Sunday, July 02, 2006

Wonkitorial: Secretary Spellings' Spanish Fly-In

Margaret Spellings, the globe-trotting U.S. Secretary of Education, has just visited Madrid, Spain, where she made some remarks to a gathering of Spanish and American business leaders just the other day. Here's some key quips that the Secretary traveled half-way around the world to deliver:
"It's important that we run faster because today's employers want workers with "pocket protector" skills—students that are creative problem solvers with strong math and science skills."

"It's important to learn languages because we all have the need for more understanding around the world."

"We can learn a lot from our friends in other countries about language teaching and language development."

"Spain is a top destination for students from the U.S., and we want to encourage more educational exchanges."

"This year, President Bush created the National Math Panel to address the best ways for math skills to be taught and developed and is focused on the need to strengthen teacher training—something we share with many countries."

"We are proud of our innovative and flexible higher education system and public-private partnerships, but we must address our skills gap between high school and post-secondary education. The business community is helping to address this issue."
With so many schools concentrating so many scarce resources on the effort to continuosly raise standardized test scores in reading and math (while neglecting and/or cutting other subjects) as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, we find it humerous that Spellings had the temerity to say to those business leaders, "It's important to learn languages because we all have the need for more understanding in the world."

We think that it would be nice if the Secretary had "more understanding" of the world in which many of America's students and teachers find themselves in every school day. We would especially like her to have "more understanding" of those schools which are tasked with serving kids in rural areas that have large percentages of non English-speaking populations and high unemployment.

Which brings us to a proposal to the Secretary that we made a few weeks ago.

We still haven't had any word from the Secretary's "people" about when she'll take us up on
our invitation to visit California's "Imperial" Valley, drop-in on some real classrooms that haven't been hand-picked well in advance, and speak candidly with educators who actually work with kids in the classroom.

If the Secretary can find the time and money for all these taxpayer-funded junkets this foreign travel for the purpose of making cute speeches to well-screened invitation-only audiences, why can't she find the time to do a little fact-finding right here in some of America's neediest and most challenged school environments?

Instead of doing what she usually does and visiting only those American schools that have been hand-picked primarily for the purpose of showcasing successes that are due (so says the U.S. Dept. of Ed.) to the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, maybe the Secretary could make a few visits on short notice to schools that haven't had much success or scrutiny.

Ms. Spellings could "drop-in" on a district, take a look around at what's going on, and ask some pointed questions of the district's administration regarding everything from curriculum and its delivery to the condition of textbooks and the maintenance of school buildings.

Secretary Spellings could see for herself exactly how (and on what) the taxpayers' money is being spent.

It would be most interesting to see, what, if anything, Washington's EduCrat-In-Chief would have to say about those districts that have chosen to construct sumptuous administrative offices (such as this) while children and teachers must labor in so-called "temporary" portable classrooms (trailers) or ancient un-airconditioned school buildings.

We predict that even the most mulish and well-entrenched district/county superintendent will listen to what the United States Secretary of Education has to say, answer her questions, and address her concerns.

One could think of it as a personal tour of inspection by the Education Secretary.

An inspection that would directly benefit large numbers of America's kids.
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