Archives for category: School Choice

If you live in Missouri, get active to stop this dangerous effort to destroy your public schools!

Dear Friend,

If you love your public schools you need to drop what you are doing and get to work.

There is only one intent of Senate Bill 55–to destroy public education in Missouri. It was pushed through the Senate Education Committee early this morning and may go to the Senate floor for a vote as early as next week. 

1. Call your state senators NOW and ask them to support public schools by OPPOSING Senate Bill 55. You can find your Senator and their phone number by going here

2. Click here and send an email in opposition to Senate Bill 55 NOW.

3. Share this link with friends and family who live in the statehttps://actionnetwork.org/letters/oppose-senate-bill-55/

Below is the notice we just received from the Missouri School Boards Association information that provides background on the bill.

“The Senate Education Committee jammed through a mega bill on Thursday that will be heard on the Senate floor soon. Senate Bills 23 and 25 started out creating voucher schemes and expanding charter schools but were loaded up on SB 55 at the last minute with a long list of provisions hostile to public education that have never even had a public hearing. The bill now includes:

  • School Board Member Recall: Requires an election to recall a school board member if a petition is submitted signed by at least 25% of the number of voters in the last school board election.
  • Education Scholarship Account/Vouchers:Creates up to $100 million in tax credits for donations to an organization that gives out scholarships for students to attend a home school or private school – including for-profit virtual schools.
  • Charter School Expansion: Authorizes charter schools to be opened in an additional 61 school districts located in Jackson, Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis counties or in cities of 30,000 or more and allows charters opened in provisionally and unaccredited districts to remain open even after the school district regains accreditation.
  • Turning MOCAP into Virtual Charter Schools: Allows students enrolling in MOCAP full time to apply directly to the vendor and cuts the resident school district and professional educators out of the process.
  • Home school students allowed to participate in MSHSAA activities. Districts are prohibited from belonging to MSHSAA unless home schooled students are allowed to participate in district athletics and activities governed by MSHSAA.
  • Limiting State Board of Education: Restricts members of the state board of education to serve only one full term.”

Read more on these issues here.

Please send your email, make your calls and thank you for all you do. 

Carol Burris

Executive Director

Network for Public Education

I reviewed three books in the New York Review of Books, which seemed to me to be complementary.

Together they offer a fresh interpretation of the history of public education and of school choice.

The choice zealots would have you believe that they want to “save poor kids from failing public schools,” but the history of school choice tells a very different story. School choice began as the rallying cry of Southern segregationists, determined to prevent desegregation and integration of their schools.

School choice was their response to the Brown Decision of 1954.

The states of the South passed law after law shifting public funds to private schools, so that white students could avoid going to school with black children.

Libertarian economist Milton Friedman published an essay in 1955 on “The Role of Government in Education” in which he argued for vouchers and school choice. He said that under his approach, whites could go to school with whites, blacks could go to school with blacks, and anyone who wanted a mixed-race school could make that choice. Given the state of racism in the South, his formula would have been translated by white Senators, Governors, and legislatures as a formula to maintain racial segregation forever. They loved his ideas, and they adopted his rhetoric.

The best way to remove the cobwebs in your mind, the ones planted by libertarian propaganda, is to read the three books reviewed here:

Katharine Stewart: The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

Steve Suitts: Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement

Derek W. Black: Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy

The nonpartisan, independent organization called “In the Public Interest” reports on efforts to privatize public services. Its education newsletter is called “Cashing In on Kids.”

Here is its latest updates on the DeVos education agenda:

Welcome to Cashing in on Kids, an email newsletter for people fed up with the privatization of America’s public schools—produced by In the Public Interest.

Not a subscriber? Sign up. And make sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Sure, Betsy DeVos resigned. But, as Marianna Islam, director of programs and advocacy for the Schott Foundation, says, “Betsy Devos has not really left until all of her harmful policies are overturned and policies that advance racial equity are put into place.” Retweet this

And now other news…

Which federal agency has funded more charter school facilities than any other? The U.S. Department of Agriculture. At least according to Chicago-based Wert-Berater, LLC, the self-described “leading” company in facilitating the charter school industry’s lucrative real estate sector by providing “feasibility studies.” WBOC

Is the charter school industry on the skids? Journalist Jeff Bryant looks at the charter school industry’s rate, particularly in North Carolina. “Much of the rationale for the perceived need for charter schools often seems to boil down to marketing.” AlterNet

Pro-charter money goes to California governor recall effort. The right-wing charter school backer, John Kruger, has given $500,000 to an effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). GV Wire

Georgia lawmakers eye vouchers. Georgia state lawmakers will be taking up the issue of private school vouchers in their new session. “Proponents could limit efforts to expanding Georgia’s current special needs scholarship program benefitting students with disabilities. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but failed in the House.” AP

Texas too. A voucher bill has been introduced into the Texas legislature. “Do we really have time to rehash this?” tweeted Charles Luke of the Coalition for Public Schools. “The legislature has only voted vouchers down repeatedly for 25 years!”

New Hampshire takes the money. New Hampshire’s governor and executive council have accepted controversial funding for the expansion of charter schools in the state. In Depth NH

Following the money. Pennsylvania’s online charter schools have used federal COVID-19 relief funds to purchase technology and cleaning supplies and send Target gift cards and phones to families. The Times-Tribune

And the good news…

Local Indiana council supports charter school ban. Indiana’s Gary City Council has unanimously backed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools in support of state legislation being introduced by a local lawmaker. Chicago Tribune

Pennsylvania school district speaks out. School district officials in Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County have spoken out on charter school funding. “Recently the United States Department of Education awarded a five-year $30 million grant to Pennsylvania Brick and Mortar Charter Schools to increase their academic success. All the while, many Pennsylvania Public Schools are cutting programs in order to continue to pay for charter school costs, some even becoming financially distressed due to this burden.” Skook News

Nancy Bailey is hopeful that 2021 will bring a new agenda for public schools and their students and teachers.

All are worried about the pandemic and whether there will be the resources to protect students and staff.

There will surely be a teacher shortage due to the numbers of teachers who felt threatened by returning to school when it was not safe, as well as the necessity to reduce class sizes to make social distancing a reality.

The need for social justice should be high on the agenda, and it has nothing to do with vouchers and school choice.

Students with disabilities have been seriously affected by the pandemic and need extra instruction and resources.

The pandemic threw a harsh light on the condition of school infrastructure. Many states have not invested in school facilities. Will they?

The arts were dropped in many schools during the disastrous reign of NCLB and Race to the Top. Today they are needed more than ever.

What will become of assessment? Will the new Secretary follow those who think that testing produces equity? Or will he listen to teachers and parents? Twenty years of federally mandated testing produced a static status quo, locking the neediest students into their place in the social hierarchy and denying them equality of educational opportunity.

In the early 2000s, media mogul Rupert Murdoch brought New York City Chancellor Joel Klein to Australia to spread the word about the “New York City Miracle.” This alleged miracle was as phony as George W. Bush’s “Texas Miracle,” all hat and no cattle. Unfortunately, the Education Minister (who subsequently became Australia’s Prime Minister) bought the tale and imposed national standards and testing on the entire country.

Pasi Sahlberg, teacher, researcher, scholar, is currently based in Australia. As a chronicler of Finnish education (see his book Finnish Lessons), Sahlberg has achieved international renown. In Australia, he heads the Gorski Institute and is trying to change the course of Australian education.

Pasi Sahlberg writes here about Australia’s refusal to own up to the dire consequences of the wrong path that it has taken. It is not too late to change course.

He writes that Australia has done a great job in controlling the coronavirus, but it has been unwilling to bring the same focus to education.

Like the United States, Australia continues to fund failure.

He writes:

Despite frequent school reforms, educational performance has not been improving. Indeed, it has been in decline compared to many other countries. International data makes that clear. Australian Council for Educational Research concluded it by saying that student performance in Australia has been in long-term decline. The OECD statistics reveal system-wide prevalence of inequity that is boosted by education resource gaps between Australian schools that are among the largest in the world. And UNICEF has ranked Australia’s education among the most unequal in rich countries.

Often the inspiration for the education reforms in Australia are imported from the US and Britain. Yet, the evidence base to support many of these grand policy changes here is weak or non-existent. For instance, research shows that market-based models of school choice, test-based accountability, and privatisation of public education have been wrong strategies for world-class education elsewhere. Yet, market models have been the cornerstone of Australian school policies since the early 2000s.

Australian education is failing because of reform, not in spite of it.

Rick Hess conducts an “exit interview” with Betsy DeVos, which was published at Education Week. Rick is a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which is funded in part by DeVos.

DeVos came to Washington to destroy public education, and she failed. She bitterly dismisses the “entrenched interests” and bureaucrats who frustrated her ambitions to turn billions of public dollars over to religious and private schools and to extinguish teachers’ unions altogether. During her confirmation, she was unable to answer direct questions about education policy, and she was ultimately confirmed only when Vice-President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote. This had never happened before. In poll after poll, DeVos was characterized as the most unpopular member of Trump’s Cabinet. She did her best to skewer the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, to abandon college students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, to divert COVID funding to elite private schools. Fortunately, most of the changes–maybe all of them–will be reversed by the Biden administration. Here is a fun fact that DeVos doesn’t mention: She is right that the number of voucher programs has grown, but she fails to point out that fewer than 1% of American students use vouchers. Nor does she mention that most independent voucher studies find that students in voucher schools are worse off than their peers in public schools. When a 2017 evaluation of the voucher program in D.C. reported that the students in voucher schools actually lost ground, DeVos didn’t care. She said: “When school choice policies are fully implemented, there should not be differences in achievement among the various types of schools.” Nonetheless, in this exit interview, DeVos continues to promote voucher propaganda, and Hess doesn’t challenge her.

Here is an excerpt:

Rick: Back in 2017, your confirmation process was remarkably contentious. Looking back, what did you take from that and how did it affect your approach to the role?

Secretary DeVos: It confirmed my belief that entrenched interests were going to do their best to protect the status quo, their power, and their jobs no matter what. It gave me a clear-eyed look at the uphill battle I knew we would face as we pivoted the federal focus away from adults’ interests to what’s best for kids.

Rick: You came to your position as an outsider—how has that mattered?

DeVos: Like I’ve said before, I didn’t know all the things you “can’t do.” So I came in with fresh eyes and a laser focus on rethinking the way we approach all aspects of work at the department.

Rick: What surprised you most about the job?

DeVos: A couple of things. First, that the bureaucracy is even more bureaucratic than any of us could have ever imagined, and it takes longer to get anything done than I could have ever imagined. Second, seeing firsthand just how difficult it is for people in Washington to see beyond what is and imagine what could be. Third, and importantly, I am consistently inspired by what parents will do for their kids’ educations. I’ve met single mothers driving Uber in addition to holding two other jobs just so their children can learn in schools that work for them. I’ve met parents who didn’t wait for permission to home school their children nor did they wait for their schools to open this past spring, establishing their own learning pods and microschools so their children could continue learning. I suppose I’m not surprised by the ingenuity of America’s parents, but I am inspired by them and their students.

Rick: For you, what’s one anecdote that really captures what it’s like to be secretary of education?

DeVos: I remember talking with a group of young African American students in a school where they were benefiting from the Milwaukee voucher program and looking outside at a sea of middle-aged white protestors who apparently thought those students didn’t deserve that opportunity. I think that’s a pretty good microcosm of what my experience in office was like.

Rick: What was the most useful preparation you had to be secretary?

DeVos: I’ve dedicated more than 30 years of my life to fighting for students, starting in my community, then throughout Michigan and in states across the country. I know what parents want and need for their children’s educations because I am one and because I’ve fought alongside them to have the same choices and opportunities for their kids that I had for mine. People also forget this is ultimately a management job, not a teaching job. Among other things, you run one of the nation’s largest banks. Having actually led large organizations was very important preparation.

Rick: If you had to point to just one, what’s the single data point that really illuminates your thinking about American education?

DeVos: Half of lower-income 4th graders are below-basic readers, according to the most recent Nation’s Report Card. If the system is failing to teach the most basic of skills to the most vulnerable of students, how can anyone defend it? Worse yet, for the past quarter century, there has been no meaningful change in test scores, yet as taxpayers, we spend more and more for education each year. And by too many measures, these gaps are even widening. Perhaps the largest gap is between American students and their international peers. We’re not in the top 10—in anything. That’s not because our students aren’t capable; it’s because “the system” is culpable for failing them. And, if I could point to a couple more data points, there are currently millions of kids on charter school wait lists, and 3 out of 4 parents who say, if given the opportunity, they would choose a different school than their assigned one for their child. Parents are making clear what they think the solution is to the system’s failures.

Rick: What’s one thing that advocates and reformers should understand about federal education policy which they may not already?

DeVos: It needs your voices. Reformers rightly focus on the states, which are in control of education, but ignoring Washington comes with peril. Remember, a different president and secretary most certainly would have implemented the Every Student Succeeds Act in significantly more controlling ways.

Rick: What would you regard as your most significant accomplishment in office?

DeVos: Hands down, it’s changing the national conversation around what K-12 education can and should be. The concept of school choice is more popular across racial, ethnic, and political lines than ever before. I’m also proud of the team’s work on the historic Title IX rule which codified into law protections for all students.

Rick: And what would you say is your biggest regret?

DeVos: In four years, we set out to change the course set by the past 40 years of the department’s history. Though we’ve made remarkable progress, as long as there are students stuck in schools that do not meet their needs, the work is not yet done. I believe that all children have unlimited potential and promise, and so every single one of them deserves the opportunity to find their educational fit. I regret that we didn’t push harder and earlier in the term.

Rick: Throughout your tenure, your emphasis has been on expanding educational choice for students and families. How would you evaluate your record on this score?

DeVos: My team and I have worked very hard to advance education freedom—or school choice, as most know it. This idea, which President Trump rightly calls “the civil rights issue of our time,” is on the march across the country. Students in more states have more opportunities to pursue the education that’s right for them today than when I first took office. Consider the bold expansions in North Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Tennessee, and even in Illinois. Right here in D.C., participation in the school choice program is now 50 percent higher than it was four years ago, and there is still massive unmet demand. We’ve changed the conversation at the federal level, too. Our proposal for Education Freedom Scholarships is the most ambitious in the nation’s history, and now there are more than 120 co-sponsors in Congress and more than 50 Senators who voted for Sen. McConnell’s COVID relief package who are helping us champion the idea.

Steve Nelson was head of school at the Calhoun School. He is now in retirement. He writes frequently about the need for child-centered education.

“RESIST!”  Bernie Sanders? AOC?  Malcom X? Saul Alinsky?

No, this was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s plea to Education Department staffers as she ends her term in office. As reported in The Hill, she specifically implored them to “Be the resistance against forces that will derail you from doing what’s right for students.”  DeVos evoking the language of progressive activism is rich – almost as rich as DeVos herself.

She has gotten scant attention in the chaos of these last days.  It seems unjust to allow her to go so quietly from the party.  It is only in the shadow of Bill Barr, Scott Pruitt, Michael Flynn, Wilbur Ross, Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, Mike Pompeo, Ben Carson, Stephen Miller and many others that DeVos’s breathtaking awfulness would go uncelebrated.

I am here to right that wrong.

As with other Trump appointees, her most luminous qualification for the position was absolute disdain for the mission she was tapped to lead.  She had demonstrated  decades of hostility toward public education and her antipathy has continued unabated on the job.

Her educational “philosophy” is built on several premises that have informed her life’s work. 

Her education activism and support of reform are, in her words, “a means to advance God’s Kingdom.”   She has proclaimed that “the system of education in the country . . . really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run.”  To this end she has been a tireless advocate for voucher programs which allow parents to use tax dollars for their children’s enrollment in religious schools.  In Florida, for example, 80% of vouchers, to the tune of $1 billion, go to religious schools, where evolution is just theory, gay students are unwelcome and every course is offered through a Christian lens.

Her advocacy for charter schools is built on the second premise: Profit is a divine right and any budding entrepreneur who can walk and chew gum is qualified to give education a shot. In her home state of Michigan this has resulted in a checkerboard of charter schools that fail as often as Trump casinos and where the odds of getting a good education are like playing the roulette wheel.  The shifting of public money to charters has hollowed out the public system in Detroit, for example, where kids of color are often shuffled to and from a half dozen startups and shutdowns in just one school year.  To extend the simile, it’s a bad deal for children.

This manifestation of her “activism” seems very much like the source of her immense wealth:  Amway.  The very American Amway system also allows  any budding entrepreneur who can walk and chew gum to give Amway a whirl. The odds of success are similar to the odds of success for charter startups – meaning very low indeed.  Unless, of course, you are at the top of the pyramid. Every sucker who loses is a gain for the house.  

Amway aside, her business acumen is a bit suspect.  She was a major investor in Theranos, a remarkable scam whose founder is facing felony counts of fraud.  She and her husband are also up to their corrupt ears in another corporate scam, Neurocore, which has been charged for using unapproved (FDA) devices and deceptive (FTC) marketing.  As a kicker, they invested in a Broadway show that closed after three weeks.  Like her patron saint Trump, it’s just so much winning.

I would be remiss if not pointing out that she is, in these respects, an iconic representative of the contemporary Grand Old Party which is committed to the same principles: that we are a Christian nation and that everything done for private profit is de facto better and more efficient than anything done for public good.

A few other highlights:

She supports using federal funds to arm teachers.

She dramatically altered Title IX to give more rights to boys and men accused of sexual misconduct and to significantly limit the authority of educational institutions to support women or use their own discretion.

In her confirmation hearing, she knew nothing about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), saying states should do whatever they want.

She called historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) “pioneers of school choice,” seeming to miss that they were the result of segregation and that they were founded because black students had no choices.  It’s like admiring a particularly fine porcelain drinking fountain in Jim-Crow-era Alabama and praising it as a pioneer in hydration choice.

President-elect Biden has selected Dr. Miguel Cardona to replace DeVos.  He is a vast improvement.  For those who continue to work  in the Department of Education, we must say, “Resist!”

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford Advocate. In this column, she reviews two important books: One shows how deeply embedded public schools are in our democratic ideology, the other describes that coordinated assault on the very concept of public schooling. The first is low professor Derek Black’s Schoolhouse Burning, the other is A Wolf at the Schoollhouse Door, by journalist Jennifer Berkshire and historian Jack Schneider.

Lecker writes:

In his scrupulously researched book, Derek Black emphasizes that the recognition that education is essential to democracy predated public schools and even the U.S. Constitution. He describes how the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, which applied to 31 future states, mandated funding and land for public schools, declaring that education was “necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.” Education was not explicitly included in the U.S. Constitution. However, after the Civil War, the United States required Southern states guarantee a right to education in their state constitutions as a condition for readmission. Northern states followed suit. State education articles were based on the notion that education was necessary to citizenship and democracy.

These lofty ideals were often not matched by reality. Enslaved African Americans neither had their freedom nor education. However, African Americans recognized early on that education was the key to full citizenship, and fought for the right to equal access and treatment for all. For Black, the struggle of ensuring equality in public education is intertwined with the struggle for political equality.

Black posits that attacks on public education throughout American history are attacks on democracy itself. Recent events prove his point. For example, Rutgers’ Domingo Morel showed that when majority African-American elected school boards won gains such as increased school funding, states took over those school districts, neutralizing the boards’ power. Northwestern’s Sally Nuamah found that in Chicago, where there is no elected school board, the city’s closure of 50 schools in one year despite protest by the African-American community decreased political participation by that community afterward.

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” complements “Schoolhouse Burning” by detailing the specific mechanisms those who attack public education have employed in recent years. In this eminently readable book, the authors describe the “unmaking” of public education and the players behind this effort. They explain how the attacks on public schools are part of a larger effort shrink government and in general what the public expects from the public sphere. One target is the largest part of any education budget: teachers. Anti-public education advocates have pushed cutting state spending on education, attacking job protections, de-professionalizing teaching, weakening unions and promoting failed educational ideas like virtual learning- where teachers are replaced by computers. These “unmakers” also aim to deregulate education, including expanding unaccountable voucher and charter schools.

Schneider and Berkshire demonstrate that attacking public education has also torn at the social fabric of America. Attacking unions weakened the base for democratic electoral support. Deregulation resulted in the gutting of civil rights protections for vulnerable students in charter and voucher schools.

Put them both on your Christmas-Chanukah-Kwanzaa shopping list. They are important wake-up calls.

Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider have written a valuable new book called A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School. They recently published an opinion article in The New York Times in which they demonstrate the role of Betsy DeVos in the “school reform” movement. They point out that Congress rejected her primary policy goal–sending public funding to private voucher schools–and that the new Biden administration is certain to reverse her assault on civil rights enforcement in education.

Her major accomplishment, they argue, was not one that she aimed for. She managed to disrupt the bipartisan consensus on national education policy, embraced by both the Bush and Obama administrations. That consensus consisted of high-stakes testing and charter schools. Because DeVos advocated for charters and vouchers, many Democrats now view them warily and recognize that school choice was always a conservative policy. DeVos was never a huge supporter of high-stakes standardized testing except to the extent that test scores could be used to harm public schools. Her primary interest was defunding public schools and helping religious schools. Thanks to DeVos, the Democratic party may have fallen out of love with school choice.

They write:

More than three decades ago, conventional Republicans and centrist Democrats signed on to an unwritten treaty. Conservatives agreed to mute their push for private school vouchers, their preference for religious schools and their desire to slash spending on public school systems. In return, Democrats effectively gave up the push for school integration and embraced policies that reined in teachers unions.

Together, led by federal policy elites, Republicans and Democrats espoused the logic of markets in the public sphere, expanding school choice through publicly funded charter schools. Competition, both sides agreed, would strengthen schools. And the introduction of charters, this contingent believed, would empower parents as consumers by even further untethering school enrollment from family residence...

Through her attention-attracting assault on the public education system, Betsy DeVos has actually given the next secretary of education an opportunity — to recommit to public education as a public good, and a cornerstone of our democracy.

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.