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Education Secretary in Town Supporting No Child Left Behind

The six years of No Child Left Behind have seen near constant debate between those who say the legislation is finally making schools accountable for student performance, and critics who say it's under-funded and forces teachers to focus narrowly on assessment tests. With congress considering changes to the law, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is on the road, making the case that the law she helped write is working.

Margaret Spellings: It has been a true game changer in American education, in my opinion, for the better. Finally we are saying to ourselves, looking ourselves in the mirror and saying we really mean it. We really mean every kid matters, we're holding ourselves accountable and we're going to get there.

But the years of criticism, she says, haven't gone unnoticed.

Margaret Spellings: We passed the best law we could five years ago, but sure, we've learned some things, and we ought to act on that experience and improve it where necessary.

Also on the stage was Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eugene Sanders, who challenged the criticism that No Child Left Behind relies too heavily on testing.

Eugene Sanders: We've been criticized a bit for teaching to the test. Our position is, as long as there are tests that are there and we are measured by them and assessed by them, we're going to focus on them pretty exclusively.

Still, Sanders questioned using only high-stakes exit exams, like the Ohio Graduation Test, to determine who receives a diploma and who does not.

Eugene Sanders: There are some examples where students will have 25, 26 credits, be accepted in a college or university in our state, and have some challenge with the Ohio Graduation Test. Your CEO feels that that is a situation that requires us as educators to look at, is that really a good thing?

Sanders asked if there could be multiple ways to determine if someone is ready to graduate. Spellings warned that could mean yet more testing.

Margaret Spellings: Just as a truth in advertising, just like the thing on the pack of cigarettes, is when we start talking about multiple measures, that's more testing not less. So to the extent that people think there's too much testing in our schools, stand forewarned.

Another common question is whether No Child Left Behind is sufficiently funded. Secretary Spellings says most funding is up to the states.

Margaret Spellings: The bulk of the resources are and always will come from state and local governments. That's the way education works in this country, and I suspect will continue to.

However, Spellings says federal funding is up over 50% since No Child Left Behind became law. She says with possible reauthorization pending, now is the time to ask for more money.

Margaret Spellings: I tell my friends in the teacher community that the best opportunity to get additional resources, and the president has called for more than a billion dollars in new money for No Child Left Behind, is when congress takes up this policy.

With many democratic presidential candidates calling for significant changes or the elimination of No Child Left Behind, Spellings clearly hopes new reforms will placate enough critics to keep the law mostly intact.