Rocky, Post reported Spellings' NCLB comments without noting criticisms or controversy
Research ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Reporting on U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' speech to Denver business leaders in which she defended the federal No Child Left Behind Act, July 31 articles in The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News made no mention of widespread dissatisfaction with the law or efforts by state and federal lawmakers to modify some of its provisions.
In July 31 articles about a speech U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings gave to a group of local business representatives, the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post reported her defense of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) but omitted mention of the controversy or criticism surrounding the education reform measure. Both newspapers quoted Spellings as saying NCLB is a "good," "strong," and "hawkish" law that Congress should reauthorize, but neither reported the growing dissatisfaction with the measure among educators, state officials, and federal lawmakers of both parties.
As the online policy journal Stateline.org noted in a July 7, 2005, article, "Congress passed NCLB, President Bush's signature education reform law, with strong bipartisan support in 2001 with the intent to raise academic achievement for all students and close the gaps in achievement that separate students of color and low-income students from their peers. However, states have complained since the law went into effect in 2002 that it is too costly and that federal standards usurp state and local control of schools."
For example, as Gannett News Service reported in a July 27 article by Pamela Brogan, "More than 60 House Republicans are bucking the Bush administration and supporting a bill by a Michigan congressman that would let states bypass testing and accountability standards in the No Child Left Behind law and still get federal funds."
Additionally, The New York Times reported on July 31 that U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) -- chairman of the House education committee and "an original architect of the federal No Child Left Behind Law" -- has proposed significant changes to how the law measures students' progress in various subject areas. The Times reported that in a July 30 speech at the National Press Club, Miller said he remained committed to the law but "acknowledged the many complaints about the No Child Left Behind law from school districts nationwide, saying: 'Throughout our schools and communities, the American people have a very strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair. That it is not flexible. And that it is not funded. And they are not wrong.' "
Furthermore, a July 31 article in The Washington Times reporting on Miller's proposed changes noted that "many in Mr. Bush's own party don't like the education law and want to reduce federal involvement in the classroom. Sixty-three House Republicans have signed onto a bill by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, that would essentially gut the law by letting states opt out of it." Similarly, The New York Times reported on April 7 that "discontent" with NCLB "in many states is threatening to undermine" its reauthorization, and that "Spellings is working to minimize defections" among Republicans critical of the measure.
According to the News article by Betsy Lehndorff, "The U.S. education secretary said Monday that federal reforms must continue, especially if Colorado business leaders want a pipeline of skilled workers." It further reported:
Although the No Child Left Behind Act is up for reauthorization this year, "it stays in place, so spread the word," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told business leaders during an hour-long roundtable discussion at the Brown Palace Hotel.
"The law is good and strong and hawkish and will stay on the books," she said. "The critical thing is that Congress needs to appropriate money for the act."
The event, hosted by Colorado Succeeds, a nonprofit coalition of business people committed to improving schools, gave local business leaders a chance to discuss education issues at the federal level.
The No Child Left Behind act set a course in 2001 for education reform requiring all the nation's school-aged children to be able to read and do math at competent levels by 2014.
The Denver Post article by Bruce Finley similarly reported, "The point of Spellings' visit was drumming up support for congressional reauthorization of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind reforms now in place for five years." The article continued:
This is "a good, strong, hawkish" law that is improving schools and student achievement, she said, acknowledging core problems such as half of minority students dropping out of high school at a time when most new jobs require at least two years of college.
Even if Congress balks at renewing No Child Left Behind, new, mandatory testing of students in math and reading, with schools held accountable, will remain in place, she said.
Despite reporting on Spellings' efforts to strengthen support for NCLB, the News and The Denver Post failed to mention the widespread criticism the education reform measure has received since its enactment in 2002 or provide any information about the proposed congressional legislation that would modify the law.
The Gannett News Service article noted the opposition that spurred Hoekstra's legislation, describing House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) as an initial supporter of NCLB who "now has misgivings":
"What I want is more flexibility for the states," he said. "I don't think that has to eliminate No Child Left Behind. But I think you are better off having decisions made about secondary and elementary education closer to where kids are. I think we now have to change our approach."
A March 15 Washington Post article reported that under Hoekstra's legislation, "[A]ny state could essentially opt out of No Child Left Behind after one of two actions. A state could hold a referendum, or two of three elected entities -- the governor, the legislature and the state's highest elected education official -- could decide that the state would no longer abide by the strict rules on testing and the curriculum." Similar legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint (SC) is "slightly less permissive, but it would allow a state to negotiate a 'charter' with the federal government to get away from the law's mandates," the article reported.
And while its July 31 article made no mention of opposition to or controversy about NCLB, The Denver Post reported in a January 23 article by Allison Sherry that a survey of Colorado teachers, school administrators and parents conducted by the office of U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) found that the respondents "overwhelmingly say the federal education law No Child Left Behind is unrealistic and underfunded":
Almost all of those who responded to the survey -- sent to all Colorado school districts as well as a handful of parent advocacy organizations and administrators -- said the law's goal of all students reaching 100 percent proficiency by the 2013-14 school year was not achievable.
Teachers also said they favor charting student academic growth over time, versus the law's comparison of the same grade levels year after year.
Roughly 2,000 people responded to the survey, sent out last summer, including 1,600 teachers, 119 principals and 117 parents.
The News and The Denver Post also failed to mention that, in addition to the recent federal action, several states have challenged the NCLB law through litigation and legislation. The April 7 New York Times article reported on state and federal officials' dissatisfaction with NCLB's requirements:
Arizona and Virginia are battling the federal government over rules for testing children with limited English. Utah is fighting over whether rural teachers there pass muster under the law. And Connecticut is two years into a lawsuit arguing that No Child Left Behind has failed to provide states federal financing to meet its requirements.
Reacting to such disputes in state after state, dozens of Republicans in Congress are sponsoring legislation that would water down the law by allowing states to opt out of its testing requirements yet still receive federal money.
On the other side of the political spectrum, 10 Democratic senators signed a letter last month saying that based on feedback from constituents, they consider the law's testing mandates to be "unsustainable" and want an overhaul.
In addition to omitting criticism of NCLB, the News article reported Spellings' comments about the role of "early education programs, such as Head Start," but not that according to the National Head Start Association, the Bush administration has issued proposals that would result in a real-dollar cut in federal Head Start funding:
Preschool and early education programs, such as Head Start, must have strong ties to local school systems, Spellings said.
That way, all children will know how to hold a pencil when they attend their first kindergarten class and their parents will understand the value of learning, she added.
According to the Association, "An estimated 30,599 slots for Head Start children would have to be cut out of programs nationwide if President Bush's proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 budget is approved." A recent news release from the Democratic majority on the House Committee on Education and Labor similarly asserted that Bush's proposed 2008 budget would cut Head Start funding:
The Bush budget cuts Head Start and Early Head Start by $100 million. If enacted into law, the President's 2008 proposal would result in a 13% real cut (inflation adjusted) in Head Start and Early Head Start funding since FY 2002. Under the President's recent budgets, many programs have had to shorten program hours, decrease classroom instruction, and eliminate transportation services. Given the need to provide cost-of-living adjustments to current grantees, the President's budget will result in additional cuts that threaten the quality of the program. The program currently serves less than one-half of the children eligible for the pre-school program and much fewer in Early Head Start. [emphasis in original]
On July 19 the House passed an appropriations bill that, according to a summary from the House Appropriations Committee, increased Head Start funding by $75 million over fiscal year 2007, which the summary stated was a $175 million increase in nominal dollar terms over Bush's proposal but a 0.8 percent cut in real dollar terms from FY 2007. The Senate is considering a version that would increase Head Start's appropriation by $200 million from the 2007 fiscal year.