ELC Members Upbeat About Federal Law
The Education Leaders Council, likely the most gung-ho education group when it comes to the new federal education law, focused its annual conference this year on the legislation.
The group’s leadership, not surprisingly, offered an upbeat assessment of the law’s promise. William J. Moloney, the commissioner of education in Colorado and the ELC’s current chairman, called the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 a “marvelous vehicle” for improving education.
“I believe we are among those states that seem to be coping fairly well with the task set before us,” he said.
Florida Secretary of Education James Horne, a board member of the ELC, offered a similar view on his state’s status, but suggested a little extra pressure might be felt because a presidential sibling lives in the governor’s mansion.
“It’s kind of hard to disagree with your brother,” he said, alluding to Gov. Jeb Bush’s view of the law championed by President Bush.
While overall Mr. Horne expressed enthusiasm for the new law, he acknowledged that “there are some pieces I wish we did not have to comply with.”
During the opening session of the Sept. 27-28 conference, the ELC electronically polled participants about the law, a revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
A sample question: How well do you think your state is doing at implementing the No Child Left Behind Act? Choosing from four possible answers, six participants said their states were “already fully compliant,” 57 chose “mostly there,” 76 said their states had “quite a bit of work to do,” and 27 said “not even close.”
Asked what is the most important new federal requirement, 35 said annual testing; 21 chose the law’s mandates for providing school choice and supplemental services for students in low- performing schools; 24 picked teacher-quality requirements; 50 said closing the achievement gap; and 37 said defining and meeting requirements to make adequate yearly progress.
The audience of some 375 people was a blend of federal, state, and local officials, along with educators, researchers, representatives from for-profit and nonprofit outfits, and others, including a member of the British Parliament.
The ELC had great success in attracting top brass from the U.S. Department of Education. Both Undersecretary Eugene W. Hickok and Deputy Secretary William D. Hansen were on hand, as were several other department officials.
That healthy representation presumably was no coincidence, given the group’s embrace of the new education law and the fact that Undersecretary Hickok helped start the ELC—which was seen as an alternative to the Council of Chief State School Officers—back in 1995, when he was Pennsylvania’s secretary of education.
Speaking at the conference, Mr. Hickok suggested that the Education Department would need plenty of help to ensure the new law is effectively carried out. “It is one thing to pass the law,” he said. “It is another to make that law work.”
“We probably will need everyone in this room, and we’ll need every member of Congress who cares about this issue, to help make the case that no excuses are acceptable,” he said.
The next day, U.S. Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and one of the bill’s chief architects, made clear his support for that task.
Mr. Boehner said he and other leaders on Capitol Hill who shepherded the measure through Congress were serious about seeing that the law is implemented and enforced. He suggested, in blunt terms, that it soon may be time for the federal government to take action on that front.
“We’ve got states that are taking the guidance they’ve gotten from the department already, and you should see their creative interpretations of how this law works in their states,” he said. “I’ve suggested to some that ... it might be time to start slapping a few fingers, because soon we’re going to have to slap a few hands.
“But at some point in this process,” he continued, “I’ll guarantee you that we’re going to have to hit one state in the head with a sledgehammer.”
—Erik W. Robelen