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Will the Next President Keep Ed Secrets?

By Michele McNeil — March 27, 2008 1 min read
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There’s something to be said for starting with a blank page.

But the Department of Education is taking this to new levels and violating the spirit, or perhaps even the letter, of the federal Freedom of Information Act. This law is supposed to ensure that government business (which is funded by you, the taxpayer) is conducted out in the open. There are exceptions, of course, for things like national security and records on juveniles, for example.

For background, read Kathleen Kennedy Manzo’s recent story about her fruitless (so far) quest to get public information out of the Ed Department about a new panel that’s supposed to examine reading research. As part of her coverage of reading issues, Manzo asked for e-mail records in search of more insight into the Commission on Reading Research—such as what kind of expertise this panel would have, what the purpose of it is, etc. Reading has been a hot topic for the Ed Department. If you’ll remember, President Bush’s flagship reading program, Reading First, was at the center of one of the biggest education scandals of his administration.

The records Manzo got in response to her request were laughable. Here’s a sample of some of the e-mails I had scanned in so you could see for yourself. Lots of salutations and “have a great weekend” but absolutely nothing of substance about the reading commission was contained in dozens of pages turned over to EdWeek. And these examples contain more words than many of the pages, which were turned over completely blank.

Manzo told me today that’s she’s filing an administrative appeal with the agency.

It’s not like this is a first for the Bush administration.

Here, Manzo details the plight of a foundation wanting records on the Reading First program. And this September 2004 report

on behalf of Democrats to the House Committee on Government Reform details how the Bush administration reversed the Clinton administration’s presumption that all records should be disclosed if possible. (Advance to page 14 of the file to read more about this.)

Making sure the public’s business is done in public is an issue that transcends education. Manzo’s story illustrates how it’s not just about what kind of education policies the presidential candidates stand for, but also how they would run the bureaucracy of the education department.