U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Margaret Spelling, director of Bush's Domestic Policy Council, attempted to ease anxieties about the program as they fielded questions from about 20 former, current and newly elected governors gathered at UNC's Paul J. Rizzo Conference Center.
"This is a tough law," Spelling acknowledged. "It's going to be hard. There will be a pinch, but it's what's right for the kids."
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is grounded in four basic principles: accountability, flexibility and local control, parental choice and research-based instruction.
The act requires schools to meet new federal standards -- most of which are more stringent than those implemented by states -- and demands that schools targeted for improvement demonstrate certain levels of annual yearly progress.
The targets of No Child Left Behind differ from other federally implemented education standards in that they shift focus from averages to individual students' performances, Paige said.
If any one group at a school -- such as Hispanics or low-income students -- is found to be low-performing, the entire school will be tagged as in need of improvement.
The number of schools pegged as inadequate will increase dramatically when averages cease to be used as indicators. In North Carolina, the number of on-par schools is expected to drop from about three-fourths to roughly one-third.
Many governors said they worry that the public will not differentiate between schools that are in need of improvement and those that are failing.
But Paige said it is governors' responsibilities to draw vehemently a distinction between schools needing improvement and those that are failing -- and not the federal government's job to lower standards.