Floor and Committee Statements

Thursday, January 6, 2005

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Hearing on the nomination of Margaret Spellings to serve as Secretary of Education
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA): Well, first of all, Mr. Chairman, I'm delighted to be on your committee and look forward to serving with you and Senator Kennedy and the other members. And I'm delighted to join the chorus -- and it obviously is a chorus, when you look at all the endorsement from here, this morning's statements, of Margaret Spellings as the next secretary of Education. She has got a distinguished record and I am delighted to be a part of a committee that I'm sure will confirm that appointment.

Before I ask the question that I want to ask, I do want to make a couple of comments, if not for anything, for the record. Eight and a half years ago, in a time of trouble in my state, at least in education, I found myself being appointed in a rather emergency situation as chairman of the state board of education. And on a Sunday night I watched Sixty Minutes do a special on what was called the TAS, the Texas Assessment of Students, which was the beginning of student assessment and accountability and the reform that then Governor Bush and Ms. Spellings put in place in the state of Texas.

And I remember the great questions and concerns about assessment and accountability, and the predictions of doom that had made it to that broadcast. As the chairman of a state board of education in Georgia that was itself having great difficulty, I followed closely and began working with the state Department of Education in the state of Texas. And I want to commend you and the president, because what was predicted in that project of doom that night on that television show actually ended up being the reverse. That inner-city minority children, rural poor children, non-English speaking children began testing at remarkable improved rates in terms of their language/arts ability, their reading ability, and their mathematics ability, which became the fundamental foundation of No Child Left Behind.

So we're very fortunate, Mr. Chairman, to have a distinguished woman who has been an advisor to a governor and a president who initiated what I believe is the best reform of education this country has ever done, and one that the states are buying into at a remarkably successful and rapid rate.

And to that brings, I guess, my comment and my question. One of my great frustrations in 28 years of elected office is that we tend to seem to want to reform education every six years, yet it takes 13 years for a child to go from kindergarten through the 12th grade. I think your tenure of service in the next four years will be the essential ingredient, or the glue, if you will, that will hold us to our commitment of leaving no child behind, giving parents more choice, giving the assessment to the teachers and the parents, and understanding that we don't have social promotion anymore in this country but we have a country that provides opportunity for all.

So I just want you to elaborate on three words in your statement: "sensible and workable." Because those three words you made about the approach towards seeing no No Child Left Behind through I think will be the essence in dealing with the issues of assessment, special education as a disaggregated component and the effect it's had. So would you, just for our benefit, talk about sensible and workable approaches, as the secretary of Education, towards those challenges.

Ms. Margaret Spellings: I will be glad to, and thank you for asking me to do that. I think we've learned some things since this act was put in place. I think educators have learned some things, I think policymakers have learned some things, and I think we ought to, you know, inform the policies that we have put in place as we go forward. I intend to listen to educators on the ground, to look at what urban districts are finding, what rural districts are finding, and see what we can do administratively, as I said, to imbed the principles of this act.

No one is served, not the children and not this policy, with horror story type examples that undermine the credibility of the law and undermine service to children. So I'm going to do a lot of listening and I'm going to look at ways that we can improve our interactions with states and local communities on a whole realm of things. That we're not necessarily always going to agree about the calls that come down, but I do think we've learned some things in four years and we ought to work from there.

With respect to the Texas record, thank you. I'll try not to be a Texas braggadocio, but I do think we have -- as this act becomes more mature, we are seeing educators buy into this and start to see -- and we certainly saw this in Texas -- that it's working for them. That it's really in their interest to know how kids are doing and to figure out it's in a principal's interest to see, well, how is curriculum A working compared to curriculum B across town? And I think the information and the data and this focus on each and every child is critical.

We talk a lot about special education students and limited English students, and I think it's thrilling for me, let me say, to know that we are having these discussions around the technicalities of how to put this law into place. Without No Child Left Behind, we wouldn't be talking about how those kids are doing.

Sen. Isakson: Thank you, ma'am.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman