Federal Federal File

Dear Ms. Spellings ...

By Michelle R. Davis — September 07, 2005 1 min read

There won’t be coffee and doughnuts, but teachers who want to sit down and chat with Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings now have the chance—in a virtual teachers’ lounge of sorts.

The Department of Education late last month launched “Teachers Ask the Secretary” on its Web site, www.ed.gov.

Teachers may submit questions via e-mail, along with their first names and locations. The secretary had answered 11 questions on the site by the middle of last week.

“As President Bush likes to say, teaching is a calling,” Ms. Spellings said in a statement. “Teachers deserve our thanks for answering the call. And now they will be able to call on us for answers.”

So far, teachers have asked questions on topics ranging from the testing of special education students to hiring practices and disciplinary problems. The questions have come from California, Colorado, Minnesota, and Texas, among other states.

Ed from Heber, Calif., wanted to know that if his state has a teacher shortage, will the “market forces of supply and demand be allowed to help determine teacher salaries?”

Ms. Spellings replied that teacher-pay decisions are made at the state and local level, but she noted that President Bush has proposed a Teacher Incentive Fund to provide states with money to reward those who take challenging jobs and get results. (The $100 million proposal is awaiting action in Congress.)

Denise from Euless, Texas, said she thinks that “sometimes everything is blamed on the No Child Left Behind Act” and wonders whether the federal education law really has forced schools to drop art and music classes—as some critics contend.

The secretary stated emphatically that it hasn’t.

Theisen H. Healey, the social studies department chairman at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md., said that while the idea for the secretary’s questions and answers with teachers is nice, it “seems to be a token effort.”

As a teacher, Mr. Healey said, he would be more likely to discuss his concerns about the federal education law with his principal. “If I have a concern about No Child Left Behind, I’m not going to go to the Department of Education.”

Rob Weil, the deputy director for educational issues at the American Federation of Teachers, said the new feature is a “good thing,” but, he added, “it’s not going to be where new policy is made.”

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