Archives for category: Charter Schools

The former chief financial officer of a now-closed charter school in North Philadelphia was charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the school for which he was responsible. The school is now closed. The money was diverted from teachers, their pensions, and from students.

A former employee of a now-closed North Philadelphia charter school has been charged with embezzling more than $350,000.

Darnell Smith, the former chief financial officer of Khepera Charter School, misused the funds while earning a six-figure salary, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Friday.

On Smith’s watch, more than $200,000 was withheld from Khepera teachers’ paychecks for retirement funds, the attorney general said. But the money was never deposited into the Public School Employee Retirement System. An additional $370,000 in employer contributions was also never contributed to the system, Shapiro said...

Smith’s failure to make the pension payments ultimately forced the Pennsylvania Department of Education to withhold payments to Khepera. Eventually, the school was unable to pay teachers or its rent.

Mercedes Schneider reviewed Douglas Harris’s book Charter City in Commonweal. As a teacher in Louisiana and a close observer of the politics of education, Schneider is well positioned to assess the claims on behalf of the all-charter NewOrleans district. Harris is a respected economist who heads the Education Research Alliance at TulaneUniversity, which received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study school choice.

Schneider writes about the determination of whites in Louisiana to block integration of the public schools after the Brown decision. When the courts struck down vouchers, “anti-Black sentiment never waned, and decades of white flight from New Orleans followed. Meanwhile, the state diligently set about eliminating economic advancement opportunities for the remaining Black population, limiting employment and housing options while cutting back drastically on education. Soon enough, the city was bereft of a Black middle class and the tax base needed to fund basic services, including public schools. And so, as one might logically expect, the public education situation in New Orleans became dire.“ She wondered whether Harris would acknowledge this history but he did not.

Harris, the director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans and a professor of economics at Tulane University, focuses instead on data—specifically, on test scores and graduation rates in the years prior to the devastating 2005 storm and in the years that followed, from 2006 to 2015. By his accounting, the numbers went up post-Katrina, which he credits to intervention by the state in the form of charter-school initiatives. Now, data can be compelling, and reformers will often point to metrics like improved test scores to make the case for charter schools. But when I look at the data Harris cites, I think of the audit that’s being conducted at the request of the New Orleans superintendent of schools because of missing test scores and irregularities in high-school transcripts and class credits. I think of the numerous lawsuits calling for the Louisiana Department of Education—which was then run by a champion of the charter reform efforts in New Orleans—to release suspect testing data for independent review. So I can’t say I have confidence in the integrity of the data that Harris has analyzed. 

But that is not my principal concern. What’s more troubling is the narrative Harris spins out about the state takeover itself. That effort was led by Leslie Jacobs, former state school-board member turned businesswoman, who with a handful of other affluent whites form the core of what Harris calls the “reform community.” It was Jacobs who instigated things by drafting legislation that classified most New Orleans schools as “failing.” From there, the reform community—working out of office space provided by Tulane University—moved to sideline the predominantly Black community of New Orleans in its planning. Even as the city’s economy was still reeling from Katrina, the group engineered the mass firing of Orleans Parish School Board teachers. Harris describes the firing as an unfortunate necessity in achieving “reform”—that is, replacing traditional board-led public schools with a portfolio of independently operated charters. But the decision was also motivated by the inconvenient fact that the teachers were unionized, and thus a potential force of resistance. 

She laments the fact that schools have been severed from their communities. Despite the celebration of “choice,” the one choice unavailable to parents is a neighborhood school. When local groups of Black parents have asked if they can apply for a charter, they find that they cannot. Community engagement is important, she says, but it is of no consequence in New Orleans.

Schneider says that the Black citizens of New Orleans have been disenfranchised for decades. The charter takeover of their city’s schools is yet another expression of disrespect for their communities.


During the campaign, Joe Biden made clear commitments to support community public schools. He promised transparency and accountability for privately managed charter schools, as well as a ban on federal funding for charters operated for profit. He also unequivocally took a stand against standardized testing in a public meeting with hundreds of educators in Pittsburgh. NPE board member Denisha Jones asked him at that time if he would commit to ending standardized testing in the schools. He unequivocally said yes.

The Network for Public Education, joined by dozens of other groups, calls on President-Elect Biden to keep his promises.

To add your group’s name, contact NPE.
https://networkforpubliceducation.org/about-npe/

Carol Burris wrote the following post. Marla Kilfoyle provided assistance. They asked me to add that there are dozens more exceptionally well qualified people who should be considered for this important post: they are career educators who believe in public education, not closing schools or privatization.

The media has been filled with speculation regarding Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education. Given the attention that position received with Betsy De Vos at the helm, that is not a surprise. 

In 2008, Linda Darling Hammond was pushed aside by DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) for Arne Duncan, with disastrous consequences for our public schools. Race to the Top was a disaster. New Orleans’ parents now have no choice but unstable charter schools. Too many of Chicago’s children no longer have a neighborhood school from the Race to the Top era when it was believed that you improved a school by closing it.

But the troubling, ineffective policies of the past have not gone away. Their banner is still being carried by deep-pocketed ed reformers who believe the best way to improve a school is to close it or turn it over to a private charter board. 

Recently, DFER named its three preferred candidates for the U.S. Secretary of Education. DFER is a political action committee (PAC) associated with Education Reform Now, which, as Mercedes Schneider has shown, has ties to Betsy De Vos. DFER congratulated Betsy DeVos and her commitment to charter schools when Donald Trump appointed her.  They are pro-testing and anti-union. DFER is no friend to public schools.

The DFER candidates belong to Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, an organization that promotes Bush/Duncan education reform, as Jan Resseger describes here. “Chiefs for Change,” you support school choice, even if it drains resources from the public schools in your district, of which you are the steward. In their recent letter to President BidenChiefs for Change specifically asked for a continuance of the Federal Charter School Program, which has wasted approximately one billion dollars on charters that either never open or open and close. They also asked for the continuance of accountability systems (translate close schools based on test results) even as the pandemic rages.

We must chart a new course. We cannot afford to take a chance on another Secretary of Education who believes in the DFER/Chiefs for Change playbook. 

We don’t have to settle. The bench of pro-public education talent is deep. Here are just a few of the outstanding leaders that come to mind who could lead the U.S. Department of Education. Marla Kilfoyle and I came up with the following list. There are many more. 

Tony Thurmond is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, California. Tony deeply believes in public schools. Prior to becoming his state’s education leader, he was a public school educator, social worker, and a public school parent. His personal story is both moving and compelling. 

Betty Rosa dedicated most of her adult life to the students of New York City.  She began her career as a bi-lingual paraprofessional in NYC schools, became a teacher, assistant principal, principal, superintendent, state chancellor, and now New York State’s interim commissioner. 

Other outstanding superintendents include Joylynn Pruitt -Adams, the Superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest in Illinois, who is relentlessly determined to provide an excellent education to the district’s Black and Latinx high school students by eliminating low track classes, Mike Matsuda, Superintendent of Anaheim High School District and Cindy Marten, the superintendent of San Diego.  

Two remarkable teachers with legislative experience who are strong advocates for public schools and public school students are former Teacher of the Year Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and former Arkansas state senator Joyce Elliot

There is also outstanding talent in our public colleges. There are teachers and leaders like University of Kentucky College of Education Dean, Julian Vasquez Heilig, who would use research to inform policy decisions.  

These are but a few of the dedicated public school advocates who would lead the Department in a new direction away from test and punish policies and school privatization. They are talented and experienced leaders who are dedicated to improving and keeping our public schools public and who realize that you don’t improve schools by shutting them down. Any DFER endorsed member of Chiefs for Change is steeped in the failed school reform movement and will further public school privatization through choice. They had their chance. That time has passed. 

 

 

If you subscribe to Peter Greene’s blog Curmudgucation, as you should, you know that Peter can toss off one or two or three fresh, smart posts a day without breaking a sweat. Here is another excellent post, on the subject of Biden’s plans for holding charter schools accountable and why the charter industry finds his plans offensive.

I was in Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s when the charter idea took off. Its advocates (and I was one at the time) said that charter schools would be more accountable and more innovative than public schools. And, even sweeter, they would cost less than public schools. We now know, thirty years later, that none of that turned out to be true. The charter industry believes fervently in deregulation and hates any efforts by states to hold them accountable. They are not more innovative than public schools, unless you consider a “no-excuses” regime of strict rules and rigid enforcement to be “innovative.” The charter industry continually complains that they are not given as much money as public schools, even when they are given more, so cost-efficiency is not one of their strong points.

Greene explains here that the charter industry is angry that Biden wants to hold them accountable. They are furious that Biden might want them to be supervised by an elected board. The same accountability that public schools experience is anathema to charter advocates. They would be “hamstrung” and “paralyzed” by oversight and supervision.

Shouldn’t public money be accompanied by public accountability? If not, why not?

The Biden campaign released the names of those who will serve on transition teams. Our reader, retired arts educator Laura Chapman, reviewed the members of the education transition team. According to the campaign (cited in Valerie Strauss’s article), the transition team will identify DeVos regulations that should be reversed, but the team will not set policy or staff. Chapman, like many readers of this blog, believes that President Obama’s Race to the Top was profoundly wrong because of its overemphasis on standardized testing (a fact acknowledged even by President Obama) and its advocacy for charter schools and evaluation of teachers by the test scores of their students. Biden promised a new vision and fresh policies for K-12 education, not more of the same failed policies.

Chapman writes:

Biden-Harris Transition teams are selected to review specific agencies. Volunteers are listed only by their “most recent employment.” Those serving in education are “volunteers” and not required to indicate “sources of funding.”

I have looked into the biographies of Biden’s 20 experts in education – entries from LinkedIn, their current organizations, and less often Wikipedia. 

Of these
15 have no documented Pre-k to12 teaching experience.
14 held positions in Obama’s administration with nine of these in the US Department of Education (USDE). Two worked at USDE before Obama.
10 are lawyers.
7 have supported charter schools, here indicated by*
Also lurking here are Billionaire supporters of failed educational reforms. 

LEADER: Linda Darling-Hammond.* CEO Learning Policy Institute. See Wikipedia. Of interest: She developed the EdTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment) used in 40 states and 750 teacher education programs and the Smarter Balanced Assessment aligned with the Common Core, still used in some states, including California. Early in her career, she co-founded a preschool/day care center and Early College High charter school serving low-income students of color in East Palo Alto, California. The school had multiple connections with Stanford University where Linda Darling-Hammond taught. A version of this concept still exists in East Palo Alto Academy where some academic programs are connected with Stanford University. Linda Darling-Hammond is the subject of video interviews conducted in her home by Amrein-Beardsley. I recommend them. Be sure to scan down for the first video /inside-the-academy/linda-darling-hammond This archive also has video interviews with Diane Ravitch, Howard Gardner, Elliot Eisner and others.

UNION CONNECTIONS: American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.
–Donna Harris-Aikens. Lawyer. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Senior Director of Education Policy and Practice NEA (14 years). Prior work at NEA on ESEA. Former Policy Manager for Service Employees International Union.
–Beth Antunez, No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Deputy Director, Government Relations for AFT. Previously ATF Assistant Director for educational issues especially community school initiatives.
–Shital Shah, No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Manager of Philanthropic Engagement at AFT. Other AFT positions for 18 years, most of these in community engagement. Other youth and public heath work, including Peace Corps in Honduras.
–Marla Ucelli-Kashyap. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Assistant to the AFT President for Educational Issues. Former Director of District Redesign and Leadership at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and senior program officer at the Rockefeller Foundation. Member, Advisory Council for “Education Reimagined,” devoted to “Personalized learning that is competency-based and has a wide range of learning environments and adult roles.” https://education-reimagined.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Vision_Website.pdf

UNION and OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SERVICE
–Robert Kim. Lawyer. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. John Jay College of Criminal Justice; writer and consultant on legal, policy, and civil rights issues in education. Senior Title IX EEO investigator. Former Obama Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations and Outreach, USDE. Senior Policy Analyst, NEA. Co-author, “Education and the Law, 5th ed.” (West Academic Publishing, 2019) and “Legal Issues in Education: Rights and Responsibilities in U.S. Public Schools Today” (2017). Early legal service for ACLU, and Legal Aid.
–Ruthanne Buck. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. A Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretaries of Education John King and Arne Duncan for educator outreach and engagement. Previously Assistant to AFT President for Special Projects and National Field Director at AFT. Led major field and political operations on progressive issues, agencies and candidates.

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION (* indicates some connection to charter schools)
–Ary Amerikaner, Lawyer. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Vice President for P-12 Policy, Practice, and Research at the Education Trust. Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education. The Education Trust operates four offices coast to coast and makes recommendations for federal and state policy. These recommendations have treated ESSA as a civil rights mandate to be followed, with no testing waivers. The Trust wants to expand Civil Rights Data Collection reports on school crime and discipline, also AP courses (for the College Board?). The Trust wants to see the present ban on a “student unit record system” lifted. That would please Bill Gates and allow federal data-collection on individual students in any post-secondary program–including their SS numbers, income tax records and more. See https://dianeravitch.net/2017/01/07/stop-our-government-wants-to-create-a-national-database-about-everyone-including-your-children/ and https://edtrust.org/press-release/opportunities-to-advance-educational-equity-during-the-next-administration/.
–James Kvaal,* Lawyer. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. President, The Institute for College Access & Success, a non-profit treating issues of student debt. Obama’s White House Deputy Director of Domestic Policy and Deputy Under Secretary USDE. Prior work as consultant for Achieving the Dream (a network of community colleges), America Achieves (Common Core), Annie E. Casey Foundation (Read by Grade Three), College Board (David Coleman), the Harvard Government Performance Lab, Results for America and others. The Institute for College Access & Success has six senior fellows from the Obama administration and lists 220 “partners” devoted to evidence-based policies and “what works.” Partners include Teach for America, Teach Plus, The New Teacher Center, charter school franchises (KIPP, IDEA, Green Dot, and YesPrep). Billionaires fund the Institute: Arnold Ventures (John D. and Laura Arnold hedge funds), the Ballmer Group (a nonprofit co-founded by former CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer), the S.D. Bechtel, Jr Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (funded expansion of Green Dot charter schools), William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Schmidt Futures (former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s philanthropy)
–Emma Vadehra.Lawyer. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Senior fellow, The Century Foundation, also a non-resident Senior Fellow at the charter-friendly Center For American Progress. Executive Director of Next100, a Century Foundation incubator for next generation policy leaders. Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary in USDE’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, Policy Development. Also Chief of Staff for Obama’s USDE serving John B. King Jr. and Arne Duncan. Former Chief of Staff at Uncommon Schools, a charter school management organization.
–Keia Cole. Lawyer. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Head of Digital Experience at MassMutual, an insurance company. Obama’s Associate General Counsel and Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary of USDE. Responsible for providing strategic direction for USDE’s financial, technology, human capital, and risk management operations. First work at Morgan Stanley’s Investment Banking Division, specialist in financial analysis of media and communications companies. For less than a year she was an Education Pioneers Fellow at KIPP San Jose Collegiate charter school, not as a teacher.
–Roberto Rodriguez.* No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. President and CEO of Teach Plus, operates in 11 states to supply charter school teachers. Obama’s Deputy Assistant to the President for Education. Claims credit for contributions to ESSA, STEM, higher education standards. Rodriguez claims credit for bipartisan work on No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, among other major bills. Advisor on education for Unidos US, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization. Serves on the Board of Directors for the Alliance for Excellent Education, The Achievement Network (promoter of charter schools), the Bainum Family Foundation and Strive Together’s data-mongering Cradle to Career Network.
–Kristina Ishmael. In Nebraska, she taught ELL students for two years and Kindergarten and 2nd Grade for four years. Director of Primary and Secondary Education at Open Education Global (less than a year), in charge of adoptions of Open Educational Resources world-wide. Open Education fellow in Obama’s USDE Office of Educational Technology (2016-2017). Former manager of the Teaching, Learning, & Tech team at New America. Digital learning specialist for the Nebraska Department of Education for four years.
–Lindsay Dworkin. Lawyer. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Director, Policy Development and State Government Relations at Alliance for Excellent Education. Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Outreach USDE (2016-2017). Legal work in Delaware for the former Governor and State Treasurer of Delaware Jack Markell. The Alliance (All4Ed) advocates for evidence-based instructional practices, and college and career pathways in 40 states and specific federal educational policies. A major Alliance project, Future Ready Schools, is active in 30 states pushing for digital access to “anytime, anywhere, personalized learning.” Superintendents in over 3400 districts have signed the Bill Gates inspired “pledge” at https://dashboard.futurereadyschools.org/pledge/
–Paul Monteiro, Lawyer. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Assistant Vice President of External Affairs, Howard University. Previously Chief of Staff for Howard University’s President. Former Acting Director of the Community Relations Service, Obama’s Department of Justice (one year, 4 months), National Director of AmeriCorps VISTA. Public Engagement Advisor to White House on Arab Americans, faith communities, anti-poverty groups, and gun safety organizations. Deputy Director of Religious Affairs for Presidential Inauguration Committee including the National Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral. Two year appointee, Board of Education Prince George County Public Schools. Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland for three years.

USDE WORK prior to OBAMA
-Norma Cantu. University of Texas at Austin, Chair Department of Educational Administration, former US Assistant Secretary of Education 1993-2001. (Position misidentified on Biden’s list)

OTHER
–Jessica Cardichon. Lawyer. An upper elementary teacher in NYC for nearly seven years. Director of Learning Policy Institute’s DC office. Leads the Institute’s federal legislative and regulatory strategy. Co-leads LPI’s teams on state policy, member of LPI’s teams on Educator Quality, Deeper Learning, Equitable Resources and Access and Early Childhood Education. Authored reports on the Federal role in school discipline, and taking advantage of ESSA’s policies. Education Counsel to Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senior Director for Federal Policy and Advocacy, Alliance for Excellent Education.
–Jim Brown.* Lawyer. No evident Pre-k to12 teaching. Former Chief of Staff for Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey and Pennsylvania Secretary of General Services. At U.S. House of Representatives, served as Staff Director and General Counsel for the Subcommittee on Oversight of the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs (now the Committee on Financial Services). Jim is co-founder of a company that manages over $800 million in venture capital. He is a trustee of Immaculata University, the Gesu Catholic School (K-12) and Young Scholars Charter School in Philadelphia. He is Chair of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Foundation.
–Margaret R (Peggy) McLeod. In her native Puerto Rico, she taught in two Montessori schools and owned a center that provided afterschool services to students with disabilities. Served as ESL teacher in DC. Currently Deputy Vice President of Education and Workforce Development, National Council of La Raza. Previously Executive Director, Student services, Alexandria (VA) City Public Schools. Assistant Superintendent for Special Education, District of Columbia (DC), also in DC, the Title III director, Office of Bilingual Education, Title VII coordinator, and bilingual program developer. A member of the National Board of Education Sciences since 2010.
—Pedro A. Rivera. Extent of classroom experience not found. President of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, PA since August 2020. Former five-year Secretary of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania aiding the adoption of a funding formula for basic education; a performance measure for schools (Future Ready PA Index), and a school improvement strategy. Former Executive Director for the School District of Philadelphia, former Superintendent of the School District of Lancaster, PA, classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal.  
https://buildbackbetter.com/the-transition/agency-review-teams/ 

I enjoyed reading Kevin Welner’s new book “Potential Grizzles.” There are many hilarious short pieces about education fads, absurd federal laws, Duncan, DeVos and more.

You will enjoy reading about the innovative Ammocentric Charter School in Arizona. Or the discovery that when the bottom 5% of teachers are fired, another bottom 5% pops up the next year. Or the insight that teachers can be fairly evaluated by their height. Or what happened when a promising student got a growth on her mindset.

Kevin and I discussed the book on a Zoom sponsored by the Network for Public education. We had a lot of laughs thinking about the absurd disconnect between research and policy.

Kevin has pledged any royalties he earns to NPE. I hope you will watch, listen, then buy the book.


Under the leadership of Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island is a very charter-friendly state. Raimondo was a venture capitalist before she entered politics. Her husband was TFA.

The welcome mat is out for charter schools in the state. The latest proposal for a new charter comes from Excel Academy in Boston.

Linda Borg of the Providence Journal writes:

PROVIDENCE — Critics of a new charter school application say the Boston-based school will draw millions of dollars away from the traditional public schools and, combined with a proposed expansion of Achievement First, create two parallel school systems.  

Excel Academy hopes to enroll 2,100 students in kindergarten through grade 12 by the time it reaches full capacity in 10 years — at a cost of $7.4 million in lost local revenues to the Providence school district.  

“Frankly, it could be the best school in the universe,”  said state Rep. Rebecca Kislak of Providence. “I want to know why the mayor signed off on more than 6,000 additional charter seats at Achievement First and Excel. It’s a quarter of Providence’s public school students. I am incredibly concerned about what happens to the 75% of students left in the district’s schools…”

Kislak said the charter application speaks to a larger concern. 

“As a parent, it feels to me like the policymakers, the governor, the mayor and the education commissioner, are giving up and saying, ‘We can’t fix your schools. The best we can do is let a quarter of our kids go to these other schools.’ ”

State Sen. Sam Bell, at a public hearing Monday on the Excel application, said the charter’s attendance and discipline problems amount to “child abuse.”

He noted language in the 2019-2020 student handbook that states: “All student absences, including illness, suspension, appointments, vacations, excessive incomplete days, etc., count as absences.” Any student who exceeds 15 absences in a school year may be held back, according to the handbook.

Bell said the student handbook listed 35 reasons to give demerits to students. Excel, like Achievement First, is a “no excuses” charter school. He wondered whether its punitive discipline violated state law.

The school objected to his criticism.

We have all been guessing about what President-Elect Joe Biden will do in education. Will he keep his campaign promises and set federal policy on a new direction, away from No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, ESSA, high-stakes testing, and school choice, or will he stick with the stale and destructive status quo?

No one knows for sure but many have tried to divine his intentions by the composition of his transition team for education. At first glance, it is worrisome that so many of its members come from the Race to the Top era. But Valerie Strauss offers a different perspective on the transition team’s purpose and significance.

She writes:

Now that President-elect Joe Biden has named a 20-person education transition team, the education world is trying to glean insight from its makeup as to what the next president will do to try to improve America’s public schools.


Some progressives are worried that the list of members is heavy with former members of the Obama administration, whose controversial education policies ultimately alienated teachers’ unions, parents and members of Congress from both major political parties. Some conservatives are concerned that four of the team’s members come from national teachers’ unions. And others wonder what it means that Biden chose Linda Darling-Hammond — the first Black woman to serve as president of the California Board of Education and an expert on educational equity and teacher quality — to lead the team.


When it comes to policy, such concerns are probably misplaced. This transition team is not charged with writing big policy papers or selecting a new education secretary. The campaign set Biden’s education agenda, and there is a separate, smaller committee working on domestic policy.


The transition team’s charge is largely about reimagining the Education Department, which has been run for nearly four years by Betsy DeVos, whose top priority was pushing alternatives to public school districts and encouraging states to use public money to fund private and religious school education. She also focused on reversing a number of Obama administration initiatives in civil rights and other areas.


Biden has promised to focus on the public schools that educate the vast majority of America’s schoolchildren and to take steps to address the inequity that has long existed in the education system — and his proposals speak to a divergence from the Obama agenda.


Subgroups on the transition team are tackling different areas, including K-12, higher education and a covid-19 response that would allow schools to safely reopen — an urgent priority for Biden. Step No. 1, according to one person familiar with the process (who spoke on the condition of anonymity) is to “figure out what damage she [DeVos] did and then stand up a department.”


The selection of the transition team does speak to some basic Biden priorities. He picked people who have expertise in their field; most of the 20 on the transition team were involved in the Education Department in either the Obama or Clinton administration. He won’t, for example, hire a neurosurgeon to run a department that deals with housing, like Trump did with Ben Carson. Biden promised to hire a teacher as education secretary, not someone who never went to a public school, like DeVos.


As Kevin Welner, the director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said, the “obvious reason” there are so many former Obama administration education officials on the Biden team is that they are working “on crafting remedies for the Trump-DeVos reversals — to restore guidances and executive orders that the current administration changed or eliminated.”
The inclusion of four union leaders — three from the American Federation of Teachers and one from the National Education Association — underscores Biden’s long connections with the labor movement and shows he is not expecting to break those ties.


In fact, two of the names reported to be under consideration for Biden’s education secretary are Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association, which is the largest union in the country; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. (The appointment of one of these women raises some questions: Would a Republican-led Senate confirm a labor leader? Would Biden appoint one as acting if it won’t?)


The Biden team has been floating a number of names for education secretary, a job that many thought would go to Darling-Hammond before she said recently that she didn’t want it.


She is as highly regarded in the education world as just about anyone; among other things, she is the founder of the Stanford University Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, founder of the California-based Learning Policy Institute think tank, founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, and a former president of the American Educational Research Association.


Darling-Hammond was also Obama’s education transition chief after his 2008 presidential win. It was a time when serious flaws with the K-12 No Child Left Behind law had emerged, including an unhealthy emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and mandates that were unachievable.


Obama had said during the 2008 campaign he thought kids took too many standardized tests, telling the American Federation of Teachers, “Creativity has been drained from classrooms as too many teachers are forced to teach fill-in-the-bubble tests.” And many public school advocates believed he would support their agenda of de-emphasizing the tests that had become routine under No Child Left Behind.


But Obama had quietly embraced a group called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) — started by some New York hedge-fund managers — who wanted to reform schools along business principles and who were antagonistic toward the teachers’ unions. Columns began appearing in numerous publications accusing Darling-Hammond of being too close to the unions.


Obama wound up tapping Arne Duncan, a reformer in the DFER mold, as education secretary. Duncan, the former chief of Chicago schools, pushed the evaluation of teachers by student standardized test scores, the adoption by states of Common Core State Standards and the expansion of charter schools. The result was that students took many more standardized tests and some states created cockamamie evaluation systems that saw teachers evaluated by the test scores of students they didn’t have. The Common Core, which started with bipartisan support, saw a rushed implementation that helped lead to opposition to it.


By 2014, the National Education Association called for Duncan’s resignation and the AFT said he should change policy or resign. Congress eventually rewrote the No Child Left Behind law, taking away some of the federal power that Duncan had exercised in education policy and giving it to the states.


The 2008 education transition team that Darling-Hammond headed included some progressive thinkers in education who wrote deep policy papers that focused on educational equity and other transformative issues. Duncan ignored them, going his own way. In 2008, the makeup of the presidential transition team had no effect on policy.


Through his tenure as vice president, though, Biden did not publicly discuss the Obama-Duncan education changes. It appears that he was not a big supporter; his wife, Jill Biden, a community college educator, is a longtime member of the NEA, and the AFT’s Weingarten has said when the AFT was not getting along with the Obama administration, Biden was “our north star” and our “go-to guy who always listened to us.”


Biden sought out Darling-Hammond to run his transition team because of her expertise in education and in part as a signal about what he hopes to prioritize in education, according to people familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity.


Biden and his team made a number of promises about education during the campaign, including increasing federal funds for the poorest students as well as for students with special needs, raising the salaries of teachers, making community college free and implementing college debt forgiveness. His proposals would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to implement; meeting his promise to “fully fund” the federal law protecting students with special needs alone could cost $40 billion or more.


It is more than highly unlikely that there will be federal funding available to do everything he promised, but public education advocates say they are hopeful that he will stick to his promise to concentrate on publicly funded school districts and not school choice, like DeVos, or standardized testing, like Duncan.


All the signs at the moment indicate that Biden’s education agenda will be significantly different from Duncan’s (and certainly DeVos’s) and start to address the issue of educational equity in ways that Darling-Hammond has always thought were important, including how public schools are funded. Stay tuned.

Tom Ultican writes here about three major school board elections: Oakland, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis. These are districts that are in the crosshairs of the billionaire privatizers. No one can explain why billionaires want to privatize the public schools in these three districts (as well as dozens more). We now have nearly 30 years of evidence that neither charters nor vouchers produce educational miracles. New Orleans is not a national model: Last year, half the charter schools in this all-charter district were identified by the state as D or F-rated schools. Assignment to anyone: Why do the billionaires keep funding failure?

Ultican reports that the pro-privatization candidates vastly outspent the pro-public education candidates. In Oakland, the pro-public education slate won all but one seat (in that race, the pro-public education groups were divided, or they would have had a clean sweep).

In Los Angeles, the billionaires won one seat, enough to give them a single-seat majority of the school board.

In Indianapolis, the billionaires swamped the pro-public education candidates with their vast spending power.

It is an attack on democracy when billionaires from out-of-state (or from in-state) can drop a few million into a local school board race and make it impossible for ordinary citizens to compete. The individuals and the groups funding this assault on democracy–Michael Bloomberg, William Bloomfield, Stacey Schusterman, Arthur Rock, the Walton family, Reed Hastings, Doris Fisher, and other billionaires should hang their heads in shame. So should Stand for Children (which funnels billionaire money into races against public school advocates) and The Mind Trust.

For their ceaseless efforts to dismantle public schools and replace them with privately managed charters, I hereby place the following billionaires on this blog’s “Wall of Shame”: Michael Bloomberg, the Walton family, Reed Hastings, William Bloomfield, Doris Fisher, Arthur Rock, and Stacy Schusterman.

The same richly deserved dishonor goes to the infamous servant of the billionaires, Stand for Children.