Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created The Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about The Center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.
The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Good morning, Gene.
Mr. Hickok: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Mr. Lawrence: Thank you. And joining us in our conversation also from IBM is Debra Cammer.
Good morning, Debra.
Ms. Cammer: Good morning.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, Gene, let�s start by talking about the Department. Could you describe its mission to us?
Mr. Hickok: Its mission, broadly stated, is to ensure access and quality in American public education. It�s a relatively young department; it was started during the Carter Administration. And its broadest purpose really is simply that, to do whatever the federal government can to improve the nature of education in this nation.
Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe its size? Often, it�s budget or employees, but how do you think about it?
Mr. Hickok: Well, it�s got approximately 4,900 employees, a budget this year of about $53 billion. Having said that, and those are big numbers where I come from, it�s the smallest of the major agencies of the federal government. And its role has been kind of on the periphery of American education until relatively recently under this Administration. There have been various versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Higher Education Act, et cetera. We�ll get into that, obviously. But until now, the federal government�s role in K-12 education has been relatively modest, both in terms of budget and in terms of policies, but that�s beginning to change pretty dramatically.
Mr. Lawrence: And what are the skills of the Department�s employees? I naturally think about education-focused skills.
Mr. Hickok: Sure. A variety of skills. You�ve got a lot of individuals who have doctoral degrees and do research in education issues, reading issues, skills issues, curriculum issues. You�ve got a lot of individuals who are talented at law and public policy. Obviously, a lot of individuals whose emphasis is economics and budget. It is a pretty typical bureaucracy in the sense of how Washington bureaucracies function within their sphere of responsibility. And you have a number of folks who have been engaged as public school teachers and administrators over the years, who are now trying to contribute through the federal government.
Ms. Cammer: Now your title is Acting Deputy Secretary and Under Secretary. Could you tell us about those offices?
Mr. Hickok: Well, the Deputy Secretary is, on the organization chart, the number-two person. And traditionally, the Deputy Secretary has been engaged in the day-to-day management of the operations, sort of a COO, if you would; responsibility over finance and budget management, things like that. The Under Secretary traditionally has done similar sorts of things as the number-three person, working on budget issues.
That all changed with this Administration. When Secretary Paige came in as Secretary of Education, he wanted the Under Secretary, which I was originally appointed to serve and still serve, to be overseeing the implementation and reauthorization of our major education policies. So with No Child Left Behind, which is the signature piece for this President, the Office of the Under Secretary is in charge of implementing that law and help to steer the passage of that law through Congress. And the Deputy was doing primarily management things. Now that I�m doing a little bit of both, or basically doing both, my job is to sort of help Secretary Paige make sure, one, the place operates successfully, the management end; and two, the public policy end gets implemented successfully as well.
Ms. Cammer: So you have a broad set of responsibilities.
Mr. Hickok: Yes.
Ms. Cammer: How do you divide your time?
Mr. Hickok: I don�t sleep much. No, it�s fascinating really. I divide my time. First of all, I have a lot of very capable people who work with me, and I depend upon them a great deal. I really do firmly believe that one of the first principles of good management is to make sure that you have talented men and women working with you, that you give them the opportunity to use that talent, and you give them the flexibility to demonstrate what needs to be done. I have to do that, and a good management always does that. And then I try to decide, based upon my schedule and the issues before us, which one demands the kind of attention that that office deserves.
And frankly, it�s a great job. I mean, intellectually, it�s very rich. There�s a lot going on. The stakes are high. The consequences are important. And you�re talking about what I consider to be one of the most important things we can do in a democracy, and that�s make sure every child gets a good education.
Ms. Cammer: Well, you�re very fortunate to have a job like that. Tell us how you got it. What did you do before you got here?
Mr. Hickok: Well, I was Secretary of Education in Pennsylvania for 6 years under Governor Ridge. In Pennsylvania, unlike some states, that is an appointed position, confirmed by the state legislature. And unlike most states, the Secretary of Education oversees all of education in Pennsylvania from K through graduate school. So my portfolio was pretty rich in Pennsylvania, and I did that for six years. I was the longest-serving Secretary of Education in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
More importantly than that, before that, I was a college professor of political science in a small college in Pennsylvania called Dickinson College. I also taught law school at the Dickinson School of Law, which is Penn State�s School of Law, although I�m not a lawyer. My Ph.D. is in poli-sci.
More importantly, I was on the school board, so I had a sense of the dynamics at the very local level, of the little �P� politics of education, with two kids in public schools. So I�ve been very lucky.
My experience for both the Pennsylvania job and this job, my background was relatively unique. I am not a �public school educator,� but I think that�s been to my advantage, because having not been a product of that environment, I came in with a separate set of questions. And that led to some rethinking on my part and on the part of the administration that I was overseeing, and I think I�ve been very lucky.
Mr. Lawrence: How did the state experience help you think about this job? I�m sort of contrasting the delivery of the services of the state and now at the Department, helping educate.
Mr. Hickok: Well, you know, at the state level, there is kind of a daily bottom line. The fact is, the states are the ones who control public education. And then the way it�s actually implemented, obviously, is in public schools all across the country. At the state level, every day, you recognize there�s a direct link between what you do and what goes on at the school. It differs by state. Pennsylvania, for example, doesn�t control curriculum; some states control curriculum. But in terms of testing and standards and assessments and public policy and budget obviously and school code, that was all being influenced daily through the department, the general assembly, the state board of education. And there�s kind of a sense of concrete tangible reaction every day.
The farther you get away from the school district, the farther you get away from the state, the direct relationship between what you do and what takes place gets real, real slim. Indeed, it�s one of the great challenges you have at the federal level: How do you make sure the people who make important decisions in Washington recognize how those decisions are played out in the real world of the classroom or a state board of education? So for me, I was lucky. I had experience at that level.
I didn�t have much experience with the federal Department of Education as a state chief. It wasn�t on my mind a lot. When I came down here, I remembered that, and my job was to make sure, and it remains, to make sure that the federal Department of Education has a greater sensitivity to and appreciation for the political, little �P,� topography of state and local education. We cannot do a good job if we do not understand the way that world operates, and appreciate it and respect it and defer to it as much as we can. And that also means they�ll respect us, because it�s not the federal government telling them what to do as much as the federal government trying to help good things get done.
Mr. Lawrence: What are the differences or even the similarities between the types of management skills that you use at the different levels?
Mr. Hickok: That�s interesting. You know, I�ll be honest with you, I think I�ve learned a lot in both of these positions, and I was not a manager. Like I said, I was an academic, which is about as far from management as you can get, frankly, except for maybe classroom management.
I think a couple of things remain constant. It is the importance of respect for individuals. I don�t care where they are or what they do; unless they give you reason other than that, you should respect them as individuals and be respectful of their contributions. The importance of listening, I think particularly in political organizations, quite often, people come to these jobs with a variety of backgrounds and a variety of expectations, and they sometimes confuse high office with deep insight. They really think that they deserve to be where they are. Well, you know, in most cases, we get these jobs for a variety of reasons, and our highest obligation ought to be to make sure, one, we remain humble; and, two, that we listen carefully to our constituents. And for me, that�s the American people, it�s the educators, it�s the taxpayers, it�s everybody. So listening is very important.
Being decisive. There�s a tendency in many of these jobs, I think because the stakes are so high, the bureaucracy is so deep, the paperwork so overwhelming, the pros and cons go on forever, to want to put off making tough decisions because you can put off making tough decisions. That�s human nature. You�ve got to be decisive. It doesn�t mean you should be simplistic, but our job in the end is to make decisions, to weigh consequences, and to move forward.
And I think the other thing is to recognize that in these organizations, everything is political. And that�s not a bad thing. I was with a bunch of managers just the other day, and I mentioned the fact that in public organizations such as the Department of Education, good management is not always good politics; in the sense that you might do a performance analysis of a policy or a program and recognize it�s not a good thing to keep doing, it�s not a good use of federal dollars. But if it�s got a lot of support on the Hill and a long track record, it�s not going to go away. So good management might say don�t do it, but politics says you�re going to do it. So good management is not always good politics, but bad management is always bad politics.
And so you live in a world now where, especially with this President, where the quality of the way we do our work needs to be the very best it can be, and it needs to emulate business principles as much as possible in an environment that, by definition, is constantly going to try to push back on business principles.
Mr. Lawrence: It�s an interesting point about management and policy.
It�s been two years since the No Child Left Behind legislation was passed. What have been the results as well as the management challenges? We�ll ask Gene Hickok of the Department of Education when The Business of Government Hour returns.
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I�m Paul Lawrence, and today�s conversation is with Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.
Well, Gene, let�s start talking about No Child Left Behind. Could you describe the key features of it for us?
Mr. Hickok: Well, it was founded on four fundamental principles. And if you try to go back and look at the campaign of 2000, when the President, the candidate at the time, was putting together his platform on education, he gave four major speeches that talked about four principles, and then that became the fundamentals for the actual legislation that was introduced early the first couple of days of this Administration.
The first is accountability. The argument being that we need to find our how well our kids are doing, how well our schools are doing. We need to make it easy for parents to understand this. And then we need to have ways of identifying what works and ways of identifying what doesn�t work and have consequences. Accountability is very important. Very important.
The second is flexibility. The President used to be a governor. I used to be a state chief. I think we recognize the importance of one size doesn�t fit all; every state�s different. The states are the primary actors, so a key aspect of No Child Left Behind is the flexibility to allow states under this broad infrastructure of accountability to approach it as that state feels best.
The next are options and choices; the third principle. We think it�s very important to give parents opportunities that they didn�t currently have, to pursue what�s best for their kids as they see it. If your child is in a school that�s not working, it�s not your child�s fault, it�s not your fault. We don�t care whose fault it is. But until that school can get its act together, we think it�s important that you have an option to send your child to a school that does work; to access supplemental educational services, tutoring service; and that federal taxpayer dollars should help to underwrite that. That�s part of this law. It�s a fundamental departure from previous elementary and education law, and it�s an important distinction.
And the fourth principle is doing what works. The quality of research in American education is pretty spotty overall, which is, I think, a sad commentary. If you look at our history in science research and health research, we�re pretty much world leaders. The world comes here for the quality of our research in those fields. Our education research isn�t the same. And that�s something that the federal government really should be doing, and doing a much better job of. So one of the goals of No Child Left Behind is to create a world-class research function rivaling that of NIH, for example, the National Institutes of Health, on education. And then as we learn more, use what we learn as the models for what federal taxpayer dollars have to pay for.
One good example, real briefly, is reading instruction. You know, our national reading scores are pretty bad. And yet the science of reading instruction is excellent. We know how to teach reading. The tragedy is the federal taxpayer dollars have gone to support whatever people want to do in reading instruction, not what works. And so with No Child Left Behind, there�s a much more rigorous, much more rigorous, formula grant program to make sure that federal dollars are only used to fund programs that we know are based on sound research. That needs to be more the way the federal government operates. It�s an investment mentality, not just a spending mentality.
Mr. Lawrence: Before we go into the results, could you give us a perspective of what was it like or sort of what was the environment that prompted all this? I mean, was everything broken?
Mr. Hickok: Well, no, not everything, but I do think over the last decade or so, starting with mostly at the state level, there has been a growing awareness that American public education is allowing mediocrity to be the rule. And that might sound harsh, but the data suggest that it�s an accurate reflection of reality. There are good schools, obviously. And there are great teachers and there are successful stories everywhere. But because we didn�t have the kind of hard data we needed and because American public education has not kept up with the way the rest of the world has changed, the world in which schools operate, I think there�s a national consensus that was developing over the last decade or so that we needed to do a better job.
You know, the whole idea of standards and assessments didn�t start with No Child Left Behind, it started with the states. No Child Left Behind sort of represents the latest and fullest manifestation of that. But public opinion polls gradually have said education�s a number one priority. And while most Americans still feel it�s primarily a state and local function, they think the national government has a larger role to play, because it�s a national issue. It�s one of those national issues that�s best resolved at the state and local level, but there�s a need for national emphasis on it. And I think it�s really quite interesting to watch, because not too many years ago, people were arguing for no federal role in public education. And that, I think, is now no longer even a question.
Ms. Cammer: Okay, two years later, what kind of results have you observed?
Mr. Hickok: I think the most important result is there�s a change in the American conversation about education, and I mean that sincerely. You know, it�s a little early to see dramatic changes in test scores, although we�ve seen some test score changes in mathematics, for example. It�s a little early to see troubled schools turn around, although we�ve seen a lot of schools moving in the right direction. But everywhere -- and I read local newspapers all the time, the newspapers that cover the school board meetings and all that � everywhere, the conversation is all about performance, accountability, test scores, curriculum, highly qualified teachers. It�s the kind of thing that wasn�t part of the commentary just a few years ago.
Now that�s not to say that everyone�s real happy, that everyone�s satisfied. A lot of people are uptight. There�s a lot of anxiety out there. This is a complex law. It requires a lot of change. And human nature being what it is, it makes people uncomfortable, and I understand that. We all understand that. But sometimes, we do our best work in this country when we�re uncomfortable, when we�re forced to think things differently and think things through. So my first argument is you�re seeing a change in the conversation and you�re seeing a change in the culture of American education.
I used the term a few moments ago �invest.� We talk all the time about spending money and we can talk a lot about that because we spend a lot of money on education. We�re trying to change the conversation from an emphasis on spending to an emphasis on investing. It goes back to, well, in essence, sound management. If you�re going to invest taxpayer dollars in such an important enterprise, my goodness, you�ve got to find ways to make sure you know what that investment buys.
So again, data-driven decisionmaking, results-oriented thinking, that�s what we�re seeing more of. And we�re seeing schools moving in the right direction as test scores begin to improve.
Ms. Cammer: What would be a reasonable timeframe to see education improvements and results at the schools?
Mr. Hickok: Well, I think you�ll start seeing some changes as the tests are administered this spring. It�ll be the second year under No Child Left Behind. It�s really the second full year of this new culture of accountability being in place. It filters down gradually. It goes from Washington to state capitals to school districts; that takes time. There�s a lot of misinformation in there, you know, pretty much distortion. But I think you�ll see some movement on schools and education this coming spring.
Ms. Cammer: No Child Left Behind requires annual testing in reading and math in grades three through eight. How could administrators, teachers, and parents use these tests to help children succeed?
Mr. Hickok: Well, the most important thing for everyone to recognize is, you need to use the information from the tests. And that might make common sense, but I�ll tell you, you know, in far too many places, for a very long time, there was a lot of testing going on, but no one used the information to do anything. I mean, I was stunned when I learned that.
So the first thing you want to do is -- in essence, a test tells you where a child needs work and where a child has knowledge that they�re supposed to have. You use that information to guide pedagogy; use that information to shape curriculum. You use that information to determine how best to help that child. A test is only a tool to help find out where you are and where you need to go.
When I was a college professor, I used a syllabus the way we think academic standards ought to be used in the state. It was my way of telling students what I expect of them, how I was going to evaluate them, what knowledge I would expect them to acquire. It was kind of a contract. And it was also a way for students to get a sense of what to expect from me as a professor. And then when I evaluated students with essays or testing, it was a way for me to gauge how well I�m doing my job and how well they�re doing their job, and then to do something about the deficiencies on our part, mine and the students�. That�s what standards and assessments is all about. It�s a very basic tool.
Mr. Lawrence: Often when testing comes up, it leads to a bunch of arguments which goes like this: people will test to the test; the creativity, we imagine, disappears.
Mr. Hickok: Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, I could be flip and say if the test is a good test, then I don�t mind teaching to the test. And while that might sound flip, it�s also not far from accurate, frankly. But in essence, what the law says and what most states have been doing is, you need a set of academic standards at the state level that are rich, that are rich in content and discipline, and then you need assessments based on those standards. What you should be doing as a teacher is teaching to the standards, not to the test, because the test is one of many ways to gauge performance on those standards. And if the standards are deep and rich and content-driven, then, in essence, most teachers have found them to be very helpful, because it helps drive curriculum, helps drive pedagogy.
Up until the standards movement, what drove curriculum was the textbook. And so the curriculum could vary all over the place based upon what textbooks were being used, how old they were, and how well they were used and how completed they were. That�s a pretty slipshod way of making sure across a state, or even within a district, you can measure where students are. Where students are would be primarily a product of which teacher they got and what textbook they used.
So, you know, I�ve heard the complaint or the concern about teaching to the test. It�s a valid issue, but most people recognize that a test is merely one of many ways to measure student achievement, and it�s a tool. And to those who argue that we�re over-testing, I guess my response is we�ve been testing since the first classroom was built, and I don�t think it�s going to go away, so let�s make sure we do a better job with it.
Mr. Lawrence: Flexibility and accountability are two terms that keep coming up in our conversation about education. Why are they so important?
We�ll ask Gene Hickok from the Department of Education about these when The Business of Government Hour returns.
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I�m Paul Lawrence, and this morning�s conversation is with Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
And joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.
Ms. Cammer: Gene, could you talk a little bit about what it means when a school�s been identified as needing improvement under the No Child Left Behind?
Mr. Hickok: Well, the first thing that people need to recognize, and it�s an ongoing struggle with us, it doesn�t mean the school is failing. You can have some very, very good schools that need improvement, because what the law says is, as you test students and get the results from these tests back, students need to be making adequate progress each year toward the goal of every student being at grade level in 12 years. That�s what proficiency means; grade level. So if a school has students who are not making adequate progress and what happens is you disaggregate -- I hate to use the fancy terms -- you disaggregate test scores based on certain socioeconomic variables: race, gender, ethnicity, et cetera. As those different groups are disaggregated, we�ve found over time achievement gaps.
Let me illustrate it to give you a better example because I think it would be helpful. A suburban Virginia/Washington, D.C. school district; great average test scores. Okay? Maybe the best in the area, maybe the best in the state. When you disaggregate those test scores by these various variables, you find out that in this district, African-American students are scoring 40 points below the average of all the other students. That�s an achievement gap. That means that this school district needs improvement. It doesn�t mean it�s a bad district. It certainly doesn�t mean it�s a failing district. It means it has an obligation to every student, and this achievement gap demonstrates that obligation isn�t being met.
If you�re found to be in need of improvement the first year, then the school has to make public school choice available to students in a school that�s not making adequate progress, and taxpayer dollars have to pay for transportation. If that school continues to need improvement over years, then on top of school choice, there should be access to tutoring services paid for with federal dollars. And if it continues over a longer period of time, there should be consequences for the governance of the school, the curriculum, in the end even closing the school.
Now the point is that�s not something Washington decides. Those are the policies that states have to put together based upon that Washington law. But the goal here isn�t sanctions on schools. It�s called the No Child Left Behind law, not the No School Left Behind law. If the school isn�t working, while every effort should be made to turn the school around, in the meantime, opportunities should be given to kids. That�s why schools exist, to educate kids. If the school�s not doing that, then something has to change.
Ms. Cammer: So what options does a parent have if their child�s school has been identified as needing improvement?
Mr. Hickok: Well, the first option they have is to look to other public schools in the district that work, and to allow their child to attend that school and the transportation to be paid for by the district. And then on top of that, to access tutoring services. Now that�s easy to talk about in public policy; it�s sometimes very hard to have happen in reality. Often, schools are at capacity. Often in some very troubled districts, there are no schools to choose that work. But the goal here really is to create opportunities. And in some places, we have argued if you�re in a very rural or remote location where school choice is not really a possibility, then the district ought to create choices within the existing school. Opportunity is what we�re looking for, not necessarily public school choice: opportunity and options.
And the measure of success should not be how many students move, because our goal here isn�t movement. Our goal here is improving schools. And so what we�ve seen in the first two years are parents, they have the option, they study their opportunities, and in some cases, they decide to stay with the current school. But the fact that the incentive has been introduced to think about options has created on the part of many parents a greater sense of what they can do to improve their child�s school, and that�s not a bad thing.
Mr. Lawrence: No Child Left Behind requires that children be taught by a well-qualified teacher by 2006. What does this mean?
Mr. Hickok: The most important thing it means, especially in high school, is that teachers know the subjects they teach. It is a commonsense proposition, but in far too many places, America�s high school math teachers are not math majors. They�re not even math minors. And I�m no math scientist, but the fact is, you can�t teach what you don�t know. And one of the reasons we know that our students are not doing well enough is because too many of their teachers are not qualified enough, through no fault of their own. They got their degrees the way they got their degrees. So the first thing it means is greater emphasis on content.
It means that certification, which is a state function, ought to reflect qualifications. In far too many places, a certification to teach is sort of a minimal requirement. It doesn�t require a whole lot to get a certificate. And so in far too many places, a certified teacher is not really qualified. So we think certification ought to mean something.
It means that we as a nation should encourage states to allow individuals to enter the classroom who come from different walks of life, but who are qualified through alternative certifications. I use this story all the time. I�m a Ph.D. in political science. I�ve been teaching for years. Where I live, Pennsylvania, I�m qualified to teach an 18-year-old college freshman Civics 101 in September. I�m not qualified to teach that same 18-year-old four months earlier in high school civics. That strikes me as rather silly.
It�s not an argument that anyone can teach, it�s an argument that there�s a lot more talent out there that wants to teach that didn�t get a teaching certificate in college. Most of all, it means that we value and understand the importance of good teaching. And therefore, this law says it�s important that a qualified instructor be in every classroom, because we know that the quality of instruction is a primary factor in making sure children learn.
Mr. Lawrence: What does the legislation do or include to help teachers?
Mr. Hickok: Well, there�s huge new money in terms of teacher preparation and teacher certification and professional development. I think it�s about a $3 billion increase. The point is that up until now, America has invested lots of money, most of it local, on professional development and had no idea, one, what they were buying; and, two, what difference it made. And so we have an obligation I think to taxpayers to make sure that that investment, we increase it because we�re asking more of our teachers, but we also make sure it�s used in ways that make a difference.
But it�s not just professional development. We�re looking at the Higher Education Act right now in Congress. And since most teachers go through colleges of education to become teachers, this is the right time to look at whether or not those colleges of education are doing the job they need to do. So it goes beyond No Child Left Behind.
And frankly, we think that this is an issue that parents need to know about. The law says that should a teacher your child has not be highly qualified at the start of the school year, that you should be informed about that as a parent. After all, as I said earlier, these are your schools and your teachers, and so it�s a way of making sure that parents understand the qualifications of their child�s teacher.
Ms. Cammer: Now, training programs and curriculum improvement efforts could be costly for the local school districts and the states. Could you talk about the funding that�s been made available by Congress as part of the legislation?
Mr. Hickok: Yeah, it�s dramatic increases in the federal taxpayer contribution to public education. If you look at Title 1 -- I don�t mean to get too bogged down in details -- Title 1 is the single largest federal education initiative in elementary and secondary. It goes to help underwrite education for our most needy kids. The increase in two years under this President is greater than the increase in the previous administration�s eight years. Dramatic increases: 40 percent just in Title 1; billion-dollar increases in special education.
But let�s step back for a second and look at it this way: The American taxpayers contribute approximately $480 billion a year. That�s a lot of money. Of that, maybe 8 percent comes from the federal level. It is unrealistic to assume that huge increases at the federal level will ever come close to matching what�s already being spent. The issue isn�t how much money; the issue is how well it is spent.
And while we have record increases, and the Administration and Congress stand on record to continue that, I don�t know, I guess I�ve never met the school board member yet who said, please, I have enough money; or the state legislature that said, please, Washington, don�t give us any more money. Certainly when I was in Pennsylvania arguing, I was always arguing for more money. But I do think that the time has come to talk about what is being spent, what�s being accomplished with that money, too.
Mr. Lawrence: You describe education as an investment. Are there areas that one can target to get a higher return on the investment in education?
Mr. Hickok: Well, I think, you know, more money should be spent on curriculum and on classroom activities. It is interesting to note, and I don�t know how many of your listeners would know this, but if you look at the budget of a school district, I would argue almost anywhere in this country, 80 percent, upwards of 80 percent of the operating budget is tied up in salaries and compensation. It�s a very human resource-intense business. And I�m not saying, you know, that�s not important, but the way the contracts are written, those dollars are tied up for years and years and years, with increases every year. And the amount of room you have for instructional support and other academic-related support is very limited. It�s really kind of tragic when you think about it.
And so for me, I think, most investments should begin to focus on those things we know work; get away from sound bite public policy; try to make sure that you look at how you can design curriculum to reflect the needs of individual students. We can do that now through technology,; there�s no need for a one-size-fits-all approach. And then you need an accountability system that allows you gradually to determine the impact of a dollar. We�re far away from that. That�s the direction we�re moving in, but a good business can do that. A good business can tell you the marginal costs and the marginal benefits of every dollar. Well, education can�t do that , and down the road, education must be able to do that.
Mr. Lawrence: It�s an interesting point.
What are the changes we can expect to see in the future as a result of No Child Left Behind? We�ll ask Gene Hickok of the Department of Education for his perspective when The Business of Government Hour continues.
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I�m Paul Lawrence, and this morning�s conversation is with Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
And joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.
Ms. Cammer: Gene, can you talk about the goals of the No Child Left Behind legislation and how you�ll know when you�ve succeeded?
Mr. Hickok: Well, the goal is, simply stated, difficult to accomplish, and I would argue very American. And the goal is simply this: that every child in every public school in this great nation be able to read on grade level and do math on grade level within 12 years. We call it proficiency. Proficiency means grade level. And there are those, I think, who argue that even that, even over 12 years, which is a long time, is too much to expect. It�s not realistic, because, after all, you�ve got kids with limited English proficiency, you have special education children, you have children who come from low-income families. We�ve heard the arguments.
And while it isn�t easy, we would argue that what makes this nation different is that this is a nation that has aspirations for its people. It was founded on certain ideals and principles. And I guess we would argue we would like to have this national aspiration of every child being at grade level, no matter who they are. Every child being at grade level. And if we fall short, we�re a better nation for trying. We�ll certainly be better if 90 or 85 percent are on grade level than we are now, where in some places, 35 or 40 percent on are grade level.
And so it�s an important goal, one that we think is worthy of a great nation. It�s not easy. It will not be without its anxiety; we�re hearing that already. But, you know, we�re talking about educating the next generation of America, and that�s a generation that will have tremendous responsibilities. And, you know, if this is a nation that can put a probe on Mars and can talk about putting a man on Mars, it�s certainly a nation that can make sure its children can read. That�s what the goal is.
Mr. Lawrence: Where do you see No Child Left Behind going in the next 5 to 10 years?
Mr. Hickok: Well, I think the next couple of years will be very much rich with controversy, primarily because the rubber hits the road. All those highly qualified teachers have to be in place, the test scores will begin to come in, schools will be identified, options will be open. And that�s a lot of change in a relatively short period of time. So I think the next couple of years will be tough, for a lot of reasons.
I think 5 and 10 years from now, we�ll be asking questions of education we haven�t begun to think about, because we�ll have so much more information. We�ll have such a better research base. We�ll be used to this culture of accountability. We�ll be used to this investor mentality. I think what No Child Left Behind holds out is the hope of a redefinition of American education; a whole new understanding of what public education might look like, and it might look like very different things in very different places; an understanding of American public education that puts the public, the student first, and responds to the needs of the public and the student as opposed to a system that says we are the system, this is how we do things. You send your child to us and we will educate your child, as opposed to this is my child, what do you offer me to make sure my child can learn? That�s where we need to be. It�s going to take a long time to get there.
The other point is, the research tells us, and common sense tells us, that education and schooling are not the same thing. Education takes place long before a child goes to school and continues long after a child gets a diploma. We need to get away from this thinking of the traditional structures and institutions and think about education in its broadest sense. And I think if we continue to do that, you�ll see a very different version of American public education.
Ms. Cammer: How do you think the No Child Left Behind legislation or act will play out in this year�s Presidential debates and discussions?
Mr. Hickok: I think it�ll be a big part of it. Certainly, the recent evidence suggests it will be. It�s unusual that education at the federal level would play a major role, but it did in the last campaign as well. And now that the law�s in place and the various interest groups are staking out their positions, it�s almost very predictable in a way that No Child Left Behind will be a fundamental part of the debate. I think it�ll be there with the economy, and it�ll probably be there with international affairs. And I�m looking forward to being part of that debate. It could be kind of fun.
Mr. Lawrence: You�ve talked about the legislation or the act facilitating major change. I�m just curious, take a step back and think about how those changes will affect the Department of Education.
Mr. Hickok: Well, I think we have to make sure that we demonstrate a culture of accountability, too. That�s very important. I mean, every federal agency, every governmental agency, has that responsibility. We are all, after all, trustees of the taxpayers. But I think we have a higher obligation at Education now because, one, we are a very visible issue with a very controversial new law, and we�re asking a lot of our clients, and so we need to make them think they can expect a lot of us.
I�m proud to say that we have had clean audits two years in a row. And that might not sound much to your listeners, but at the Department of Education, that�s a milestone accomplishment; and that we�re practicing management techniques that will make sure that we use data to drive decisionmaking better and better; and that we treat our clients, the states, in a customer-friendly way so that we�re not barraging them with questions and paperwork. We�re much more technology- and computer-oriented and there�s an easy way for them to get what they need from us. So there�s a very high level of expectation on our part to deliver a much better product.
Mr. Lawrence: Gene, you�ve had an interesting career in both academic and in the public sector, so I�m curious, what advice would you give to someone interested in a career in public service?
Mr. Hickok: Well, the first thing I guess is to make sure you have a set of skills that is solid. I wouldn�t worry about what area you want to concentrate in, but it seems to me you need to have a set of skills. You need to appreciate the role of politics. Politics is not a bad thing. Politics in many ways is a noble endeavor if it�s practiced correctly. And that, by definition, public service is political in its broadest sense.
I would also encourage a set of principles. Public service I think is nourished by men and women who have the intellect and the sense of purpose. Aristotle once said it�s the highest calling, public service.
And I guess the third thing would be stamina. It�s not, if you�re serious about it, and I�ve been lucky to be surrounded by people who are -- you know, it�s not a 9:00 to 5:00 job, and it shouldn�t be. It�s got a higher purpose. You have broader responsibilities. And the best of us in public service never forget that, and those who do end up not being very good in public service. So I recommend all those things, but most of all, I think a good practical sense of getting the job done in an environment which has great, great diversity, intellectual richness, and not a few challenges.
Mr. Lawrence: Gene, that�ll have to be our last question, we�re out of time. Debra and I want to thank you for joining us this morning.
Mr. Hickok: Sure, my pleasure. I should let your listeners know that they can contact the Department at www.ed.gov. That�s not a very original website. Find out more about No Child Left Behind at www.nclb.org. Thanks.
Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much.
Mr. Hickok: You bet.
Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today�s very interesting conversation. Once again, that�s businessofgoverment.org.
This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.