PORTLAND (AP) – The nation’s second-ranking education official visited Maine this week to discuss No Child Left Behind and persuade state officials to adopt federal reforms.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok said Tuesday that Maine stands out in its resistance to the No Child Left Behind Act, a law Congress passed three years ago that requires teachers to demonstrate a mastery of their subjects.

“Maine has been far more difficult than any other state,” Hickok said.

Besides meeting with a dozen area educators, Hickok toured Nathan Clifford Elementary School to tell children at an assembly that President Bush “sends hello.”

No Child Left Behind won bipartisan support in Congress, but it has come under attack many from teachers and school officials. Some Democrats, in fact, complained that Hickok’s trip to Portland had the appearance of a campaign stop.

Maine is a battleground state for the presidential election, and federal officials have been visiting the state.

Patrick Phillips, Maine’s Deputy Education Commissioner, disagreed with Hickok’s assessment that Maine is troublesome when it comes to education reform.

Maine will have difficulty implementing the law because it has its own system, Learning Results, Phillips said.

“It’s not that we are in any way resisting implementation,” he said. “We are not engaged in any kind of foot-dragging. But at the same time, we continue to express our concerns with the compatibility of the two laws.”

The act requires students between grades 3 and 8 to be tested every year. Schools with test scores that fall below state benchmarks get additional help. Districts face sanctions if they fail to show improvement.

More than 100 schools did not meet the benchmarks.

The Legislature also has passed a law prohibiting the state from spending money to implement No Child Left Behind.

Under the state’s Learning Results program, each school district must develop its own way to assess whether students meet state standards. Each must create a curriculum aligned with those standards.

The trip was not a campaign event, said Gretchen Slease, a federal official traveling with Hickok. But Jesse Derris, a spokesman for the John Kerry campaign in Maine, criticized Hickok’s visit.

“It is clear that this is the most political White House since Nixon,” he said. “They are sending all their political appointees out as campaign attractions.”

AP-ES-05-26-04 0956EDT

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