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Spellings Slams Waivers, Race to the Top

By Alyson Klein — August 30, 2012 2 min read
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Tampa, Fla.

More than a decade ago, Margaret Spellings was a driving force in getting the overwhelmingly bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act over the finish line. But in an interview, she told me she wants to see the civil rights and business coalition that came together to pass the law “power up as we did before. ... I think we have to revive it,” she said.

“We need to get the genie back in the bottle,” she added on the last day of the Republican National Convention, referring to a strong accountability system.

Spellings, who served as President George W. Bush’s domestic policy adviser and then as U.S. Secretary of Education, was originally on GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s education team. She bowed out when she realized she didn’t like the direction of his education proposals.

While she’s glad the GOP platform doesn’t propose getting rid of the U.S. Department of Education, it sounded like she was lukewarm, at best, on Romney’s plan, which includes a robust role for school choice.

“It’s sort of silent on accountability,” she said.

And she’s worried that the Obama administration’s waivers to states from some provisions of the law does poor and minority children a major disservice—and will be tough to manage and oversee.

“The waivers were a mistake,” she said. “It’s a crazy quilt of a system which I think will die [on its] own.”

She thinks that Romney’s future education secretary—whoever that may be—could rescind the waivers when they take office.

“What the president giveth, the president can taketh away,” she said.

And she’s also not a huge fan of the Obama administration’s other big, signature K-12 initiative, Race to the Top, which offered $4 billion in grants to states for embracing certain redesign priorities. She called it a “goose-egg” of a program and noted that states are already falling short on their promises.

“When all’s said and done, Race to the Top will have been for naught,” she said.

Still, she gave U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—a “buddy” of hers—high marks for bucking the Democratic establishment (re: unions) on issues like teacher evaluation.

And it sounds to me like she thinks some of the folks I talked to for this blog post went way too small potatoes in some of the names they floated for Romney’s prospective education secretary.

“I think it should be a governor,” she told me, without saying which current or former chief state executive should get the nod. “I think that’s the right level of gravitas and import. This has to be a national priority.”

Spellings and I chatted after a panel on education policy sponsored by Bloomberg and AT&T. Those appearing with Spellings included: Jeb Bush, who is clearly the K-12 Mascot of the Republican National Convention in Tampa; Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State and the new voice of the school choice movement; and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who also trashed the waivers, calling them a “substitution of Obama standards” for NCLB.

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