Spellings is poor fit as education secretary
By William Bainbridge
The actions of Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings are receiving a push back from prominent Republicans.
Sens. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Sam Brownback, R-Kan., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, have offered many valuable improvements to the No Child Left Behind Act, which Spellings helped create. Now Spellings has incurred the wrath of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who is a former secretary of education.
Alexander says he will "offer an amendment when the Senate considers reauthorizing the Higher Education Act" that would prohibit Spellings from issuing any final regulations on higher-education accreditation until Congress reauthorizes that act.
This nation has the best higher-education system in the world. That is why university rolls reveal huge numbers of foreign students. Nevertheless, the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education continues to push the liberal notion of unprecedented federal control over higher education. The commission's process is eerily similar to the No Child Left Behind Act, Which Spellings has attempted to use to direct local school districts.
Though Spellings is one of the harshest critics of the higher-education system, she is the first education secretary without a graduate degree and has zero experience in educational administration. Her only teaching experience was as an uncertified substitute teacher. All of her predecessors held prominent positions and had experience at the policy level. She was a political director for George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas, and she later served as domestic-policy adviser when Bush became president.
Those Texas roots run deep. As chairman of the Education Policy Center of Texas, Charles Miller took the lead in designing the state's flawed school-accountability system. Now Miller, appointed by Spellings to lead the higher-education commission, claims, "American higher education is broken and can't be fixed." He also said federal financial-aid programs should be "nuked." Sound familiar? College and university leaders need to learn from their primary and secondary education counterparts how federal intrusion can damage educational institutions.
Duke University Vice Provost Judith Ruderman said: "The Spellings commission set in motion a huge brouhaha. All these bureaucratic initiatives will not really help higher education or increase accountability, but take away a good portion of what makes American higher education unique and effective. We don't want all this intrusion."
Colleges and universities participate in voluntary and independent accreditation processes that have high standards. The processes are not perfect but are far better than anything federal controls might produce, especially in light of Spellings' record.
Here are some of the "highlights":
ΓΆ€ΒΆ Federal control of education, a role not authorized by the Constitution, has been greatly expanded.
ΓΆ€ΒΆ She has been chastised in Congress for ignoring kickbacks and allowing student-loan lenders to rake in millions with inflated interest rates.
ΓΆ€ΒΆ Massive high-stakes testing has resulted in numerous scoring errors by testing vendors, unfairly punishing students, teachers and schools.
ΓΆ€ΒΆ The administration has advocated pay incentives for teachers and administrators based on the same flawed testing system.
ΓΆ€ΒΆ Her office is alleged to have permitted preferential treatment for campaign contributors who sold textbooks or tests in the $1 billion-a-year Reading First scandal of the No Child law.
ΓΆ€ΒΆ She has taken credit for gains in National Assessment of Educational Progress data collected in 1999 and 2004, when Bill Clinton was president.
President Bush should get a new secretary of education.
William L. Bainbridge is distinguished research professor at the University of Dayton and president and chief executive officer of SchoolMatch, a Columbus-based educational auditing, research and data company. firstname.lastname@example.org
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