Any questions for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education Margaret Spellings?

This Friday, as part of my university's sesquicentennial celebration, there's going to be a two hour session on "The Future of Higher Education". The keynote speaker will be Margaret Spellings, the U.S. Secrtetary of Education. There will also be a "panel discussion with national experts", after which they will entertain questions from the audience.

So, what questions about the future of higher education would you like me to ask?

In case you're stuck for ideas, here's a potential prompt: Spellings' Commission on the Future of Higher Education has been hailed as a way to bring No Child Left Behind-like reforms to colleges and universities. How does that idea sit with you?

Thanks in advance!

UPDATE: SInce the link to information on the Spellings commission is apparently a little pokey today, here's a viewpoint piece about the commision. It's a critical view, but may be useful in illuminating some of what the commission is asking for. Also, here's a page with links to the extensive coverage of the commission at Inside Higher Ed.

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Well, the Commision web site says this right now:

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I would like to review it, because I remember reading it before and being at least somewhat distraught by it. But now I can't remember why. I think it was the idea of having any Federal input into higher ed. As I recall they were thinking about the issue of "accountability" and wanting some assurance that the Feds were getting value for their money. Which I think is OK in principle, but I do not trust them to use any power, or influence, in a neutral and responsible manner.

How does she feel about the inclusion of religiously-motivated pseudo-science in the science curricula? Is she willing to disagree with the president on that issue?

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 30 Apr 2007 #permalink

One thing you have discussed recently Janet is the 'failure' of the cookbook lab to have any relevance or add any interest to a 'standard' undergraduate lab experience. Mostly because the students don't get the opportunity to do any real experimenting. This is what I see happening at my daughter's public school (in HI, FWIW). The kids are not allowed to experiment or explore outside the narrow boundary of the standards being set down by NCLB. Because they are only being measured on how they do on the 'standards' -- not on how they are growing as educated little beings. If that were to happen at the Universities -- where part of the point is to take courses that you don't know anything about and to just LEARN. NCLB at the University level will continue to make our education system as a whole a 'cookbook' and take the fun out of trying things just to find out what happens when you try THIS.

Well, this has to do with primary ed, not higher ed, but I still think it's relevant: When are my kids going to be able to watch the "Vermont" episode of one of their favorite programs, "Postcards from Buster"? Because until she can give a satisfactory answer to that question, hypocritical bigots like Spellings have nothing whatsoever to offer me on the topic of education (or anything else, for that matter).

If the government wants accountability, are they also going to increase funding? Hasn't funding at both the state and national level been decreasing?

I'd like to hear ideas on providing greater access to higher education for everyone. There's still quite a gap between rich and poor.

I'll just generally be interested in hearing what she and the panel say.

BTW, the first Inside Higher Ed link that keeps displaying a "Our site will return soon" message is suffering from a bad hyperlink. Drop the "|is" from the end of the URL and it will work just fine.

One item that you could ask is whether the government is interested in supporting efforts to train civic scientists.

Neal Lane (former NSF Director and Clinton's Science Advisor) has written extensively on the notion that scientist need to be active members of the civic conversation.

One problem facing the future of science is that scientists are never trained to be good public communicators, nor do we have the incentive to pursue paths where science and society can engage on another. (How does public scholarship like blogging factor into tenure decisions?)

The NSF has broader impact requirements for their grants (which often involves sending a grad student to a high school for a day or hosting an open house) and a small minority of NIH institutes spend money on ethical, legal and social impacts research. In my opinion, these tokens do little to further the kind of training that should be going on in higher education.

A group of grad students at the University of Washington are working to improve opportunities for students and trainees to learn about science policy and science ethics. We see how what we are doing is making a difference and think that other schools could modify our programs to fit their needs. The amazing thing is that it does not cost very much!

What I do not see are any formal efforts or incentives for colleges and universities to implement science and society training programs for scientists. That is where the DOE could weigh in.

To boil this all down, I would ask something like:

Apart from the prominent spokesmen that testify for legislatures and a small group of science bloggers, scientists are known for not being particularly active in discussions about public policy. This does not have to be the case. It makes sense for there to be training opportunities for college students to learn about how science and society interact. Are there any ways that you, as secretary, are working to encourage more interaction between scientists and their humanities colleagues so that we can together train the next generation of civic scientists?

Sorry for the long comment. You can tell this is an issue I am very interested in. I look forward to hearing about this visit.

Others who have written about scientists interacting with society are Daniel Yankelovich, Michael Crow, and Alan Leshner.