So I had a strange experience yesterday. Periodically government officials have in a few reporters for an on-the-record but less formal briefing about ongoing things and future plans. Yesterday Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings held such a meeting over lunch with the usual suspects AP, NYT, WaPo, USA Today, Ed Week, Ed Daily, and…Eduwonk. Yes, you read that right, one of those things is not like the other (though I did bring a reporters’ notebook and did not wear pajamas in an effort to fit in).
It seemed to me an interesting indication of the influence of blogs that the Spellies saw some benefit to including one and probably a smart strategy for them. Yet it could also be a Pandora ’s Box. We’ll see. At a minimum they’re going to get some whining thrown their way. More on what this might or might not signify later.
Anyway, a few reactions: The big news yesterday was the growth model announcement but Spellings seemed a lot more interested in discussing the evolution of No Child and what she saw as next steps. When asked by one reporter about Kevin Carey’s analysis of state NCLB reports she said that while she hadn’t read it she was open to discussions of more uniformity around some issues. Seeing as they couldn’t even bring themselves to encourage states to work together even voluntarily on testing in 2001 lest it be seen as “national testing” her seeming openness to discussing where the law could use more uniformity is encouraging. It is also clear they want to do more on teacher quality.
She also laid out the children v. adults paradigm pretty forthrightly. That’s one of the biggest fights you can take on since current providers of public education currently enjoy one of the last basically exclusive franchises in our society. So, it would be a big lift for any president but seems almost impossible for one who is regularly setting new lows in the polls. And she discussed the complexities of enforcement and seemed pretty candid in signaling that they hadn’t entirely figured that piece out at all. She’s right and there remains a lot of reason for concern especially around supplemental services but not on that issue alone.
Perhaps most interesting was her description of reaching out to Hill leaders about the growth model announcement. She started by discussing her conversation with Democrats Senator Kennedy and Representative Miller and saying they were on board etc…then, seemingly as an afterthought she said, and I wrote this down in my reporters notebook, “obviously I talked to [Senate Labor and Health Committee Chairman] Enzi and [House Education and Workforce Chairman] McKeon, too.” That is about all you need to know about NCLB politics. While
my colleagues in the press the press plays this as a big back and forth between Republicans and Democrats, it’s really more complicated coalitional politics. And, not unlike immigration, education could really emerge as a party-splitting issue for the Republicans (though unlike immigration Democrats would have to have their act together for that to happen).
Finally, watching Spellings with the reporters it was clear how she’s been at the receiving end of so many glowing profiles. This crew was pretty hardened and wasn’t buying but you could see how the charm offensive could be effective. Her policy background also makes her very effective in these settings. And yes, Spellings was wearing her sexy librarian glasses (settle down Joe Williams, settle…).
PS–Keep an eye on Sarah Sparks from Ed Daily, very sharp questions. What’s the over-under on her being poached away from there?