U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is glad that the No Child Left Behind Act wasn’t reauthorized as scheduled last year, because “where we were headed would have been a bad reauthorization,” she told Education Week today.
Her comments, in an interview on the opening day of the scaled-back Republican National Convention, were an apparent reference to a draft bill crafted by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. That measure would have permitted some states to use local assessments in their accountability systems, among other changes that were largely criticized by supporters of the current NCLB law as an effort to weaken accountability.
Secretary Spellings said over coffee that the additional time to craft a renewal of the school improvement law will help give the coalition that came together to pass NCLB a chance to regroup and continue to build support for the law’s central principle of accountability.
Ms. Spellings agreed that education has taken a back seat to other issues, such as the economy and energy, in the presidential campaign. But she sees the lack of discussion of the No Child Left Behind Act on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Denver as a positive development.
“I usually operate in the no-news-is-good-news realm,” she said. When asked why Sen. Barack Obama’s criticism of the law on the campaign trail frequently met with enthusiastic applause, she said, “It’s not a secret that lots of interests groups have spent millions tarnishing the [NCLB] brand.”
Unsurprisingly, Secretary Spellings said she thought that Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the soon-to-be-official Republican nominee, would make a better education president than Sen. Obama, who officially became the Democratic nominee last week.
“I do not think he’s going to be worried about the teachers’ unions and the equities of grown-ups,” she said of Mr. McCain. “NCLB was a necessary first step, and I think he recognizes that.”
She said it’s her impression that Sen. McCain, like President Bush, is “a different kind of Republican” on education issues, as opposed to some GOP conservatives who have sought to significantly scale back the federal role in education by allowing states to opt out of NCLB’s accountability requirements.
But she also had kind words for the Democratic nominee. She said Sen. Obama “seems to understand the civil rights community and their equities,” as shown by many leaders who favor strong accountability for schools, “versus the unions and their equities.” She added: “I think it was bold for him to speak out on merit pay. Let’s see it happen.”
Hurricane Gustav has prompted a major shake-up of the GOP convention schedule here. But Secretary Spellings appeared to be going about her schedule as planned, although she said she had been in touch with Paul G. Pastorek, the Louisiana schools chief, to see if he needed any help. “Of course, we’re prepared to do what’s needed,” she said.
When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast three years ago, the U.S. Department of Education helped ensure that students from New Orleans and other affected areas were able to temporarily enroll in other school districts.