Federal Explainer

Margaret Spellings, Eighth U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements

By Education Week Library Staff — August 18, 2017 2 min read
President George W. Bush, left, participates in the swearing-in ceremony for the Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, center, at the U.S. Dept. of Education on Jan. 31, 2005 in Washington. On the far right holding a bible is her husband Robert Spellings.
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Biographical Information: Spellings was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Nov. 30, 1957, and then moved to Houston, Texas, with her family when she was in elementary school. She graduated from the University of Houston with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Spellings launched her political career in Texas, working as a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards, and then as a senior adviser to Gov. George W. Bush. Prior to serving as the education secretary after Bush was elected to his second term as president, she was his White House adviser on domestic policy. After the end of the Bush administration, Spellings founded a consulting firm and served as the president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. She became the president of the University of North Carolina in 2016.

Served Under: President George W. Bush

Dates of Tenure: 2005-2009

Fun Fact: Spellings was the first mother with school-age children to serve as the secretary of education.

Achievements in Office:

  • Spellings fought to protect and continue implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. She helped make the law more flexible by allowing states to participate in pilot programs, including one that allowed them to use student progress – instead of straight-up achievement – in rating schools.
  • She created the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which was charged with creating a national strategy for postsecondary education.

Archives of Note:

President Picks a Trusted Aide for Secretary
President Bush’s decision to nominate Margaret Spellings, his chief domestic-policy adviser, as the new U.S. secretary of education signals a steady course on education policymaking from the administration, analysts say. (Nov. 23, 2004)

In Her Own Words
Education Week Staff Writer Michelle R. Davis sat down with Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings on Jan. 9 in the secretary’s office at the U.S. Department of Education. (Jan. 17, 2006)

Spellings Seeks to Cast Her Glow Over NCLB
In her three years as U.S. secretary of education, Spellings has been the nation’s leading spokeswoman for the No Child Left Behind Act. (Jan. 7, 2008)

Spellings’ Worldview: There’s No Going Back on K-12 Accountability
The secretary of education works on global education issues, but efforts to help schools comply with the No Child Left Behind Act will be her legacy. (Dec. 8, 2008)

Spellings to Head Bush Foundation
Margaret Spellings, who served as U.S. secretary of education under President George W. Bush, has been hired as the president of the foundation named after her former boss. (Jun. 11, 2013)

Former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to Lead N.C. University System
As president, Spellings will oversee 17 campuses in the system that serves more than 220,000 students. She currently works as the head of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. (Oct. 23, 2015)

Commentary by Margaret Spellings:

Maintaining the Federal Role in Accountability
The federal government should play a discrete and powerful role in education accountability, writes Margaret Spellings. (Jan. 9, 2012)

    Additional Resources
    UNC Office of the Presidency Includes biographical information on Margaret Spellings
    George W. Bush Presidential Center A short biography focused on Spellings’ government service
    U.S. Department of Education A brief biography from the Department of Education archives

    How to Cite This Article
    Education Week Library Staff. (2017, August 18). Margaret Spellings, Eighth U.S. Education Secretary: Biography and Achievements. Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/margaret-spellings-eighth-u-s-education-secretary-biography-and-acheivements/2017/08

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