Margaret Spellings

No Child Left Behind Priorities for 2008 - Jan. 10, 2008

Margaret Spellings
January 10, 2008— Washington, D.C.
National Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon
Print friendly

Thank you, Jerry.

There's a new movie out called The Great Debaters. It's inspired by the true story of students at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas and how they beat the odds. The title is apt, because our nation is engaged in a great debate.

It's not really a new debate. In fact, the movie quotes the great Langston Hughes poem, "I, too, sing America" which speaks to the heart of what we're talking about. That all children, regardless of what they look like, or where they come, from deserve a quality education.

Yet even today, some are still debating whether or not this goal is reasonable for every child.

What is new is that thanks to the people in this room, and others like you, our debate is slowly evolving. Instead of asking whether or not all students can learn, we're finally beginning to make sure that every child is learning.

So I'm honored to be here with trailblazers who are leading a revolution in education. No other issue unites such a distinguished, diverse, and bipartisan group of people. Joel Klein, Bill Taylor, and John Castellani up here with me. Many of you out there in the audience. Thanks very much to all of you.

No Child Left Behind came about because of people like you. You saw workers who were unprepared for jobs. You saw that the line between the "haves" and "have nots" was often drawn by race and background.

You supported the need to shine the light on where schools were doing well—and where they were letting kids down.

You sparked a movement to use standards and measurement to drive reform for every single student. Today, from Massachusetts to Florida, from New York City to Atlanta to Houston, those that first championed this approach are reaping the greatest results.

Today, I'm releasing this new resource, which we're calling the National Dashboard. It shows how we're doing on key indicators such as high school graduation rates and closing achievement gaps. We've also created a new tool on our website,, to help parents and policymakers understand how their state is performing.

Civil rights leaders like Bill Taylor agree that information is a powerful motivator. Don't you Bill?

We publish data to guide and promote improvement. We are committed to our promise of grade-level or better for every child by 2014 because it's the right thing to do. Not just for our kids, but for our country's long-term economic security.

But don't just take my word for it, ask any business leader. As my friend Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said, "Dangerous trends have taken hold nationwide that should not only worry us but also scare us and even shame us."

Because people like you recognized this trend early on, just six years ago, we finally made a commitment to leave no child behind.

Agree or disagree with this law, without NCLB, we wouldn't even be talking about how to get every student on grade level.

In our two centuries as a nation, this is the first time we're able to have a discussion based on facts and sometimes harsh realities, instead of hopes or habits.

After decades of doling out federal dollars and hoping for the best, we're now expecting and getting results.

We're in the midst of a profound and often uncomfortable transition.

For 40 years, we tried the "ostrich approach." Instead of addressing problems, we buried our heads in the sand.

Today, we're taking an honest look at our schools.

Now its decision time do we have the courage to repair what's broken? Or will we go back to pretending nothing's wrong?

As Senator Kennedy wrote in Monday's Washington Post, we must "put progress ahead of politics and support what is working in school reform... and work together to fix what is not."

I agree. And I look forward to working with Senator Kennedy, and all of you, to do what's right, and carry this movement forward.

We must stay true to the core principles of reform: annual testing, publishing data, helping students and schools that fall behind, and holding ourselves accountable for our goal of all children achieving.

Over the past several years, I've traveled the country listening to teachers, parents, business leaders, policymakers, civil rights organizations and Congress. And here's the consensus.

We must make sure educators have the best ways to chart student progress over time the flexibility to improve struggling schools and more accurate ways to measure dropout rates. We must make sure students who need extra help can access free tutoring.

To reinforce the President's challenge of Monday, Congress has had over a year to consider these reforms, but students and teachers need help now. So if Congress doesn't produce a strong bill quickly, I will move forward.

As I've done since taking office, I will partner with states and districts to support innovation. Just this week I've been to Chicago and Tallahassee. Next week I'll head west to California, Oregon, and Washington.

I intend to visit as many places as possible to build on the foundation we've laid. We must make sure that people nationwide are asking the right questions.

For instance, in this high-tech, knowledge-based economy, do we really want to debate whether it's appropriate for a 9-year-old to know how to read?!?

Now that a college degree is all but essential, do we want to argue whether it's possible for every student to graduate from high school?!?

When we need to be sprinting ahead, we can't afford to keep walking.

Instead of questioning our children's potential, let's get experienced teachers in our neediest schools and reward them for results. Let's use research, data, and technology to guide innovation like we do in business and medicine. Let's make a college degree affordable and accessible to all.

Today, we celebrate a powerful movement that declares grade-level skills the bare-minimum for life in our democracy and today's economy. We celebrate a movement that declares that education is, in fact, the new civil right.

During my final year, I will do everything in my power to propel this movement forward.

But ultimately, it's up to all of us to make sure it lives on.

We are hearing all kinds of rhetoric from the campaign trail: proposals to "scrap" NCLB, to "overhaul" the law, or to "turn around" education in just three years.

As a parent, taxpayer, and voter I want more than a sound bite or quick fix. I want someone who recognizes that NCLB has sparked a more sophisticated dialogue that's driving real improvement for all students.

We have to ask, which comes first, politics or kids?

No Child Left Behind is not just a catchy phrase. It's a statement about who we are, and what kind of country we want to be.

It's interesting this election season, everybody's talking about change. With this law, we got change; in fact, we got one of the biggest changes in education history.

And today, we've reached a tipping point. It's up to us to define our future. If that future does not have accountability at its very core, then we'll all lose most importantly, the kids.

Thank you. Now I'm happy to answer your questions.

Speech from