Senator Murray's Education Update

March 21, 2007    

Murray Presses Education Secretary on NCLB


Secretary Spellings
Senator Murray questions Secretary Spellings.

I questioned U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings (left) on behalf of Washington state educators. 
Watch the video and tell me what you think of her answers.

Dear Friend –

Last week I had 5 minutes to question the Education Secretary about the President's plans for NCLB.

I asked the questions that many of you have shared with me, such as --

  1. Where's the money?  Why has the Administration not adequately funded NCLB?
  2. How can we improve the way we measure student performance? Will the Administration support the growth model?
  3. And why in the world is the President trying to divert $300 million from NCLB to private school vouchers?

I thought you'd like to see the exchange.

Read my previous NCLB Update




Questioning Secretary Spellings on NCLB

Secretary Spellings

What do you think of her answers? What follow up questions would you have asked?

I want to bring your message and your voices to Washington, D.C., so please share your ideas with me. Let me know here:

Here is a transcript of the exchange:


Well, thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. Obviously, funding for No Child Left Behind is a very hot topic at home, and I share the frustration that you've already heard from this committee on both sides of the aisle.

WHY Isn't the President Adequately Funding NCLB?

I have held a number of roundtables around my state over the past year in...

... and had parents and students and principals and administrators all come and talk to us about their experiences with No Child Left Behind. And funding is the Number One issue.

They're working harder than ever. They are trying desperately to meet the goals of No Child Left Behind. And I think it doesn't do them a favor [for you] to say, "Well, it's only a small percentage of your funding." It's a huge impact on their funding if they don't meet the goals of this, and they're all working very hard to do that.

I want to ask you what every one of them has asked me, every place I've gone. Why has the President not fully funded No Child Left Behind?


Well, Senator, as I've said, funding for No Child Left Behind is up very significantly; Title 1 in particular, 59 percent.


Well, that was in the first couple of years when we were in the majority. But since then, we've not had it funded. And in fact, this year once again we're seeing not adequate funding for it -- not the levels that were authorized with the bill.

Well, when we negotiated that there were two promises: We will put in accountability, and we will put in funding. And we've never met the funding.


Well, as I've said, you know, funding is up. And while in the early days, the first two years, they were very, very significant increases, I think the times that were before us because of Hurricane Katrina and the war, 9/11 among other things, have made some very tough choices for all of us.

How Do You Explain that To Educators Who Are Working Their Tails Off?


So, well, the way it sounds to me is, we're making this law try to work. But you continually don't fund it. How do you expect me to do my job?

How do you say that to an educator who is working, you know, 12 hours a day, 40 kids in their classroom, working really hard to meet it and they just feel left behind by this administration?


Well, I would give them that answer, and I'd also say that I think that the policy that's before us now, with more information, more data around kids and their needs has allowed us to be a lot smarter and more precise about the resources we are spending.


Well, they're feeling it out there, and the anxiety is huge. And us Democrats, we're going to put together a budget that tries to meet that better. But it's very frustrating to not have that request come from you at your department where you're the top of Education. And believe me, the people I'm talking to are at the other end of it -- it's very frustrating.

And you need to know, it's a very hot topic out there.

Adjusting AYP Measurements

And the other thing I get asked all the time is, with these 37 cells, and if you fail in one of those cells, you are considered a failure.

What do you tell educators who think that the AYP measurement should be adjusted so that one problem doesn't leave parents thinking that their entire school is failing?


Well, I tell them two things. One, I tell them about the president's proposal about perfections or tweaks that we need to look at as we reauthorize No Child Left Behind; that we might find ways through a growth model. I've given five states a waiver to begin to experiment with charting progress over time - that those might be more adequate, more precise ways to look at progress.

I also tell them...


So are you recommending changes in how AYP is achieved?


We are suggesting that, as well as a status model, that this might be a state decision, actually. I wouldn't necessarily mandate that every state must use a growth model, but that it could be a way...


So you will allow states some flexibility in that?


With respect to charting progress, yes.  We've called for that in the administration.

The other thing that I think is important, and we've all said this, you know, a more nuanced system of accountability, I think, is certainly worthy of discussion. And that is that there are very much schools that are within range -- you mentioned one specific example -- versus those who are chronically underperforming for five years or more. And that we have sort of a pass/fail system in No Child Left Behind, and we can be more nuanced about it now that we are five years into implementing this law and have so much more data.

But as you know, we passed the very best law we could five years ago with a limited amount...


With a promise of funding it – and that's where the rub has really come in. And I think you're going to hear that more and more.

Why Are You Diverting NCLB Dollars to Fund Private School Vouchers?


And since I just have a few seconds left, you mentioned to Senator Landrieu the increased funding for the teacher incentive fund to implement merit pay, as a response to her. And you did that by cutting $100 million from improving teacher quality state grant programs, which help our teachers raise student achievement by professional development in mentoring.

And that's what we don't understand in your budget is putting $300 million into a voucher program and $100 million into improving teacher quality and taking it out of the funding for other parts of this bill that will allow our students and our teachers and our schools to be able to meet the requirements of this law.


Well, I think, to the extent that half of the $200 million increase would come from Title 2, I think there's a lot of promising practice around the country that some of the most strategic, best use of those resources, those title resources, may very well be around paying our very best teachers for doing the most challenging work.

And that's why this budget includes a proposal to do that.


Well, Mr. Chairman, I would just say you can't rob Peter and try and pay Paul in the form of a voucher program and expect our schools to do less with what they're really already really working so hard on, and I thank you for the hearing.
[Senator Murray's time is expired.]

What do you think of the Secretary's Answers?

What would you have asked in response? 

What message does she need to hear from our state? 

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