President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative has drawn opposition from both educators and politicians. But a report last week had some good news: math and reading scores for grade-school students have gone up. Margaret Spellings, 47, who took over as Education Secretary in January, spoke with TIME's Perry Bacon Jr. about testing, her own kids and the Harry Potter phenomenon
TODAY WAS A GOOD DAY FOR YOU, WITH THE NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS REPORT SHOWING A RISE IN TEST SCORES FOR THIRD-GRADERS. YOUR REACTION? It's very encouraging. I think it's showing up that No Child Left Behind is working, that we're on the right track. We've turned the Queen Mary.
THE TEST RESULTS SHOWED NO IMPROVEMENT FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS. DO YOU STILL WANT TO EXPAND NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND TO HIGH SCHOOLS? We have flat scores for 30 years for 17-year-olds. Flat is not good enough.
ANOTHER REASON IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR YOU AS EDUCATION SECRETARY: THERE'S GOING TO BE A LOT MORE READING GOING ON THAN USUAL. I'm all about Harry Potter this week. I have two teenagers, and they have already ordered it from Amazon, and it's coming in the mail. My little one, the 13-year-old, has spent the whole week reading the previous thing to make sure she's got the whole trajectory.
DO YOU THINK THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS HAVE EDUCATIONAL VALUE? Well, I think any time kids read, that's a good thing. These are big, heavy, 600-page books. You've got to have some attention, some focus to get through a 500- or 600-page book. It's literally a page turner.
DID YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BOOK WHEN YOU WERE A KID GROWING UP? Charlotte's Web.
HOW WELL DID YOU DO ON YOUR SATS? Pretty well. I don't remember the number off the top of my head. The test has been recalibrated twice since I took [it]. I know I made well over 1,000--1,000 was the target to shoot for back when I was in high school, back in the golden days.
IN YOUR FIRST WEEK AS EDUCATION SECRETARY, YOU CRITICIZED PBS'S POSTCARDS FROM BUSTER FOR FEATURING A LESBIAN COUPLE WITH CHILDREN, AND YOU GOT A LOT OF CRITICISM. DO YOU REGRET DOING THAT? No. Public broadcasting has the special trust of the American people. When I turn on public broadcasting, I don't think I'm turning on MTV or whatever. These are programs for young kids.
WHAT'S THE TOUGHEST THING YOU FIND ABOUT GETTING YOUR TWO KIDS [AGES 18 AND 13] READY FOR SCHOOL IN THE FALL? For moms and dads who are getting ready for back to school of public-school children, there's a lot of alphabet soup. There's a lot of bureaucratese and education mumbo jumbo: AYP [adequate yearly progress] and the HQT [highly qualified teacher]. I think it's sometimes intimidating for parents and sometimes hard to navigate as to what the meaning of all that is to your own child. Now I'm embarking on this whole new sending-your-child-off-to-college adventure for the first time ever. I talk about standing in Barnes & Noble and looking at U.S. News & World Report vs. The Princeton Review. How does a parent evaluate getting your child in and out of college? Is it a better deal to have them go to State U and get out in six years, or should they go to a private school where they can get out in four?