Education Federal File

Meeting of Minds

By Christina A. Samuels — November 01, 2005 1 min read

Spellings and Utah’s schools chief discuss the NCLB law in person

Utah has been one of the loudest dissidents when it comes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, with state legislators and other officials contending that the law’s provisions on student testing and sanctions for low-achieving schools encroach on state and local turf.

But after months of dialogue by e-mail and phone, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington sat down last week to hash out their differences. Both described their Oct. 25 meeting in Washington as productive, though they were also careful to say that no promises had been made.

“Mostly, I felt like they were listening,” Ms. Harrington said, while suggesting that the department under Ms. Spellings’ predecessor, Rod Paige, did not.

“The secretary committed to doing everything she can to help Utah education officials,” Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said in a statement e-mailed to Education Week. Ms. Aspey did not mention Utah’s specific concerns.

The meeting was the first time the two officials had met face to face after Utah decided earlier this year that its own education programs should outweigh the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act.

In April, the Utah legislature passed a law that puts the state’s accountability measures ahead of the federal government’s, which could put the state’s $76 million in federal education funding at risk. At the time, Ms. Spellings told Utah lawmakers that the bill seemed “designed to provoke noncompliance with the federal law.” (“Utah Passes Bill to Trump ‘No Child’ Law,” April 27, 2005.)

Last week’s meeting was much more conciliatory, said Ms. Harrington, who added that she talked about Utah’s contention that students in schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress should get an opportunity to receive tutoring before parents are given a choice of moving their children to different schools. The No Child Left Behind law puts the school-transfer option first.

It may be 2007 before some of Utah’s waivers are granted, Ms. Harrington said she was told. State officials are still frustrated that the federal government seems to be usurping state authority, Ms. Harrington said.

But Ms. Spellings “is a good listener,” she added. “She wants to do what’s right.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2005 edition of Education Week