Archives for category: Biden

As readers are well aware, the federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act continued the mandated annual testing of students in grades 3-8 in reading and math (as well as one high school test) that was the heart of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002. The Secretary of Education is allowed to grant waivers to states that ask not to give the tests. Last year, as the pandemic closed most schools, Secretary Betsy DeVos offered a blanket waiver to all states. She vowed not to do it again.

During the campaign of 2020, candidate Joe Biden publicly and unequivocally pledged to abandon the tests. He seemed to understand that they were not producing useful information and were squeezing out valuable instruction and subjects that are not tested.

Education Trust, led by John King, who was Obama’s Secretary of Education in his last year in office, created a campaign to demand that the Biden administration refuse all waiver requests and demand that everyone be tested, despite the pandemic. Education Trust, and most of the organizations that signed its two letters, are heavily funded by the Gates and Walton foundations.

The decision not to allow waivers, bowing to the EdTrust campaign, was announced by Ian Rosenblum, a low-level political appointee who previously worked for Education Trust New York and was an advocate for high-stakes testing. His boss was John King, who sent the pro-testing letters. The decision was made before Secretary Cardinal was confirmed. My guess is that the decision was made by Carmel Martin, who was an influential testing advocate in the Obama administration, then worked for the neoliberal Center for American Progress. She now works in the Biden White House as a member of the Domestic Policy Council. If I am wrong, I hope she corrects me.

Laura Chapman reviews the chronology here.

Thank you for all who helped to produce this rapid response and effective use of only two of the many databases for tracking the role of money in shaping policy.

I think it may be useful to put a timeline around some these flows of money and federal policies.

MAY 2020. Guidance for ESEA section 8401(b)(3)(A) testing waivers were published in May 2020 and almost every state or comparable jurisdiction requested and received these waivers for the 2019-2020 school year, well before the full force of the pandemic required large scale changes in schools. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/05/19/2020-10740/notice-of-waivers-granted-under-section-8401-of-the-elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965.

FEBRUARY 3, 2021. The Education Trust sent a letter to Dr. Miguel Cardona. This was after his nomination but before his confirmation on March 1. This letter was signed by 18 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. Find the letter here. https://edtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Joint-Letter-to-Dr.-Miguel-Cardona-Urging-Rejection-of-Waivers-to-Annual-State-Wide-Assessment-Requirements-for-the-2020-21-School-Year-February-3-2021.pdf

The February 3 letter ends with two footnotes. The first is for McKinsey & Co.’s data about achievement before schools closed and the transition to remote learning began. This analysis includes “epidemiological scenarios” for learning loss (in months) for students who are white, black, and Hispanic. As usual, Mc Kinsey & Co. cares about the economic value of test scores “We estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses…. This translates into an estimated impact of $110 billion annual earnings across the entire current K–12 cohort.” https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-student-learning-in-the-united-states-the-hurt-could-last-a-lifetime

The second footnote refers to a Bellwether Education report justifying their use of “crisis” rhetoric about school attendance data. The report estimates that about three million school-age children had difficulty engaging in or accessing education in the spring and fall 2020. That estimate was based on data from multiple sources, including media reports.

I hope Dr. Cordona understands that McKinsey & Co and Bellwether Education are not great sources of trustworthy information about public schools. https://bellwethereducation.org/publication/missing-margins-estimating-scale-covid-19-attendance-crisis.

FEBRUARY 22. On this date Ian Rosenblum, “Delegated the Authority to Perform the Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Elementary Education” announced “guidance for state testing” with particular attention to the conditions required if waivers of any find were requested. Note that Dr, Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education. I have yet to discover how he was granted authority (or grabbed it) to assert national policy on testing for the 2020-2021 school year. It is worth noting that Rosenblum’s prior employer had been The Education Trust, (New York). Here is the Guidance letter.https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/stateletters/dcl-assessments-and-acct-022221.pdf

FEBRUARY 23. In no time flat, The Education Trust sent this second letter to the U.S. Department of Education, titled “Response From Civil Rights, Social Justice, Disability Rights, Immigration Policy, Business, and Education Organizations to the U.S. Department of Education’s Updated Guidance on Key ESSA Provisions in 2020–21.” This letter was signed by 30 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. This letter emphasized that local assessments were not suitable for accountability:

”We want to be clear: The Department must not, as part of its promised state-by-state “flexibility,” grant waivers to states that would allow them to substitute local assessments in place of statewide assessments or to only assess a subset of students. By design, these local assessments do not hold all students to the same standards and expectations. They do not offer appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities or English learners, as required under federal law for statewide assessments; they are not peer reviewed to ensure quality and prevent bias; and the results of these assessments will not be comparable from district to district.”

In effect, the only accountability measures that matter to The Education Trust and those who signed on to these letters are features of a factory model of education. Standardization is the ultimate criterion for data entering into decisions about federal policy. This factory model is also positioned as if the primary way to address equity and civils rights. We must “hold all students to the same standards and expectations.”

The February 23 letter also articulates a clear distain for assessments most likely to be meaningful to teachers, students, and parent caregivers; namely teacher and district developed evaluations of learning with these judgements student-specific, curriculum relevant, informed by face-to=face conversations and providing a meaningful pathway for guiding students.


Maureen Tracey-Mooney joined the White House staff as a Special Assistant to the President for Education.

She is a graduate of the notorious Broad Center, the plaything of billionaire Eli Broad, which teaches its “students” the value of applying business principles in education and the benefits of closing low-performing schools instead of helping them. According to the Broad Center, “As a Broad Resident, Maureen Tracey-Mooney worked with Achievement First as Director of Extended Learning.” Achievement First is a “no excuses” charter chain that is known for harsh discipline. It is based in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York and was funded by billionaires like Jonathan Sackler, who made his billions selling OxyContin and creating an addiction crisis that took at least 200,000 lives. (In 2019, the charter chain announced it would take no new donations from Mr. Sackler, who had already given $1.6 million).

Broad Resident: https://www.broadcenter.org/alumni/directory/profile/maureen-tracey-mooney/
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/05/white-house-announces-additional-policy-staff/

Maureen Tracey-Mooney, Special Assistant to the President for Education

Maureen Tracey-Mooney worked on the domestic policy team on the Biden-Harris Transition and supported the development of President Biden’s PK-12 agenda. Previously, she worked on President Obama’s campaign and transition. She served as then-Vice President Biden’s Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor in the first term of the Obama-Biden Administration, working on education, labor and other issues. In that role she supported the development of the Obama-Biden Administration’s successful Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge and President Obama’s Preschool for All plan. She left the Vice President’s office to earn her MPA from Princeton University and transition to local education work. Immediately before joining the transition she worked for the Newark Board of Education in New Jersey, where her work focused on the development of new teachers. Originally from Ohio, Maureen graduated from the University of Chicago; her life is possible because a generous friend gave her a kidney.

It’s heart-warming that President Biden has appointed genuine public school educators to the #1 and #2 jobs in the Education Department. Itis alarming that the education staff at the White House and among those surrounding Secretary Cardona and Deputy Secretary Marten are from the Obama administration’s failed Race to the Top, TFA, and DFER. Will we have another four years of the punitive “bipartisan consensus” that melded NCLB, Race to the Top, and Betsy DeVos?

Are the real educators mere figureheads at the top of the Department, while the big decisions are made by deformers in the White House, and stealth political types like Ian Rosenblum, now Acting Assistant Secretary who announced the “no test waiver” policy, responding to a campaign by his former boss, John King of EdTrust.

Biden already lied about his promise to cancel annual standardized tests mandated by the federal government, a policy unknown in any high-performing nation, a policy that has produced zero gains on the National Assessment for a decade.

Will he resume the failed policies of the past or chart a new course in education? Right now, based on personnel, the auguries are not good.

Jeff Bryant wrote in the LA Progressive about President Biden’s “golden opportunity” to strengthen public education by throwing out two decades of failed “reforms.”

As we now know (and Jeff did not when he wrote the article), Biden got off on the wrong foot by mandating another round of standardized testing this spring. This unwise decision was foretold when the news came out that the Biden administration had hired Ian Rosenblum as Deputy Assistant Secretary in a key part of the Department of Education, where policy and strategy are forged. Rosenblum was never a teacher. He previously worked for the pro-testing Education Trust New York, where John King was his mentor. When King was Commissioner of Education in New York, his heavy-handed advocacy for Common Core and high-stakes testing created the parent-led Opt Out movement.

The Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed; he is not anti-testing, but might he have been more thoughtful about mandating a renewal of testing in the midst of a global pandemic? Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten has not yet been confirmed; she knows that testing is an after-effect, not a cause of sensible education policies. But neither of them was in place. Was Rosenblum left on his own to impose a national mandate? I suspect that President Biden never heard of Ian Rosenblum, yet this young man has made millions of parents and teachers angry with his insensitive, heavy-handed announcement.

Yes, President Biden has a “golden opportunity” to rebuild and strengthen public education. But not by relying on people molded by the twenty years of failed “reforms” of the Bush-Obama-Trump years.

As Bryant points out, the schools need a new vision for education, not a stale, warmed-over dose of testing, accountability, and privatization. No, we do not need another dose of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Every Student Succeeds–all of which failed. It’s time to break free of the status quo. It’s time for fresh thinking. Filling up the U.S. Department of Education with retreads from the Obama years–and their progeny–will send us backwards, not forwards. Now is a time for sensitivity, not stupidity.

Denisha Jones explains here what happened at a televised event in Pittsburgh when she asked candidate Joe Biden if he would eliminate standardized testing. Denisha is a highly accomplished woman and a champion for children.

Biden’s Broken Promise: Time to Opt Out! 

On December 14, 2019, I asked President Biden a question about standardized testing. Seeking the Democratic nomination, he had joined other presidential candidates at a Public Education Forum, the creation of a collective of organizations, including the Schott Foundation, Network for Public Education, and Journey for Justice, live-streamed and moderated by MSNBC.

I had all day to frame my question–Biden was last in the lineup. Given the widespread havoc that standardized testing has wreaked, I had to cover a lot of ground. I wanted to demonstrate the negative impact of standardized testing on teacher autonomyand early childhood education. I needed to emphasize the racist history of standardized testing to remind everyone how we got to this point.  

“If you are elected president, will you commit to ending the use of standardized tests in public schools?” I asked.   “Yes,” said Biden. He told me that I was preaching to the choir and assured me that he was well-informed about the over-reliance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers and students.  He agreed that we need to give teachers the power to determine the curriculum and build children’s confidence. 

“When testing is the measure of whether or not the student is successful…teaching to a standardized test makes no sense,” he said. The question went viral, with many educators hopeful that this dark cloud would finally evaporate under a Biden presidency.  At the time, I didn’t believe him, and though I voted for him, I had no faith that he would keep his promise to me and America’s teachers.

I knew that Democrats were too deeply aligned with neoliberal education reform policies to end standardized testing. Some thought otherwise, hoping for a positive influence from  Dr. Jill Biden, a teacher. Democratic presidents may publicly speak out against such assessments while filling their administration with people who support them.   I remembered that President Obama also had delivered a critique of testing and then ramped it up with his Race to the Top program.  Biden could have selected Dr. Leslie Fenwick, with a proven track record against standardized testing, as his Secretary of Education. Instead, he chose a moderate, unknown candidate, Miguel Cardona.  

I was right.

On February 22ndChalkbeat reported, “States must administer federally required standardized testing this year…” the administration announced. While schools will not be held accountable for scores and can administer the test online and shorten it, states will not receive an exemption through federal waivers. 

Of course, when Biden made his promise to me, we had no idea that COVID-19 would upend public education as we know it, plunging teachers, students, and families into the world of remote teaching and learning. Now would be the perfect time for Biden to make good on his promise. Last year’s tests were canceled. As the pandemic rages on and districts struggle to move from remote to hybrid and fully in-person, why should Biden insist on keeping the standardized tests he claimed made no sense in a pre-COVID world?

Everyone is asking me what we should do now. Fortunately, parents and students have an excellent tool at their disposal.They can opt out. 

I cannot imagine a more opportune time for parents to refuse to have their children participate in a standardized test.  The last thing our children need is the added pressure of a test that won’t count, but they are still required to take.  Our focus should be on helping children build the resilience they need, not just tosurvive the trauma from this pandemic but to thrive in this new education landscape.  Jesse Hagopian passionately reminds us,  

“While corporate education reformers prattle on about a need for more high-stakes testing to evaluate ‘learning loss,’ what students truly require is the redirection of the billions of dollars wasted on the testing-industrial complex toward supporting educators and students: to gain access to COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and vaccinations, as well as psychologists, nurses, social workers, trauma counselors, after-school programs, restorative justice coordinators, and more.”

Opting out of standardized testing is a parent’s choice and right, despite administrators’ push back. Pre-COVID 19, some schools tried to force children to sit and stare for hours while their classmates took the exam. Now that testing has gone virtual, some parents had to give up their right to opt out when they signed up for online schooling. They can make you logon to the testing platform, but no one can force your child to answer the questions.  

I am not alone in my calls for widespread opt out. On Thursday, February 25th, the recently resigned Chancellor of New York City Schools, Richard Carranza, called for parents to refuse the tests. NYC Opt Out and Integrate NYC hosted a town hall to strategize opting out of spring testing.  You can sign the Integrate NYC petition here

Opting out will not hurt schools, but it will hurt the testing corporations, desperate to prove that these assessments can survive in virtual schooling and protect their bottom line. Two years in a row without standardized testing would clear the way to finally dismantle this racist practice–the likely rationale forhis broken promise. The time has come to banish this obsolete relic of a painful past.  

For more information on the opt out movement, visit http://www.unitedoptoutnational.org/

You can also read my blog, Five Myths About the Standardized Testing and the Opt Out Movement

Full Text of My Question

Good afternoon. My name is Denisha Jones, and I am the Director of the Art of Teaching Program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Today I’m here representing the Network for Public Education Action, Defending the Early Years, the Badass Teachers Association, and The Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action National Steering Committee. 

Teaching has changed drastically over the last 20 years. Instead of being allowed to use their expertise to develop creative,engaging, culturally relevant lessons, teachers are often forced to use a scripted curriculum and move students along even when they need more time. Many teachers feel more like a test prep tutor than a teacher of children and are concerned that both teachers and students are evaluated too heavily based on test scores. Beginning in kindergarten, young children are losing time for play and discovery and instead forced into developmentally inappropriate academic instruction in an effort to get them prepared for tests. Although formal testing does not begin until 3rd grade, younger students are bombarded with practice tests that narrow the curriculum and often leave many of them hating school.

Given that standardized testing is rooted in a history of eugenics and racism, if you are elected president, will you commit to ending the use of standardized tests in public schools? 

VIDEO: Watch Biden’s response here

BIO

Denisha Jones is the Director of the Art of Teaching Program at Sarah Lawrence College. She is a former kindergarten teacher and preschool director who spent the past 17 years in teacher education.  Denisha is an education justice advocate and activist. She serves as the Co-Director for Defending the Early Years, the Assistant Executive Director for the Badass Teachers Association, an administrator for United Opt Out National, and the Network for Public Education board. Since 2017, she has served on the national Black Lives Matter at School steering committee. In 2020 she joined the organizing committee for Unite to Save Our Schools. Her first co-edited book, Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice, was published in December 2020 by Haymarket Books. She is an attorney.

Thirty-one years ago, I was invited by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to join him at the U.S. Department of Education as Assistant Secretary of Education in Charge of Research and Improvement. Before he invited me, he learned a lot about my work and my views. It was a big jump for me because I had never planned to work in government and was surprised to be invited. After I was confirmed by the Senate, I selected the person I wanted as my Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education. It was Francie Alexander, who had been Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Assessment in the State of California. I had gotten to know her when I worked on the California history-social science framework in the late 1980s.

Given this brief personal history, I am puzzled that the Biden administration is staffing up the key jobs in the U.S. Department of Education before any of the top officials (Secretary of Education, Deputy Secretary of Education, Undersecretary of Education) have been confirmed. The next layer of officials–the Assistant Secretaries–have not even been named.

Yet the administration continues to roll out lists of people who will be deputies to Assistant Secretaries who are as yet unknown; “chief of staff” to an official who has not been confirmed; “confidential assistant” to a high official. Most of these appointments have one of two things in common: 1) they worked on the Biden-Harris campaign; or 2) they worked in the Obama administration.

It is likely, highly likely, that Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona and his Deputy Secretary-designate Cindy Marten have never met or even heard of any of these people who will be their closest associates. They will not pick their team; when they take office, their team will be in place, chosen by someone else. Who? Arne Duncan? John King?

The important job of Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Programs in the Office of the Secretary went to Scott Sargrad, who was until recently vice-president for K-12 education at the Center for American Progress. CAP, as is well known, is pro-testing and pro-charter schools.

Will the Biden administration revive Race to the Top but call it something else?

Asking for a few million friends.

Review the list of organizations that signed a letter thanking the Biden administration for insisting on tests this spring. Some outspoken enemies of public education are there. Some rightwing groups are there. Supporters of school choice are there.

What do you make of this?

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, board member of the Network for Public Education, and expert on student privacy, pulls together some interesting threads in this post.

If Biden wants schools to reopen soon, she says, he should make sure that every teacher gets vaccinated so schools can safely reopen. Instead, he has broken his promise to get rid of the federal testing mandate and turned responsibility for the decision over to a junior staff member. She wonders who is making decisions at the Department of Education.

Why prioritize standardized tests over vaccinations for teachers?

The decision to restart testing was advanced recently by EdTrust. She shows how much money each of the signers has received from the Gates Foundation over the past decade. The total is at least $200 million.

Is the Biden administration dancing to the Gates’ tune?

Nancy Bailey explains why we should worry about who is making the decisions at the U.S. Department of Education before any of its top officials have been confirmed. She suspects it is Education Trust, which favors charter schools and high-stakes testing. EdTrust is Gates-funded, and its leader is John King, who served briefly as Secretary of Education in the last year of the Obama administration. King was Commissioner of Education in New York, where he was an enthusiastic proponent of the Common Core and high-stakes testing. His background is charter schools; he founded Roxbury Prep, a no-excuses charter school in Massachusetts with the highest suspension rate in the state.

EdTrust pushed hard to persuade Biden not to issue any testing waivers this year. The Department’s announcement was made by Ian Rosenblum, acting Assistant Secretary, who previously worked for…wait for it…EdTrust in New York, advocating for testing.

Teacher Nora De La Cour writes on her blog that it is time to restore the joy of teaching and learning by abolishing high-stakes testing. She writes that candidate Joe Biden forcefully promised to get rid of standardized testing and restore teacher autonomy, but Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona seems unwilling to commit to granting states a waiver from the mandated federal testing. He did not seek a waiver for Connecticut when he was state commissioner there, and he was noncommittal at his Senate hearings.

She writes:

While NCLB and RTT were marketed as efforts to strengthen public education for disadvantaged students, the overwhelming action of these reforms has been to redirect funding away from normal school operations in under-resourced districts, impose state takeovers and other dehumanizing restructuring plans, and replace community schools with privately run charters. The rampant school closures precipitated by NCLB and RTT have mainly impacted schools attended by the poor black and brown students who are used as mascots by those pushing these neoliberal “equity and accountability” measures. Researchers have documented links between high-stakes testing and high incarceration rates. Test scores have been used to limit opportunitiesfor students with disabilities, another group hailed as primary beneficiaries of test-based reforms.  


The obsession with standardized testing has drained K-12 public education of the vibrant, joyful things that make kids want to be in school. Districts have been forced to cut art, music, extracurriculars, and recess in order to save time and money for tests and test prep. 

The Bill Gates-funded Common Core Standards that drive the current tests have undermined teachers’ creative autonomy, stripping us of our ability to shape instruction around what motivates our students. Instead of teaching whole novels and plays, language arts teachers are pushed into teaching mainly “informational texts” (as though fiction doesn’t contain information) and decontextualized literary excerpts. My students experienced Frankenstein, for example, not as a gripping monster story that prompts questions about what it means to be human, but as a lifeless fragment on a practice test, from which they were required to extract and regurgitate specific information that corporate test-makers deem important. 

She adds, quite accurately:

Standardized tests do not measure teaching. Indeed, the premise that poor children struggle because their teachers are lazy is both racist (teachers of color are more likely to have low-income students) and illogical (why on earth would lazy people pursue positions in underfunded schools?). Contrary to claims, standardized tests don’t measure the skills needed for fulfilling jobs requiring complex problem-solving (although the curiosity- and criticality-punishing accountability system unquestionably prepares kids for drudgery under capitalism). Standardized tests cannot account for the myriad forms meaningful learning can take. The only thing these assessments reliably measure is poverty.

Despite Biden’s promise to get rid of the test-driven policies of the past 20 years, the jury is out on whether he will follow through and he is being pressured by Gates-funded groups to hold fast to the testing regime.

It’s true that some high-profile civil rights groups continue to push for standardized testing–a fact that is reported everywhere privatizers have clout. These civil rights organizations use the same “guideposts for equity” logic Cardona invoked in his statement on 2021 testing for Connecticut students. Unfortunately, many of these groups rely on funding from Gates and other pro-privatization philanthropists and corporations. This funding can mean a variety of things, but it’s reasonable to surmise that some degree of political alignment occurs. 

If standardized tests were actually about ensuring equity, they would not have triggered the closure of schools attended by low-income students of color. If the reforms that spawned these tests were actually about increasing accountability, they would not have occasioned the transfer of power over classroom learning from teachers and publicly accountable officials to hedge fund-backed charter-boosters and profit-hungry edu-businesses

Nora De La Cour has some smart observations about testing and equity, as well as the political forces compelling teachers to do what they know is not in the best interests of their students. This post is well worth a read!

Congressman Jamaal Bowman, experienced teacher and principal and teacher, was elected last November and now is a member of the House Education Committee. He was outraged by the announcement that the Biden administration demands a resumption of annual testing. He denounced it as “a big mistake.” He knows what kids need, and it’s not testing.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman on Tuesday joined progressive education experts in criticizing the Biden administration’s decision to mandate standardized testing in schools despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“We have an obsession with arbitrary testing metrics above all else, even in the middle of a pandemic that’s dislodged every facet of American life.”
—Rep. Jamaal Bowman

Bowman (D-N.Y.)—a former teacher and principal—argued that “prioritizing testing in the middle of the pandemic is a big mistake.”

“It’s a mistake that reflects a broader problem in American education,” the first-term congressman said in a statement. “We have an obsession with arbitrary testing metrics above all else, even in the middle of a pandemic that’s dislodged every facet of American life. We’ve forgotten that testing is one useful tool, and should not be the goal of education in and of itself.”