Spellings Hits Road, Stresses Charter Plan

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The day after the Bush administration unveiled its most detailed plans yet for renewing the No Child Left Behind Act, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings selected a charter high school here as the first stop in a campaign to sell a plan that includes expanding the role of charter schools and revamping high school instruction.

“People ask me, ‘Is No Child Left Behind possible?’ And I say yes, it’s absolutely possible. And people say where is that happening, and I say right here at Noble Street,” Secretary Spellings said on Jan. 25 at a student assembly at Noble Street Charter High School, which was founded under a charter from the Chicago school board. It was her first school visit after Mr. Bush’s Jan. 23 State of the Union address. “I am very encouraged by the innovation that’s going on here. … We need to open up more charter schools where they are needed.”

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The administration’s plan would make it easier for districts to turn faltering regular public schools into charters. The administration said it would support local decisions to reopen schools identified as needing improvement under the No Child Left Behind law as charters, even if state law limits the number of those independent public schools.

But that idea is likely to face opposition in the Democratic-controlled Congress. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a statement last week that he was “disappointed that the administration has proposed circumventing state law with respect to worker protections [in teacher contracts] and other issues,” including charter school laws.

Secretary Spellings told reporters here that the proposal had been carefully vetted by federal lawyers and would not violate state laws. She also hinted that there would be increased federal spending on education in President Bush’s budget proposal next week, something Democratic leaders say is necessary to gain their support for renewing the NCLB law this year.

“I’m confident we’ll be putting our money where our mouth is,” said Ms. Spellings, although she declined to provide specifics. The last two White House budget proposals sought to level-fund K-12 education spending, including Title I grants to states.

The Bush administration has also been urging states and districts to offer extra pay to effective teachers who are willing to go to low-performing schools. Last year, the 426,000-student Chicago school district received a $30 million grant from the Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund for that purpose.

Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago system, highlighted that proposal in his remarks at Noble Street. “For the first time ever, we are going to put great teachers in the schools that need the most help,” he said.

Emphasis on College Prep

The 450-plus-student Noble Street Charter High School appeared to embody curricular and governance principles that the administration would like to implement nationally.

The administration’s NCLB plan calls for schools to offer rigorous courses, particularly at the high school level. At Noble Street, students receive about 25 percent more mathematics and reading instruction than their peers in other public high schools in Chicago, according to Michael Milkie, the superintendent of the three-campus Noble Network of Charter Schools.

The administration’s proposal calls for states to report how many students complete Advanced Placement courses, including data for subgroups such as racial minorities.

Noble Street’s curriculum emphasizes college preparation and includes a course called College Writing, in which students work on their applications for admission and research financial-aid options.

Vol. 26, Issue 21, Page 25

Published in Print: January 31, 2007, as Spellings Hits Road, Stresses Charter Plan
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