In a speech to educators on April 7, Ms. Spellings outlined a formula for resolving the federal-state conflict. States that have sound educational policies, demonstrate that achievement is rising, and follow the "basic principles of the law," she said, would be permitted flexibility to adapt the law to local conditions.
The speech drew warm applause, but some educators have since raised questions about how Ms. Spellings intends to identify the worthy states.Chester Finn, a conservative scholar at the Hoover Institution, the research organization, wrote that Ms. Spellings's state-by-state approach "invites politics."
In her first weeks, her treatment of states was already "strikingly uneven," Dr. Finn wrote. "The department has been tough with Connecticut and, of all places, Texas. But it's been lax with North Dakota, alternated between stern and accommodating with Utah, and compromised with California," he said.
Jo Lynne DeMary, Virginia's education commissioner, said she had been eager to hear Ms. Spellings because "We've got a backlash, almost a tsunami, on N.C.L.B."
But after the speech, she said, "I still don't understand what states need to do to get flexibility - and I'm not alone."
This is going to be one of the major themes of the press coverage over the next couple of years leading up to NCLB's reauthorization. By indicating she would grant flexibility subjectively rather than uniformly, Spellings created more headaches where she intended to cure them. If arch-conservative Checker Finn is raising his doubts, you don't have to take my word for it: this is going to cause a lot of trouble for Spellings, the Department, and for NCLB.