Guestblogger Margaret Spellings

Let me begin by thanking Andy Rotherham for the opportunity to begin my blogging career on I’m happy to have this opportunity to use technology to share a new white paper about technology based on what we’ve learned during the roundtables we hosted this year along with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin.Today, no group is embracing new technologies more than our young people. More than 8 out of 10 teenagers, including my own daughters, report having helped a struggling adult to do something online that the adult could not do for him or herself. But many students will tell you that when it comes to technology, school is the least advanced part of their day. Our country has done a great job of wiring our classrooms, but we have yet to realize technology’s potential to transform the way education is defined and delivered. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce put it, “Most schools preserve the routines, cultures, and operations of an obsolete 1930s manufacturing plant.”

Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz note in their recent book, The Race Between Education and Technology, that “in the first half of the century, education raced ahead of technology, but later in the century, technology raced ahead of educational gains.” It’s high time to balance the equation by using technology to amplify educational opportunity.

Over the past 18 months, Kevin and I have held a series of conversations on educational technology with educators, executives, and students. Participants included Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy, IBM Foundation President Stan Litow, Teach for America Founder Wendy Kopp, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs, and Milken Institute Chairman Michael Milken.

From all we heard, we identified five key areas where federal, state, and local governments can better collaborate:

1. Online Learning and Virtual Schools,
2. Transforming Data into Knowledge and Action,
3. Broadband Connectivity,
4. Research Efficacy and Impact, and
5. School Leadership and Professional Preparation.

First, online learning and virtual schools. New technologies are helping students to access customized instruction anytime, anywhere, at any pace. K-12 distance learning enrollment has risen 60 percent over the last six years alone. In light of this rapid growth, there is still much to learn about how online learning can be most effective. While schools and districts are determining how best to make these rigorous online experiences available to as many students as possible, the federal government can expand its research to help provide information and guidance on the most effective ways to deliver online instruction and prepare teachers to harness these new teaching opportunities.

Second, transforming data into knowledge and action. With No Child Left Behind, for the first time, we are beginning to use objective data to drive decision-making in education-just as in science, medicine, business, and other fields. Now that student achievement is measured annually, the next step is to transform raw data into information that educators can act upon. By leveraging the Schools Interoperability Framework to standardize the way data is defined and shared, all levels of our education system can improve quality, accessibility, reliability, and efficiency. In addition to providing real-time feedback to help teachers customize instruction, we have invested significant funds to help states develop more sophisticated data systems to strengthen partnerships between K-12 and higher education and make the overall education enterprise more agile and more responsive. 

Third, broadband. Neither online learning nor data transmission is possible without high speed internet access. Many people are familiar with the FCC’s E-rate program, which provides telecommunications discounts to schools and libraries. After a decade of investment, this program has succeeded in wiring our nation’s schools. To ensure E-rate is ready to meet future needs, the Department and the FCC should jointly evaluate what the program is doing well and where it needs updating.

Fourth, research. Many of our greatest innovations have come about with the help of the technology community’s exceptional ability to take risks and explore new ideas. Now that so many new tools and strategies are emerging, it’s time to apply rigorous research to maximize their effectiveness in the classroom. Now, there is also a need to advance the kind of systematic and comprehensive research agenda the federal government engages in, to not only understand what works, but to provide innovators with information and insights they can use to build new quality pedagogy and new products.

Finally, school leadership and professional preparation. Successful technologies are guided by capable human hands. The transformation of our education system won’t be complete until stakeholders from throughout the education community unite to create new models of leadership. By working together across disciplines and governmental levels, we can all support twenty first century educators in meeting new practical challenges posed by technology. Most importantly, we can support them in helping schools deliver high-quality, more personalized instruction to help our children succeed in the twenty first century.

 —Guestblogger United States Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

19 Replies to “Guestblogger Margaret Spellings”

  1. Congratulations for seeking some feedback from those of us who read Andy’s blog! A few notes on the topics the paper covers:

    1) Data warehouse use. There’s a tradeoff between comprehensiveness and flexibility with these large state systems. Florida has built its system over the past 15-16 years at both the K-12 and higher-ed level, and they’re great if you have the resources to clean the data and you’re not looking for a fast turnaround of use. But the data is *not* clean (what system that takes in millions of records each year is?), and the data is entered on a periodic cycle, so you essentially get one or maybe a few snapshots each year per variable. On the other hand, the value of formative data is in the quick turnaround. Especially in this economic environment, I don’t think you’re likely to see a smooth handshake between proprietary or local formative-assessment systems and state-level systems; that would require and enormous amount of technical and organizational work. Think of the disaster with NYC’s ARIS system. It would make better sense to see three purposes to data collection and use and not try to fit everything in under one roof:

    a) Decisions that are made on an annual or long-term basis. This is the obvious use of state-level systems, for program and policy evaluation.
    b) Decisions that need to be made within the school year, either at the classroom/school level or at the district level. This requires sensitivity to the data-collection and -entry logistics and also to the patterns of use. For example, an oral fluency test *could* be done with every first- and second-grader each week by teachers’ aides (I’ve done it — about 30-40 minutes per class, one minute per child) and entered into a database, and then an expert system could identify trends and provide default guidance — Lynn Fuchs’ work is the best example I know of that. But that requires devoting resources, making clear the the purpose and use of the data, and loads of other issues at the school level.
    c) Transferring student records, especially for students with disabilities, English language learners, and children of migrant farmworkers. This involves a different technical and logistical handshake process from either issue above, especially between states and between public and private entities.

    2) Broadband connectivity needs to triage with a focus on the classes where that access matters most. My daughter’s ninth grade geography teacher never used Google Earth, in large part because she taught in a portable with spotty connections. Yes, you should wince! This is especially important for children from families with low and moderate income whose primary broadband access is the school.

    2A) A corollary of broadband access should be a shift in resources from desktop-based programs to online programs or programs (such as Google Earth) that can quickly use online data. SocialExplorer is an example of an online package that geography and history teachers can use with reasonable ease.

    2B) A second corollary of broadband access is the regulation of filter programs, which generally crack down on sites that systems find problematic. I may be naive, but I believe that there is no requirement that systems maintain “clean lists” of acceptable sites that are protected from filtering. That’s important to encourage teachers to use broadband access, with stable knowledge that the sites they need will be available.

  2. Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School guru on innovation, makes a pretty compelling case for how this is likely to happen from the disruptive innovation side in his recent book Disrupting Class.

  3. The corporatization of schooling that your regime oversees makes one who believes in freedom shutter with disgust. How dare you usurp authority in an area that is as profound as religion, where values are taught and ideologies created! But your trampling of basic rights is predictable. It really is all self-serving for the state and its political class, no matter what democratic mysticism or statist positivism you dress it up in. I am tired of being forced to pay for these tragic follies.

    Let it be known that the education emperor is wearing no clothes.

    Your growing bureaucracy, aided by NCLB and other nightmares, recalls an old complaint against the King of England put forth by some revolutionary chaps you might have heard of:

    “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

    But what can I do to stop you and the corporatist swarms descending on education? I certainly have a right to abolish your oppression. I just hope it can be done peacefully by persuading the vast majority that education demands liberty, not some bureaucratic Leviathan where power is separated from responsibility.

  4. I’m easily written off. You all are government officials, PhD’s, and other important people. I am a high school teacher in an alternative school. But I am compelled to add this to the conversation.

    All of this seems so unnecessary to me. You really think that technology will revolutionize education? At the most, it will make education more entertaining. Entertainment is like candy to the brain. It does nothing to add substance to what they learn.

    How does any of this help a child find significance and purpose? Or understand human nature? Or be awe-struck by the complexity and beauty of the life they live? Our kids have technology running out their ears. Even my urban alternative school students carry portable playstations to school. And while it may give me a few more options in being able to present my content, I have yet for a student to tell me that learning how to edit video or take a virtual field trip has deepened their sense of wonder or added meaning to their lives.

    I suppose this only makes sense if you are still of the opinion that passing tests and getting grades makes you an educated person. We still confuse process with product. Our students “cram to pass, but not to know. They do pass, but they do not know.” The result is that, at 18, we graduate students who are technologically savvy little children who, by and large, still don’t know the first thing about the enormity of what it means to be a human being, largely because they’ve never been treated like one in their schools. They’ve been treated like dogs, being taught to jump through hoops to get a treat or to avoid being punished. And we wonder why almost one in three decide to leave before it’s done.

    Until our system re-sets its foundation and rejects the notion that children are products, and that all we need is a better, more technologically advanced assembly line to produce an educated populace, we will continue to see our students graduate by learning to game the system rather than learn something about themselves and the world they live in, or simply take their ball and leave altogether.

  5. Interesting white paper – in particular the part about virtual schools. Certainly, virtual curricula/schools have the potential to be able to tailor schooling to individual needs.

    But regarding the rest, this seems like an expensive endeavor for not much gain. There would have to be a better connection to specific improvements in student learning before I would be willing to switch funding from teachers/classrooms to technology based solutions.

  6. Hello All,

    I agree. I teach high school in a prison. These young men, must be exposed to technology, working with computers at the very least, or they will not be able to assimlate into society–shall I say today’s techno society. Why has no one mentioned edugaming? Young people enjoy this. Have any of you ever played WOW? Are you aware of the skills needed to play the game? The world of education should embrace edugaming where learning is transparent (combined with color and animation). I know people that have learned a fair amount of history with the Call of Duty games. There is a great new game called Nano Legends that TEACHES cellular biology. Yes, we could teach geometry by drawing circles in the dirt like Archimedes; however, education should be a reflection of society. In case you haven’t noticed, our young people are digital natives.

  7. Vincent Cho is right that interoperability is POSSIBLE, and he works in an environment with experience and expertise. In such an environment, it probably does seem easy.

    But before you assume that the existence of the concept of SIF is enough, please talk with people who have observed ARIS or other oversold systems. I suspect that we’re pretty far from having a Jeffrey Wayman in every corner of every state.

  8. I’m easily written off.

    You and me both.

    Eighteen months of “conversations,” and not one parent made the cut.

    No taxpayers, either.


    I’ve been a fan of Ms. Spellings. It’s distressing to see her suddenly touting “technology” at the end of her years as Secretary of Education.

  9. Since when did reading, writing and basic math skills become de passe? Just WHAT is so damned important about PowerPoint?

  10. SPELLING FRAUD: school, accreditors and governmental agency align to defraud student and family.
    Oct 8, 2008

    Margaret Spellings and the Accrediting Agency Evaluation Unit set accreditation standards back, as they backed a fraudulent degree in an attempt to keep accreditors out of court.

    In Jan 2008, the Accrediting Agency Evaluation Unit (AAEU) started in on complaints against the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). During the investigation it was determined that both accreditors had not correctly handled complaints filed by Randy Chapel and his mother Carol Nye-Wilson against Western Seminary in violation of 34 CFR 602.23, as well as both having issues with 34 CFR 602.20 and 602.22. A Press Release was sent out on the 25th June covering these actions and can be found at

    While Chapel and Nye-Wilson sent various documents in support of their claims of fraud, and inducement to Margaret Spellings, Kent Talbert General Counsel, and others, the new AAEU department director Nancy C. Regan claimed that the accreditors had done nothing wrong.

    This was rather odd given what the AAEU knew and had in its’ possession, custody and control at the time.

    Donne M. Wittman, writing on behalf of the San Francisco-Seattle Case Participation Team, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education (March 25, 2008) and Linda Henderson, Area Case Director for the Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education (Sept 4, 2008) concluded that: “The program in which your son [Randy Chapel] was enrolled in was in California.” The program was deemed to be 100% different than the program offered, accredited and approved in Portland, Oregon.

    Western Seminary is not approved to enroll or offer to a student a Master of Theology degree program or course work in whole or in part in the State of California as previously known to the AAEU as reported by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education. Period. There are no exceptions to this.

    In the above letters noted to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein by the FSA department, the FSA made reference to the 25th June Press Release statements, which noted that the school knew beforehand it could “not guarantee a ThM [Master of Theology] program that meets ATS Standards” and such a “degree may not be credible.” Further the judge ruled unsympathetically over the clumsy argument for “actual pursuit” of the degree does not equate to approval, and that the school subsequently asserted that the substantively changed Th.M. degree program is one and the same as the previously approved, standard Th.M. degree program listed for many years in school catalogs, handbooks, and public online advertisements and mailings.

    The investigators at the Federal Student Aid department did not buy into Western’s or ATS’ accreditation schemes, made solely to counter the fraud case against the school.

    In Regan’s letters however, she claims that ATS/NWCCU are in compliance with 34 CFR 602.20 and 602.22 in order to cover for the accreditors, who are in turn covering for the school.

    In reviewing ATS published materials made available to the public and materials in legal files no substantive change policies of ATS (34 CFR 602.22) as regulated by the AAEU existed on March 14, 2006. There were no published policy for exceptions to substantive change policies of ATS (34 CFR 602.22) as regulated by the AAEU and existed on March 14, 2006. In fact, no documents directly or indirectly supported the notion that ATS had substantive change policies and exceptions to those policies and were provided to Chapel’s previous attorney Bill Dresser or to Chapel or his parents prior to March 14, 2006. Of interest, Regan failed to quote and include the actual regulated substantive change policies as SHE CLAIMED they existed on March 14, 2006 as well as the finding letters she claimed supported the AAEU’s position.

    Ironically, Western Seminary had previously admitted that no documents exist that reflect, evidence, discuss, describe or concern accreditation or approval by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) for Western Seminary to provide the ThM in the State of California or in Oregon as of March 14, 2006. Western admitted that there are no documents that remotely “reflect, evidence, discuss, describe, refer to, or concern the Association of Theological Schools’ approval for Western Seminary to provide a Master of Theology degree as prescribed in the settlement agreement for Chapel v. Western Seminary, et al, Santa Clara Superior Court action 1-03-CV-814749 as of March 14, 2006.”

    As previously known to the AAEU, Western knew at the time, it could not guarantee the program, even though the school clearly agreed they would not rely upon representations found outside the agreement as quoted: “…agreement is made without reliance upon any inducement, statement, promise, or representation other than those contained within this Agreement.” Western Seminary even claimed at the time it “represents and warrants” that “it has the authority to act” and “to bind itself …it to the terms of this Agreement…”

    Spellings, Talbert, Regan and the AAEU all had various materials and knew of the scheme to defraud the student and his family by ATS and Western Seminary, by claiming non-written, non-public, and non-regulated policies that the school claimed under penalty of perjury “never existed”, trumped written, public, and regulated writings.

    AAEU investigator Chuck Mula stated on July 21, 2008:

    “It would be very difficult for a recognized accrediting agency to justify to the Department the existence of two approval process for degree programs. One published and One unpublished. The Department would be very interested in seeing that policy and have the agency explain how the agency applies it. If an accredited institution does not follow a recognized accrediting agency’s published policies for requesting the review and approval of a degree program or the substantive change of a degree program to include its delivery system, than the institution would be out of compliance with the agency’s published policies and procedures. Therefore the Department would expect that the program would not be approved.”

    Regan, who replaced Carol Griffiths as director, instead of citing the more than obvious evidence chose instead to conceal, falsify, cover up these materials facts and relied upon false, fictitious, fraudulent statements by ATS and Western who made representations in false writings known by the AAEU to be materially false, fictitious and/or fraudulent.

    Federal employees can be imprisoned for not more than 5 years for acts such as this.

    John Hannon, one of the attorneys handling the case for Chapel and his parents, wrote to Spellings and Regan. He stated, “The DOE is mandated by law to enforce 34 CFR 602. Here, your department appears to have abandoned its own policies in regard to maintaining standards and requirements related to the accrediting agencies as well as to assure that those standards are enforced. Such failure to act would seem to assure that accrediting agencies have no enforceable standards that are subject to review by your department making the legacy of the Spelling Administration one which supported academic fraud.” Hannon added, “so long as NWCCU and ATS do not have any problems with a degree program based on academic fraud, your department will not act… making the DOE party to known fraud.”

    Undeterred Sam Phillips writing on behalf of Western Seminary, Gary Tuck, Lynn Ruark and Steve Korch stated, “we fail to see how repeated correspondence from Western Seminary which specifically outlines Randy Chapel’s ‘straight forward path to finish the ThM program'” supports any contention that the Defendants had no intention to fully perform their obligations.

    Western Seminary is more than happy to knowingly administer a fraudulent degree with ATS, NWCCU and the AAEU scheming along side them.

    David Thurman Supervisor for Academic Standing at The Southern Baptist Theology Seminary, an ATS member school, reflected on the contracted Master of Theology program: “From the description you provided, indicating that these were correspondence courses, it is highly unlikely we would transfer any of them into our ThM program and probably nothing would transfer into the PhD.”

    While others understand the degree is fraud, Spellings, Regan, scheming with ATS, NWCCU and Western have justified two accreditors and a school to offer a degree, which is fraudulent and nothing more than a diploma mill valuation of a degree.

    Hannon, writing to Spellings and Regan stated: “It appears that your letter of September 29, 2008, simply restates the predetermined position as referred by Chuck Mula and made via email dated July 29, 2008, wherein it was stated that “the Department will not support any civil actions against NWCCU regarding your complaint” and by extension ATS. The questionable determination of September 29 reflects this point and is a possible conflict of interest as previously expressed by Mr. Mula. My clients feel that the determination of your office to take no action is simply an effort to justify the pre-determined goals set out months previously and referred to in writing, without taking into account various known facts that have been obviously concealed, covered up, falsely represented, in which is based on false writing(s) known to previously contain materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements and used knowingly by a Federal employee and with the knowledge of the Honorable Margaret Spellings.”

    Requests for information to the AAEU department by congressional and house subcommittee on education member Mazie Hirono has not been provided.

    Chapel’s many requests for public and other documents have not been provided.

    Phone and email messages to AAEU staff have not been returned.

    Process is now underway to serve Spellings and Regan and force them to explain under oath their actions.

    Other congressional members are in the process of seeking answers.

    “It is one thing for Spellings to rant on about accountability and transparency in her department, it is flat out hypocritical of her to pull a stunt like this on a student and his family to save off civil actions on Sandra Elman/NWCCU and ATS” said Chapel. “Regan should be fired and as for Kent Talbert, Spellings’ General Counsel, what the hell is he thinking letting Regan’s letter go out?”

    Honorable Margaret Spellings: Phone:202/401-3000 email:
    Kent Talbert, esq: Phone:202/401-6000
    U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, phone: 415/393-0707
    Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono, Phone: 808/541-1986
    Nancy C. Regan, Phone: 202/219-7018, email:

    Representation for ATS, Daniel Aleshire, Charles Willard and Jeremiah Mccarthy
    Tom Johnson
    Henry W. Oliver Bldg, 535 Smithfield Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15222-2312
    Phone: 412.355.6488

    Representation for NWCCU and Sandra Elman
    Michael Madden
    1700 Seventh Avenue, Suite 1900, Seattle, WA 98101
    Phone: 206.622.5511

    One of the attorneys representing Randy Chapel, Carol Nye-Wilson, and Dale Wilson
    John P. Hannon II
    716 Capitola Avenue, Suite F, Capitola, CA 95010
    Phone: 831.476.8005

    On the web:

  11. Dr. Spellings’ point on infastructure and broadband is well taken. Unfortuantely, the E-rate program is very cumbersome, frustrating and frightening for many applicants.
    There are NPRM comments, requested by the FCC, from August of 2005 that have not been acted upon. Most of the comments, if taken seriously and implemented, would streamline the program and go a long way in reducing waste, fraud and abuse.
    One comment (out of the hundreds offered) is for the FCC to rely on technology plans already approved by State Educational Agencies (SEAs). The US Dept of Education requires technology planning documents for NCLB – why in the world would the FCC complicate the issue of tech planning when the Department of Education, through its State Education Agencies, handles this task quite competently? And if technology planning is, ultimately, a tool of school improvement, is the Federal Communication Commission now driving education policy in this country? I hope not, Dr. Spellings.

    The idea that “some states take their education more seriously than others,” or “the US Department of Education cannot simply go into a State and tell them what to do,” is so far removed from reality it is beyond the pale. Yet that apparently is the attitude of the Wireline Competition Bureau at the FCC. Perhaps the applicant community should simply send all their “draft” technology plans to the FCC for approval. Now that would be interesting.

    Please, please bring just a glimmer of common sense back into the program and allow tech plans, approved by the States, be the final word in technology planning. Unless of course, the Department has already abdicated its sole responsibility of creating and protecting education policy for all the children in all the communities throughout the country.

  12. I _couldn’t_ read the entire article. Anybody who thinks that they will fix schooling with technology is totally kidding themselves. Work on what matters. If you have time left, you can worry about broadband.

    Please, please, if you haven’t picked up a copy of the current Lapham’s Quarterly, do it NOW. Lewis Lapham’s description of his inspiration by teachers is wonderful and telling.

  13. Greetings

    I read your article with interest. I’ve been an educator on the front line serving as a technology coordinator at the school level since our district initially began technology in the schools. I truly believe in its use as a learning tool and have witnessed firsthand students benefiting from its use.

    The National Educational Technology Standards are what we need to focus on. You mention improved data to drive instruction and research-based methods. That is great; however, the model we are using for instruction is based on an over 100 year old mentality that reading is the sacred cow. Many states have in word adopted these NETS standards but in reality most students use computers only for drill – classroom management devices functioning in a way that research has proven ineffective and just keeping the students busy while the teacher works with a group. Where are the student projects that these same standards require from students? In most schools it isn’t happening; therefore, technology is not helping instruction.

    Reading is important but consider that many years ago is was the only way knowledge was gained aside from apprenticships. Even the most ignorant statistician knows that half of all people who take a norm-referenced test will score below average and that 10 percent never will master the tested skill. When students have trouble reading we should take every opportunity to help them but not force them if it does not work for them. Consider our drop outs. Most are/were classified as Learning disabled mostly in Reading. School represents the defeated zone. We should encourage reading but only to a point then we must value the student and focus on the content. Perhaps instead of reading about whales we will allow this student to watch about whales. We will then find out what he learned about whales. We do this in sports and in every other area of life. Find what we are good at and work at it. Many jobs do not require high reading ability. The emphasis is overboard.

    The problem is that we are not addressing the right thing. Teachers and students on the front lines are being squashed in the assessments all based on sameness – same test, same lesson, same book cookie cutter thought when we are different. Students are different and we must realize this will appear in reality as well as test results. We have multiple methods today to learn with and technology offers a rich opportunity for our kids. An overemphasis on process instead of content and the heart and mind of our children will only spell disaster in the long run.

  14. I agree with your last statement that there is too much emphasis on the process and not content. Do you think that it is because of teachers who are set in their ways or novice teachers who don’t know any better?

  15. 100% of the kids ready to read, count and understand positive direction as they enter kindergarten will change dramatically the proficiency of the public schools.

    Lord knows that kind of rigor and commitment will change the community also. This will have to be a gift of first things first from the community to the schools. The only excess cash in the community at this point is in the businesses. Can you get them to invest in the 100% delivery of at risk kids to be ready? Call it economic development and reach for the funds in the 2004 job Creation Act.

    At least this approach has us working together on something that is absolute and not so relative.

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