Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

Our friend and ally, Dr. Charles Foster Johnson, recently gave an interview in which he expressed his optimism about the incoming Biden administration. Dr. Johnson is leader of Pastors for Texas Children, which fights privatization and supports public schools. He has opened nine state affiliates, the latest one in Alabama. He is a champion of public schools and teachers and students. He understands that public schools need resources and community support, not competition and punishments.

Among his many insightful comments is this one:

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos pushed private school vouchers. That is unlikely from the Biden administration. What is more of a threat is continued expansion of charter schools that, basically, are publicly underwritten private schools due to their independent private ownership. Traditionally, vouchers are the privatization model of choice for Republicans (rural Republicans excepted) and charters are the privatization model of choice for Democrats.

Accordingly, the standardized testing racket so enshrined in No Child Left Behind and Race to The Top must be dismantled. Why do we have them when teachers, parents, community leaders and children all hate them? Here’s why: corporate backers of privatization want to measure poor children rather than treasure them. Let’s take the billions we are squandering on burdensome and punitive assessment and re-channel that money back into athletic, musical, artistic and vocational programs that have been so severely cut because of them in the first place.

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.

The Biden campaign released the names of those on the transition team for every department.

This is the list of the transition team for the Department of Education.

Department of Education

The Department of Education team will also review the Corporation for National and Community Service.

NameMost Recent EmploymentSource of Funding
Linda Darling-Hammond, Team LeadLearning Policy InstituteVolunteer
Ary AmerikanerThe Education TrustVolunteer
Beth AntunezAmerican Federation of TeachersVolunteer
Jim BrownUnited States Senate, Office of Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (Retired)Volunteer
Ruthanne BuckSelf-employedVolunteer
Norma CantuUniversity of Texas at Austin, School of LawVolunteer
Jessica CardichonLearning Policy InstituteVolunteer
Keia ColeMassMutualVolunteer
Lindsay DworkinAlliance for Excellent EducationVolunteer
Donna Harris-AikensNational Education AssociationVolunteer
Kristina IshmaelOpen Education GlobalVolunteer
Bob KimJohn Jay College of Criminal JusticeVolunteer
James KvaalThe Institute for College Access & SuccessVolunteer
Peggy McLeodUnidosUSVolunteer
Paul MonteiroHoward UniversityVolunteer
Pedro RiveraThaddeus Stevens College of TechnologyVolunteer
Roberto RodriguezTeach Plus, IncVolunteer
Shital ShahAmerican Federation of TeachersVolunteer
Marla Ucelli-KashyapAmerican Federation of TeachersVolunteer
Emma VadehraThe Century FoundationVolunteer

Linda Darling-Hammond declared that she does not want to be Biden’s Secretary of Education. She prefers to stay in California, where she is president of the State Board of Education and leads the Learning Policy Institute.

In 2008, she was Obama’s education spokesman during the campaign, and it was widely anticipated that she would be selected as Secretary of Education. But “reformers” (DFER) launched a campaign to torpedo her nomination and pushed for one-off their own: Arne Duncan. Editorials appeared miraculously in major newspapers denouncing her. And we got stuck with RTTT.

Mercedes Schneider penned a plea to President-Elect Joe Biden, urging him to appoint a career teacher as his Secretary of Education.

She writes:

It is about time for someone with seasoned K12 classroom experience to hold that position. Not someone with ladder-climbing, token K12 classroom experience. Not someone who is a basketball playing pal of his buddy, the president (aka Arne Duncan). And not someone who is an activist for private schools and who admitted publicly to “not intentionally visiting schools that are underperforming” (that, of course, would be DeVos).

I am tired of being tossed to and fro by ill-conceived education platforms that chain America’s education be-all, end-all to standardized test scores. And that is why I believe a seasoned K12 classroom teacher needs to be the next US ed sec: A seasoned K12 classroom teacher knows the sting of the idiocy of standardized testing firsthand. The foolishness of trying to gauge the value of American education via test score is not an intellectual exercise to a seasoned K12 classroom teacher. It is not theoretical. It is not removed. It is a frustrating reality stretching across school years and decades.

The genuine, career K12 classroom teacher knows firsthand the stupidity of wasting time, money, and personnel pretending that grading schools and teachers using standardized tests somehow informs teachers, parents, and the public about the quality of the multifaceted educational life of a school and its students.

We need to break free of this testing prison, and we need an experienced K12 classroom advocate in our US secretary of education. Not an ideologue. Not a dictator. Not a politician. Not even a higher-ed academic.

An advocate. With. Career. K12. Experience.

Jan Resseger is always worth reading. She thinks deeply about the issues and synthesizes brilliantly.

In this post, she asks and answers what’s at stake in the election tomorrow for our nation’s public schools.

She believes that therere is a chance for fresh thinking about how to help schools instead of punishing them.

If Joe Biden is elected President, I believe our society can finally pivot away from an artificially constructed narrative about the need to punish so called “failing” public schools, and away from the idea that school privatization is the key to school improvement. During Betsy DeVos’s tenure, our two-decades old narrative about test-and-punish education reform has faded into a boring old story fewer and fewer people want to hear anymore, but nobody has proclaimed an alternative.

Will Biden liberate our students, teachers, and schools from the grip of twenty years of oppressive, destructive, stifling federal policies? Or will he feel loyal to the failed ideas of Race to the Top? Will he encourage the states to repeal VAM? Will he grant blanket testing waivers for this spring? Will he urge Congress to rewrite the “Every Student Succeeds Act” to eliminate the annual testing mandate? We will find out later, and we will push as hard as we can for genuine change.

Peter Greene says that Secretary DeVos should either “help or hush,” which is certainly more civil than, say, help or shut up.

DeVos has threatened to cut off funding to schools that don’t open fully, but fortunately she lacks the authority to shut any school for not following her orders. She spends her time campaigning for charters and vouchers, and has nothing to offer the public schools that the vast majority of students attend.

Greene describes two events where DeVos touted her privatization agenda.

Then he wrote:

While you’ve been out slamming public schools at events like the two above, you’ve made it clear what your interest is–promoting school vouchers. You keep plugging your scholarship tax credit plan, and keep insisting that the pandemic underlines how badly families need choice, as if one of the available choices were a school that is completely immune from the covid spread. 

It’s seems hard to believe that you could make people more angry at you than they already were (I understand that you don’t care–I’m just saying). But here we are with the school house on fire, and the head of education is using it as an opportunity to sell her personal brand of asbestos gloves.

I suppose it should be clear after all these years that we can’t expect any help from you for public education. And it’s a sign of the times that it makes sense to type a sentence like “the United States secretary of education cannot be expected to support public education in the United States.” So sure– no guidance, no assistance, not even a sympathetic pat on the shoulder or a half-hearted attaboy. Certainly not a “These are really difficult times– what can we on the federal level do to help you?”

But if you’re not going to help, can you at least hush? If you are not going to be part of any sort of movement to help public schools, can you at least not be out in the front lines of people trying to attack it? Is that really so much to ask? Just, you know, hush. Just let the people who are actually doing the work of public education in this country have one fewer voices bussing in their ear declaring that they stink and they’re failing and we should be giving them less support and instead buying everyone a pair of these asbestos gloves. 

Either pitch in and help us get through this, or, if you can’t bring yourself to so that, just sit down and hush. 

Veteran educator Nancy Bailey has some very clear ideas about the next Secretary of Education. All her proposals are premised on Trump’s defeat, since billionaire Betsy DeVos would want to hang on and finish the job of destroying public schools and enriching religious and private schools.

Let’s hope that the next Secretary of Education has the wisdom and vision to liberate children and teachers from the iron grip of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, High-stakes testing, privatization, and a generation of failed federal policies.

Bailey begins:

During this critical time in American history, that individual should be a black or brown woman, who has been a teacher of young children, and who understands child development. She should hold an education degree and have an additional leadership degree and experience that will help her run the U.S. Department of Education.

Children deserve to see more teachers who look like they do, who will inspire them to go on and become teachers themselves. A black female education secretary will bring more diverse individuals to the field and set an example. This will benefit all students.

Many individuals, including accomplished black men, have brilliant minds, and understand what we need in the way of democratic public education. Leadership roles should await them in the U.S. Department of Education, in schools, universities, or states and local education departments.

But with the fight for Black Lives to Matter and for an end to gender inequality, a knowledgeable black woman with a large heart to embrace these times should take this spot. The majority of teachers have always been women, and while men are critical to being role models for children and teens, it is time for a black woman to lead.

We have had eleven education secretaries, and only three of them have been women, including Shirley Hufstedler, Margaret Spellings, and Betsy DeVos. None of these women were educators or had experience in the classroom. Only two African American men have been in this role, and neither of them could be considered authentic teachers and educators. Both had the goal to undermine public schools.

The time is now for a black female education secretary who will set a positive example and be the face of the future for children from all gender and cultural backgrounds.

Congress passed the CARES Act and included over $13 billion to public schools. DeVos issued a rule requiring that public schools share that money with private schools. Meanwhile, another $660 BILLION in the CARES Act was allotted to the Paycheck Protection Plan to protect small businesses and nonprofit organizations from going bankrupt; public schools were not allowed to apply for PPP, but charter schools and private schools were and did.

Public schools sued to prevent DeVos from compelling them to share their money with private schools (which already enjoyed the bounty of PPP).

Her rule has now been knocked out by two different federal judges. Jan Resseger writes here about the efforts to demand fair play for public schools, which enroll 85-90% of the nation’s students.

While the Republican Party announced the themes of the Republican Convention—“Monday is ‘Land of Promise,’ Tuesday is ‘Land of Opportunity,’ Wednesday is ‘Land of Heroes’ and Thursday is ‘Land of Greatness.'”—the Convention instead dramatized a very old theme: the difference between appearance and reality. Producers, including people from The Apprentice, put together a spectacular show draped in flags. Their purpose: to distract, distort, and dissemble.

The Convention hardly touched on education policy. But last night in his acceptance speech, the President claimed he will “expand charter schools and provide school choice for every family in America.” Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Tim Scott, (R-SC) also extolled school choice as the future of education, even as, ironically, President Trump himself and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are demanding that the nation’s 90,000 public schools reopen as the only path to getting America’s parents back to work. Trump and DeVos certainly haven’t been counting on their favorite patchwork of charter schools and private schools to accomplish their systemic goal. The convention’s primary education speaker, Rebecca Friedrichs, the lead plaintiff in an anti-teachers union case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, not surprisingly, attacked teachers unions. Although she claimed that the unions “are subverting our republic, so they undermine educational excellence, morality, law and order,” you will remember that instead a wave of #Red4Ed strikes during 2018-2019 pushed states like West Virginia and Oklahoma to increase school funding at least a little bit and forced Los Angeles, Oakland, and Chicago to address unreasonable conditions including class sizes of 40 students and a dearth of school counselors in public schools serving concentrations of our nation’s poorest students.

While the Republicans held their convention, Betsy DeVos herself wasn’t having such a good week. She was left off the Convention agenda, and on Tuesday, the Savannah Morning News reported that she visited a reopened public school in Forsyth County, Georgia, where she made a speech: “I think it’s been good that schools are committed to reopening… I know there have been a couple of schools that have had more incidences of students with the virus. The CDC has been very helpful in providing a lot of information and recommendations for how to go about going back to school., and we highly suggest referencing them.” The newspaper countered DeVos’s comment with an analysis by Georgia State University public health professor, Dr. Harry J. Heiman: “According to the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, we are the second worst state in the country for coronavirus transmission… To suggest that not having a mask mandate is a responsible approach, especially for older students, reflects Secretary DeVos’ lack of understanding about both CDC guidelines and the measures necessary to ensure the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff.”

And on Monday, a Florida judge blocked a requirement announced on July 6 by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that public schools reopen five days a week for any families who do not opt for virtual learning. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reports that Corcoran threatened any districts refusing to reopen with a loss of state funding. Trump and DeVos’s pressure on governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, has in this case created confusion just as schools are trying to manage the complexities of educating children in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic. Strauss quotes Orange County school board member Karen Castor Dentel: “We were under threat of losing our funding and forced to develop models that are illogical and not based on what’s best for kids. But we had to go forward…. I wish the ruling came sooner. Not just that our kids are back in school but in the whole planning stages. We were planning another model that was developmentally and educationally sound and we had to scrap that.” And to add more confusion: DeSantis says he intends to appeal the judge’s ruling.

But the most important public education news is that the second judge this week has now blocked Betsy DeVos’s binding guidance that drove school districts to set aside more than expected federal CARES Act dollars for private schools.

Politico’s Michael Stratford reports: “A federal judge in California on Wednesday halted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ effort to boost emergency coronavirus relief for private school students. The court ruling blocks DeVos from implementing or enforcing her rule in at least eight states and some of the nation’s largest public school districts. The secretary’s policy requires public school districts to send a greater share of their CARES Act… pandemic assistance funding to private school students than is typically required under federal law. U.S. District Judge James Donato’s order prevents DeVos from carrying out her policy in a large swath of the country: Michigan, California, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia as well as for public school districts in New York City, Chicago, Cleveland and San Francisco.”

Just last Friday, another federal judge in Washington state, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, issued a similar preliminary injunction blocking Betsy DeVos’s binding guidance that federal CARES Act dollars be diverted from the public schools serving poor children to cover the educational needs of students in private schools regardless of the private school students’ family income.

In the statutory language of the CARES Act, Congress directed that CARES Act public education relief be distributed in accordance with the method of the Title I Formula, which awards federal funds to supplement educational programming in public school districts serving concentrations of low-income children. Public school districts receiving Title I dollars are also expected to provide Title I services to impoverished students attending the private schools located within their district boundaries. In the binding guidance she imposed in July, DeVos demanded that per-pupil CARES Act relief for private schools be based on each private school’s full enrollment, not merely on the number of the private school students who qualify for additional services because their families are living below 185 percent of the federal poverty line.

Education Week‘s Andrew Ujifusa elaborates on the meaning of Betsy DeVos’s binding rule, whose enforcement two federal district court judges have now blocked: “The Education Department’s interim final rule, publicized in June and formally issued in July, pushes school districts to reserve money under the CARES Act, the federal coronavirus stimulus plan, for services to all local private school students, irrespective of their backgrounds. That represents a major departure from how education law typically governs that arrangement, in which federal money for what’s known as ‘equitable services’ goes to disadvantaged, at-risk private school students.”

Stratford explores what this week’s court rulings will mean: “The pair of rulings amounts to a major setback for DeVos as she seeks to oversee the roughly $16 billion pot of emergency assistance Congress laid out for K-12 schools in the CARES Act in March… The Trump administration argues that it has the authority to create policy dictating public distribution of the funding to private school students because the CARES Act is ambiguous on that point. But the two judges disagree… Donato ruled that DeVos’ policy is likely to be struck down because she lacks the legal authority to impose her own conditions on coronavirus relief funding for K-12 schools. The judge said Congress’ intent ‘is plain as day’ for how CARES Act funding should be distributed to schools. The judge also said the coronavirus relief law ‘unambiguously’ instructs the funding to be distributed to private school students in the typical manner under federal law based on the number of low-income students.”

Jim Blew was hired by Betsy DeVos for a key role at the U.S Department of Education, having worked at the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which has a strong commitment to privatization, charter schools, Teach for America, and union-busting. He told education writers that the Department of Education was not likely to grant waivers for next spring’s annual federal testing, despite a year of confusion and disruption in schooling.

The American people are likely to tell Betsy DeVos and Jim Blew and the other public-school haters to pack their bags this November and clear out by January 20, 2021. Someone appointed by President Biden will decide whether to inflict the detritus of NCLB on the nation’s students. If the public votes wisely, the whole wrecking crew will be ousted, blown with the wind, so to speak.

An assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education said Friday that his agency’s inclination is not to grant states waivers from federally mandated tests for the upcoming school year like it did in the spring.

Speaking on a video call with reporters at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar, Jim Blew, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy analysis, stressed the importance of testing beyond accountability. And he expressed support for a recent statement from the Council of Chief State School Officers about the importance of assessments for learning; that July 20 statement said that “even during a pandemic” assessments “serve as an important tool in our education system.”

In March, as schools shut down in-person classes around the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos quickly granted waivers to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico from having to administer certain annual exams as required by federal law. But concerns about the pandemic’s impact on the 2020-21 school year have grown, as have sentiments in some quarters that states should get those waivers again, in order to focus on other educational needs…

During a question-and-answer session with reporters, Blew pointed to CCSSO’s statement and said that with respect to testing, “Accountability aside, we need to know where students are so we can address their needs.”

Blew then indicated it would be premature to grant waivers at this time from testing and said, “Our instinct would not be to give those waivers” from the exams, which are mandated under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal K-12 law. “There are so many benefits to testing and it allows for some transparency about how schools are performing and the issues we need to address, that our instinct would be to decline those waivers,” Blew added.