellnom.htm.
Senator Kennedy’s statement is available at http://www.senate.gov/~kennedy/statements/05/1/2005106454.html.