THE NEW YORK TIMES
MOUNT VERNON, Va. - Secretary of Education Margaret
Spellings offered greater flexibility to states on Thursday in meeting the
requirements of the Bush administration's education reform law, calling the
changes a major policy shift.
In her first national response to growing resistance among
state officials to the law, known as No Child Left Behind, Spellings sought
to set a new, more cooperative tone. She compared the law's tempestuous
first years to those of an infant's experiencing "the terrible 2s."
"This is a new day," she said. "States that show results and
follow the principles of No Child Left Behind will be eligible for new tools
to help you meet the law's goals."
Although President Bush promoted the law during his
re-election campaign as one of his major accomplishments, more than 30
states - including many Republican strongholds - have raised objections to
it. Some argue that the federal government is not adequately financing its
requirements, which include a broad expansion of standardized testing.
Others object to federal intrusion into an area long considered the domain
of the states.
It was unclear whether Spellings' proposals went far enough
to assuage state officials' concerns, though several state superintendents
expressed approval, as did both national teachers unions and several members
But Connecticut officials, who announced earlier this week
they would sue the federal government for forcing the state to conduct more
testing without providing the money to pay for it, were not impressed.
"Nothing in all of today's verbiage corrects the key legal
lapse: By the law's clear terms, no mandate means no mandate, if it's
unfunded," said Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general. "Our
determination to sue continues."
Spellings announced specific concessions in only one area,
concerning how learning-disabled students must be tested.
Until now, the administration has allowed only 1 percent of
the most severely handicapped students to be given special tests; all other
disabled students have been required to take the same test given regular
students. Dozens of state officials have called that unfair and unrealistic.
Spellings said Thursday that states would be allowed to administer
alternative tests to an additional 2 percent of students.
Spellings also said the Department of Education could give
some states additional flexibility, but she said they must first prove that
they deserve it.