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Teachers Ask the Secretary

 Teachers, you are invited to ask Secretary Spellings a question.

Featured Question
See the Secretary's answer to a question about help for teachers repaying student loans.

Answers to questions related to:

 American Competitiveness Initiative

Q: Gregory from Albany, Oregon

I recently heard that Congress passed a bill that will increase the Pell Grant award to students who have completed a rigorous program of study in high school. Generally students who complete high school physics are students who are on a rigorous track of study. As President of the Oregon Chapter of the American Association of Physics Teachers, I would like to know more about this new program and what we, as physics teachers, can do to help our students benefit from it.

A: Secretary Spellings

Thanks for writing. These days, you cannot pass a newsstand without seeing a headline about the need to master math and science in order to compete and win in the global economy. But we also need dedicated teachers like you to spread the word. Today, just one state—Alabama—requires four years of both math and science to graduate from high school. And studies show that less than half of high school graduates are ready for college-level math and science course work. We clearly have more work to do, and your help is appreciated.

First, let me take a moment to mention the president's proposed new $380 million American Competitiveness Initiative. Awaiting approval by Congress, it would improve the teaching and learning of math and science in K-12 schools. Please visit the White House Web site at www.whitehouse.gov for more information on this exciting program.

We are pleased that Congress recently approved the president's Academic Competitiveness (AC) Grant and SMART Grant programs. Building on the Pell Grant program, their purpose is to improve America's security and competitiveness while enhancing the career opportunities of its young citizens. College students from low-income families may qualify for an AC grant if they have successfully completed a rigorous high school curriculum, including physics and other advanced science and math courses. First-year college students could earn up to $750; second-year students who maintain a 3.0 average could earn $1,300. SMART grants will be awarded to college juniors and seniors who maintain a 3.0 grade-point average in the fields of math, science or critical-need foreign languages. Hundreds of thousands of students are expected to benefit from these grants over the next five years.

March 14, 2006

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 Arts and NCLB

Q: Denise from Euless, Texas

Ms Spellings—thanks for giving us this site to ask questions. I feel that sometimes everything is blamed on the No Child Left Behind Act—what do you think? Does the Act force schools to stop teaching art and music? Thank you.

A: Secretary Spellings

No, it does not, Denise. In fact, under the No Child Left Behind Act, "core academic subjects" are defined to include not just reading / language arts and math but also science, history, geography, civics, economics, foreign languages, and the arts. States now have unprecedented flexibility to use federal grant funds to support the arts and other core subjects. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) sponsors programs to integrate the arts into elementary and middle school curricula and to bring arts education to children with disadvantages or disabilities. Finally, under the law, parents with children in underperforming schools now have the ability to transfer them to a public charter or magnet school of their choice. Children deserve a well-rounded education, and they'll get it under the No Child Left Behind Act.

August 26, 2005

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 Charter schools

Q: Billie from Louisburg, North Carolina

What steps are being taken to insure that charter schools are being held to the same standards as other public schools in hiring highly qualified teachers, especially in the primary grades?... It appears charter schools may feel exempt from NCLB as they are with other public school guidelines. I know there have been some classrooms with teachers in place with no teacher education background. Isn't this not only damaging to students, but also fraudulent misrepresentation to parents who may assume all teachers are trained? What monitoring is being done to prevent these abuses in charter schools?

A: Secretary Margaret Spellings

Public charter schools are held to the same high standards as other public schools under the No Child Left Behind Act. This means that students must be taught by a highly qualified teacher, schools must test students in grades 3-8 in reading and math (and once in high school), and parents must be given school report cards tracking their child's progress toward grade-level proficiency. Teachers in charter schools are required to hold a bachelor's degree and demonstrate subject matter competency, and they must follow their state's laws on certification.

The fact that charter schools have a measure of freedom from red tape should not imply that their teachers are not qualified. In many cases, it may make it easier for qualified professionals, such as engineers and mathematicians, to serve as adjunct teachers. President Bush wants to encourage this trend, and has proposed $25 million for FY 2007 to encourage 30,000 professionals to become adjunct teachers in public and public charter schools.

The data shows that charter schools are a viable and high-performing alternative. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students who attend charter schools that choose their own curriculum score higher in reading than their peers. And a Harvard University study found that charters are especially likely to raise the achievement levels of low-income students, whose teachers are less likely to be certified in the public education system.

Charter schools are no strangers to accountability. Many are started by educators who want more freedom to teach and to innovate. And if a charter school fails to produce, it has two choices: straighten up and improve or watch as its parents "vote with their feet" and pull their children out.

June 30, 2006

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 Choice

Q: Linda from La Porte, IN

Why do you still support vouchers? Please examine the study that demonstrates public schools are as good if not better than private schools. I realize there are poorly performing public schools; however, private schools can be just as poor, and they don't have the accountabilities of public schools. Since they don't stand by NCLB, why should the department support them over public schools who must? Thank you.

A: Secretary Spellings

Thank you for writing, Linda. The study to which you refer, by the National Center for Education Statistics, is not as clear-cut as you suggest. It found that private schools significantly outscored public schools in all four categories tested: grade four reading and math, and grade eight reading and math. When adjusted for "selected student characteristics," however, public school students significantly outscored private schools in just one category, grade four math, and were outscored in another, grade eight reading. "Without further information, such as measures of prior achievement," the study's authors cautioned, "there is no way to determine how patterns of self-selection may have affected the estimates presented."

Different studies show different findings. The point is, for parents with children in schools that fall short of standards year after year, the opportunity to choose another school is greater than any one study. President Bush has proposed a $100 million Opportunity Scholarships fund to enable thousands more families to leave poorly performing schools and choose ones that better meet their children's needs. In Washington, D.C., more than 1,700 children have benefited under a pilot federal Opportunity Scholarships program. "Having a choice is very important to me," said one DC Scholarship mother. "It means that if something is wrong in school, you can make a change before there is a tragedy."

I would add that private and parochial schools have a built-in accountability: parents can simply "vote with their feet" by removing their children from it. Many public school parents, especially those of more modest means, do not yet enjoy that same opportunity. I believe we should give them new options and information so they can do what's best for their kids. As a mom, I know that's what I want.

August 16, 2006

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 Class size

Q: Dionne from Rancho Cucamonga, California

If studies show that smaller classrooms and traditional school schedules result in higher test scores and higher quality education, why aren't we spending our money on improving the schools' student-to-teacher ratios and adding more facilities instead of spending money on training teachers to manage overcrowded classrooms with students who have fallen behind due to this same element?

A: Secretary Spellings

The Department of Education provides $3 billion in federal funding under No Child Left Behind for improving teacher quality. One way these funds can be used is for class-size reduction efforts, depending on the needs of the local community. Placing a highly qualified teacher in every classroom is our ultimate goal under the law, which pledges a quality education for every single child.

Overall, the record on class-size reduction is mixed. Some studies have shown that reducing class size is effective in earlier grades when coupled with other education reforms, but that the impact is not as significant at the middle and upper grade levels. A 2002 study of California's class-size reduction program did not find conclusive evidence that it led to improved student achievement. I would add that some schools, in particular the inner-city KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy have enjoyed great success by instituting a longer school day and school year. Even the students seem to like it!

November 2, 2005

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 Classroom supplies

Q: Angelina from New York, New York

Thank you, Secretary Spellings, for providing this forum for teachers to ask questions and let you know what's on their minds. My question is whether or not there is any assistance for teachers to purchase classroom supplies. At the start of this school year, I spent about $250 of my own money on supplies for my classes.

A: Secretary Spellings

Angelina, thanks for your question and for your dedication to your students. It is often the case that many teachers and other school personnel have to use their own resources to provide classroom supplies, supplemental materials and other classroom necessities. With this in mind, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows teachers, instructors, counselors, principals and school aides who work at least 900 hours during the school year to deduct up to $250 of their non-reimbursed classroom expenses when figuring their federal income tax, even if they do not itemize deductions. Eligible expenses include books; school supplies; computer equipment, software and services; and other equipment and supplemental materials used in the classroom. In his budget for next year, President Bush has proposed making this provision permanent and increasing the maximum deduction to $400. More information on this year's deduction is available on the IRS website at: http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=146231,00.html. Thanks again, for your hard work and dedication to helping kids learn.

September 21, 2005

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 Dropouts

Q: Jeff from Chicago, Illinois

I am concerned about the enormous dropout problem, particularly for people of color. And everything I have learned tells me that one of the main reasons for our high school dropout problem is the lack of universal pre-kindergarten to make sure that all students are ready for school. So many of the students I teach were not ready and never caught up. How will the No Child Left Behind Program deal with that?

A: Secretary Spellings

The dropout problem is indeed a serious one. Every year approximately 1 million students drop out of high school. Among black and Hispanic ninth-graders, only about half graduate on time. Dropouts cost the nation more than $260 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over the students' lifetimes. The damage in lost opportunities is incalculable.

So what can be done about it? First and foremost, we must address the needs of students struggling with reading and basic math. Too often, students fall behind before they drop out, many when they're young. Then they are unable to catch up in the more fast-paced middle school and high school years. The No Child Left Behind Act has brought high standards and accountability to grades 3-8, disaggregating test score data so that children who fall behind do not get hidden by the averages and fall through the cracks. For younger children, including preschoolers, we have the Reading First and Early Reading First programs, which are educating 1.5 million kids in proven, research-based reading methods.

It's time to apply No Child Left Behind's successful principles to our high schools. The president's $1.475 billion High School Reform Initiative would support targeted interventions for at-risk students, and provide funding to annually assess all students in grades 9-12. Students entering high school would benefit from individual performance plans developed in consultation with parents, teachers and counselors. The president has also requested more than $70 million in new funding ($100 million total) for his Striving Readers program, which helps adolescent students improve their literacy skills. And his new Math Now for Middle School Students ($125 million) program would help students in these critical grades get on track to pass algebra and other advanced courses.

Such early intervention combined with annual assessments will give even struggling students the incentive they need to keep going and stay in school.

March 14, 2006

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 Early childhood, kindergarten

Q: Brenda from Punta Gorda, Florida

How does the No Child Left Behind Act benefit infants through pre-k age?

A: Secretary Spellings

Glad you asked, Brenda. As any mother can tell you, a surprising amount of progress is made in the first three years of a child's life. Scientists who study how the brain works have found that children learn much more and at an earlier age than once thought possible. Parents who read to their preschool children and teach them the letters of the alphabet give them a real head start toward literacy.

The No Child Left Behind Act supports this effort in several ways. The Early Reading First (ERF) program helps to fund community and school-based projects that teach preschool children letters, sounds and words, preparing them for kindergarten. More than 100 ERF projects have sprung up across the country. Under No Child Left Behind, Title I preschool services are also provided to about 400,000 children of low-income families. And a number of Parent Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs) have opened, providing free classes on early childhood care and learning. A list of their locations is available on the U.S. Department of Education's Web site.

Finally, in 2002, President Bush launched the Good Start, Grow Smart initiative to help preschool teachers align their instruction with their state's academic standards. It also provides parents, teachers and child care providers with helpful information on preschool care. To download the Teaching Our Youngest guide, please visit www.ed.gov/teachers/how/early/teachingouryoungest/index.html. Two more informative booklets, Helping Your Preschool Child and Helping Your Child Become a Reader, are available free of charge from the Department. To order a copy in English or Spanish, please call 1-877-4ED-PUBS (1-877-433-7827).

March 14, 2006

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Q: Michael from Lampasas, Texas

With the high standards and expectations that we expect our children to go through, Kindergarten is a MUST. Why is it not mandatory for children to attend Kindergarten? Without it, most students would be lost in 1st grade. They would start behind their peers and it is very hard to catch up.

A: Secretary Spellings

Kindergarten and the pre-school years are an important time to start building the learning skills that will serve a student well as he or she advances through school. This is especially important when it comes to reading. Research has shown that pre-school children are ready to develop the foundational language, cognitive and early reading skills they will need. Our Early Reading First program helps preschools and early childhood education providers to become preschool centers of excellence so that children, particularly from low-income families, can get a leg up. After kindergarten, our Reading First grants train teachers in proven reading methods; more than 1.5 million students are benefiting.

States and localities determine most educational issues, of course, and many, including your state of Texas, have instituted mandatory kindergarten. Reports show that nationwide, twice as many kindergarten students attend school five to six hours a day than in the 1980s. Not coincidentally, I'm sure, the Nation's Report Card reports that reading scores for 9-year-olds jumped an unprecedented seven points since 1999.

September 6, 2005

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 Foreign languages

Q: Irina from Dallas, Texas

Would it be possible to ask Secretary Spellings to share her thoughts on why American students should study lesser-taught languages like Russian?

A: Secretary Spellings

Irina, thanks for your question, and it's so nice to hear from a Russian language teacher!

Although far from experts on this topic like yourself, the President and I share your enthusiasm for Russian. Not only is it a beautiful and storied language that is spoken by some of our great friends around the globe, but its teaching—along with other critical languages, like Chinese and Arabic—is an essential component of U.S. national security.

We know that we need to engage foreign governments and citizens, especially in critical regions, in order to encourage reform, promote understanding, convey respect for other cultures, and provide an opportunity for millions to learn more about our own nation and its citizens. Above all, we must advance the twin goals of national security and economic competitiveness. Speaking another nation's language enables us to open new markets and build bridges of trust. Sadly, less than one percent of American high school students study Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, or Urdu-combined. And less than 8 percent of undergraduates in U.S. universities take foreign language courses.

In 2006, the President proposed the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI). This program was designed to dramatically increase the number of Americans learning critical-need foreign languages such as Russian, Arabic, and Chinese. It offered new and expanded programs starting as early as kindergarten, when young minds become receptive to language training. Several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, would provide earning and training opportunities that would continue through college and the workforce.

For his FY 2008 budget proposal, President Bush has proposed funding for two important components of the NSLI: the Language Teacher Corps ($5 million), which would provide training to college graduates interested in becoming foreign language teachers, and a Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative ($3 million) that would fund intensive summer training sessions for foreign language teachers, with an emphasis on teachers of critical need languages like Russian.

The budget also contains an increase in the Foreign Language Assistance program—from $21.8 million to $23.8—to provide 3-year competitive grants to State and local educational agencies that undertake this effort.

For more information on how teaching and learning Russian and other foreign languages is important to America, please visit http://www.ed.gov/teachers/how/academic/foreign-language/
teaching-language.html
And to see some of the programs in the President's 2008 budget that support Russian learning, please visit: http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2007/02/02052007.html

Again, please know how important the language of Russian is to our Department and how proud and supportive we are of teachers like you. Good luck!

April 18, 2007

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 Funding

Q: Dave from Shippensburg, PA

Instead of offering vouchers to have low-income students in poor performing schools go to private schools, why doesn't the government provide the funding for education throughout the United States like it should?... How can we all be expected to be equal according to a test score, when we are not all equal in terms of resources?

A: Secretary Spellings

Although education is primarily a state and local responsibility, the Department of Education refuses to "pass the buck" when it comes to helping schools improve. Federal education funding has increased 29 percent since President Bush took office, to $54.5 billion (including the FY 2007 budget request). Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states have more freedom to invest in programs that work, including scientifically based reading instruction, targeted intervention for students struggling academically, and the hiring of highly qualified teachers in every classroom. And with a 69 percent increase in Special Education Grants and a 45 percent increase in Title I funds for schools serving students from low-income families, the needs of children once left behind have been placed front and center.

For the first time, we are measuring progress not just by how much money is spent, but by how many children are educated. Under No Child Left Behind, all 50 states have accountability plans in place, and all parents receive report cards telling them how well or poorly their child's school is performing. Parents with children in schools that fall short of standards year after year are given new options, such as free tutoring or transfer to another school. Measures of this type have helped lead to rising test scores and the narrowing of the "achievement gap" that has plagued public education for decades.

August 16, 2006

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Q: Donald from Lafayette, Louisiana

What is the government's plan to fund our schools? We have schools falling apart. We need school improvement and/or new schools. This is not a problem specific to Lafayette. It is a problem all across our country. I love my job, but we need the tools to get the job done. Sometimes, as teachers, we feel as though we can't do enough. All we hear about anymore is that education budgets are being cut. There is no money for this or that. Why can't Congress get it together and cut unneeded spending and fund what is truly important? Thanks for your time.

A: Secretary Spellings

Thank you for writing, Donald. With Hurricane Katrina, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other demands on the federal budget, it can seem like education has taken a backseat. That is not the case, however. Federal funding for K-12 education is up 33 percent since 2001, including a 45 percent increase for Title I schools serving the neediest students. Funding for special education grants to states under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has risen from $6.3 billion to $10.7 billion, a 68 percent increase. Including the current proposed budget, total federal education spending for Louisiana is 33 percent higher than when President Bush took office.

Another important source of funds has been post-hurricane relief. Earlier this month more than $1.1 billion was made available under the Hurricane Education Recovery Act to reopen schools in the Gulf Coast region and educate displaced students across the country. Since January, nearly half a billion dollars has been sent to Louisiana for education support.

As important as what we've spent on education is how we've spent it. For years, we poured new money into the same old system, which yielded the same outcomes: stagnant reading and math scores and a growing achievement gap. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, high standards and accountability have been added to the equation, yielding real reform and results. In Louisiana, fourth-grade proficiency in reading and math is up three points since 2002, and the achievement gap between black and white students in fourth-grade reading has decreased by four points. In fact, statewide scores for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills have risen in every grade each of the past two years. I am confident in the continued annual improvement of your state's schools as we shoot for the goal of full student proficiency by 2014.

April 25, 2006

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 Gifted education

Q: Ellen from Wilkesboro, North Carolina

Do you feel that there is a quiet crisis happening in our country due to the underfunding of gifted education? How will our country be able to compete globally if gifted individuals are unable to reach their potential in our schools? How does NCLB help them?

A: Secretary Spellings

It is vital to nurture the talents of outstanding gifted students. Programs for gifted and talented students exist in every state and in many school districts, but the number and percentage of students identified as gifted and talented vary from state to state due to differences in state laws and local practices. To support the development of gifted and talented students in the United States, the U.S. Congress reauthorized the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act as Title V, Part D, Subpart 6 of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This legislation reauthorizes the U.S. Department of Education to fund grants, provide leadership, and sponsor a national research center on the education of gifted and talented students. The major emphasis of the program is on serving students traditionally underrepresented in such programs, particularly economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient, and disabled students.

November 17, 2005

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 Hurricane relief

Q: Rosetta from Amite, Louisiana

I was a teacher in the New Orleans public schools. I was teaching at Benjamin Banneker Elementary.... I am unemployed. I don't know when and if my school will open.... I receive disaster assistance unemployment. It is only a fraction of what I was making.... Do you or do you know of any plan to help compensate teachers displaced by Hurricane Katrina?

A: Secretary Spellings

I am truly sorry for what you've gone through. I want you to know that we are doing all we can within the law to help you get through this transitional period. As a first step, please check with your state Department of Education. I am in regular contact with Louisiana schools Superintendent Cecil Picard, and I know he is working to make sure teachers are assigned work as quickly as possible. The U.S. Department of Education is working with FEMA to make certain that relief aid can legally be used on portable classrooms and student transportation costs in affected states. The sooner we can open new schools, the sooner teachers can get back to work. Our "Hurricane Help for Schools" webpage serves as a national clearinghouse for schools to communicate their needs to one another, including information about teaching vacancies. Many states are easing pathways to certification and waiving application fees for displaced educators. Check in often and good luck.

October 31, 2005

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Q: Susan from Port Alexander, Alaska

How could this department help expedite and facilitate a volunteer teacher program to assist all schools currently accommodating Katrina victims? There are a lot of energetic retirees who could put together very good programs for displaced students.

A: Secretary Spellings

Susan, thank you for your question and for your desire to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The outpouring of support from the education community has been tremendous and I thank all of the teachers who are interested and willing to volunteer to help the students who have been displaced by the hurricane. Currently, the Department of Education is working with affected States and school districts to determine what flexibility is needed in affected areas with regard to highly qualified teacher requirements, while ensuring that students are receiving appropriate instruction. Many states are also helping expedite the process of hiring teachers by waiving the fees for certification applications. The Department of Education's "Hurricane Help for Schools" website, www.hurricanehelpforschools.gov, is helping to coordinate the needs of schools and districts serving displaced students with organizations and individuals that can offer assistance. Also, in order to support schools that are opening their doors to displaced students, the Department is proposing $1.9 billion in funding to school districts that have enrolled at least 10 displaced students. The funding could be used to pay for the unexpected costs of educating these new students, including hiring teachers. Thanks again for your question. By working together, we will make sure all the affected children get the help they need.

September 23, 2005

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Q: Marilyn from South Burlington, Vermont

I am a retired English teacher who taught for 19 years. I am trying to find a way to volunteer for the Hurricane Katrina victims. Please help.

A: Secretary Spellings

Marilyn, thank you very much for your offer to volunteer to help to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Volunteer opportunities are coordinated through the USA Freedom Corps. You can find more information about opportunities at www.usafreedomcorps.gov. In addition, the Department of Education's "Hurricane Help for Schools" website, www.hurricanehelpforschools.gov, is helping to coordinate the needs of schools and districts serving displaced students with organizations and individuals that can offer assistance.

September 23, 2005

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Q: Sommer from East Moline, Illinois

How will No Child Left Behind deal with the recent devastation from the hurricane? Schools have been virtually destroyed and materials lost. Will these students be required and held accountable for state testing when they are losing valuable instruction time? How will that be addressed?

A: Secretary Spellings

One of our highest priorities is ensuring that students affected by the hurricane are back in school as soon as possible. Those students who cannot return to their own schools are being enrolled elsewhere. The New Orleans residents evacuated to the Astrodome, for example, are being quickly enrolled in the Houston Independent School District. I spoke to HISD chief Abelardo Saavedra on Friday, and his office was responding magnificently to the influx of children. As these most immediate needs are met, we will be working closely with state and local officials in the coming days to discuss the implications for NCLB state testing and accountability requirements.

September 6, 2005

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Q: Robert from Commack, New York

Each year school children across our nation fundraise many millions of dollars for various charities. If the Department of Education could coordinate an "adopt a school" hurricane relief office, schools across our nation would be able to provide money, books, clothing, toiletries, etc. for the children, teachers and families, school by school. The Red Cross will do what they do, but this would be child-to-child. Please consider making a nationwide plea for a program like this. The State Education Department must be the clearinghouse to make sure funds and supplies are properly distributed. The majority of American schools open next week. Please act on this as soon as possible. You will be astonished at the results you will get.

A: Secretary Spellings

I could not agree with you more, Robert. The compassion and generosity of America's school children have been demonstrated many times—the support provided to the children of Afghanistan is a recent example. The Department of Education is launching the "Hurricane Help for Schools " webpage on www.ed.gov to serve as a nationwide clearinghouse addressing the needs of the affected children and schools and districts serving displaced students. I have no doubt that the response from schools around the country will be extraordinary, and I am deeply impressed and touched, both as an educator and as a mother of school-age children, by what I have already seen.

September 6, 2005

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Q: Patricia from Brookhaven, Pennsylvania

Sec. Spellings, the last few days have probably been like a nightmare for you in [Southern] Mississippi. Since Katrina has dealt such a blow, do you have a need for more teachers to set up down there through the federal government? Or does the state of Mississippi handle all of the education issues like displacement of people and instruction in a crisis like this? Who should I contact if I wish to be recruited to work there in temporary schools? I have had much experience in all populations over the years. Do you have any suggestions? I have also done social work and been an advocate in the past in Pennsylvania and want to work in the best interests of the child.... Please direct me.

A: Secretary Spellings

First, Patricia, let me thank you for your generous offer. The tragedy will indeed be difficult for hundreds of thousands of students and their families displaced from the Gulf Coast region. Our primary goal is to stabilize the educational process for all students so they regain a sense of normalcy. We are in constant contact with states from across the country that have generously offered to waive residency requirements so they may take in students. Thousands of displaced students have been enrolled in schools already. The Department of Education is launching the "Hurricane Help for Schools" webpage on www.ed.gov/katrina to serve as a nationwide clearinghouse addressing the needs of the affected children and schools and districts serving displaced students. I also urge you to go to the Department of Health and Human Services home page, www.hhs.gov, where a volunteer form has been set up for health care and relief professionals wishing to assist in the recovery. Good luck.

September 6, 2005

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 Loans

Q: Kenneth from Kansas City, Missouri

I am an educator that works in an urban area and have been for fourteen years. I would like to know...Are there any funds available that will assist teachers in the repayment of their student loans if they work in an area that is urban and if so are they in the form of grants or any other form of funding?

A: Secretary Spellings

Kenneth, thanks for your question. The answer, I'm happy to say, is yes. To help schools attract and retain qualified teachers, President Bush signed the Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2005 (HERA), which expanded and made permanent a program that enables teachers who meet certain conditions to qualify for forgiveness of federal student loans.

The HERA authorizes up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness for certain full-time secondary school teachers of mathematics or science who meet the "highly qualified" teacher definition under the No Child Left Behind Act. To meet the definition a teacher must be state certified, have a college degree and demonstrate mastery of the core subject taught.

The HERA also authorizes up to $17,500 in student loan forgiveness for certain highly qualified full-time elementary and secondary school special education teachers. Teachers who do not teach these specialties, but who nonetheless serve in a low-income school, may be eligible for up to $5,000 in student loan forgiveness.

No Child Left Behind expects results for every child. So we must support teachers who get the job done in America's most challenging classrooms. Our new Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) helps high-poverty schools recruit and retain effective teachers, and rewards educators who have shown the ability to improve student performance and close achievement gaps. The Department has awarded 34 five-year grants through this $99 million program.

You can find more information about loan forgiveness, including teacher eligibility requirements, a searchable database of qualifying schools, and instructions on how to apply here: http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/ english/cancelstaff.jsp?tab=repaying

Here's a link to the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application: Download files PDF (116K)

If you'd like to speak with someone over the phone, please call our Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID.

Finally, information on the Teacher Incentive Fund can be found at http://www.ed.gov/programs/teacherincentive/index.html

Thanks and keep up the good work!

June 13, 2007

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Q: Kelli from Cassville, Missouri

I began college in August of 1998 and applied for a loan. I received my loan money about two months later. I know that you cannot have a balance prior to Oct. 1st of '98, so basically I cannot have any loan forgiveness because I missed the official date by a few days? I want to know whom I can write or call or email to see if there is any way that I can help the date of the program be changed to include the academic year of 1998. I teach in a low-income area and was depending of this loan forgiveness to help with my student loans. I was given misinformation by my college and I am very frustrated that my loans cannot be reduced. If there are other loan programs please let me know. Thank you!!

A: Secretary Spellings

I have good news and news that's not as good, Kelli. The not-so-good news is that only Congress can change the date of the program. They wrote the current law, which states that a student had to be a new borrower on or after October 1, 1998, to qualify for any loan forgiveness program administered by the Department of Education. The good news is that President Bush worked with Congress last year to pass and sign a landmark Teacher Incentive Fund, a promising program which will reward a limited number of teachers who take the toughest jobs and achieve real results. He has also called for permanent loan forgiveness to teachers who serve in challenging schools.

We recognize that the schools that could most benefit from highly qualified teachers, such as Title I schools in economically challenged neighborhoods, often have the hardest time attracting them, and must resort to emergency and temporary hires to fill vacancies. Studies show that students in low-income secondary schools are far less likely to have teachers certified in the subjects they teach. We are working with Congress to help those students by helping the teachers who work with them.

January 18, 2006

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Q: Christy from Savannah, Georgia

I have been in the education program at AASU [Armstrong Atlantic State University] in Savannah, Georgia part time and trying to work and support myself and my son (single parent) for several years. I have 13 classes and one lab science left to graduate. I have done practicums in Title I schools and plan to teach in a Title I school. My question is: Are teacher forgiveness loans $5,000 for teaching 5 years in a Title I school available? Will there be any increases? And does it matter what year your loans were disbursed? I keep getting contradictory information from the college I attend. Thank you.

A: Secretary Spellings

The U.S. Department of Education provides loan forgiveness programs for qualified teachers. Eligibility requirements are determined by the type of loan the teacher has out. If you have a loan from the Federal Perkins Loan Program, you may be eligible for loan cancellation for full-time teaching at a low-income school or in certain subject areas that suffer from teacher shortages. If you received a Stafford loan on or after October 1, 1998, and have taught full-time for five years in a low-income school, you may be eligible to have a portion of the loan cancelled. President Bush is working with Congress to make some types of loan forgiveness permanent. More information on the different types of loans that are available can be found at Student Aid on the Web http://studentaid.ed.gov/.

October 5, 2005

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Q: Barbara from Courtland, Virginia

I have taught in the field of special education for 22 years. I am now in a position where I am responsible for the educational assessments of newly referred students who may be eligible for special education and or related services. One of my job requirements was that I go back and get a master's degree. I have Stafford Loans, and want to know if they can be forgiven, since I have taught and continue to work in the area of special education. Who do I contact to find out? Thank you.

A: Secretary Spellings

The U.S. Department of Education administers loan forgiveness programs for teachers serving in a low-income or subject-matter shortage area. A new law passed in 2004 increases the ceiling of loan forgiveness available for Stafford Loan borrowers teaching special education, science and math to $17,500. To qualify you must not have had an outstanding balance on a FFEL or Direct Loan program loan as of October 1, 1998, and have taught full-time for five years in a low-income school. Eligible teachers may apply for Stafford Loan forgiveness through the lender or loan servicer. More information is available at Student Aid on the Web http://studentaid.ed.gov/.

October 5, 2005

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 Math & science: girls

Q: Angie from West Palm Beach, Florida

Secretary Spellings, I recently read the speech that you gave about girls falling behind in math and science. As a science teacher, I have noticed that girls are falling into the gender roles that society has assigned them. All of my awards for Academic Excellence this year (based strictly on G.P.A.) have been given to girls. However, in class they don't raise to answer questions, they don't participate in science competitions, even after they asked for an application. It's very sad. I love science, especially physics. I try to motivate all of my students to love science as much as I do, and I think that I succeed with some of them. I was inspired by your speech and I would like to create a science club for girls only. What I am wondering is, if there are any initiatives supporting this type of club? I don't want to be seen as discriminating against boys, but I do want to give girls a boy-free environment where they can escape the gender role and enjoy Science.

A: Secretary Margaret Spellings

Thank you for your question, and for your commitment to your students. America needs more teachers like you. Like you, we are making every effort to get boys and girls alike excited about science. In May, we teamed up with Girl Scouts USA and Sally Ride Science to hold the first National Summit on the Advancement of Girls in Math and Science. More than 100 female entrepreneurs, scientists and other professionals spoke of ways to get girls interested in these subjects and keep them interested as they grow older. For our part, I have asked the Department of Education to conduct a comprehensive review of the existing research on this issue. We're analyzing our groundbreaking decades-long longitudinal study of student learning to determine what works for girls. And our popular online Teacher-to-Teacher workshops are gathering success stories and best practices from our nation's top teachers.

Another important tool is the No Child Left Behind Act. It is designed to bring all students up to grade-level proficiency in math and reading. The early data shows that it's working. According to the Nation's Report Card, math scores for younger students have reached all-time highs, with a nine-point rise for female nine-year-olds and a five-point rise for female 13-year-olds since 1999. Students who can add and subtract and multiply and divide from a young age are better prepared to apply that knowledge to scientific coursework. In fact, fourth-grade students nationwide saw gains in science scores across the board, with the lowest-performing students making the most progress. We will be adding science assessments to No Child Left Behind for the 2007-08 school year.

As we look for solutions, I would recommend reaching out to young girls in various ways—perhaps by holding classroom "science bees" pitting teams of boys versus girls, or assigning biographies of great scientists that avid readers will enjoy. I wish you and your class the best of luck.

June 30, 2006

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 No Child Left Behind

Q: Ann from Gilman, Illinois

Dear Secretary Spellings,

Thank you for providing this forum. After looking at NCLB terminology, it is a wonderful effort at school reform, but frankly, there are many rural schools and educators in the Midwest not taking it seriously. It is so disheartening to see such negativity. Please offer some advice and a few resources to put out there that might convince "average" as well as "skeptical" educators that this is the best opportunity we have had in many years to improve public education. Thank you very much for any advice you might have.

A: Secretary Spellings

Thank you for your question, Ann. No Child Left Behind is working, and I'd encourage those educators to take a look at the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) National and State Report Cards in Mathematics and Reading, also known as the Nation's Report Card. The Nation's Report Card confirms that we are heading in the right direction, particularly with younger students who have benefited from No Child Left Behind's core principles of annual assessment and disaggregation of data. The results in fourth grade are particularly encouraging, and we are truly heartened by the continued narrowing of the achievement gap. More information, including results from individual states, is available online at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard

As a former state policymaker, I know how eager states are to use these findings to inform their next policy decisions. The results clearly show a need to apply accountability principles and focused instruction in our middle and high schools in both rural and urban areas. I look forward to working with state and school officials to carry out these urgent, data-driven priorities for our students.

November 17, 2005

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 Physical education, health

Q: Matt from Palmyra, Pennsylvania

Secretary Spellings, thank you for providing this forum to ask questions. I would like to know if the repercussions of schools cutting health and physical education due to the pressure to achieve high scores in reading and math were foreseen by the creators of No Child Left Behind. I am also curious to hear what plans are in effect to help control the rising obesity problem in our country. Thank you for your time.

A: Secretary Spellings

It is possible for schools to offer physical education, arts and other classes while ensuring that their students reach grade level in reading and math. In fact, thousands of schools are proving it every day, meeting their adequate yearly progress goals without sacrificing these important courses. For example, under Pennsylvania law, students in all grades are required to take physical education, and that has not changed with the passage of No Child Left Behind. Meanwhile, academic performance continues to rise. Sixty-nine percent of Pennsylvania's fifth-graders were proficient or advanced in math last year, up from 53 percent in 2001-02; for reading, 64 percent made the grade, compared to 57 percent four years ago.

As for childhood obesity, I agree that it is a serious challenge, and we're working to address it. The President recently signed a federal law requiring all K-12 districts that receive federal funds for free or reduced-price lunches to offer wellness programs to their students. And in 2004-05, the Department awarded more than 230 grants worth nearly $69 million to school districts to help them improve their schools' physical education programs.

March 22, 2006

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 Preparing new teachers

Q: Yolandea from Shiloh, Illinois

I hear a lot of talk about student teaching. I was informed that IL wants new teachers to teach one year as student teachers. I have heard that some schools pay student teachers, some don't. Also that all student teachers are expected to teach one semester or one full summer term. My concern is that student teachers must pay their colleges to teach and that some schools do not pay their student teachers. Is there a policy on student teachers pay and duration of service?

A: Secretary Spellings

Yolanda, I'm glad that you are thinking ahead and figuring out what will work best for you. Districts set their own policies regarding paying student teachers. I suggest that you let your university know that you're interested in finding a student teaching position in a district that does pay its student teachers. Also, since you're enrolled in college while you student teach, you may be eligible for student loans to cover your tuition costs and living expenses. There are a variety of resources to support your efforts, and your college advisors should be able to direct you to possible sources of funding. Good luck as you take this next step in your professional training.

September 22, 2005

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Q: Collin from Minnesota

Current teachers are expected to adapt, learn, change, and re-train, often at their own expense, to meet the demands that federal, state, and local governments place on them and their students. Is there anything being done to ensure that individuals coming out of college are more prepared to meet these demands coming in as new teachers?

A: Secretary Spellings

The Department is very serious about improving teacher preparation in both traditional programs and alternative certification programs. States currently receive funding under Title II, Part A of NCLB for improving teacher quality. States can use these funds to reform teacher certification requirements to ensure that teachers have the subject matter knowledge and teaching skills necessary to help students meet challenging state academic achievement standards. Similarly, Title II of the Higher Education Act provides funds for improving teacher quality by improving the preparation of prospective teachers and enhancing professional development activities.

In addition, the Department is supporting a number of research and evaluation studies on teacher quality that will provide valuable information for the preparation of effective teachers. These include a study to assess the effects of different types and amounts of teacher training on student achievement; another study that broadly examines teacher preparation programs and the type of instruction they provide, particularly in reading and mathematics; and a study of teacher preparation in early reading instruction. The findings from these and other reports will help teacher training institutions improve the education of future teachers.

August 23, 2005

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 Professional development

Q: Jenni from St. Charles, Illinois

I am looking to enroll in a masters degree program in ed leadership. Because of my work and family schedule, I want to enroll in an online university. My state lists approved education leadership programs but only within the state of Illinois. I have been advised by the state office that after completing an online program, I can have my transcripts reviewed for consideration of earning the state administrative certificate. I believe in continuing my learning as a teacher and wish to continue to be considered "highly qualified." However, in this 21st Century world, shouldn't states (or the federal government) provide better support for teachers who wish to use online learning to achieve these goals?

A: Secretary Spellings

The U.S. Department of Education fully supports online learning as a way to accredit teachers. We have provided financial aid to the fully accredited Western Governors University to develop online courses and degrees for educators. When considering an online college, it is important to ensure that the school is accredited by a reputable organization. Some "diploma mills" unfortunately use fake accreditation entities. To combat this, the Department of Education has developed a web site to inform potential students of what to look for when choosing a college or university, including "virtual" ones. I also encourage you to get in touch with the Illinois State Board of Education to find out which programs are accepted for certification. Best of luck.

November 2, 2005

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Q: Sonja from Raleigh, North Carolina

In order for the emphasis on math and science to take place, it would be necessary to lay the foundation in the elementary environment. What programs are available for teachers to qualify for the same opportunities as the IBM workers, who are being enticed into education with tremendous support as compared to teachers who are struggling with minimal salaries and even fewer opportunities to extend their academics due to fiscal restraints?

A: Secretary Spellings

Sonja, I appreciate your question. As you know we must strengthen all of our students' math and science education in order to do so we need highly qualified, dedicated teachers. To support this effort, the No Child Left Behind Act provides grants to States and school districts to support teacher training and recruitment. In addition, the President's FY 2006 Budget request includes $500 million for a Teacher Incentive Fund that can be used to reward outstanding teachers in high-risk, high-poverty schools. We have more than tripled loan forgiveness for special education, math and science teachers who choose to work at high-need schools.

Also, the Department of Education's Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative provides free provisional development to thousands of teachers, and now all 50 states and the District of Columbia grant professional development credit to participants. Currently there are eleven math and science related workshops available free of charge. Thanks again for your question.

September 23, 2005

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Q: Don from California

I applaud the summer workshops sponsored by the Department of Education through the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative. I understand that plans are under way to expand this service. Does the Department have plans for states to adopt their own similar programs?

A: Secretary Spellings

I'm glad that teachers are finding the Teacher-to-Teacher Summer Workshops so useful. Several of the 2004 workshops are currently available to teachers around the country as online professional development opportunities. Our e-Learning Web site (http://www.paec.org/teacher2teacher/) has already logged more than 170,000 hits, and 42 states are now accepting courses taken on this web site for credit. We anticipate that workshops from the recently completed 2005 workshops will be available online soon.

In addition to making the summer workshops available to all states, districts, and schools via the Internet, the Department of Education also provides states with significant funds they can use to provide high quality professional development. In the budget proposal for 2006, over $4 billion has been requested for programs that are dedicated to improving teacher quality, and an additional $793 million has been requested for programs that emphasize teacher quality. With these funds, states could set up programs that provide high quality professional development, like that provided through the summer workshops.

August 23, 2005

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 Reading

Q: Kelly from Navarre, Florida

In Florida, we use a mandated 90 minute reading block. Part of this block is dedicated to whole group, direct, explicit instruction. This year my school ranked first in the county, and my county at the top in our state.... As you know, using high-interest literature is so important in motivating students and teaching story elements.... We have obviously proven that the necessary skills are being taught by checking out our scores. I was told that our district plan follows the No Child Left Behind Act, including the use of novels. I cannot find this anywhere. Can you please give me further information regarding the use of novels/literature in conjunction with NCLB? Thanks.

A: Secretary Margaret Spellings

You raise an important issue, Kelly. Reading is a learned skill, and literacy is the key that unlocks all other learning. But we must remember that grammatical concepts that are routine to adults can be difficult and frustrating for young children. Several years ago, Congress created a National Reading Panel to track more than 20 years of research and follow the progress of tens of thousands of children to determine how best students learn to read. This evidence-based research informs our $1.1 billion Reading First and Early Reading First programs, which use peer-reviewed grants to fund summer training for teachers, classroom reading coaches and other skills-based assistance. More than 100,000 teachers and 1.5 million children in grades K-3 have benefited. And it's working—according to the 2005 Nation's Report Card (NAEP), more reading progress was made in the past five years than in the previous 28 years combined, and more children are reading 20-plus pages a day.

All instructional elements funded by Reading First must reflect the findings of scientifically based research, including the effectiveness and importance of phonics. This has helped end the controversial "reading wars" by preventing the use of unreliable methods and untested fads. As children age, of course, they will seek out more advanced books to read, including literature. The Department of Education has made hundreds of thousands of books available to students in grades K-8 through our Summer Reading Achievers pilot programs. And our new public-private Gulf Coast Summer Reading Initiative is enabling the donation of 250,000 volumes to communities affected by last year's hurricanes. We encourage all schools to offer a rich selection of reading materials that can hone skills and instill a lifelong love of reading. And parents should do their part by reading to their children and keeping plenty of fun and interesting things to read in the home.

July 10, 2006

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 Religious holidays

Q: Karen from Salt Lake City, Utah

I'm so frustrated with the US trying to get "Christmas" out of our vocabulary. In a FOX News poll, 96% of Americans, people of all faiths, celebrate Christmas. So, my question is: What are we allowed to teach and say in school? All of my kids celebrate Christmas, not Winter Holiday. (I asked.) I know I can say Merry Christmas. Can I decorate our room with Christmas stuff? I'm not teaching them about Christ, but I heard that it was okay to say that Christmas is a celebration of Christ's birth for Christians. Thank you.

A: Secretary Margaret Spellings

Christmas is one of the great joys of the year for many Americans of all ages. In fact, Congress recognized December 25 as a public holiday in 1870. Schools and teachers traditionally have celebrated the secular aspects of Christmas and are free to do so today. Educators may also teach students about the religion and history behind Christmas, Hanukkah, and other religious holidays. Of course, some students may not wish to participate in Christmas celebrations, and their beliefs should be respected as well. With this in mind, I hope you celebrate and enjoy the season with your students.

December 19, 2005

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 School safety

Q: Lee Ann from Elizabethton, Tennessee

As the school shooting resonates in our minds, teachers at my school want to know what we can do when we can already see red flags of children at-risk for this type behavior in elementary school. Nothing is being done. Why are we not testing children, all children, psychologically, at ages 5, 10, 15, and taking steps to prevent these violent episodes from occurring. When we can spot children who are capable of this behavior, why are we not given the authority and tools to do something? Why is the government not stepping in?

A: Secretary Spellings

Lee Ann, thanks for your question. The Virginia Tech shooting has resonated with all of us and shaken us to the core. If you are an alumnus of Virginia Tech, a current student or educator, or have friends or family members who attend the school, my thoughts are with you. Our Department stands ready to help the school and community recover in any way we can.

As investigators figure out why this tragic crime happened, we are working on ways to prevent it from happening in the future. President Bush has asked me to help lead a National Dialogue on School Safety, along with the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services. We will continue to work and consult with school, community, business and government leaders across the country in the months ahead.

I ask you, your fellow teachers and anyone who cares about this cause to join in the discussion by e-mailing your suggestions to safeschools@ed.gov. You can find out more about the dialogue, and access the latest resources on school safety, by visiting The National Dialogue on Safe Schools.

In the meantime, there are many steps schools can take—and are taking—to provide support and intervention for at-risk children who pose threats to themselves and potentially to those around them. My Department's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools provides many useful resources, including Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates, which was written in partnership with the U.S. Secret Service. In the wake of the 1999 Columbine shootings, our agencies came together to collect and analyze information about prior school attacks, including common "red flag" warnings, in order to prevent future attacks from occurring.

Finally, while knowing the risk is key, being ready to deal with the risk is essential. This means having a comprehensive Emergency Management Plan in place, created with input from business and community leaders and local first responders. More information can be found at http://www.ed.gov/programs/dvpemergencyresponse/index.html

There are many more resources to be found at the Department of Education's website. A good starting point to learn more is at http://www.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/edpicks.jhtml. Good luck.

June 8, 2007

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 School start time

Q: Kristal from Dickinson, Idaho

I have been wondering for a long time why we have high school students start school at 7:30 am. Studies do show that students learn better later in the day. I feel such early starts also break into "family time."... What is your input on this?

A: Secretary Spellings

Thanks for the question. Opening and closing school times are set by local school districts, not by the U.S. Department of Education, and vary across the country. I believe that early start times may be helpful in certain situations. In April, I was privileged to help present the National Teacher of the Year award to Jason Kamras, a Washington, D.C. middle school mathematics teacher. Kamras started an "early bird" advanced algebra class at 7 a.m. for students who needed extra instruction, and doubled overall instructional time for math. After just one year, the number of students scoring "below basic" in math in his school was cut in half.

October 31, 2005

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 Special education

Q: Bev from Sunray, Texas

If a district has determined that a student will take a Locally Developed Alternate Assessment (LDAA) for science, why does a new Individualized Education Program (IEP) have to be written? Why can't the current IEP be used since it contains the entire ARD information about that individual student, including all modifications currently being used by the regular ed. teacher?

A: Secretary Spellings

In most cases, a new plan does not have to be written. You can amend an existing IEP, as long as the IEP team agrees and unless there is a State law mandating that a new one be written. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) law requires that a student's individualized education program team meet at least annually to evaluate the progress of the student and determine if a change in services is needed. The IEP team should take the lead in making the decisions about which assessments students will have to take. Good luck in your important work.

January 24, 2006

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Q: Fred from Spencer, Indiana

Dear Secretary Spellings,

I read your response to the question about special education students and having them live up to the same standards as regular education students. I agree that special education students should be given all opportunities to learn just as much as the other students. However, the problem with requiring the same testing is that it sometimes takes longer for special education students to learn some of the material. Yet, we use the same test given at the same time the regular education students take it and expect the same results. I think this is the big frustration for teachers. This also leads to another frustration: some schools aren't judged at all on a special education category, because they don't have enough students to count. How is this fair? Some of us have 40 or more.

A: Secretary Spellings

By regularly testing students with special needs and disabilities, schools can see whether the additional resources they receive for special education are translating into academic improvement and the opportunity for students to lead successful and independent lives.

When students with disabilities are part of the accountability system, educators' expectations for these students are more likely to increase. In fact, under the No Child Left Behind Act, students with disabilities are receiving more classroom time and attention, according to the Center on Education Policy. And we know from research that when students with disabilities are excluded from school accountability measures, the rates of referral of students for special education increase dramatically. (See National Center for Educational Outcomes Synthesis 26: http://education.umn.edu/nceo/OnlinePubs/Synthesis26.htm

In other words, we're helping educators realize that students with disabilities can learn and must be counted. Of course, we understand that some students, because of their disability, may need to take an alternate assessment. Under NCLB, and using state-established guidelines that are consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Individualized Education Plan (IEP) teams make the determination regarding which students will take an alternate assessment.

November 17, 2005

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Q: Megan from Westminster, Maryland

I was wondering what is going to be done when parents refuse testing for an obviously learning-disabled student. It's the teacher's responsibility to report neglect when it comes to the mental health, physical health and other areas; it is mentally injurious to students when parents are afraid of labeling them. I am feeling heartbroken for the student, because their parents are unwilling. The child has been retained already and is only getting deeper in a hole.

A: Secretary Spellings

Thank you for your concern. It is hard to watch a student struggle without getting the help he or she needs. I assume from your question that the parents do not want the student tested because they do not want the student labeled as a special education student. There are steps that schools can take to evaluate students suspected of having a disability when parents refuse to give consent to having their child evaluated. However, you may want to consider the following questions first.

Is the student receiving high-quality instruction? It is important that the student is being taught with methods that have been shown to be effective and by teachers who know the subject matter being taught.

Are there other supports available for students who are having difficulty learning? Many schools and districts provide struggling students with more intensive instruction, for example, through one-on-one tutoring or small group instruction before or after school. Also, many schools have "pre-referral" or "child study" teams that bring expert teachers and support personnel together to find ways to help students who are having trouble meeting grade-level standards.

Do the parents understand how an evaluation can be in the student's best interests? It is important to let the parents know the extent of their child's difficulties and how an evaluation can help determine how the student learns best. If the student is found eligible for special education services, the parents can still decide whether or not to refuse those services.

Finally, you should speak to the special education personnel in your school or district about your concerns. They will know the steps that can be taken to pursue an evaluation without parental consent under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

August 31, 2005

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Q: Teresa from Chicago, Illinois

With NCLB in place, are there going to be any adjustments for testing special education students? Is it not unrealistic to expect all students to test at the same percentage rate? These students are in special education for a reason.

A: Secretary Spellings

You are right, students in special education are usually there because a team of professionals has determined that they have a disability, and therefore need special education services. However, being in special education does not mean that a student cannot learn and reach grade-level standards. Special education provides the additional help and support that these students need to learn. This means designing instruction to meet their specific needs and providing support such as physical therapy, counseling services or interpreting services to help such students learn alongside their peers and reach the same high standards as all other students.

August 31, 2005

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 Standards

Q: Iris from Orlando, Florida

Dear Madame Secretary,

Are there guidelines for middle schools on how to achieve the highest standards for our students? I asked to teach at a middle school this year after teaching (very successfully) mostly 12th grade. I am committed to doing the best job possible, but I would like to read guidelines on what is expected. Thank you.

A: Secretary Spellings

Learning outcomes differ for each state, and your state department of education will have its own guidelines for each grade level in your state. Many times these are listed on the state department of education's Web site.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the Nation's Report Card, is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do. Assessments are conducted periodically in reading, mathematics, science, writing, U.S. history, civics, geography and the arts. The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) sets policy for NAEP and is responsible for setting the standards and test specifications that serve as the blueprint for the assessments.

The latest long-term and state-by-state results for NAEP were released earlier this year. Visit the Nation's Report Card Web site at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard for more information on what is tested in each subject area.

November 17, 2005

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 Students: accountability, attendance, disruptive

Q: Shannon from El Cajon, California

I work at a low-performing school. Attendance (or the lack thereof) is a huge issue. How many minutes can a student miss of a class in order for them NOT to receive credit for the class? Our students push the limits and having a set number of minutes which we can then translate into days (we are on a quarter system) would put some teeth into our attendance policy. Thank you.

A: Secretary Spellings

Shannon, thanks for your question and for your dedication to improving attendance rates. Children who are chronically truant are at higher risk for falling behind academically or dropping out altogether. Attendance policies are made at the state and local levels. However, there are many things that can be done to encourage better attendance. For instance, the No Child Left Behind Act requires that localities keep detailed records of truancy, and it supports drug and violence prevention activities designed to reduce truancy and improve attendance rates in school.

October 5, 2005

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Q: Diane from Texas

I teach in Texas, and our school puts extreme pressure on teachers to keep the student failure rate below 14 percent. Should we exceed this rate, our pay is affected. As teachers, we are highly qualified, and we work long hours keeping parents abreast of student progress. Yet more than 14 percent of our students fail because they do not work or attend the many tutorials we provide. It appears that our district is holding students and parents less accountable for student performance and penalizing teachers instead. My understanding is that NCLB was to provide opportunity and incentive for students. What does the law have to say about passing students to keep failure rates down when students do not show mastery of state mandated objectives?

A: Secretary Spellings

Clearly, passing through students who have not met standards is not an acceptable way for schools to meet the adequate yearly progress requirements of NCLB. While it is frustrating when students and parents are not as motivated as we would like them to be, teachers and schools have an obligation to do their best to teach all students.

If significant numbers of students are not making adequate progress, schools need to find ways to improve. NCLB provides over $4 billion that states and districts can use to provide professional development for teachers. These funds can be used to support professional development to help teachers deal with students who are not making progress, as well as with their parents. This professional development can be tailored to identify effective instructional practices for students with different learning styles, special needs or limited English proficiency. It can also be targeted toward improving student behavior in the classroom or finding ways to involve parents in their children's education.

August 26, 2005

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Q: Donnie from Colorado Springs, Colorado

I want to know what NCLB says with regards to a student's right to an education without interference from consistently unruly students. I have a friend who is constantly sending middle school students to the office for constant interruptions and for disturbing other students. None of these violations are life threatening, but these countless daily disturbances do take their toll on students who are truly seeking a good education. I want to know if there is a Student Bill of Rights built into NCLB. If there isn't, I think there should be. Too many teachers and students suffer because of troublesome students and parents.

A: Secretary Spellings

Teachers deserve our thanks for making their classrooms safe and orderly environments in which to learn, sometimes in trying circumstances. NCLB supports them by ensuring that educators can take reasonable actions to maintain order and discipline without the fear of litigation. The law also limits educators' financial liability when they act on behalf of the school in disciplining students or maintaining classroom order.

We're supporting discipline in the classroom in other ways as well. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools supports character education programs to help develop good students and good citizens. Funding for character education tripled in the first three years of the Bush administration. And the president has proposed funding for a teacher incentive fund to encourage the very best teachers to serve in the most challenging communities.

August 26, 2005

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 Students whose parents are in military

Q: Ina from Huntsville, Alabama

Our school educates children from kindergarten to eighth grade whose parents are in the military. Are there any funds available to provide additional classroom assistance for children who have one or more parents deployed overseas? Many of the children are impacted emotionally, therefore decreasing their ability to learn. Thank you!

A: Secretary Spellings

School districts and educators have recognized that many children have much more on their minds than homework these days. Some districts have created programs for military children whose parents have been deployed, including student-led support groups, special counseling and patriotic activities such as making posters to hang on fences. Other schools have assisted students with college applications and homework. Many districts have trained teachers and counselors to look for signs of stress so they can help children cope.

Please contact your state education agency directly to find out what services are available. You can find the contact information online at http://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/ You will be given the opportunity to speak with a state representative who can assist you further in this matter. Thank you for your interest in helping these children.

November 17, 2005

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 Teacher certification

Q: Dee from Durham, North Carolina

I am not sure who to ask, but do you know if it is legal to require applicants for say, a public university to pay a fee to apply or to require testing that costs a fee?

I know common practice has options for fee waivers in the application process, and most tests have fee waivers, but is that required by law?

The reason I ask is because the California Teacher Credentialing process requires a $222 series of tests that has no fee waiver or assistance program. Is that fair and/or legal?

A: Secretary Spellings

Dee, thanks for your question. I am glad to see that you are on your way to becoming a certified teacher. The fees for tests that you are required to take are paid directly to the testing company. It is their fee for developing, processing, and scoring the exams. While states directly negotiate the terms of the contracts including fees with the companies, it may be the case that you are required to pay the testing fee. Sometimes, though, universities choose to pay the fee for their students. Also, school districts may decide to cover these costs for their employees through federal Title II funds provided under No Child Left Behind.

September 21, 2005

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Q: Thomas from Leesburg, Virginia

I am trying to become a teacher through an alternative, "provisional license" program. I am a Phi Beta Kappa, and hold a BA, MA and PhD in English (academic, not Ed school). I have four times the English credit hours required to teach in Virginia. I taught college for eight years. I achieved a perfect score on my Praxis II. I have been certified as "eligible" by the Virginia Department of Education. Yet my local district tells me that I am at the bottom of the applicant list because I do not have a standard teacher certificate. As to the reason for this, the district says that it is only complying with No Child Left Behind. This makes no sense to me, given that we are supposedly seeking the highest qualified teachers. Does NCLB truly mandate that the district hire a candidate with potentially inferior credentials just because they have a certificate? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

A: Secretary Spellings

One of the major goals of No Child Left Behind is to assure that every teacher in every classroom knows his or her subject(s) well and is highly qualified. NCLB aims to raise academic standards for teachers, while at the same time lowering the barriers that have prevented talented and academically knowledgeable people like you from entering the teaching profession.

NCLB defines three basic standards that teachers must meet in order to be considered highly qualified. You easily meet two of these criteria: you hold a bachelor's degree and you have demonstrated subject-area competence. The third criterion is full state certification. A provisional license does not qualify. If however, you were enrolled in an approved alternative certification program, you could be considered as highly qualified as any fully certified teacher. A teacher in an alternative certification program who has a degree and has demonstrated subject knowledge is considered highly qualified if the program requires that the teacher: receive high-quality professional development; participate in a program of intensive supervision with structured guidance and regular ongoing support; function as a teacher for a period not to exceed three years; and demonstrate satisfactory progress toward full certification. For information about alternative certification programs in your state, you should look at the National Center for Alternative Certification's Web site, which can be found at http://www.teach-now.org/.

August 26, 2005

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 Teacher evaluation

Q: Kim from Burleson, Texas

Teachers are given written evaluations at the end of the year by the principals. Why is there no required written evaluation of the principal by the teachers? We have no say, good or bad, about the performance of administrators—and we should.

A: Secretary Spellings

Thank you for your question, Kim. The evaluation of teachers is a policy developed and implemented at the state level. However, the U.S. Department of Education believes that a strong teacher-principal relationship is imperative to a school's success, and supports the training and development of teachers and principals through Title II of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). One of the goals of Title II is to increase student academic achievement through strategies such as improving principal quality and increasing the number of highly qualified principals and assistant principals in schools. Of course, principals, like all school staff, are held accountable under NCLB through annual testing and school performance reports.

November 17, 2005

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 Teachers' perspectives

Q: Henry from Sherman, Texas

Secretary Spellings, I am currently completing my masters degree in early childhood education. In my research I read the Harvard University study, "Listening to Teachers: Classroom Realities and NCLB" developed as part of the Civil Rights Project. After surveying 1,445 teachers, the study found that among other opinions, the teachers reported that "in response to NCLB accountability, they ignored important aspects of the curriculum, de-emphasized or neglected untested topics, and focused instruction on the tested subjects." Are you aware of this study? How do you respond to its findings? Has NCLB ever attempted a similar study gathering teachers' perspectives? Thanks for your time.

A: Secretary Spellings

One way for us to gain teachers' perspective is through the Teachers Ask the Secretary website. I thank you for offering yours. The federal government isn't here to tell states and districts what to teach. Curriculum is a local decision, made with the input of local educators. The No Child Left Behind Act does indeed focus instruction on the two most critical subjects for young students to master, reading and mathematics. A child who can read is a child who can learn, whatever the subject matter may be. NCLB also requires that teachers of "core academic subjects" be highly qualified. These core subjects include not just mathematics and language arts, but science, history, geography, civics and government, economics, foreign languages, and the arts.

Professional development is also an important part of NCLB. We've held numerous Teacher-to-Teacher Workshops so teachers can share and replicate best practices. The U.S. Department of Education provides free online courses through our e-Learning Website; 42 states now accept its courses for credit. And our What Works Clearinghouse scientifically reviews educational policies and programs so that educators know their strengths and weaknesses according to the best available evidence. Information on these studies is available on the WWC's website at http://www.whatworks.ed.gov.

October 5, 2005

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 Teacher quality

Q: Megan from Los Angeles, California

Hi Ms. Spellings. I'm curious as to why "new" middle/high school teachers have more options to demonstrate "subject matter competency" than elementary teachers. I'd think with the importance of high school exit exams, it would be more imperative to give those teachers a test than "new" elementary teachers, especially since elementary teachers undergo far more professional development training than middle/high school teachers. Is there a plan to add more flexibility for "new" multiple subject teachers to show subject matter competence besides a single test? Thank you for this forum to ask you questions.

Sincerely, Megan

A: Secretary Spellings

Teacher quality and competence is very important. Studies show that it has a major impact on student performance. The No Child Left Behind Act recognizes this. The law required that all teachers be highly qualified by the end of the 2005-06 school year, based on state certification standards and with a few exceptions (for instance, new teachers in rural schools who teach more than one subject may have additional time to demonstrate competency in additional subjects).

Elementary school teachers generally must demonstrate subject matter knowledge across the entire grade-level curricula—reading, math, history, etc. By contrast, middle- and high-school teachers generally stick to one subject. So elementary teachers who are new to the profession must pass a rigorous state test on multiple core subject knowledge and teaching skills. New teachers at the middle- and high-school level may demonstrate competency by the completion of a relevant academic major or the equivalent coursework. Of course, all teachers still must have full state certification and a bachelor's degree.

Experienced teachers have another, more flexible avenue to demonstrate their qualifications: the "High, Objective, Uniform State Standard of Evaluation," or HOUSSE. Under HOUSSE, states may determine teacher competency through a number of objective measures. Many states use point systems that allow teachers to combine years of experience, professional development, curriculum-development activities and other factors. Contact your state to learn more.

Finally, let me point out that the Department of Education is convening Teacher-to-Teacher workshops throughout the country this summer for educators to share ideas and best practices with one another. A special K-12 Foreign Language Workshop will be held in Los Angeles from July 31-Aug. 1. These workshops have proved popular in the past, and I urge you to attend.

May 11, 2006

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Q: Lisa from Concord, California

If one took coursework in lieu of an exam to demonstrate "subject-matter competence," would that be acceptable? I ask because I believe coursework to be more rigorous than an exam. A person can get lucky on an exam, but coursework often has multiple assessments, assignments, and projects to receive a grade. Will the Department look into adding more flexibility for "new" teachers to demonstrate "subject matter competency" besides a single test?

Thank you for your time.

A: Secretary Spellings

Thank you for writing, Lisa. Yes, the option you describe is acceptable at the secondary school level, where teachers are much more likely to specialize in one subject. Options include majoring in the subject in college, completing the equivalent coursework, passing a test, or holding advanced certification in the subject.

Let me address subject matter for a moment. NCLB covers teachers of "core academic subjects." These include English, reading or language arts, math, science, foreign languages, civics or government, history, geography, economics, and the arts. Currently, student performance in reading and math is used to determine a school's annual academic progress. Starting in 2007, science will be added as well.

This is an important step. Knowledge of math and science is the key to opportunity in the competitive global economy, and it is urgent that we improve academic performance in those subjects. Unfortunately, studies show that in high-poverty middle and high schools, only one out of every two math teachers and one out of three science teachers majored or minored in the field they're teaching.

The President has proposed a $25 million Adjunct Teacher Corps to encourage up to 30,000 math and science professionals to share their knowledge in the classroom. Like him, I believe the contributions of qualified professionals from outside the teaching profession can help us fill the gap.

May 11, 2006

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Q: Sheldon from Moncks Corner, South Carolina

A release by Dep. Sect. Ray Simon dated June 17, 2005 indicates that the U.S. Department of Education will not audit the NCLB date for paraprofessionals becoming fully qualified so, if a state or district desires, they may disregard the Jan. 8 date implied in NCLB. We have made tremendous efforts to comply with the paraprofessional requirements of NCLB and feel that this is the wrong message to be sending—it seems that those who felt "this too shall pass" were correct. We have made similar efforts to ensure that we have all of our teachers Highly Qualified by the end of the school year. We hope that the Department will refrain from suggesting that we may also ignore this portion of NCLB because "since it won't be audited, there is no need to comply." Thanks

A: Secretary Spellings

Thanks for writing. All students will have to be taught by a highly qualified teacher or paraprofessional by the end of the 2005-06 school year. This means the teacher must hold a bachelor's degree, have full State certification and demonstrate knowledge in the core academic subjects taught. Our intent in extending the deadline was to make the two categories consistent, not to lower standards.

Since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed four years ago, States have increasingly improved the quality of their teaching forces. A majority of teachers now meet the required qualifications, and school districts are starting to prohibit the hiring of teachers who do not. States have also raised their standards for teacher preparation programs.

Of course, some States may experience personnel shortages. Those that fall short of the goal despite a serious, good-faith effort may or may not have funds withheld by the Department. This will be determined by several tests: whether a State has a clear, strong definition of "highly qualified"; reports their progress to parents and the public; collects accurate data; and takes steps to assign qualified teachers equitably, particularly in low-income school districts. We are working with States to ensure they meet the letter and the spirit of the law.

January 24, 2006

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Q: Sheri from New Port Richey, Florida

I am currently certified to teach Exceptional Student Education (ESE), K-12, English 6-12, and Psychology 6-12. I have been working at a school for six years in various ESE positions. Last year I started working with students that were unable to attend school due to medical issues and became their homebound teacher. This year I am still working with the same two students but am now being told that I am "not highly qualified" for three of the subjects that I am teaching to just these two individual students. Is it true that students on medical homebound will have to have a teacher (or many teachers) certified in every subject they are being taught? This is usually six different subjects and seems to be an unfair requirement for the homebound teacher. I would really appreciate any feedback you can give on this subject. Thank you, Sheri

A: Secretary Spellings

The answer depends on whether you are currently teaching at the elementary level or the secondary level as defined by your State. At the elementary level, you must demonstrate content knowledge of the elementary school curriculum. At the secondary level, you have to demonstrate competency in the subject(s) you teach. It appears that you already meet the other condition, which is certification to teach students with special needs; this requirement was added by Congress to the reauthorization of the IDEA law in December 2004 in order to align it with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

NCLB does contain certain flexibilities for teachers who teach multiple subjects and for teachers in rural areas. In addition, IDEA gives special education teachers who (1) teach multiple subjects and (2) are already highly qualified in language arts, mathematics and science an additional two years from the date of hire to become highly qualified in any other subject. Please access the Department's web site—http://www.ed.gov/teachers/nclbguide/toolkit_pg10.html
#requirements
—for more detailed guidance.

January 18, 2006

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Q: Wade from Roanoke, Virginia

Besides family, the number one influence on student learning is teacher quality. What is the U.S. Department of Education doing to ensure that quality teachers can advance in their profession without leaving their classrooms?

A: Secretary Spellings

Research does show the importance of strong teachers to a child's educational achievement. This is why the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires that children be taught by highly qualified teachers and why the proposed budget includes almost $3 billion in Title II, Part A funds to help states meet this goal by 2006. We also must do a better job of rewarding teachers who take on difficult teaching assignments and succeed. President Bush has proposed a new $500 million Teacher Incentive Fund to help states reward teachers who achieve real results in raising achievement levels and closing the achievement gap. States and districts can use program funds to develop performance-based teacher compensation systems that reward hard work and results over credentials and seniority.

August 23, 2005

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Q: Jane from Los Angeles, California

NCLB mandates that there be a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. NCLB defines a highly qualified teacher as one who has full certification, has earned a bachelor's degree, and has demonstrated competence in the subject he or she teaches. Do you think that this definition of highly qualified ensures quality instruction for all students? Would completing all the requirements on paper be all that a person would need to become an effective teacher?

A: Secretary Spellings

The "highly qualified" teacher definition in NCLB should be viewed as a starting point rather than as an end point. When teachers enter the classroom, they should already be knowledgeable about the subjects they teach, and they should be fully certified, according to the licensure rules for the states in which they work. But these are only basic requirements for good teaching, and we all know that it takes more than basic qualifications for a teacher to be truly effective in the classroom. I believe that teachers should, throughout their careers, continue to participate in high quality professional development activities that allow them to both improve their subject knowledge and their teaching and classroom management skills. The proposed budget for 2006 provides over $4 billion for programs dedicated to improving teacher quality so that teachers can become both highly qualified and highly effective. We also want to see more talented professionals from other walks of life enter the teaching profession. To that end, President Bush's budget supports the Troops to Teachers program and calls for increases to the Transition to Teaching Program.

August 23, 2005

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 Teacher salaries

Q: Ed from Heber, California

According to Fox News, California will soon experience a shortage of some 100,000 teachers. Since NCLB directs that fully credentialed teachers shall be serving in our children's classrooms, will the market-forces of supply and demand be allowed to help determine teacher salaries?

A: Secretary Spellings

No Child Left Behind requires that, by the end of the 2005-06 school year, all teachers who teach core academic subjects be highly qualified. Teachers hired in the future must also be highly qualified. According to the law, a teacher is highly qualified if he or she has a bachelor's degree, is fully certified by the state and has demonstrated subject-area competence in each subject taught. A teacher who has an emergency or provisional license would not be highly qualified.

While decisions about teacher pay are made at the state and local levels, the U.S. Department of Education is interested in helping states and districts do a better job of rewarding teachers who take on difficult teaching assignments. President Bush has proposed a $500 million Teacher Incentive Fund to provide states with money to reward teachers who take challenging jobs and achieve real results. States and districts can use program funds to develop performance-based teacher compensation systems that could go a long way toward alleviating the sort of teacher shortage that you describe.

August 31, 2005

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 Teachers rights

Q: Brandy from Malone, New York

Is there a list of teachers' rights and responsibilities available from the federal government?

A: Secretary Spellings

I appreciate your question. The No Child Left Behind Act contains guarantees for both teachers and students. Students benefit from a quality teacher in every classroom, and teachers benefit from a greater array of professional development activities and incentives than ever before.

For instance, Reading First grants are helping more than 100,000 teachers use the most effective, scientifically proven instructional methods to help students read by grade 3 or earlier. Our Teacher-to-Teacher Training Corps and free summer regional workshops bring educators together to sharpen their instructional skills and share strategies for improving student achievement. This year many of the workshops are focused on mathematics, science and critical foreign language skills. In addition, an eLearning Web site and free online digital workshops allow teachers from across the country to participate. Today, all 50 states accept Teacher-to-Teacher activities for professional credit.

All told, since 2001, President Bush and Congress have provided $22 billion in federal resources to support teachers. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states have unprecedented flexibility to use those dollars to improve teacher training and quality. The law also protects educators from litigation when they take reasonable actions to maintain order and discipline in the classroom.

Finally, let me mention two incentive programs. The President's landmark Teacher Incentive Fund contains nearly $100 million to reward teachers who make outstanding progress in raising student achievement or narrowing the achievement gap. And our popular Teacher Loan Forgiveness program now offers up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness—previously the limit was $5,000—to highly qualified math, science and special education teachers who serve in high-risk, high-poverty communities.

Nothing is more important to a child's education than a dedicated, qualified teacher. By providing new resources, professional development and lawsuit protection, we're allowing teachers to concentrate on the job at hand.

April 25, 2006

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 Testing

Q: Sherry from California

I wanted to know why you are so focused on tests. It seems like this really limits my students who might not do well under the pressure of a test that determines their whole future. Thank you for answering.

A: Secretary Spellings:

Sherry, thank you for your question. Testing has always been an important part of the education process. I like to say that what gets measured, gets done. Without regular measurement and assessment, schoolchildren may be undiagnosed and uncorrected and left to fall behind—ending up, as the President has said, merely "shuffled through the system."

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states and localities, not the federal government, determine the academic standards for which students are tested. Their purpose is to provide an independent insight into each school's progress, as well as each child's, so that no child—regardless of race, ethnic group, gender or family income—is trapped in a consistently low-performing school that does not meet their educational needs.

Such measurements are also important for teachers, letting them know if the curriculum needs to be reviewed and aligned with the content upon which state standards are based. The results also help teachers clarify those areas in which they may need more professional development. After all, the key mission of a school remains ensuring that children are learning. Annual assessments are vital to accomplishing it.

October 5, 2005

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 Secretary Answers Questions at Ask the White House (Feb 3, 2006)
 Secretary Spellings Hosts Ask the White House (Jan 9, 2006)
 Assistant Secretary Luce Hosts Ask the White House (Oct 21, 2005)
 Secretary Spellings Hosts Ask the White House (Sep 6, 2005)
 Press Release (Aug 24, 2005)


 
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