MARGARET WARNER: Margaret Spellings, named today to replace Secretary of Education Rod Paige, has been a close advisor to President Bush for years.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I've known Margaret Spellings for more than a decade. I have relied on her intellect and judgment throughout my career in public service.
MARGARET WARNER: The 46-year-old Spellings has been the president's chief domestic policy advisor since 2001. Previously, she spent six years as his education advisor in Texas and was associate director of that state's school boards association in the early '90s.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: With the Senate's approval, Margaret Spellings will continue the work of a fine educator and leader, Secretary Rod Paige. As secretary of education, this humble and decent man inspired his department and implemented the most significant federal education reform in a generation.
Today, thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, students of every background are making hopeful progress in reading and math.
MARGARET WARNER: The 2002 No Child Left Behind law imposes regular reading and math tests on elementary and secondary school students, and penalizes schools whose student scores don't meet standards or improve rapidly enough. Today, the president said he wants to expand the law's reach.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We've made great progress in our schools, and there is more work to do. Margaret Spellings and I are determined to extend the high standards and accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act to all of America's public high schools.
MARGARET SPELLINGS: I share your passion for education and your commitment to seeing that each and every child has the skills and qualities necessary to realize the American dream. Our schools must keep their promise to all our children, and I pledge to do all I can to ensure that no child is left behind.
I am a product of our public schools. I believe in America's schools, what they mean to each child, to each future president or future domestic policy advisor, and to the strength of our great country.
MARGARET WARNER: Spellings' appointment must still be confirmed by the Senate. (Applause)
MARGARET WARNER: For more on Margaret Spellings' appointment and what it may mean for education, we turn to: Congressman George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee -- he worked with Spellings in negotiating the "No Child Left Behind" bill.
And Diane Ravitch, assistant secretary of education in the first President Bush's administration -- she's now professor of education at New York University. Welcome to you both.
Congressman Miller, you know Margaret Spellings. Is this a good appointment?
REP. GEORGE MILLER: I think this is a good appointment. She obviously knows education. She has been in the field for a number of years. She is very close to the president.
I think she is going to bring a level of energy to the relationship between the Congress and the Department of Education that we needed at this stage of the progress that we are making with No Child Left Behind and on a number of other education issues. I think this is a good change.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Professor Ravitch, you're a veteran of being in the Department of Education, what do you think she brings to the table and what does it mean for the Department potentially to have someone with this closeness to the president running it?
DIANE RAVITCH: Well, there's no question that Margaret Spellings has the confidence of the president of the United States and she is very close to him. She also had the experience of working closely with him as governor in Texas. And Texas and North Carolina were the two outstanding states in terms of making progress for their kids.
So Margaret Spellings was there in the front lines in Texas and has been at the president's right hand. And I think it is going to be a plus for this administration and hopefully a plus towards maintaining a strong bipartisan working relationship with people like Congressman Miller.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Congressman, you said you thought she would bring a lot of energy to the relationship between the administration and the Congress working on No Child Left Behind. What are the big outstanding things that need to be done that you are looking for some flexibility from the administration on?
REP. GEORGE MILLER: Well, what we're really looking for is that we get a smooth implementation of this legislation, and we're at a point now where more and more of the school districts, more and more of the states are starting to understand that the Congress and president of the United States mean what we have said in this act.
We mean what we say about standards based learning; we mean what we say about accountability; we mean what we're saying about having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. And I think having Margaret Spellings who is so close to the president come to the Department at this point, I think it sets a standard, if you will, that the law is going to be enforced.
We are going to continue to argue with Margaret Spellings, with the president of the United States, and many other people about the level of funding for this legislation because we are now moving into the most expensive part of this legislation as school districts and states start to deal with the number of schools that are in need of improvement, have been now for several years, and major actions are going to have to be taken with respect to those schools.
And that's going to be expensive and I think the federal government ought to step up and keep its promise to fund this bill at the levels authorized by Congress.
MARGARET WARNER: Professor Ravitch, that has been a big complaint of Democrats, it was an issue in the campaign, that the level of funding just isn't enough, particularly for the failing schools or the schools that "need improvement."
Is there any reason to think that this change will signal a change in the administration's view on that funding, or was she essentially running policy on this from the White House anyway?
DIANE RAVITCH: Well, I would imagine that as secretary Margaret Spellings would be carrying out what President Bush asked her to do. I don't know that the complaints about funding are entirely justified. I'm a strong supporter of putting lots of money into our schools.
But I know that the funding has increased from the federal government over the last four years by something like 40 to 50 percent. It's been a very significant increase. And when you've worked in Washington and any Department, you know that there is a huge difference between what is authorized and what is appropriated. And sometimes an authorization is just a wish list.
So I do think that, you know, for most of our schools, teaching children to read and do mathematics should not be the most expensive thing they do. This is not an impossible dream to see our children be able to achieve the basic skills that they need to be literate and to participate in our society.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman, don't a lot of the Democrats, or at least many Democrats, and also teachers and educators, also have problems with what they see as the rigidity with which the standards are applied to each school? Are you all looking for changes in the law? I know Rod Paige had resisted any legislative changes.
REP. GEORGE MILLER: Well, what we are doing on the Committee on Education, we are listening to people all across the country. We have been out talking to all levels of people involved in education, to their concerns. There are some legitimate concerns. And the chairman of our committee, John Boehner, has said he is willing to have hearings and to address those.
But I think what is happening now is we are starting to turn the corner. I think more and more members of Congress are starting to understand that this legislation is in fact starting to get some very positive results, and it's starting to close the gap between majority and minority students, between rich and poor students. It's starting to put more time on task for students so that they will have the chance to read at grade level and to progress with what that means for that, to have that capability.
So I think a lot of the sort of insurrection feeling we had against this legislation a year ago in January has dissipated to a great extent and again as more and more school districts understand and they start to see models of success, and there are many of them out there in all social economic communities, models of success, they're starting to see that this isn't the impossible dream; this can be done, but I disagree, obviously with Diane and with the president and that is that the level of funding is very important here and the president made a promise.
If we gave him these real reforms, he would give us the resources necessary to carry it out. And in too many school districts and states, those resources are not in place and it's a shame that we would miss this opportunity because the federal government failed to keep its promise.
MARGARET WARNER: And just a quick follow-up. Do you have any reason to think that with Margaret Spellings as secretary, you'll get a better hearing from the White House on this?
REP. GEORGE MILLER: Well, I think we'll have a better conversation about it. But there is no question she represents the president. She has passed on these budgets over the last few years as domestic policy adviser. But I think we'll have a better conversation about it than we have we've had in the past.
MARGARET WARNER: Diane Ravitch, I'd like to ask you about another issue, in which I think some conservatives had concerns about Margaret Spellings and that is her attitude towards school choice, vouchers, charter schools and so on. Is she supportive of school choice or might we see a difference there?
DIANE RAVITCH: Well, I'm speaking I guess second or third hand which is that my understanding is that she is not a strong supporter of vouchers.
However, I do believe that she supports the choice provisions in No Child Left Behind which say that if children are failing school over a certain period of time, they can have other choices that may include charter schools and may include getting supplemental services, meaning tutoring at the expense of their school district.
And it certainly would not be in the law unless Margaret Spellings strongly supported it.
MARGARET WARNER: And then, what about the idea -- staying with you, Professor, for a minute, that the president talked about today of expanding No Child Left Behind, the testing that is, to the high school, is that an idea really gathering steam in the education community?
DIANE RAVITCH: Well, it is something that was proposed by a commission that was part of the federal testing agency, the National Assessment Governing Board. And they proposed that we should be testing students in high school to see if they're ready for college and ready for work.
And for same reasons that we do it now under NCLB, which is No Child Left Behind, from grades three through eight - and that is it provides information, it provides accountability and it provides an incentive. And I think that employers and everyone in school needs to know whether we're actually preparing kids for what lies ahead of them.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Congressman, what kind of reception would that idea get on Capitol Hill if the president were to propose it?
REP. GEORGE MILLER: I think it's going to have rough sledding not just on Capitol Hill but I think in communities all across the country.
This administration promised to provide full funding for special education and they didn't do it; they promised to provide the funding in No Child Left Behind -- we are $29 billion behind the power curve in funding. And I think before communities say we are going to take on a new series of federal mandates under high school provisions for this act, they're going to be very skeptical of that.
And I don't think they're going to take on those burdens when they're having the kinds of financial difficulties that they are today.
MARGARET WARNER: Obviously, Congressman, the Senate is the one who is going to be passing on her confirmation, but what kind of a grilling, how much of a grilling do you expect her to get and from which side?
REP. GEORGE MILLER: Well, I think that clearly I would believe that the Senate Democrats would want to go back through this question of funding and to just dust it off and, well, say this is just an authorization, it didn't mean anything.
It meant something when we negotiated it with the White House and with the Republicans and the Democrats in the House and the Senate -- those numbers are there for a reason. We know the kind of huge task that is require under No Child Left Behind. I would hope that they would talk to her about that. I would hope they would talk to her about the choice to make sure that we understand what that means in the public school system and how it can be beneficially used.
I think we want... there is going to be a whole range of other topics behind No Child Left Behind in terms of Head Start, after school care, higher education, there's a lot on the education plate this coming session of Congress.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congressman and Professor Ravitch, thank you both.