In One Eye

Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Not surprisingly, the AP has reported on the letter that Betty Sternberg, Connecticut's Education Commissioner, sent to US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. As reported here yesterday, it's pretty harsh.
State Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg asked for an apology Tuesday from U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings for remarks implying that Connecticut's attitude toward black children is "un-American."

In a three-page letter to Spellings, Sternberg said she was outraged by Spellings' comments in a television interview, especially her use of the phrase "soft bigotry of low expectations" in discussing the state's approach to educating inner-city black children.

"Anyone knowledgeable about the track record I and this department have had on relentlessly pursuing higher expectations for all of our students is appalled by your characterization of this department and Connecticut's educators," Sternberg wrote.

The letter reflects an increasingly chilly tone in a dispute between Connecticut and the U.S. Department of Education over the interpretation of President Bush's school reform law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

Sternberg's ire was directed at Spellings' remarks during an interview on the PBS program "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" last week.
"Chilly" seems to be the apposite adjective to use in this situation. At the very least, a lawsuit would seem to indicate that the state and the feds aren't exactly toasting each other's health.

However, the letter gets even better as Ms. Sternberg goes beyond politics into the realm of the personal.
Sternberg wrote to Spellings, "I must tell you as a Jewish American whose family was deeply affected by the pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and later by the Holocaust, bigotry is never soft. Bigotry always has a hard edge. It is simply outrageous that you would accuse me and my associates of 'the soft bigotry of low expectations.'"
So where do we go from here?
A U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman said late Tuesday afternoon that Sternberg's letter had not been reviewed. "I haven't seen it," said Susan Aspey. "It sounds like the secretary's comments were taken out of context. ... The secretary's point was that all kids can learn and that all kids count."

Aspey also said that the department is preparing a response to an earlier letter from Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell requesting a meeting between Sternberg and Spellings to discuss differences of opinion over the law.
This is a typical stance by all involved: The bullying Bushies become paralyzed as soon as their bluff is called, and genteel to a fault Governor Clubwoman falls all over herself to try to get the combatants to drink tea (or Kool-aid) and be nice to each other.

Virtually every educator I've spoken with about this issue is grateful to Ms. Sternberg for her missive, perhaps most of all because they didn't think she had it in her.