Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

Tom Ultican has written extensively about the insidious goals of “reformers,” who move forward despite multiple failures because of their billionaire funding.

In this post, he reviews the Biden education team, which is not yet fleshed out. He wrote this post before the announcement that Cindy Marten, the Superintendent of Schools in San Diego, was selected to be Deputy Secretary. This will be the first time in history that the top two jobs in the Department of Education were held by people who were actual educators with classroom experience. He added a comment about Superintendent Marten.

Tom Ultican defines the unanswered questions:

Joe Biden has chosen a person with an education background to lead the department of education but his experience running large organizations is almost non-existent. He was assistant superintendent of a school district with less than 9,000 students from 2013 to 2019. He then became Education Commissioner of Connecticut. That system serves less than 530,000 students. His primary strength seems to be he has not engaged with the controversial education issues of the day like “school choice” and testing accountability.

Which begs the question, will the Biden-Harris administration support and revitalize public schools or will they bow to big moneyed interests who make campaign contributions? Will Biden-Harris continue the neoliberal ideology of “school choice” or will they revitalize public schools? Will they continue wasting money on standardized testing that only accurately correlates with family economic conditions or will they reign in this wasteful practice?

Tom Ultican added:

Update added 1/19/2021: Today, Cindy Marten was nominated by Joe Biden to be Deputy Secretary of Education. I have met Marten a few times and believe she is a special kind of leader committed to public education. This gives me great hope. For the first time, we have two educators with deep k-12 experience running the Department of Education. This article from the San Diego Union gives a good synopsis of her education career. In his announcement Biden noted, “Superintendent, principal, vice principal and literacy specialist are all job titles Marten has held in her 32-year career as an educator.” The appointment makes me think the Biden administration may become the best friend public education has had in Washington DC since the Department of Education was created. Of course, Marten does not walk on water but from my perspective she is the real deal.
– tom

The Connecticut Mirror wrote a revealing in-depth analysis of Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona’s life, career, and education ideas.

His meteoric rise has been well documented. He grew up in poverty. He started public school in Meriden, Connecticut, not speaking English. He saw education as his route to a better life.

He became a teacher, then a principal, then assistant superintendent of the Meriden district of 8,000 students. From there, he was tapped to become State Commissioner of Schools.

From the outside, the Meriden Public Schools system looks like a network of struggling city schools.

The state has designated it an Alliance District and one of the “lowest-performing districts” since more than one-quarter of the students are multiple grades behind in English, math and science. It is also an economically isolated district that spends 30% less per student than the state average despite three-quarters of its students coming from low-income families. And the school ratings often used in real estate listings don’t look favorably on the district, either.

This is where Miguel Cardona — President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to become the next U.S. education secretary — grew up and spent 21 years of his 23-year career as an educator. And his experiences there — his battles and the district’s successes — will likely be front-of-mind as he coordinates policy for all the public schools in the country.

Cardona has never put much weight into titles, and he has grown used to defying low expectations set upon him and his students.

In Meriden, it meant broadening opportunity by opening access to advanced-level courses to drastically more students, embracing the Common Core standards and the accompanying tests that raised the bar for where students should be academically, providing emotional support and interventions for students acting out rather than suspending them, and setting up programs to help more high school graduates navigate to college.

Cardona also took the lead in Meriden to fine-tune controversial education reforms aimed at teacher accountability that were being pushed onto his district by state and federal officials into a model that the local union eventually supported.

Meriden’s results are ahead of most districts’ throughout the state on arguably the most important benchmark — the share of students who meet their growth targets and are on track to catch up or stay ahead.

Statewide, 33% of students from low-income families were on track to catch up in English Language Arts, compared to 39% of the poor students in Meriden by the end of the 2018-19 school year, the last year Cardona was the district’s assistant superintendent before becoming state education commissioner. In math, 37% of poor students in Meriden were on track, compared to 34% statewide. The growth of Meriden students also jumps out compared to the state’s 32 other “low-performing” Alliance Districts.

The share of Meriden students from low-income households reaching their growth targets has outpaced state averages nearly every year since 2014-15, when the state first started measuring whether students were on track to catch up.

The leader of Biden’s education transition team, Linda Darling-Hammond, served on a panel with Cardona when he was an assistant superintendent and was very impressed. That meeting was probably the key to his remarkable ascension.

This article provides insight into the educator who will lead the U.S. Depatnentbof Education in the Biden administration.

The Biden-Harris administration announced the selection of Cindy Marten, superintendent of schools in San Diego for the past seven years, as its choice for Deputy Secretary of Education. I have known her for 15 years. I first met her when she was the new principal of Central Elementary School. This will be the first time in the history of the U.S. Department of Education that the top two jobs were held by people with experience as teachers and principals.

This 2018 article is a good portrayal of who she is.

Read her memo to the transition team here.


As a new year begins, and as a new administration prepares to take charge of the U.S. government, our fight to support and improve public education goes on.

The Network for Public Education is and will continue to be the single largest voluntary group advocating on behalf of public schools. We had humble beginnings, starting with a bank account of a couple of thousand dollars and a board of enthusiastic parents and educators. We now have a full-time executive director (Carol Burris) who is helped by three amazing part-time workers.

We are not like the City Fund, which opened its doors in 2018 with $200 million in the bank (thanks to billionaire John Arnold and billionaire Reed Hastings). The City Fund exists to push high-stakes testing and to destroy community-based, democratically-controlled public schools. It has no members; we have about 350,000 who work with us. The “reformers” have tons of money and malevolent intentions.

Last year, we issued two bombshell reports that showed the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which doles out $440 million every year, mostly to corporate charter chains. We discovered and documented–using U.S. Department of Education data–that about 35-40 percent of the federally funded charters either never opened or closed not long after opening. They are the day lilies of American education, and they waste money that should go to support under-resourced public schools.

We published a report about the 1,200 or so charters that double-dipped into CARES funds intended to save small businesses. The charters, whose funding from public sources, never ceased, collected from $1-2 Billion from the Paycheck Protection Program. All of the data are available in public sources, but you have to know where to look to see that some very savvy charters and charter lobbyists cleared huge sums of PPP money (some collected $1 million or more) while public schools each collected only about $134,500.

We will continue to support real public schools, the kind that are publicly accountable to public officials. We will push the Biden administration to regulate or eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program and stop funding failure. We will fight against high-stakes testing and the misuse of standardized tests.

We will demand a suspension of federally mandated testing this spring and turn our energies toward removing the federal mandate for annual testing, which has manifestly failed to provide equity or excellence. We will remind the public that tests do not reduce achievement gaps; they are measures, not remedies. Mainly, they measure family income. Why waste hundreds of millions of dollars measuring family income?

Yes, knowledge is power, and we generate the knowledge you need to fight for public schools as the democratic institution that they are.

We welcome your financial support. Whatever you want to give, we are grateful.

Please donate here.

Whether you can afford $5, $20, $50, $100 or more, please give.

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.

Peter Goodman is a veteran observer of education policy and politics in New York City and State.

In this post, he asks, who is Miguel Cardona?

The answer is that Cardona will do what Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden want him to do.

He remains an unknown quantity. The only thing we know for sure is that he will roll back whatever damage DeVos did in her four year tenure.

Will he grant waivers from the federally mandated standardized tests this spring?

Will he seek to roll back 20 years of failed education policy?

Will he pare back or ask Congress to eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program, which hands out $440 million every year to start new charters? CSP started during the Clinton administration with the intent of helping little teacher-led or mom-and-pop charters get a start. It has since turned into a behemoth that helps corporate charter chains like KIPP, Success Academy, and IDEA expand.

Stay tuned.

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!”

On December 23, Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona spoke, accepting President-Elect Joe Biden’s nomination to serve as Secretary of Education:

He said:

Mr. President-elect, Madam Vice President-elect — thank you for this opportunity to serve.

I know just how challenging this year has been for students, for educators, and for parents.

I’ve lived those challenges alongside millions of American families — not only in my role as a state education commissioner, but as a public school parent and as a former public school classroom teacher.

For so many of our schools and far too many of our students, this unprecedented year has piled on crisis after crisis.

It has taken some of our most painful, longstanding disparities and wrenched them open even wider.

It has taxed our teachers, our leaders, our school professionals and staff who already pour so much of themselves into their work.

It has taxed families struggling to adapt to new routines as they balance the stress, pain, and loss this year has inflicted.

It has taxed young adults trying to chase their dreams to advance their education beyond high school, and carve out their place in the economy of tomorrow.

And it has stolen time from our children who have lost something sacred and irreplaceable this year despite the heroic efforts of so many of our nation’s educators.

Though we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel, we also know that this crisis is ongoing, that we will carry its impacts for years to come, and that the problems and inequities that have plagued our education system since long before COVID will still be with us even after the virus is at bay.

And so it is our responsibility now, and our privilege to take this moment, and do the most American thing imaginable: to forge opportunity out of crisis.

To draw on our resolve, our ingenuity, and our tireless optimism as a people, and build something better than we’ve ever known before.

That’s the choice Americans make every day — it’s the choice that defines us as Americans.

It’s the choice my grandparents made, Avelino and Maria de La Paz Cardona, and Germana Muniz Rosa, when they made their way from Aguada, Puerto Rico, for new opportunities in Connecticut.

I was born in the Yale Acres housing projects. That’s where my parents, Hector and Sara Cardona, instilled early on the importance of hard work, service to community, and education.

I was blessed to attend public schools in my hometown of Meriden, Connecticut, where I was able to expand my horizons, become the first in my family to graduate college, and become a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent in the same community that gave me so much.

That is the power of America — in two generations.

And I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans.

For me, education was the great equalizer. But for too many students, your zip code and your skin color remain the best predictor of the opportunities you’ll have in your lifetime.

We have allowed what the educational scholar Pedro Noguera calls the “normalization of failure” to hold back too many of America’s children.

For far too long, we’ve allowed students to graduate from high school without any idea of how to meaningfully engage in the workforce while good-paying high-skilled, technical, and trade jobs go unfilled.

For far too long, we’ve spent money on interventions and bandaids to address disparities instead of laying a wide, strong foundation of quality, universal early childhood education, and quality social and emotional supports for all of our learners.

For far too long, we’ve let college become inaccessible to too many Americans for reasons that have nothing to do with their aptitude or their aspirations and everything to do with cost burdens, and, unfortunately, an internalized culture of low expectations.

For far too long, we’ve worked in silos, failing to share our breakthroughs and successes in education — we need schools to be places of innovation, knowing that this country was built on innovation.

And for far too long, the teaching profession has been kicked around and not given the respect it deserves.

It should not take a pandemic for us to realize how important teachers are this country.

There are no shortage of challenges ahead, no shortage of problems for us to solve.

But by the same token, there are countless opportunities for us to seize.

We must embrace the opportunity to reimagine education — and build it back better.

We must evolve it to meet the needs of our students.

There is a saying in Spanish: En La Unión Está La Fuerza.

We gain strength from joining together.

In that spirit, I look forward to sitting at the table with educators, parents, caregivers, students, advocates, and state, local, and tribal leaders.

There is no higher duty for a nation than to build better paths, better futures for the next generation to explore.

For too many students, public education in America has been a flor pálida: a wilted rose, neglected, in need of care.

We must be the master gardeners who cultivate it, who work every day to preserve its beauty and its purpose.

I am grateful for the chance to take on this responsibility. And I’m grateful to my own children — Miguel Jr., or, as we call him, Angelito, and my daughter Celine, and to my wife and best friend, Marissa — herself a middle school Family School Liaison.

And I am grateful for the trust you’ve placed in me, Mr. President-elect and Madam Vice President-elect.

I look forward to getting to work on behalf of all America’s children — and the families, communities, and nation they will grow up to inherit and lead.

Thank you.

I was interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan González about President-Elect Biden’s choice of Miguel Cardona. He needs not only to reverse Betsy DeVos’s four disastrous years, but 20 years of bad federal policy.

Here it is.

Not many people outside Connecticut are familiar with President-Elect Biden’s choice for Secretary of Education. He went to public schools. He has worked in public schools his entire career. His children go to public schools in Meriden, where he lives. He is not aligned with DFER or Chiefs for Change or any billionaire-funded “reform” group.

Politico points out two stances that Dr. Cardona has taken that will concern many parents and teachers. In his own state, he has pushed to resume annual testing this spring, despite the pandemic. Also, he has prioritized reopening schools, which will please some but anger others.

For those of us who question the value of annual testing, a policy not found in any high-performing nation, the resumption of high-stakes testing will be a mistake when so many children have had unequal opportunity to learn. DeVos offered blanket waivers in the spring of 2020 but said she would not do it again in 2021. Students and teachers should not be required to take tests that are sure to demonstrate what we already know: Students in affluent districts will get higher test scores than students who are in impoverished districts. The gaps between them will be larger do to unequal access to education during the pandemic. There! I just told you what we will learn if we give tens or hundreds of millions to the testing industry in March.

Decisions about reopening schools should be made by local officials, not the federal Department of Education. Such decisions should take into account the availability of resources and the local conditions. We are in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Conditions vary, and so should responses.