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Spellings, Darling-Hammond, and the Transition

When U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings addressed the Council of Chief State School Officers on Friday, she joked that she “brought the keys to the department in case there [could] be a pass off right now.” She was alluding to the myriad of names being bandied about for job of education secretary, although I haven’t heard any current education chiefs as leading contenders.

Spellings helped kick off the first day of the conference in Austin, Texas, and President-elect Barack Obama’s ed transition pooh-bah (I’m not sure what her official title is) Linda Darling-Hammond ended it. Darling-Hammond told me that despite reports to the contrary in The Wall Street Journal or on blogs, she is "just an adviser" and doesn't have an official position with the transition. Yet. Later, she followed up with an e-mail to me saying she was sorry she couldn't talk about the transition "yet," and then left the door open to a future announcement.

Though I was allowed to go to most of the other CCSSO sessions, I was barred from Darling-Hammond's session with the chiefs, their "business partners," and their invited guests on Sunday afternoon—so I can’t tell you firsthand what she said. (Apparently, this was LDH’s decision.)

But here’s what I can tell you, based on follow-up conversations with those who attended:

*Darling-Hammond basically reiterated Obama's campaign platform, emphasizing teacher quality, early education, and innovation.

*The Obama camp's mantra is mend, not bend, NCLB.

*Obama will not cut funding for education, she said.

Later, after trying to clarify her non-official position with the Obama team, Darling-Hammond told me her mission was to communicate Obama's priorities to the chiefs, and then take the chiefs' perspective back to the transition team.

The chiefs seemed pleased just to have a representative from Team Obama pay them a visit.

Earlier during the conference, Spellings, for her part, pledged her full cooperation to the transition. “The less sound and the fury the better,” she said.

Spellings said her staff is already working on dense, policy handbooks for every program and grant in the Department of Education. And, Spellings said she’ll prepare her own memo for her successor as secretary.

She urged her successor not to back down from the 2014 proficiency deadline in the No Child Left Behind Act, declaring that policymakers have to “own it.” She said she’s made sure her career staff members are very clear on the direction of the agency, and that for the most part, “we’re on autopilot.”

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