Spellings’ Grade: Needs Improvement

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Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has an uncanny ability to whisk responsibility away from her turf, the Department of Education. In the first 30 seconds of her Daily Show interview last night, she laughingly deferred Jon Stewart’s joke about Lunchables to agriculture officials, and Stewart’s food pyramid question to Health and Human Services.

But her “hands are tied” arguments are wearing thin.

With inappropriate dealings in the $85 billion student loan industry widely reported, alleged mishandling of the Reading First early literacy program and the pending reauthorization of No Child Left Behind this year, she’s got a lot of stepping up to do.

One education blogger even draws parallels between Spellings and Alberto Gonzalez, saying that if Gonzalez weren’t hogging the spotlight so much right now, Spellings would be getting more attention.

That’s not the comparison to be shooting for, especially with her qualifications in question. After admitting to during a Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in March that the only teaching she had ever done was as an uncertified substitute early in her career, and that her college pursuits were in political science and journalism, one frustrated congressman said there was a “disconnect” in her ability to execute on meaningful public policy.

Still, Spellings stood firm on these issues during a recent oversight committee hearing testimony, and recently told NPR that she feels “very good” about the “aggressive role” she has taken in the “raging fire” that is American higher education policy. Problem is, she also called the student loan scandals a “teaching moment for us,” too.

—Gary Moskowitz

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