February 7, 2002
During the debate over President Bush's No Child Left Behind bill last year, I couldn't help seeing the details and implications of the bill from two perspectives. One perspective was that of a Cabinet member who was actively involved in negotiations with Members of Congress on a critical piece of legislation. But as a former superintendent, I also vividly saw the implications for school districts. I know the mix of hope and anxiety with which a superintendent greets every major change in education law, and I want to assure you this law is good news for the children of America.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have put aside many differences to enact the most sweeping reform of the federal role in education since 1965. Now, it is our turn to make the change work. The day after the President signed the bill, I met with the education chiefs of the states to hear their concerns about implementation and to begin a partnership with them. I write to you today to tell you directly about key provisions and opportunities of the bill. The new law offers great hope for America's students, and it is up to us to do it right.
The accountability provision in No Child Left Behind will give schools longitudinal information about the progress of every child, so teachers and principals can tailor instruction to ensure every child learns. It will also give communities objective information about the performance of their schools. Many districts across the country have already achieved great results this way. If yours is one of those, please take some time to share your discoveries with your colleagues who may be doing this for the first time.
I know that rural, urban, and suburban schools have somewhat different needs, and the No Child Left Behind law reflects that. Because you know your schools' particular needs better than I do, the law shifts more responsibility and decisions to you. Your state may sign an agreement that will give you more flexibility in the use of federal funds. If it does not, you can compete directly for a district-to-Washington ("Local-Flex") agreement. These programs as well as other new provisions will allow you to focus less time and energy on compliance and more on improving student performance -- a change I know you will welcome. We worked hard to remove red tape and to put more freedom in your hands than you had before.
No Child Left Behind will also stress teaching methods that have been scientifically proven to work. The most prominent example is President Bush's Reading First program, for which he has allocated $900 million for this year and $1 billion for next year to train teachers in the essential components of reading. For preschool-age children, Early Reading First money is available directly from Washington. Please visit our Web sites at <www.ed.gov/nclb>, <www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/readingfirst/>, and <www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/earlyreading/> for more information.
I want to stress one important point. The debate last year was spirited, but No Child Left Behind is now the law of the land. I took an oath to enforce the law, and I intend to do just that. I will help states and districts and schools comply -- in fact, I will do everything in my power to help -- but I will not let deadlines slip or see requirements forgotten. When choosing between kids and the system, I choose the kids. I know that you feel the same way.
I have confidence in your leadership and your ability to put the new provisions of No Child Left Behind to your students' best advantage. Whatever your relationship with your state government may have been, the new law will give your state a powerful incentive to ensure that every school is doing a good job of teaching every child -- not hiding failure in some statewide average.
Regardless of our political allegiances, we can all take inspiration from the spirit of bipartisanship that animated the work of President Bush and Congress last year. Republicans, like Senator Judd Gregg and Congressman John Boehner, worked well with their Democratic counterparts, and Democrats, especially Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman George Miller, could not have been more cordial to the President and me. I expect and pray for this spirit to continue in Washington and to spread to every state capital and community across our great land.
I will write again soon with further information about No Child Left Behind. In the meantime, if you have questions about the legal or technical details of this or any other federal law or regulation, I invite you to consult a Department of Education regional office. A list of these offices is enclosed. You may also contact the No Child Left Behind Resource Center at 888-814-NCLB or <NCLB.firstname.lastname@example.org>. Please do not hesitate to consult these helpful resources.