Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

When I was a young historian, back in the 1970s, I would occasionally search for a fact about American education in the nineteenth or early twentieth century to help me write an article or book. There was no Internet. I wasn’t sure which books had the right statistics. So I invariably called the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education (actually there was no Department of Education until 1980 [Congress passed the legislation in 1979, and the Department became operational in 1980]; the NCES was the longstanding research and statistics arm of the U.S. Office of Education). The federal role in education began in 1867 under President Andrew Johnson with the creation of a Department of Education, whose sole mission was to collect and disseminate information on the condition and progress of education in the United States. In 1868, however, due to fears that the new Department might eventually seek to exert control over state and local education policy, the Department was demoted to the U.S. Office of Education. Its central purpose, the collection and dissemination of accurate information, is today the role of the NCES.


When I called for information, there was one person who knew where to find whatever I was looking for. Not opinion or interpretation, just the facts. His name was Vance Grant. He invariably took my calls and just as invariably found the answer, if it existed in federal records.


In 1991, I became Assistant Secretary in charge of OERI (the Office of Education Research and Improvement) and NCES was part of my agency–the most important part. I met Vance Grant, and I had an idea. Why not assemble all the historical data into a publication? With the help of the very able career staff at NCES, especially Tom Snyder and Vince Grant, and with the help of historian Maris Vinovskis, who had taken a leave at my request from the University of Michigan to work with OERI staff, the publication became a reality.


It is called 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait.


I can say now in retrospect that this publication was the most useful thing I did during my two years in the federal government.


You too can browse its pages and charts and graphs via the Internet to see the growth of education in the United States.


Although not many people know of its existence, it is still the only reliable source of historical data on American education.

Sometimes events happen that seem to be disconnected, but after a few days or weeks, the pattern emerges. Consider this: On October 2, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he was resigning and planned to return to Chicago. Former New York Commissioner of Education John King, who is a clone of Duncan in terms of his belief in testing and charter schools, was designated to take Duncan’s place. On October 23, the Obama administration held a surprise news conference to declare that testing was out of control and should be reduced to not more than 2% of classroom time. Actually, that wasn’t a true reduction, because 2% translates into between 18-24 hours of testing, which is a staggering amount of annual testing for children in grades 3-8 and not different from the status quo in most states.

Disconnected events?

Not at all. Here comes the pattern-maker: the federal tests called the National Assessment of Educational Progress released its every-other-year report card in reading and math, and the results were dismal. There would be many excuses offered, many rationales, but the bottom line: the NAEP scores are an embarrassment to the Obama administration (and the George W. Bush administration that preceded it).

For nearly 15 years, Presidents Bush and Obama and the Congress have bet billions of dollars—both federal and state– on a strategy of testing, accountability, and choice. They believed that if every student was tested in reading and mathematics every year from grades 3 to 8, test scores would go up and up. In those schools where test scores did not go up, the principals and teachers would be fired and replaced. Where scores didn’t go up for five years in a row, the schools would be closed. Thousands of educators were fired, and thousands of public schools were closed, based on the theory that sticks and carrots, rewards and punishments, would improve education.

But the 2015 NAEP scores released today by the National Assessment Governing Board (a federal agency) showed that Arne Duncan’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program had flopped. It also showed that George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind was as phony as the “Texas education miracle” of 2000, which Bush touted as proof of his education credentials.

NAEP is an audit test. It is given every other year to samples of students in every state and in about 20 urban districts. No one can prepare for it, and no one gets a grade. NAEP measures the rise or fall of average scores for states in fourth grade and eighth grade in reading and math and reports them by race, gender, disability status, English language ability, economic status, and a variety of other measures.

The 2015 NAEP scores showed no gains nationally in either grade in either subject. In mathematics, scores declined in both grades, compared to 2013. In reading, scores were flat in grade 4 and lower in grade 8. Usually the Secretary of Education presides at a press conference where he points with pride to increases in certain grades or in certain states. Two years ago, Arne Duncan boasted about the gains made in Tennessee, which had won $500 million in Duncan’s Race to the Top competition. This year, Duncan had nothing to boast about.

In his Race to the Top program, Duncan made testing the primary purpose of education. Scores had to go up every year, because the entire nation was “racing to the top.” Only 12 states won a share of the $4.35 billion that Duncan was given by Congress: Tennessee and Delaware were first to win, in 2010. The next round, the following states won multi-millions of federal dollars to double down on testing: Maryland, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Tennessee, Duncan’s showcase state in 2013, made no gains in reading or mathematics, neither in fourth grade or eighth grade. The black-white test score gap was as large in 2015 as it had been in 1998, before either NCLB or the Race to the Top.

The results in mathematics were bleak across the nation, in both grades 4 and 8. The declines nationally were only 1 or 2 points, but they were significant in a national assessment on the scale of NAEP.

In fourth grade mathematics, the only jurisdictions to report gains were the District of Columbia, Mississippi, and the Department of Defense schools. Sixteen states had significant declines in their math scores, and thirty-three were flat in relation to 2013 scores. The scores in Tennessee (the $500 million winner) were flat.

In eighth grade, the lack of progress in mathematics was universal. Twenty-two states had significantly lower scores than in 2013, while 30 states or jurisdictions had flat scores. Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Florida (a Race to the Top winner), were the biggest losers, by dropping six points. Among the states that declined by four points were Race to the Top winners Ohio, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. Maryland, Hawaii, New York, and the District of Columbia lost two points. The scores in Tennessee were flat.

The District of Columbia made gains in fourth grade reading and mathematics, but not in eighth grade. It continues to have the largest score gap-—56 points–between white and black students of any urban district in the nation. That is more than double the average of the other 20 urban districts. The state with the biggest achievement gap between black and white students is Wisconsin; it is also the state where black students have the lowest scores, lower than their peers in states like Mississippi and South Carolina. Wisconsin has invested heavily in vouchers and charter schools, which Governor Scott Walker intends to increase.

The best single word to describe NAEP 2015 is stagnation. Contrary to President George W. Bush’s law, many children have been left behind by the strategy of test-and-punish. Contrary to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, the mindless reliance on standardized testing has not brought us closer to some mythical “Top.”

No wonder Arne Duncan is leaving Washington. There is nothing to boast about, and the next set of NAEP results won’t be published until 2017. The program that he claimed would transform American education has not raised test scores, but has demoralized educators and created teacher shortages. Disgusted with the testing regime, experienced teachers leave and enrollments in teacher education programs fall. One can only dream about what the Obama administration might have accomplished had it spent that $5 billion in discretionary dollars to encourage states and districts to develop and implement realistic plans for desegregation of their schools, or had they invested the same amount of money in the arts.

The past dozen or so years have been a time when “reformers” like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and Bill Gates proudly claimed that they were disrupting school systems and destroying the status quo. Now the “reformers” have become the status quo, and we have learned that disruption is not good for children or education.

Time is running out for this administration, and it is not likely that there will be any meaningful change of course in education policy. One can only hope that the next administration learns important lessons from the squandered resources and failure of NCLB and Race to the Top.

Tim Farley, principal of an elementary/middle school in upstate New York and founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education, writes here that the new Obama testing policy might increase the time spent testing students.

Andrew Cuomo, governor of Néw York, was quick to applaud the Ibama plan and to note with pride that New York had already enacted a 2% cap on testing time.

Farley writes:

“In New York, as Cuomo has reminded us, we already have a 2% cap on time spent on standardized testing. What does that actually mean? In New York we have 180 school days and an average school day runs about 6.5 hours. If one does the math that’s 180 x 6.5 x 2% = 23.4 hours of testing. So, by law, we cannot exceed 23.4 hours of standardized testing in grades 3–8.

“This begs the question — How much time do kids in grades 3–8 spend on the state tests in English Language Arts and math? If you are a general education student, you will spend roughly nine hours in a testing room for both the ELA and math tests. If you are a student with a learning disability (SWD), and you have a testing accommodation of “double time,” you get to sit in a testing location for eighteen hours. As insane as that seems, it is still 5.4 hours short of the time allowed by law. A 2% cap isn’t a step forward, it’s a giant leap backward.

“How much testing is too much? I don’t know the magic number that will give the state education departments and the U.S. Department of Education the data they supposedly need in order to determine the effectiveness of the schools, but I do know that nine hours of testing is too much for a nine-year-old, eighteen hours is abusive for nine-year-olds with a learning disability, and 23.4 hours of testing for a child at any age is criminal.”

Paul Thomas writes a scathing indictment of the U.S. Department of Education’s blind faith in standardized testing. He might have included the U.S. Congress, as well as most governors and legislatures, and a large number of think tanks and foundations. Certainly, one of the primary malefactors of the testing obsession is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And let’s not forget George W. Bush, Margaret Spellings, and Sandy Kress (architect of NCLB and Pearson lobbyist.) Then there is the cluster of testing zealots attached to the Common Core.

I could devote an entire post to listing those who shaped the current regime of testophilia. I would include myelf for my sins, but at least I recanted my sins.

Thomas attributes a large part of the damage to non-educators put in positions of authority.

“And let’s not fail to acknowledge that such vapid bureaucratic nonsense is inevitably the result of know-nothings being appointed to positions of power (think never-taught Arne Duncan serving as Secretary of Education in the wake of Margaret Dishonest-or-Incompetent Spellings turning her hollow SOE gig into becoming president of the University of North Carolina, resulting in her bragging about having none of the background experiences typical of leading higher education).”

Thomas includes links to valuable articles and studies about the uselessness of high-stakes standardized testing. Does anyone at the U.S. Department of Education read research? Or has it been turned into a cheering squad for whatever administration is in charge?

Wow! Our new Secretary of Education-designate founded a charter school in Massachusetts called Roxbury Prep.

John F. Lerner went to the state website and compiled graphs that show the suspension rates and attrition rates for Roxbury Prep.

Do you think these tactics will close the achievement gaps?

Jersey Jazzman has dubbed John King, our new Secretary of Education, “the King of Suspensions.”

John King shaped the disciplinary policies at Roxbury Prep in Boston. It has the second highest suspension rate in the state of Massachusetts.

“This isn’t at all a surprise; as the Boston Globe reported in 2014, Roxbury Prep had previously held the top spot with a suspension rate in 2012-13 of nearly 60 percent.

“Later on, Roxbury moved under the umbrella of Uncommon Schools, a charter management organization with schools in New York and New Jersey as well as Massachusetts. John King, consequently, rose to become Managing Director for the entire Uncommon chain. Soon, the high suspension rates that were a hallmark of Roxbury Prep became common in all of Uncommon’s schools…..

“Uncommon Schools, the charter chain John King used to manage, has some of the highest student suspension rates compared to its neighboring schools in three different states.

“High suspension rates are not good for students. You know who says so? The very USDOE John King is now going to lead.”

JJ quotes at length from USDOE policy statements explaining why suspension is harmful to students.

The USDOE is opposed to suspensions.

JJ says, too bad there will be no hearings on King’s appointment because it would be interesting to learn whether King agrees with department policy on suspensions.

The New York State United Teachers, which represents all public school teachers in New York, clashed repeatedly with John King when he was state commissioner. So did parents. So did superintendents. He was one of the most divisive state superintendents in the state’s history.

NYSUT urges its members to let the White House know what they think of the President’s selection of John King as Interim Acting Secretary of Education.
“New York State United Teachers is disappointed in John King’s appointment as acting U.S. Secretary of Education. NYSUT has always considered John King an ideologue with whom we disagreed sharply on many issues during his tenure as the state’s Education Department commissioner. Just last year, our members delivered a vote of no confidence against him and called for his resignation. NYSUT urges its members to call the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414 — as well as a special White House telephone line dedicated to public comments at 202-456-1111 — to express their displeasure in John King’s appointment.”

The Network for Public Education announced its reaction to Arne Duncan’s resignation and the choice of John King to replace him. NPE was founded in 2012 to rally parents, educators, and concered citizens against out-of-control high-stakes testing and privatization of our public schools, which have long been a symbol of our democracy.

Valerie Strauss describes John King’s stormy tenure as State Commissioner of Education in Néw York.

To learn about the style of the man who will replace Duncan, read this. A rabid advocate for Common Core, testing, and charters. A brilliant man who earned both a doctorate at Teachers College, a law degree at Harvard, and ran a no-excuses charter, apparently at the same time.


More information contact:

Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager BATs or Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. General Manager BATs

The Badass Teachers Association at

Today the White House confirmed that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would be stepping down. The Badass Teachers Association, an education activist organization with over 70,000 supporters nationwide, celebrate this decision. Sadly, at the same time we rejoice the resignation of a man who has done more destruction to public education than any other sitting Secretary, we are horrified that President Obama has chosen to replace him with John King. John King is the former Commissioner of Education in New York.

John King’s tenure in New York was one of controversy and with an established agenda of dismantling public education by using corporate education reform tactics. King was run out of New York in 2014 because of a staggering test opt out rate, because he ignored and dismissed parents at education forums, and because he refused to fix an education system that he himself destroyed. The state teachers union, NYSUT, had a unanimous vote of no confidence in him prior to his departure.

“While we are glad to see Arne Duncan leave his post as one of the most destructive people to hold the title of Secretary of Education, we remain concerned that he will be replaced with yet another non-educator that will continue the Corporate Education Agenda. What we need now more than ever, is a compassionate, knowledgable, and experienced educator at the helm of this country’s highest education post.” – Gus Morales, Massachusetts BAT and Public Education Teacher 9 years
“John King did more destruction to the New York State education system than any sitting commissioner I have known in my tenure as an educator in New York State. He dismissed the parents, teachers, and students of New York State by calling us “special interest groups.” The fact that he has been elevated to the U.S. Secretary of Education is beyond appalling.” Marla Kilfoyle, New York BAT and Public Education Teacher in New York for 29 years.

John King taught for three years in a “no-excuses” charter chain that had a high suspension rate. His agenda in New York State was to attempt to destroy the public’s confidence in public education. He grossly miscalculated the parents, educators and students of New York State. We anticipate he will continue his failed New York agenda while head of the United States Department of Education.

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