Spellings said the A-PLUS plan would be a set-back.
“What their notion is is to go back to they way it was before No Child Left Behind—send the money and no accountability.”
She concedes that there are improvements to be made with NCLB, but won’t concede the federal government’s role in education.
“I’m for more flexibility, too,” she said. “We’ve learned a lot and we ought to build on that experience. Now that we’re five years in, we need a more nuanced accountability process.”
She also said one of the most prevalent myths about the program is that, because it’s federal, it’s one-size fits-all.
“States set standards, devise their own success rates. All technicalities are decided by the states,” she said. “There is so much variety in No Child Left Behind.”
The A-PLUS plan, according to DeMint, would offer more than that:
What we're asking is that states have the option to stay under the No Child Left Behind regime or choose to take the accountability and standards of that regimen but have the flexibility to accomplish the goals in a different way. This would do what wel–fare reform did. If you remember, welfare reform did not start at the federal level, but by giving states the flexibility to create laboratories for change. Then the federal government saw what was working, and we did some things to allow more states to do that, and we changed the system.
We need to do that for education, because, first of all, what we're doing is not working.
Spellings, of course, cites stats to show that it is, in fact, working.
“My job is to be a steward for the taxpayers of this country,” she said, noting that the gap between African-American and white 9-year-old readers is at an all-time low, and that the gap between Hispanic and whites in math and reading is similarly shrinking.
I told the Secretary I know a lot of teachers—Bush-supporters and detractors alike-- many of whom I’ve heard gripe about No Child Left Behind. I asked her about some of their concerns. Chief among them is that teachers are using a lot of time teaching tests, test-taking techniques, and taking practice tests.
MKH: “Madame Secretary, are you familiar with ‘Battlestar Galactica’?’
Spellings: “A little.”
MKH: “Well, in ‘Battlestar Galactica, the whole government and much of the nation is wiped out in an attack, which means the Secretary of Education must take charge and save humanity from murderous, intelligent, alien robots.”
MKH: “I’m just sayin’, if it came down to it, would you be ready for something like that?”
Spellings: “I am ready and willing to do battle with anyone who would limit opportunities for the schoolchildren of America,” she laughed.