Just hours after President Bush was sworn in last week for his second term, the Senate confirmed White House adviser Margaret Spellings by voice vote as the eighth U.S. secretary of education.
Republicans and Democrats alike took to the Senate floor on Jan. 20 to praise Ms. Spellings, who had served as the president’s chief domestic-policy adviser and helped craft his far-reaching No Child Left Behind Act. Senators cited Ms. Spellings’ accessibility, knowledge, and willingness to listen, but they also used the opportunity to advance their own education agendas for the coming term and to address a myriad of current policy issues.
“I believe Margaret Spellings can help President Bush complete eight years as a genuine education president,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who served as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. “She knows the president, she knows the subject, she knows the politics, she knows the Congress, she knows the White House. She ought to be good.”
Ms. Spellings comes “eminently well qualified,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., though he was mildly critical of the No Child Left Behind Act, saying it’s “a little too inflexible” and “rigid.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, called Ms. Spellings a “consistent champion for improving and strengthening public education.”
However, he acknowledged that he didn’t expect them always to agree.
“Margaret Spellings doesn’t always say no,” he said. “She’s not always going to say yes, but she isn’t going to always say no.”
“I’m certain . . . that she will work together with this Congress to continue make the changes that will be needed to keep our education system and the lifetime of learning it must provide moving forward,” said Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., the new chairman of the education committee.
Ms. Spellings’ nomination to succeed Secretary of Education Rod Paige was so uncontroversial that several senators used the floor consideration to raise issues about what course the administration should take on education or to address controversies.
“We must do more to help students prepare for college, afford college, enter college, and complete college,” Sen. Kennedy said. “College tuition costs are effectively out of control.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., raised concerns about remarks made by Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, who said in a Jan. 14 speech that women may be underrepresented in the fields of mathematics and science because of innate differences between the genders. Mr. Wyden said he had spoken with Mr. Summers, who told him that comments intended to be thought-provoking had “crossed the line.” Mr. Summers has since apologized.
But the issue gave Sen. Wyden a chance to call attention to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funds. Title IX “can be the key to ensuring gender equity in critical academic fields for women,” Mr. Wyden said.
Ms. Spellings has a close working relationship with President Bush and is considered a principal architect of the 3-year-old school improvement law, a revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In her capacity as Mr. Bush’s domestic-policy adviser, she worked with both Republicans and Democrats to shape the law. (“Spellings’ Resume Brings New Twist to Secretary Post,” Jan. 19, 2005.)
A version of this article appeared in the January 26, 2005 edition of Education Week as Senate Confirms Spellings as 8th Secretary of Education