Saturday, November 20, 2004

Spellings' first job

There are problems with No Child Left Behind. Margaret Spellings needs to provide the leadership necessary to fix those problems. Of course, there are passionate debates about standardized testing's usefulness, but one simple fact remains: NCLB ain't going away any time soon. It's here to stay for the foreseeable future, our opinions -- for or against -- notwithstanding.

I've reported here that there is an emerging consensus among both parties that NCLB is deeply flawed. The Washington Times runs an editorial today praising Rod Paige and NCLB but acknowledging the problems Spellings will inherit and suggesting ways to fix them:

But enough time has passed for prominent warts to appear. This is not a slap at No Child Left Behind, but recognition any federal reform of this scope requires midcourse corrections. Because of her central role in crafting No Child Left Behind, Mrs. Spellings is uniquely situated to fix its now apparent flaws.

The law, for example, requires any school for which a subgroup fails a state test to be labeled a "school in need of improvement," more bluntly called a "failing school" by many outside of the department. Applying this label equally to a school at which virtually all students are failing and to a school at which just some are failing doesn't make much sense. And, politically, it undermines support for the law and diminishes the power of the label to spark change. The answer isn't to ignore failure of subgroups (racial, economic or based on special needs) but to create more graduated

Though I rarely agree with Washington Times, I found these words to be eminently reasonable. Under the current law, schools that pass in all areas except one are subject to the exact same penalties as schools that fail in all areas. That simply isn't right, or fair.

Spellings needs to focus on fixing No Child Left Behind, before she attempts to expand it.

Hickok's swan song?

Andrew Rotherham of reported yesterday that Spellings' appointment could mean that Deputy Secretary Eugene Hickok will resign. His resignation would most likely lead to several more resignations that could really shake up the Education Department.

Could Hickok's visit to a Philadelphia charter school, with a tour provided by a company that provides funds to charters, be a very public signal of his disapproval of Spellings' negative stance on charters?

Inquiring minds want to know...

Margaret Spellings too pragmatic?

Former Education Secretary and moral values advocate Bill Bennett will take a brief break from the slot machines to share his insights on Clinton's legacy and (I presume) on Bush's appointment of Margaret La Montagne Spellings to his old post on Fox News Sunday.

I think it's safe to say he won't be happy. From WaPo:

Some conservatives, such as Reagan education secretary William J. Bennett, have expressed disappointment at her appointment, on the grounds that she is too pragmatic and insufficiently committed to such ideas as school choice.

"The emphasis will be on standards and accountability rather than choice-based reform," said Frederick M. Hess, an education expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

I love that he thinks she's too pragmatic, because clearly what the Republican and Democratic parties need is more idealogues. You know, especially on education, the dialogue seems too darn harmonious. What we need is more rancor-- and solutions that are entirely un-pragmatic. Bravo, Mr. Bennett.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Oh, the irony

From yesterday's Corrections page in the Washington Post:

A Nov. 17 graphic on President Bush's Cabinet misspelled the name of Margaret Spellings, his nominee for education secretary.

(Via The Purple State.)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

A good IDEA?

The Washington Post runs an editorial this morning praising the bipartisan spirit behind the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). The New York Times' Diana Jean Schemo gives the details of the bill that will most likely make it through both houses on Congress easily tomorrow (via Yesterday I wrote that Sen. Jim Jeffords opposed the IDEA bill. There was nothing on his website yesterday to explain his position.

But even the folks at -- who wore black armbands to protest the bill -- seemed OK with the final result. They were protesting the parts of the bill that allow greater latitude for schools to punish misbehaving special ed students. According to Schemo, the harshest parts of the bill were toned down considerably in the version that passed the House- Senate conference this week.

Governor Mark Warner's High School Initiative

Gov. Mark Warner would have been considered for Secretary of Education had Kerry won. At it is, Margaret Spellings was announced yesterday and Warner is term limited. His tenure as Governor will end next year. He will probably run for Senate in 2006 and/or the Presidency in 2008. In the meantime, he is the chairman of the National Governor's Association (NGA) and he has put much of his considerable energy into "redesigning" American high schools.

This is an initiative I will be watching closely. Gov. Warner has teamed with three other governors -- Huckabee (R-AR), Taft (R-OH), and Baldacci (D-ME) -- to make high schools more "rigorous and relevant." The commentary he (or a staffer?) penned for yesterday's Education Week was abysmal. It didn't even mention one of the points that I think would really attract many of the readers of EdWeek: making schools smaller. I wrote a scathing critique of Governor Warner's plan but I never posted it because I came across this communique from the people at the NGA. They did a far better job to convince me that this initiative to redesign high schools is worthwhile:

Gov. Warner's initiative, which is made possible by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was driven, in part, by studies that show three in 10 high school students today fail to graduate. Even worse, barely half of African-American and Hispanic ninth graders finish high school in four years. Of those students who do graduate high school, only 30 percent graduate college-ready--32 percent of entering college freshmen must enroll in a remedial course, and nearly half fail to earn a degree in six years, according to recent studies. Gov. Warner claims the high cost of dropouts has very real consequences for our nation's economy and especially for the low-income and minority students who suffer most.

"Too many of today's young people fail to see the relevance of a high school diploma. And for those college-bound students, too few see the relevance of senior year, opting instead to skate through nine months, only to be left unprepared for the challenge of college," said Gov. Warner. "High school curricula should reflect the realities and the expectations of higher education and today's global marketplace."

Of course, he's properly diagnosed the problem, but whether his prescription will work remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Two good articles on Spellings

After searching all day, I finally found two decent articles about Margaret Spellings. Every paper in America was basically recycling the same AP story on her appointment to Education Secretary. But the Christian Science Monitor ran a story with some unique and interesting content. CSM asserts that her confirmation should be easy, pointing to a gushing quote from Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Still, the confirmation hearing will be interesting, if for no other reason than to hear how she answers -- or rather, dodges -- the questions about vouchers and school choice which will most certainly be asked. She'll have to appease the right wing while not driving the unions -- which have expressed hope to work with her -- absolutely crazy.

Here's another interesting article about Spellings' nomination from the Washington Times, which backs up an assertion I made earlier about Spellings' role compared with that of outgoing Secretary Rod Paige:

Administration officials, particularly at the Education Department, say Mrs. Spellings has been the drive behind the administration education policy throughout Mr. Bush's first term from the White House.

"Secretary Paige and this team at the department have been the implementers of an agenda orchestrated by Margaret and the president, which was handed to us," an aide to Mr. Paige said on the condition of anonymity.

"It makes good sense for her to come down here to continue the job of implementing and building nationally on No Child Left Behind," the aide said.

Continuity is the buzzword here. Continuity and loyalty. Spellings' loyalty to Bush is unquestioned; she will most certainly be a powerful voice for No Child Left Behind (NCLB), far more authoritative than the outgoing Secretary.

Update: Another article was just put online which will appear in tomorrow's New York Times and it greatly increased my respect for soon-to-be Secretary Spellings. It definitely shows she has good sense:

At the White House ceremony announcing her nomination, Mr. Rove, ... said he was once "brutally" turned down after asking Ms. Spellings for a date in the 1980's, ...

The new IDEA bill

Today, a bipartisan bill to update the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) passed the committee phase easily. It is expected to pass in both the House and the Senate and be signed by the President before the end of the lame-duck session. It's the Act's first update since 1997. There are over 6 million children with disabilities in America's public schools.

Every member of the committees approved the bill -- except one. Jim Jeffords voted against it, according to the AP. I looked at Jeffords' web site and there was no explanation posted today. But there was a statement by Jeffords from an earlier "no" vote on IDEA.

I voted against this bill because Congress has again reneged on a promise it made nearly 30 years ago to pay its fair share to educate children with disabilites. In 1975, Congress agreed the federal government would pay 40 percent of the additional costs. Today, the federal government does not even cover 20 percent. It is the worst example of an unfunded mandate, and the burden will again be passed on to our local schools and property tax payers.

As it did with the No Child Left Behind Act, Congress is making hollow promises. We know from past experience that these funds must be mandatory, and in this bill they are not. There has been much talk about holding schools accountable, but it is time for Congress to hold itself accountable. It is time to pay our fair share.

I'm assuming that he voted against it today for the same reason. The bill does call for the federal government to provide 40% of funding by 2011; my guess is that that wasn't soon enough for Jeffords. I'll be interested to see his statement on this tomorrow.

A group of parent activists have been very vocal in their opposition to the bill, even wearing black armbands today in protest. I will be researching this bill -- and the opposition to it -- as it moves through the House and Senate on its way to the President's desk.

If evolution is a theory...

As most readers of this blog probably know, last week a suburban Atlanta county's school board voted unanimously to place stickers inside biology books that say that evolution is "a theory, not a fact." A group of parents has filed suit to challenge the placement of the sticker and a ruling from a District Court judge should be handed down soon. In the meantime,

Michael Manely, an attorney for a group of parents who are challenging school officials, argued that scientists officially consider all ideas theories.

"Maybe we need some more stickers," he said, showing the judge versions questioning gravity and Earth's rotation around the sun.

Probably picking up on this, the hillarious Andy Borowitz (who I had the pleasure of hearing as part of the New Yorker tour in Austin last week) ran this article:


Murphy’s Law Could Be Next, District Warns

A suburban school district in Georgia has thrown itself into the vortex of a legal controversy after deciding to stop teaching the law of gravity as part of its science curriculum.

The Dunnsville Unified School District fired the first salvo in the ongoing debate over the law of gravity last year when it mandated that stickers be affixed to all science texts in the district’s schools indicating that “the law of gravity is a theory, not a fact.”

District superintendent Charles Leverall said that initially it was not Dunnsville’s plan to eliminate teaching the law of gravity altogether, but merely to inform students that there were other equally plausible explanations for why things fall down.

“The law of gravity supposedly began when Sir Isaac Newton saw an apple fall off a tree,” Mr. Leverall said. “We think students are entitled to know that another way an apple comes off a tree is if a talking serpent tells a naked woman to take a bite from it.”

But after coming under fire for the stickers, Mr. Leverall said that the district decided to stop teaching the law of gravity entirely, and was now moving to ban the teaching of the law of supply and demand, as well as Murphy’s Law.


Gravity is clearly a delusional, Satanic theory propogated by the infidel unbelievers. Once we're done with evolution, let's get rid of it, too. Let's just throw out all the scientific achievements after Copernicus while we're at it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

More on Spellings

In keeping with the Spellings theme (it was widely reported tonight that she is indeed Bush's pick for Education Secretary), here's a Houston Chronicle article that gives a little more of her personal story, with quotes from her husband and parents.

Also, in digging around some more, I've learned that five months after proposing to Margaret La Montagne, Robert Spellings joined Gardere, Wynne, and Sewell as the head lobbyist of the firm's Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Practice Group.

I don't know these people, so I'm not suggesting that they married for anything other than love. But there can be no denying that the salary Mr. Spellings could command as a lobbyist after marrying Margaret is more than what he could have previously. Access is everything. I have found no stories, op-eds, blogger entries, or anything else that suggests that Mr. Spellings has used his access to the White House in any way. But I'll definitely keep looking.

Where will he go from here?

Here's an excellent article from that explores Bush's education options in the coming term. It seems to me that the defining debate will center around vouchers. We'll soon know if the conspiracy theorists are onto something or if they're overreacting

[W]ith an expanded majority in Congress, some Republicans want Bush to put his power behind a more conservative school-choice agenda. That would mean a bigger push for private-school vouchers and charter schools, which are public but largely independent.

"We're going to find out a lot about what George Bush is really all about," said Andrew Rotherham, who directs education policy for the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank aligned with centrist Democrats. "He would be better remembered as the president who put in place the framework for closing the achievement gap -- not the one who got a multicity voucher plan passed, which is the base-pleasing stuff."

(Rotherham blogs daily at A multicity voucher program, of course, is exactly what conservatives want. And one wonders if the subtext here is really nothing more than a push towards "faith based" education. Federal and state dollars for church-run schools, anyone?

From the article:

Some Republicans say Bush can't satisfy Democrats, particularly on funding, no matter what he recommends. They want the White House to be more proactive about No Child Left Behind and to keep shaking up what they deem to be a public education monopoly.

"My cardinal rule in Washington is you're on offense or you're on defense," said William Bennett, who was education secretary under President Reagan. "They're on defense too much."

So will the Administration be on offense, or merely be offensive to anyone who believes in the separation of church and state? Time will tell.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The upside and the downside to Margaret Spellings

According to Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post's Daily Briefing, the four resignation letters announced yesterday were all submitted at different times. He suggests that this indicates the White House has been "packaging" the resignations. And why would they do that?

They packaged other controversial Secretaries (Paige and Abraham specifically) with Powell so that the coverage would be cursory. The White House advisers are a smart group. I don't like their politics but I respect their political instincts and abilities. These people are good at what they do and yesterday's "packaging" only reinforces that.

Had Paige's resignation been announced on a day with no other resignations, everyone would have been talking about the very unpopular hallmark of his tenure: No Child Left Behind.

Of course, Paige's resignation isn't all that interesting anyway, when you consider that his likely successor -- Margaret Spellings -- isn't going to change a much. Check out this press conference on board Air Force One during the No Child Left Behind tour in 2002. Paige and Spellings were both there. During the questioning, Paige's answers were brief and vague (he spoke less than 200 words) while Spellings' answers were detailed, expansive, and articulate (and lengthy: over 600 words).

The point: she knew more than he did anyway. She was an architect of NCLB; he was a salesman. She was behind the scenes, setting policy; now she'll be out front, articulating that policy, and probably far more ably than the outgoing Secretary, I might add. (I doubt she'll call the NEA a terrorist organization, for example.)

By way of conclusion, every single newspaper in the world reports that Spellings will be the new Education Secretary; I'd be a fool to go against the conventional wisdom especially since I've been saying for weeks that she is the logical choice anyway. I think she'll be named before the week is out.

But there's one problem with Spellings for the Administration: she might not be conservative enough. It'll be interesting to see how the Christian Right in particular reacts to her appointment. She's been against vouchers and is generally described as a moderate. Right-wingers really want an Education Secretary that will push for vouchers so that churches can get a piece of the education pie. Spellings, unless she's changed a lot recently -- that is, unless she's been born again -- won't fight for that kind of change.

From today's New York Times:

Conservatives, meanwhile, see an opportunity to reopen the drive for expanding school choice in a variety of ways, including through taxpayer-financed vouchers for children from failing public schools to attend private schools. Last week, the White House began canvassing some education groups and Republican supporters for names of possible successors to Dr. Paige. The person most frequently mentioned was Margaret Spellings, who is Mr. Bush's chief domestic policy adviser. But some conservatives have raised questions about Ms. Spellings's willingness to advance vouchers and other initiatives dear to their hearts.

If Bush can find a way to please conservatives in a different appointment (will we hear from Mr. Rehnquist this week?), than Spellings can be named quietly and without conflict. If not, you could hear quite an outcry.

Look for the Administration to name Spellings shortly after some other major announcement so that it will be brushed aside, much as Paige's resignation was yesterday.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

More on Spellings and Kress

I've dug around and found a few very interesting exchanges involving Margaret Spellings and Sandy Kress-- one of the two will probably be named Secretary of Education tomorrow or early this week.

First of all, Shari of, has listed several interesting Spellings links, including a Business Week article about her from 2001 and a map of the West Wing showing that Spellings has a corner office and Rove doesn't. It certainly doesn't mean she's more important than Rove (she isn't), but it probably does mean that her importance to Bush is greater than most realize and that the Prez might not want her to leave for the Education Dept., which would make Kress's chances to be named Education Secretary even greater.

Here's a link to an interesting exchange early in 2001 between Andrew Rotherham (who posts each weekday on and works for the DLC and Progressive Policy Institute's 21st Century Schools Project) and Margaret La Montagne (now Spellings) on the Merrow Report. (You have to scroll down to page 17 for the conversation.)

And here's a link to Kress's speech to EduStat, a conference hosted by SchoolNet, a company that analyzes test data for school districts.

From Kress's speech earlier this year:

I guess what I’m here to say fundamentally on this subject is that, for those of you who are intimidated or threatened by No Child Left Behind, the world is actually going to become worse as we go along. I mean to say, “more demanding”. And it will look back at No Child Left Behind as kind of just an initial foot in the water, if you will, to the world we’re about to enter. We’re simply going to have to raise standards higher, we’re going to have to know more, we’re going to have to know it more quickly...

More, more, more. And this is interesting from Spellings' comments on the Merrow Report in 2001:

[T]he big idea here is this accountability and that there has to be an end of the line. And what happens when kids are trapped in failing schools... But, you know, there's a lot of talk on Capitol Hill about, about that. I do think people need to answer the question, what are we going to do about failing schools? The second thing I want to talk about, coupled with this strong, robust accountability system is this notion for more flexibility for states and local school districts. More autonomy, more freedom to manage resources as, you know, the accountability system is the quid pro quo for
additional authority over federal dollars.

This is very interesting since now, three years later, these are still the big questions. What do we do with the failing schools? Turn them over to private, possibly religious, groups to run-- or for-profit companies? And what about flexibility? As I've posted before, flexibility seems to be the albatross afflicting this Act. Everyone -- including Republicans -- seems to be complaining about the Act's inflexibility.

So Spellings' comments beg a question: Why weren't these problems given more thought in 2001, when the Act was written?

Truth finally proven to be stranger than fiction

Friday was not a banner day for American schools in the media. Watching CNN's Headline News Friday evening, I saw these three stories in succession:

  1. A county in Georgia placed a sticker on the inside cover of science textbooks proclaiming evolution to be "a theory, not a fact."
  2. Schools in Baltimore have suffered 76 fires purposefully started by students in the three months of school this year.
  3. Police in Miami used a stun gun (with 50,000 volts of power) to subdue an angry 6-year-old who threatened to cut himself with a shard of glass.

And in case that wasn't enough, while these stories were running, the text along the bottom of the screen said that thousands of students were kept home in New Jersey due to the rapid spread of a mysterious skin rash.

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Listed on BlogShares