Colleges should use President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act for K-12 students as a model for measuring university performance and cutting the minority achievement gap on their campuses, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Monday.
"One of our biggest challenges is a lack of compatible and comprehensive measurements — the kind of information parents have come to expect from K-12 schools," Spellings told the annual meeting of the American Council on Education.
In her first speech since becoming a member of Bush's Cabinet, Spellings said she has been experiencing the college admissions process firsthand as the mother of a high-school senior.
"Parents see a mosaic of fine higher-ed institutions, each with wonderful qualities, but find it difficult to piece the puzzle together," she said.
She said the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which requires annual state testing in third through eighth grades in reading and math, has improved K-12 academic performance by giving educators data to identify students falling through the cracks.
"Students and post-secondary institutions should view it as a model as you work to close your own achievement gap," she told the college presidents and other high-ranking college officials.
Spellings also tried to sell the group Bush's budget proposal, which calls for an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award of $100 each of the next five years, to a total of $4,550. But college leaders gathered here have expressed concern about other aspects of the president's budget, including changes in student loan policies and cuts to federal TRIO programs that support students.
Spellings left without taking questions from the group.
"I guess I'd say it was a good start for her. I thought she was trying to reach out to the higher-ed community," said Mark Huddleston, president of Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. "I think there are elements of the budget that are really positives. There are other things that are worrisome to us and to other institutions."
Spellings said published college guides provide useful but incomplete information.
"How do credit hours compare?" she said. "Is the coursework aligned with the state's K-12 system? Are there work-study programs? How long does it take on average to graduate, and does that differ by major course of study?"