President Bush vowed yesterday to push a "reform agenda" for education in his second term that would extend his academic accountability program known as No Child Left Behind to the high school level and expand access to college by reforming the financial assistance system.
At a ceremony swearing in his longtime adviser, Margaret Spellings, as secretary of education, Bush hailed recent improvements in math and reading test scores but lamented the failure of three out of every 10 students starting high school to make it to graduation four years later.
President Bush, with new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings after her swearing-in, said he planned to expand the academic accountability of No Child Left Behind into high schools.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- AP)
"The achievement gap in America is closing," the president said during an appearance at Education Department headquarters. "We've made important progress, but Margaret understands there is still more work to be done. We will maintain the high standards of No Child Left Behind. We will extend those high standards and accountability to America's public high schools."
One of the chief domestic achievements of Bush's first term, the No Child Left Behind Act aimed to introduce business-style accountability to public schools, but critics have complained that the program has proved too bureaucratic and that the federal government has not provided enough money to make it succeed.
Spellings, one of the program's chief architects, defended it yesterday as emblematic of revolutionary thinking that will help transform American education.
"When you signed No Child Left Behind into law three years ago," she told Bush, "it was more than an act, it was an attitude -- an attitude that says it's right to measure our children's progress from year to year so we can help them before it's too late, an attitude that says expecting students to read and do math at grade level or better is not too much to ask."
Spellings, a longtime Bush aide from Texas who served as White House domestic policy adviser in the first term, noted that she will be the first mother with school-age children serving as education secretary.
"In carrying out my duties to the American people, I will be carrying out my duties as a mom," she said.
Democrats have welcomed Spellings's appointment, praising her passion and professionalism, but they have warned that they would hold the administration responsible for living up to its promises.
"We simply cannot reform our public schools and expand access to college education on a tin cup education budget," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told Spellings during her confirmation hearing. "If we are to move forward in this new century to meet the demands of the global economy, we must overcome the deficiencies in today's schools with continuing reforms and new resources."