Published Online: March 13, 2012
Published in Print: March 14, 2012, as Blogs of the Week

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| NEWS | POLITICS K-12

Former Ed. Secretary Margaret Spellings Is Romney Adviser

There's a familiar face among the roster of those advising Mitt Romney's presidential campaign: former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, a representative of Mr. Romney's education team confirmed last week.

Ms. Spellings, a chief architect of the No Child Left Behind Act, is serving as a volunteer for the Republican hopeful's campaign, which means she's working with Phil Handy, the former chairman of the Florida state board of education under then-Gov. Jeb Bush; Nina Rees, who led the U.S. Department of Education's office of innovation and improvement under President George W. Bush; and Martin West, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

Ms. Spellings' day job is still working as a senior adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on education issues. And she's also the president and CEO of Margaret Spellings & Company, a public-policy consulting firm in Washington.

Another Romney adviser? Russ Whitehurst, the former head of the Institute of Education Sciences, the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the Koret Task Force on Education at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. The task force recently put out a paper on the right role for the federal government when it comes to education policy, which calls for making federal accountability optional for districts and states that adopt dramatically expanded school choice.

Mr. Handy didn't hint at any discord within the Romney campaign. Still, Koret's ideas seem to be a big departure from Ms. Spellings' brainchild, the NCLB law, which she once said was "like Ivory soap, it's 99.9 percent pure."

—Alyson Klein


| NEWS | K-12 PARENTS AND THE PUBLIC

Community Group in Conn. To Teach Parents Advocacy

How do parents learn to be successful advocates for their students?

In Bridgeport, Conn., there's training for that.

Thanks to a $30,000 grant from the Fairfield County Community Foundation, the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, or BCAC, will be teaching parents "Civic Engagement 101," to educate the community about teacher evaluations and accountability, and to give parents skills and strategies to be successful advocates.

"Many of us felt that when the discussion starts around teacher evaluation and teacher accountability, it gets off to the wrong start," said Mary Pat Healy, the executive director of BCAC, which soon will release its own teacher-evaluation report identifying best practices in Connecticut and throughout the country. "We felt this would be a great opportunity to engage parents in understanding what best practices are out there, what it means in terms of teacher evaluations, and that it would create a really healthy dialogue."

BCAC is at work creating a discussion-guide template focused on teacher evaluations, and it will arrange get-togethers in people's homes for parents to discuss the topic with peers.

The training comes during a volatile time for the Bridgeport school system. On Feb. 28, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state was in violation of the law with its takeover of the Bridgeport school board, according to the Associated Press.

Officials had intervened to help turn around chronically low-achieving districts by appointing new board members, but the court ruled that the state should have offered training to the board members it ousted. Five former board members whose terms were not up will be reinstated, and a special election will be held for the four remaining seats. In the meantime, Superintendent Paul G. Vallas is forging ahead despite the ruling.

With the city's school leaders once again reforming their board, BCAC is preparing to revisit Civic Engagement 101, a training it tested last summer. About 20 parents and grandparents met in BCAC workshops to gain hands-on experience in sending emails and letters of support, making phone calls to legislators, and giving testimony at public hearings and meetings.

Presenting their two- to three-minute statements as though at a school board meeting, the participants were videotaped so they could see how they appeared. Then, they were given a constructive critique of how their message came across.

The idea is to help parents understand they have a right to speak out, and not only at public board meetings.

—Michele Molnar

Vol. 31, Issue 24, Page 11

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