Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

A while back, I read a vitriolic article in a rightwing publication that expressed contempt for the public schools and congratulated Betsy DeVos for trying to cut federal funding for schools.

The article asserted that public schools are “garbage” and the government should slash their funding. A major piece of evidence for the claim that money doesn’t matter was the failure of the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants program, which spent more than $3 billion and accomplished nothing. The evaluation of SIG was commissioned by the U.S Department of Education and quietly released just before the inauguration of Trump. The report was barely noticed. Yet now it is used by DeVos acolytes to oppose better funding of our schools.

The wave of Red4Ed teachers’ strikes in 2019 exposed the woeful conditions in many schools, including poorly paid teachers, lack of nurses and social workers and librarians, overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling facilities. The public learned from the teachers’ strikes that public investment in the schools in many states has not kept pace with the needs of students and the appropriate professional compensation of teachers. Many states are spending less now on education than they did in 2008 before the Great Recession. They reacted to the economic crisis by cutting taxes on corporations, which cut funding for schools.

Sadly, the Obama-Duncan Race to the Top program promoted the same strategies and goals as No Child Left Behind. Set goals for test scores and punish teachers and schools that don’t meet them. Encourage the growth of charter schools, which drain students and resources from schools with low test scores.

One can only dream, but what if Race to the Top had been called Race to Equity for All Our Children? What if the program had rewarded schools and districts that successfully integrated their schools? What if it had encouraged class-size reduction, especially in the neediest schools? Race to the Top and the related SIG program were fundamentally a replication and extension of NCLB.

When Arne Duncan defended his “reform” (disruption) ideas in the Washington Post, he cited a positive 2012 evaluation and belittled his own Department’s 2017 evaluation, which had more time to review the SIG program and concluded that it made no difference. The 2017 report provided support for those who say that money doesn’t matter, that teacher compensation doesn’t matter, that class size doesn’t matter, that schools don’t need a nurse, a library, a music and arts program, or adequate and equitable funding.

The Education Department’s 2017 evaluation shows that the Bush-Obama strategy didn’t made a difference because its ideas about how to improve education were wrong. Low-performing schools did not see test-score gains because both NCLB and RTTT were based on flawed ideas about competition, motivation, threats and rewards, and choice.

Here is a summary of the SIG program in the USED’s report that the Right used to defend DeVos’s proposed budget cuts.

The SIG program aimed to support the implementation of school intervention models in low-performing schools. Although SIG was first authorized in 2001, this evaluation focused on SIG awards granted in 2010, when roughly $3.5 billion in SIG awards were made to 50 states and the District of Columbia, $3 billion of which came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. States identified the low-performing schools eligible for SIG based on criteria specified by ED and then held competitions for local education agencies seeking funding to help turn around eligible schools.

SIG-funded models had no significant impact on test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment…

The findings in this report suggest that the SIG program did not have an impact on the use of practices promoted by the program or on student outcomes (including math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment), at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff. In higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as unobserved differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

These findings have broader relevance beyond the SIG program. In particular, the school improvement practices promoted by SIG were also promoted in the Race to the Top program. In addition, some of the SIG-promoted practices focused on teacher evaluation and compensation policies that were also a focus of Teacher Incentive Fund grants. All three of these programs involved large investments to support the use of practices with the goal of improving student outcomes. The findings presented in this report do not lend much support for the SIG program having achieved this goal, as the program did not appear to have had an impact on the practices used by schools or on student outcomes, at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff.

What NCLB, Race to the Top, and SIG demonstrated was that their theory of action was wrong. They did not address the needs of students, teachers, or schools. They imposed the lessons of the non-existent Texas “miracle” and relied on carrots and sticks to get results. They failed, but they did not prove that money doesn’t matter.

Money matters very much. Equitable and adequate funding matters. Class size matters, especially for children with the highest needs. A refusal to look at evidence and history blinds us to seeing what must change in federal and state policy. It will be an uphill battle but we must persuade our representatives in state legislatures and Congress to open their eyes, acknowledge the failure of the test-and-punish regime, and think anew about the best ways to help students, teachers, families, and communities.

The findings of the report were devastating, not only to the SIG program, but to the punitive strategies imposed by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which together cost many more billions. 

My first reaction was, Money doesn’t matter if you spend it on the wrong strategies, like punishing schools that don’t improve test scores, like ignoring the importance of reducing class size, like ignoring the importance of poverty in the lives of children, like ignoring decades of social science that out-of-school factors affect student test scores more than teachers do.

Bob Braun was an education reporter for 50 years. After he retired from the New Jersey Star-Ledger, he began blogging and paid close and critical attention to the state takeover of Newark. This column, posted in 2014, is as timely now as it was when it first appeared.

Let’s get this straight. Those of us opposed to the structural changes to public education embraced by crusaders ranging from the billionaire Koch brothers and the Walton Family Foundation to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—along with Governor Chris Christie and Microsoft founder Bill Gates—are not opposed to the reform of public schools. We oppose their destruction.

We do not oppose making schools more accountable, equitable and effective—but we do oppose wrecking a 200-year-old institution—public education—that is still successful in New Jersey.

Public schools give students from all backgrounds a common heritage and a chance to compete against privileged kids from private schools. We don’t want schools replaced by the elitists’ dream of privately managed, publicly funded charter schools, which can be money makers for closely aligned for-profit entities.

We oppose eliminating tenure and find laughable the idea embodied in Teach for America (TFA), an organization that recruits new college graduates for short stays in urban schools, that effective classroom instructors can be trained in weeks if they’re eager and want breaks on student loans—breaks that come with TFA participation. We oppose breaking teacher unions, reducing education to the pursuit of better test scores and using test results to fire teachers. We want our teachers to be well trained, experienced, secure, supervised, supported and well paid. We want our kids to graduate from high school more than “college and career ready”—a favorite slogan of the reformers. We want them to graduate knowing garbage when they see it—to understand mortgages, for example, rather than just solving trigonometry problems.

Don’t call it reform, call it hijacking. A radical, top-down change in governance based on a business model championed by billionaires like Eli Broad, the entrepreneur whose foundation underwrites training programs for school leaders, including superintendents—among them, Christopher Cerf, New Jersey’s education commissioner from late 2010 until this past February. The Broad Foundation seeks to apply to public institutions, like schools, the notion of “creative destruction” popularized for businesses by economists Joseph Schumpeter and Clayton Christensen. In a memo forced into public view by New Jersey’s Education Law Center, leaders of the Broad Superintendents Academy wrote that they seek to train leaders willing to “challenge and disrupt the status quo.”

Sorry, but it’s neither clever nor wise to disrupt schools, especially urban schools. Irresponsible, distant billionaires cause unrest in communities like Newark, a place they’ll likely never get closer to than making a plane connection at its airport. These tycoons say they want to improve learning—to narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor, black and white. I don’t buy that. The gap is caused by poverty and racial isolation, not public schools. They want reform that doesn’t raise taxes and won’t end racial segregation. So they promote charter schools that segregate and pay for them with tax funds sucked from public schools. Bruce Baker, a professor at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, calls it “revenue neutral and nonintegrative” reform. What that means, Baker says, is “don’t raise our taxes and don’t let poor black and brown kids access better-resourced suburban schools.”

School reform once meant equity and integration. Now it’s called choice. Not the choice that would allow Newark kids to take a bus 15 minutes to Millburn. Not the choice that would allow the dispersion of disadvantage so the poorest attend the same schools as the most advantaged. It’s choice limited to a district. And choice limited to families who win a lottery for charter-school admission. “We’re letting poor parents fight it out among themselves for scrap—it’s Hunger Games,” says Baker.

Charters segregate. In Newark, where there are 13 charter schools, children with the greatest needs—special education kids, English-language learners, the poorest children—are stranded in asset-starved neighborhood schools. Disadvantage is concentrated, public schools close, and resources shift to charters. In Hoboken, three charter schools educate 31 percent of the city’s children, but enroll 51 percent of all white children and only 6 percent of youngsters eligible for free lunches.

Such skimming of the more able students lets proponents like Christie claim that charters outperform public schools. But charters serve a different population. In his devastating send-up of Newark’s North Star Schools, titled “Deconstructing the Cycle of Reformy Awesomeness,” Baker describes how charters achieve high test scores and graduation rates by shedding underperforming students. Half the kids—including 80 percent of African-American boys—dropped or were pushed out.

Charters are not the solution. “Overall, charters do not outperform comparable public schools and they serve a different population,” says Stan Karp, an editor at Rethinking Schools, an advocacy organization dedicated to sustaining and strengthening public education. He adds, “Nowhere have charters produced a template for district-wide equity and system-wide improvement.”

Many suburbs have resisted charters, but state-run urban districts like Newark cannot. In Newark, Christie joined with then Mayor Cory Booker, a devotee of privatization, to bring in Broad Academy graduates Chris Cerf to be state schools chief and Cami Anderson to be Newark superintendent. They were awarded a pledge of $100 million from Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg to support school reform in Newark.

Suburbs cannot escape other reforms, including federal insistence on relentless, time-consuming annual testing to measure student achievement and teacher performance. While states can opt out of testing, the price in lost federal revenues can be high. Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a national political action committee, applauds these changes as “bursting the dam” of resistance from unions to test-based evaluation and merit pay.

The coalition of foundations, non-governmental organizations and financial institutions promoting privatization is an opaque, multi-billion dollar, alternative governance structure. They include the Broad and Walton foundations; the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation; the Charter School Growth Fund and the NewSchools Venture Fund (a pair of nonprofit investment operations overseen largely by leaders of for-profit financial firms); the training and support organizations New Leaders for New Schools, the New Teacher Project and America Achieves; as well as the advocacy groups Stand for Children and Education Reform Now.

At its most recent summit of education reformers—including Newark’s Anderson—the NewSchools Venture offered workshops on “How Disruptive Can We Be?” and a seminar on charter schools that was advertised this way: “Charter schools are being brought into the center of reform strategies, not just to provide new options for some students, but to transform an entire public education system, based on a diverse portfolio of autonomous school operators.”

Why is school privatization such a draw for investors? Is it just philanthropy? No, there is also profit to be made from the $650 billion spent annually on public schools. Some charter school operations are profit making, including nearly two-thirds of charter school operators in Michigan and many in Florida—and Christie has been pressing to allow profit-making charters in New Jersey. Salaries for operators of charter school chains can run as high as $500,000 a year. The New Markets Tax Credit, pushed by charter supporter Bill Clinton when he was president, allows lenders to reap higher interest rates. Then there are rents paid by charter schools to charter-related profit-making companies like Newark’s Pink Hula Hoop (started by TEAM Academy board members); legal fees; and the sale of goods and services.

The costs of this movement: urban schools stratified. It’s an apartheid system, with the neediest warehoused in neglected public schools and a few lucky lottery winners in pampered charters. It is stratification on top of a system already stratified by all-white suburban districts and $35,000-plus private schools.

More costs: unconscionable amounts of time, energy and resources devoted to test preparation. The brightest young people, says Baker, will leave teaching to short-stay amateurs rather than endure the unpredictability of evaluations that rate a teacher “irreplaceable” one year and “ineffective” the next.

New Jersey ranks at the top nationwide in educational achievement, reports Education Week. We are second in “chance for success,” third in K-12 achievement and fifth in high school graduation. These statistics include urban schools; if properly funded, they succeed. Look at Elizabeth: good schools, no charters. Christie left it unmolested and provided millions in construction funds kept from other cities—perhaps because the school board endorsed him.

New Jersey is not the basket case Christie says it is. Urban schools are not failure factories. We don’t need a hostile takeover by Wall Street.

Maurice Cunningham watches the flow of “Dark Money” into the privatization of public funding for schools. A professor of political science, he has recently followed the money trail of the “National Parents Union,” which he points out is neither “national,” nor “parents,” nor a “union.”

NPU markets itself as if it were a “grassroots” group, but it is funded by the Walton Family Foundation and Charles Koch and enjoys the high-priced assistance of Mercury Communications LLP to get its anti-public school, anti-union message into the national media. Mercury currently represents Teach for America and at one time represented Eva Moskowitz (who fired them).

With this expensive marketing, NPU presents itself as an authentic voice of parents.

Cunningham writes:

Here’s an example of the coverage from the New York Times: “National Parents Union, a collection of 200 advocacy organizations across 50 states representing parents from communities of color.” But there is no publicly available evidence that NPU represents parent groups. My research shows that it is mostly comprised of charter school and associated organizations.

Nor am I aware that any of these media outlets has reported on the funding of National Parents Union, which includes not only the Walton Family Foundation and Charles Koch, but a billionaire boys club of astonishing levels of wealth. (The one outlet that consistently reports on the funders is The74.org, which also receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation. So compliments to them.)

These media outlets accept the story offered up by Mercury LLC and the NPU Comms team, that there is a battle between teachers and parents. But as I said, NPU does not represent parents. If journalists need conflict there is a big one going on: teachers unions against the corporate behemoths of the Waltons, Koch, Gates, Dell, Arnold, and on and on. It’s a good story, just not the one NPU and Mercury are peddling.

You get what you pay for; NPU’s marketing is going great.

This interview was recorded by Town Hall in Seattle, which is a great venue for speakers but in COVID Times was recorded remotely. I interviewed them about their important new book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door.

They had some very valuable insights, and the time flew by. I hope you will take a few minutes and join us.

Education Trust, led by former Secretary of Education John King, sent two letters to the Biden administration, urging the administration not to allow states to receive waivers from the mandated federal testing. The signers of the letters were not the same. As State Commissioner in New York, King was a fierce advocate for Common Core and standardized testing.

Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, and board member of the Network for Public Education, wrote this about the pro-testing coalition assembled by King:

I asked my assistant Michael Horwitz to figure out which organizations were on the first Ed Trust letter pushing against state testing waivers, but not the letter that just came out, advocating against allowing flexibility by using local assessments instead.  National PTA, NAN (Al Sharpton’s group), LULAC, KIPP and a few others did drop off the list. 

I then asked Leonie if she could add the amounts of funding to these organizations by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation and she replied:

The largest beneficiary of their joint funding among these organizations has been KIPP at over $97M, then Ed Trust at nearly $58 million, who spearheaded both letters. Also TNTP at $54M, NACSA at $44M, Jeb Bush’s FEE at nearly $32 M and 50Can at $29M. [TNTP used to be called “The New Teachers Project,” and was created by Michelle Rhee.] Michael Horwitz did the research.

Signers on the first letter:

The following orgs were on the second letter, but not the first: many more obviously pro-charter, right-wing and more local organizations:

Leonie Haimson 
leoniehaimson@gmail.com

Follow on twitter @leoniehaimson 

Host of “Talk out of School” WBAI radio show and podcast at https://talk-out-of-school.simplecast.com/

Let’s just say it upfront. If you wanted to know more about “The State of Education,” and how to “rebuild a more equitable system,” the last person you would ask is a billionaire. Right? Specifically Bill Gates, who has spent billions over the past 20 years promoting high-stakes testing, charter schools, merit pay, value-added measurement of teachers, the Common Core, test-based accountability, and every failed reform I can think of. The media think he is the world’s leading expert on everything, but we know from experience with his crackpot theories and ideas that none of them has made education better, and all of them have demoralized teachers and harmed students and public schools. What hubris to have foisted one failed idea after another and then to convene a summit on how to fix the mess you made, probably by doing the same failed things you already sponsored.

So how can we build a “more equitable system”? Well, one way would be to have higher taxes for people in Bill Gates’ economic bracket. He lives in a state with no income tax. That’s not fair. He should pay his fair share–to his local community, to the state, and to the federal government. So should every other billionaire. I don’t mean to pick on Bill Gates–well, actually I do–since he is the only billionaire who thinks he knows how to redesign education without either knowledge or experience. And he is only the third richest person in the world right now (sorry, Bill). But if he and Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk paid more taxes, they wouldn’t be poor. They wouldn’t even be middle-class.

So here are some ideas for the conferees:

  1. Pay your taxes
  2. Demand an increase on taxes for people in your income bracket so that wealth is more equitably distributed
  3. Insist that class sizes be reduced, especially in schools that educate the neediest children
  4. Leave education to the educators.

Here is your invitation. Please, God, don’t tell me they want everyone to go virtual all the time.

 
A reminder: Our live virtual event, The State of Education: Rebuilding a More Equitable System, is this Wednesday, March 3 at 1:00 p.m. E.T. / 11:00 a.m. P.T.

While the pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities, it’s also presented a unique opportunity to dramatically overhaul the education system.

We’re excited to share with you our full program agenda for this week’s virtual event, filled with voices who will outline the innovative solutions that should be implemented to create an equitable learning environment for all students. Visit our website to learn more and register today to reserve your spot.
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Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who specializes in unmasking the influence of billionaires’ dark money. “Dark money” is money that is contributed with the expectation that the donors’ name will not be disclosed. I wrote about the role of Cunningham in exposing the dark money behind the 2016 effort to pass a referendum to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts; his exposes alerted voters to the vast sums spent by out-of-state billionaires like the Waltons and Michael Bloomberg to buy education policy in Massachusetts.

As he demonstrates in this article, the Waltons–who cumulatively are worth about $200 billion–are still funding pro-charter, anti-union groups in Massachusetts, still pushing their anti-public school agenda. The Waltons’ vehicle of choice is the “Massachusetts Parents United” group, which claims to be just a lot of concerned moms while collecting millions each year from the Waltons and other oligarchs.

The leader of the Walton-funded parent group is collecting, according to tax records, nearly $400,000 a year. Not a bad gig.

Cunningham reviews a story in Commonwealth Magazine that compares funding for Massachusetts Parents United with funding for the state’s teachers union.

But there are crucial differences, Cunningham writes:

Stories like this tend to equate spending on organizations like MPU with the unions. They’re not comparable. Union funding comes from members’ dues. The unions are democratically organized. My local voted out an incumbent last year, as have other teachers’ unions. MTA term limits its president (a good thing, as Barbara Madeloni was far tougher than her surrender-prone predecessor Paul Toner). There is no democracy to MPU. The Waltons are from Arkansas and probably couldn’t find Chicopee or Tewksbury on a map; never mind getting Alice Walton to pronounce Worcester or Gloucester. The Waltons just write checks and measure ROI–return on investment. MTA and Massachusetts Federation of Teachers members live here. Want to hold the Waltons accountable for the vast changes to Massachusetts education policy they seek through MPU? Good luck with that.

If you’ve gotten this far let me say a few words about why I care about this stuff. We simply do not have a functioning democracy when the vast wealth of a few oligarchs sets the policy agenda and gains influence by showering money on upbeat sounding fronts like Families for Excellent Schools and Massachusetts Parents United. Nor do we have a functioning democracy when the true power—the men and women behind the curtain—remain unknown to the public and uncovered by the media. In Dark Money, Jane Mayer talks about “weaponizing philanthropy.” In Just Giving, Rob Reich points out the “plutocratic bias” enjoyed by the foundations. (Hey, did I mention all these public policy altering contributions by oligarchs are a valuable tax deduction to them? Yes, you’re subsidizing them to change your state’s policy. Never give a sucker an even break). Huge investments in policy change and hidden money threaten rule by the people.

And that’s what MPU is—a tax deductible front for oligarchs weaponizing their philanthropy in a campaign to privatize public goods. The Waltons, Koch, and other oligarchs don’t want us to peek behind the curtain. It is our democratic obligation to tear that curtain down.

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?

Peter Greene notes the emergence of a new narrative among “reformers”: Whereas schools have long been failing kids, now the kids themselves are failures because of the epidemic of “learning loss.”

As usual, the disaster experts blame teachers, but now they say the kids are failures too.

But the other part of chicken littling about education is the constant declaration that Kids These Days suck. They can’t read or write. They aren’t ready to hold down a job. And like many other negative trends in education, this has only gotten worse during the pandemic. Now it’s not just that Kids These Days can’t read and write and math–numerous companies are telling anyone who will listen about the terrible threat of learning loss, and how all of America’s children are slowly backsliding, the “days of learning” dribbling out of their ears like meltwater sluicing off a snow-covered roof. They’re getting stupider and stupider by the day. They are a lost generation...

In the rush to indict the public school system, the teachers, the unions, some people have turned students into collateral damage, forcing them to live in a world of adults who are constantly broadcasting that Kids These Days are awful failures. And right now, as always, they are directing the worst of it at the students who already get the worst of it–Black, brown, poor. 

Today Chalkbeat is carrying a piece by teacher Selena Carrion that everyone should read– “Stop calling this generation ‘lost.’ It’s hurtful–and it’s wrong.” Carrion’s experience allows her to remember how to keep her eye on the ball:All this reminds me not to allow a deficit-oriented “lost generation” narrative to deny them their success. As educators, let’s think about their triumphs and how they are still finding joy and wonder amid chaos.

What would happen, I wonder, if the consultants from NWEA and McKinsey, rather than releasing white papers and “research” and talking to other folks in the education biz had to go stand in front of the actual young human beings and explain to those students that they are falling behind and getting dumber by the minute and are generally failing. What if they had to look into those students’ eyes while saying, in effect, “We do not believe in you.” 

Here is where market-based philosophy clashes with actual education. You market products by creating a compelling case for a desperate need. “Terrible things are happening,” a campaign screams, “and you need to hire us and buy our product if you want to survive, because without us you are not enough.” But you teach students by first believing in them, by assuring them that they are enough. You can’t have disaster capitalism without a disaster. You can’t teach students by telling them that they are a disaster.

It’s been a hard year for everyone: kids, teachers, parents. The kids need someone who believes in them, rather than looking at them as suffering from a social construct called ”learning loss.”

Here we go again. Before either Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona or Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten have been confirmed by the Senate, key jobs in the Department of Education are being filled by staff from the Gates Foundation and DFER, both of which are champions of bad ideas and antagonists of public schools. From my experience in the U.S. Department of Education, it is customary to allow the Secretary and Deputy Secretary to choose their assistant secretaries, and the assistant secretaries choose their deputies. These appointments seem to have been made by the White House. Please note that the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development shapes policy for the Department. The administration previously announced a fervent supporter of high-stakes testing—Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust in New York—as the acting Assistant Secretary for that office.

Andrew Ujifusa reports in Education Week:

The latest round of political appointees to the U.S. Department of Education include a veteran of Capitol Hill and Beltway education groups, the former leader of Democrats for Education Reform’s District of Columbia affiliate, and two former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation staffers.

The Biden administration appointments, announced Feb. 3, fill spots in key offices, although nominees forthe top jobs in the office for civil rights and office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. (We gave folks a heads up about two of the most recent appointments hereand here before they were officially announced.) However, a few such jobs are being filled on an acting basis.

It’s difficult to discern just one trend or policy direction based on Biden’s Education Department appointments so far; those who’ve worked for and supported teachers’ unions in the past, for example, will be working alongside union skeptics and those who’ve drawn labor’s ire in the past. The administration announced its first set of department appointees last month, and it included two former National Education Association staffers.

Here are a few notable names from the latest round of appointments:

Jessica Cardichon, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Cardichon is an education policy veteran in Washington. She comes to the Education Department from the Learning Policy Institute, a K-12 policy and research group founded and led by Linda Darling-Hammond, who led Biden’s transition team for the department. Cardichon was the group’s federal policy director. While at LPI, Cardichon contributed to reports about COVID-19 relief, how to “reimagine schooling,” and student access to certified teachers.  [I worked during the election on a committee on assessment chaired by Cardichon on behalf of Biden. I urged the committee to recommend a suspension of the federally mandated testing in spring 2021 and to propose the elimination of that part of the law. When my proposals were ignored, I resigned from the committee.]

She’s also worked as education counsel to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate education committee; the Alliance for Excellent Education, a research and advocacy group, and at Teachers College, Columbia University. A long-time ally of teachers’ unions and a critic of standardized testing, Sanders has taken on a big role in the Senate during the creation of a new COVID-19 relief package. 

Ramin Taheri, chief of staff, office for civil rights. Taheri comes to the department after serving as the District of Columbia chapter director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that promotes charter schools, K-12 education funding, test-based teacher and school accountability, and other policies. The group divides opinion in the left-leaning K-12 policy space. Some have championed the group for focusing on issues they say will better served students of color and disadvantaged learners, while other claim DFER undermines teachers’ unions and traditional public schools. News that DFER was backing certain big-city superintendents to be Biden’s education secretary provoked pushback from union supporters and others skeptical of DFER. (Cardona was not on DFER’s list of preferred choices.) Taheri has also worked at Chiefs for Change, a group of district superintendents that provokes similar, if not identical, political sentiments. 

Last year, DFER’s D.C. chapter under Taheri provoked controversy by singling out a candidate for the District of Columbia Council for wanting to cut police funding. Asked about the negative advertising, Taheri told the Washington City paper that the group wanted to inform voters about issues beyond education, and that the candidate’s position on police budgets was “deeply unpopular” with voters. (The candidate, Janeese Lewis George, who accused DFER of fearmongering, ultimately won her election.) The question of whether police should be in schools, and educators’ attitudes toward school resource officers, gained prominence after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police last year. The City Paper’s story about DFER’s mailers focused on George was published three days after Floyd’s death. Taheri later said that the group’s mailers were a mistake. 

Nick Lee, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development; Sara Garcia, special assistant, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Both Lee and Garcia come to the department from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where Lee was a senior program officer and Garcia was a program officer. 

Although Lee previously managed $10 million in annual education grants covering both K-12 and higher education, according to his LinkedIn profile, he’s now listed himself as an assistant secretary for higher education at the department as of this month. Garcia also has a background in higher education, and used to work on the Senate education committee for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is now chairwoman of the committee.

The Gates Foundation has had a long, complex, and controversial involvement in education policy. For many years, it focused its considerable grant-making power on teacher effectiveness, teacher-performance systems, and support for the Common Core State Standards; by 2015, the foundation estimated it had put $900 million in grants toward teacher policy and programs. Previously, it had focused on supporting small high schools. These efforts became more politically controversial over time. 

Supporters have applauded its focus on educators and improving instruction, while critics say its outsized influence has had a detrimental effect on policymakers. A 2018 study of one of its biggest teacher-effectiveness efforts in three districts showed no gains for students. 

In recent years, the foundation has shifted its focus to support higher education access for students of color and disadvantaged students. (Note: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides general operating support to Education Week, which retains sole editorial control over its content.) 

The full list of appointments announced Feb. 3 is here.

https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/department-education-announces-more-biden-harris-appointees