Spellings stiffens spine

This past week brought three signals that Secretary Spellings and her team are emerging from their "flexibility" phase and ready to rumble with the education establishment. First, Assistant Secretary Henry Johnson warned nine states that some of their federal funding is at risk unless they start taking NCLB's "highly qualified teachers" requirement more seriously. "At some point," Johnson told the Associated Press, "there was, I suspect, a little bit of notion that 'This too shall pass.' Well, the day of reckoning is here, and it's not going to pass." Boom. Then, Spellings announced the 17 members of the new National Mathematics Panel, many of whom are traditionalists who eschew the fuzzy math enamored by the profession. Veteran math warriors Tom Loveless, Hung-Hsi Wu, and Wilfried Schmid, one of the authors of the Fordham review of state mathematics standards, are among her bold selections. Finally, and most significantly, she announced that her growth-model pilot program will initially be limited to just two states (Tennessee and North Carolina), keeping it from becoming another loophole that states can drive a truck through. She maintained her tough but appropriate stance that only certain kinds of growth models can make the grade-specifically, those that expect schools to show significant progress with students who are far behind. That won't satisfy the anti-accountability crowd-North Carolina's new system provides reprieve to merely 40 schools out of 900-but it's the only defensible approach if we are to get all students to proficiency by the time they graduate. Madame Secretary: whatever you're eating for breakfast, keep at it.

"Flexibility Granted 2 States in No Child Left Behind," by Diana Jean Schemo, New York Times, May 18, 2006