Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Spellings Report: An Open Invitation For The Secretary

For months now, we've been exposing (here, here, here, here, and here) the spendthrift ways of U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings as she and her entourage go to-and-fro on various sight-seeing junkets all over the globe.

It seems as though all this taxpayer-funded travel (with more to come) by the EduCrat-in-Chief has finally
attracted the interest of the MSM:(emphasis ours)
As Cabinet members go, the education secretary typically sticks to domestic matters. But Margaret Spellings has put her own stamp on the job -a passport stamp.

In less than a year and a half, Spellings has traveled to Afghanistan, England, Egypt, France, India, Italy, Japan, Jordan and Russia. Next up are Greece and Spain this month.

Spellings says she needs to travel to shape policies at home that reflect an understanding of the nations the United States competes against or financially aids.

Not everyone agrees.

Keith Ashdown, spokesman for the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, questioned how much benefit taxpayers would get out of the trips. The Education Department would be better served, he said, to send midlevel employees who handle day-to-day activities.

"These trips by executives at agencies, there's not a lot of bang for the buck," Ashdown said. "They're mainly expensive public relations events to make the agencies look good."

Transportation, food and lodging for her overseas travel cost the Education Department $36,981, records show. The total cost of her travel was thousands of dollars higher, but a few trips were paid for by other agencies.

Since taking office in January 2005, Spellings has taken seven trips overseas. That's one more than her predecessor, Rod Paige, took during his entire four years in the Cabinet.

"We are looked to and admired around the world as people who know how to do education for the masses," Spellings said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.

Spellings is traveling more than previous secretaries, because these are different times, said Christopher Cross, who has written a book about the history of the Education Department.

"We're so much more aware of the international competitiveness," said Cross, who served as assistant education secretary under the first President Bush. "If she were sitting in her office and not doing any of these things, I would be even more concerned."

Spellings' trips also result from her close relationship with President Bush, whom she met in Texas years ago. She served as top White House domestic adviser during Bush's first term.

Three of her trips came at the request of the White House.

She accompanied first lady Laura Bush to launch a training institute for women teachers in Kabul, Afghanistan. She also led U.S. delegations to the 2005 World Expo in Nagoya, Japan, and to the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, Italy.

Her other trips focused mainly on meeting international counterparts. Some examples:

Spellings traveled with members of Congress in April 2006 to Bangalore, New Delhi, and Agra in India to help the U.S. learn how to compete better.

Spellings attended two meetings of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative, an effort launched in 2004 by Bush and leaders of other major nations. Her travel took her along the Dead Sea in Jordan in May 2005 and to Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in May 2006.

Spellings went to Moscow in May 2006 for a meeting of education ministers from the eight largest industrial nations. She also met with Russian teachers and students about math, science and foreign language study and signed a deal with Russian leaders about student and scholar exchanges.

The trips have had different purposes, she said. But all reflect a greater international focus for the Education Department since Bush's first term.

Paige had a more domestically focused mission, which was starting No Child Left Behind. The sweeping education law was Bush's first priority in office. Bush signed it in January 2002.

"Secretary Paige traveled a lot domestically _ that's just where the need was," said William Hansen, who was Paige's deputy secretary.

Spellings said the vast majority of her trips are within the United States.

"We will never, ever lose sight of our prime directive," Spellings said. That remains getting all children up to par in reading and math by 2014, the goal of Bush's education law.
While schools all over the country have been forced to cancel field trips for kids due to rapidly rising fuel costs, Spellings and Company have continued to jet themselves all over creation.

For what gain? In order to see what we can learn from the Egyptian school system?

How much would you like to bet that the secretary took a little "field trip" of her own to the great pyramids while she was in Cairo?

Heh. And to think that I fondly remember when Republicans used to loudly proclaim that they were the guardians of the taxpayers' money and that they were the party of a smaller and leaner federal government. They were the party that pushed term limits and all those other Contract With America promises that were forgotten as soon as they took office and became incumbents. And let's not forget that the G.O.P. used to be all about law-and-order.


Spellings and her endless junkets are symptomatic of the type of arrogance found throughout the federal EduCracy: They're quick to tell us who're in the field actually working with children about the need to do more with limited resources. At the same time, those who inhabit Washington's well-appointed offices regularly rack-up the miles on government travel unnecessary junkets and
live-it-up in five-star resorts at taxpayer expense.

Meanwhile, these wouldn't-go-near-kids-on-a-bet-non-teaching-teaching-experts continue to bleat about how schools must be held "accountable" and schools must continue to work ever-harder to keep those test scores going up.

Spellings never mentions the need for parents to ensure that children arrive on time to school rested, prepared to learn, and with their homework assigments completed.

The Secretary never mentions the need for students themselves to at least put forth an effort to learn the material and follow common-sense rules of behavior and decorum.

Here's an idea: I would like to see Margaret Spellings come to our junior high school and model for me exactly what I should do when a parent refuses to come to the school, answer the phone, or answer her door, when I need to have a discussion with her about meeting her child's academic needs.

And yet I'm the one who is held accountable for her child's academic performance. Along with 173 other children that I teach every day.

So here's a proposition for you, Ms. Spellings:

If you've got the guts to take a journey that may actually illustrate for you the conditions that are really to be found in all-too-many American public schools that serve kids in economically disadvantaged areas, we have just the fact-finding trip for you and your well-fed entourage.

Take a trip down here to California's "Imperial" Valley during the first weeks in September. We may not have any
royalty for you to socialize with, but we do have lots of illegal immigrants that your political party and the government that it controls has permitted (and continues to permit) to unlawfully settle in our communities thereby overwhelming our hospitals, police, paramedics, schools, and other services.

We also have the highest unemployment and lowest per-capita income of any county in California.

Regrettably, in Imperial County, there aren't any of the five-star resorts that you and your horde of toadies retainers are accustomed to staying in, but I'm reasonably sure that the Ramada hotel motel just down the street would be happy to accomodate your lodging needs.

As an extra incentive, I'm told that they even have a swimming pool, but do not offer room service.

If you can stand using your per-diem meal allowance to dine eat in a restaurant that doesn't accept reservations, maybe we could sit down and have a bite to eat at the Denny's Restaurant that's next door to the Ramada.

Later, we'd be happy to show you around our school district, visit a few classrooms, and even furnish you with an opportunity to make a few remarks that we guarantee would appear in
what passes for our local newspaper.

The invitation is open, Madame Secretary, if you dare.

Take a walk on the wild side. Visit a few real classrooms, see some real kids, have a conversation with a few educators who actually work with children.

You can reach us at this address: edwonk [at] educationwonks [dot] org.

We'd be delighted to assist "your people" with making the needed arrangements. We won't even bill your Department for our time.

See our latest education-related entries right here.