Federal File

September 05, 2001 1 min read

As If

As tens of millions of children head back to school, Rod Paige is looking forward to enacting a grand new accountability law. But perhaps he’s looking a little too forward.

Secretary Paige has visited schools in nine states the past two weeks in what’s become a standard back-to-school tour for education czars, giving his stump speech about the need for accountability in schools to parents, educators, and business and political leaders.

He’s also giving out homework assignments—three new publications to help parents, teachers, and community members figure out how President Bush’s accountability plan in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will affect their schools. That proposal would require states to administer annual reading and mathematics assessments in grades 3-8.

But Mr. Paige is handing out instruction manuals for an educational machine still in the design stage.

The ESEA plan is a few crucial steps away from becoming law. When members of Congress return this week from their August recess, they’ll continue work in a House-Senate conference committee to come up with a compromise bill. Then both chambers must pass the final version.

While it seems like a sure bet that the bones of the president’s accountability plan will survive, many substantive changes could be made before it reaches his desk. And nothing is certain until the bill is signed into law.

The department’s guides, offer ways that parents, community members, and teachers can get involved in helping states make the transition to the new mandates. For instance, one booklet encourages parents “to talk to your children about how you can help them progress toward the academic standards set for their grade.”

Lindsey Kozberg, Mr. Paige’s spokeswoman, said he viewed the tour and the guides as much more than looking forward to a particular law. “The thing we’re calling for, ultimately, is a culture change for schools,” she said.

—Joetta L. Sack