Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy invited me and several others to submit questions for John King’s press conference at the National Press Club. I was interested in knowing what he thought about the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on new charter schools until there were assurances of accountability and unless they stopped diverting resources from public schools. You will note that Secretary King continued his full-throated advocacy for more charters and said that it was up to states to make the rules. Not only does he completely ignore the existence of the nation’s public schools, not only does he disregard the NAACP, he intends to keep shoveling hundreds of millions of federal dollars to new charter schools with no expectation of accountability or transparency.

Husseini wrote:

Some of the questions I got from folks were asked at the “news maker” event with Education Secretary John King at the National Press Club yesterday. Here are those questions — as asked by the moderator, which may be slightly different than how they were submitted — along with King’s responses. Here’s full PDF. Here’s full video. (Part of the first question here was from Diane Ravitch, as was the last question, below. The middle question was from my partner, Emily Prater, who is a third grade teacher at a Title I school in Washington, D.C.

MR. BALLOU: Charter Schools. You’ve said, “What I worry most about is we have some states that have done a really great job with charter authorizing and so have generally high quality charters and have been willing to close ones that are underperforming. On the other hand, you have states who’ve not done as good a job, 17 places like Michigan. We have a history of a low bar for getting a charter and an unwillingness to hold charters to high standards. What’s your view on where charter authorizing should be by the time you leave office, and how do you plan to get there? As someone who cites your own education in New York for saving your life and trajectory, and what of non-charter public schools? For some time, one of the arguments against charters was over resources about charters getting better resources than public education.

And there’s actually a second question sort of tied to this. A few days ago, the NAACP’s national; board called for a moratorium on new charter schools until laws are revised to make charters as accountable and as transparent as public schools. Do you agree with them, that charter schools should meet the same standards of accountability as public schools? And if you do, will you stop funding new charter schools as they recommend?

SECRETARY KING: So, let me start with this. We are fortunate, I think, as a country to have some high performing charters that are doing a great job and providing great opportunities to students. Charters that are helping students not only perform at higher levels academically, but go on to college at much higher rates than demographically similar students and succeed there. That’s good, we should have more schools like that and I think any arbitrary gap on the growth of high performing charters is a mistake in terms of our goal of trying to improve opportunity for all kids.

That said, where states are doing a bad job on charter authorizing, that has to change. You know, I’ve talked about the example of Michigan. We have states that have set a low bar for getting a charter, and then when charters perform poorly, they fail to take action to either improve them or close them, which is the essence of the charter school compact. Charter schools were supposed to be a compact, more autonomy in exchange for greater accountability. And yet, some states have not followed through on that compact. That is a problem.

Now, those decisions are made at the state level, they’re made based on state law. What we’ve done in the administration over the last eight years is two things. One is we’ve provided resources to improve charter authorizing in states and worked with states to strengthen their practices around reviewing the quality of charters, reviewing the quality of charter applications.

And two, we’ve invested in increasing the supply of great high performing charters. But, to the extent that what folks are saying is they want states to do a better job on charter authorizing, I agree. But where we have states that are doing a good job on charter authorizing and we have charters that are doing great jobs for kids that want to grow, they should be able to. And I think this is an issue where we’ve got to put kids first. We’ve got to ask what’s best for the students and parents.

As Arne would often point out, students and parents aren’t as concerned about the governance model as they are about is my child getting a quality education? We’ve got to be focused on that, which is one of the reasons why I think arbitrary caps don’t make sense, is we shouldn’t limit kids’ access to great opportunities.

MR. BALLOU: A lot of teachers have been writing. (Laughter) What do you propose to do about the equality of pay between teachers and administrators, for example, like yourself? One teacher says, “I worked 12 hours yesterday, I didn’t have time for lunch. Did you have time for lunch? I make $47,000 a year. How much do you make,” which of course is public record. “I can’t go to the bathroom when I need to. Can you go to the bathroom when you need to? And please don’t talk about how great teachers are. We don’t need empty rhetoric. We need resources, we need policies that actually help us teach, not help profiteers.” How do you– a pretty upset teacher there.

SECRETARY KING: Yeah, look. I think we see across the country, we see states that have not made the investment they should in their education system. We did a report earlier this year, the department, looking at the difference in state investment in prisons versus K-12 education. And what we found is that we see over the last 30 years rate of increase in investment spending on prisons that is three times as high as the rate of increase in spending on K-12 education.

That suggests to me that as a society, we haven’t put our resources where we should. So, are there states that should be spending significantly more on teacher salaries? Absolutely. And should we be paying more to teachers, especially teachers who are willing to serve in the highest needs communities and the highest needs fields where we have real demand? Absolutely. And the President’s proposed that. The President proposed a billion dollars for an initiative called Best Job in the World that would support professional development, incentives, career ladders for teachers who teach in the highest needs communities.

So we agree about the need for more resources and focusing those resources on teachers. One of the places I worry most about is in early leaning. We did a study on preK pay and found that in many communities around the country, pre-K teachers are making half what they would be making if they were working in an elementary school, which again suggests that our priorities are not right.

So this is a place where I agree with the questioner, we need to invest more resources in educators. We should pay our teachers very well because we know that teachers are essential to the future of our country. And we need to make sure the working conditions are good. It’s not just a question of teacher pay. I think of a place like Detroit, you know. If the water is leaking from the ceiling and there are rodents running across the floor, those working conditions are not ones that are going to make teaching a profession that people want or a profession people will want to stay in over the long term. And so we’ve got to make sure that working conditions are strong.

And the final point I’d make, is this is one of the reasons that supplement, not supplant, is so important because if you consistently under-resource the highest needs schools, the result will be poor working conditions in those schools and the inability to retain the great teachers that our highest needs students need.

MR. BALLOU: We’re running quickly out of time. Had an issue with one of your senior staff who had to resign over waste fraud and financial abuse. Have you been able to clean up the issues in the Inspector General’s office?

SECRETARY KING: So, this is about an employee in our IT department who made mistakes and was accountable for those mistakes, chose ultimately to resign. He’s no longer with the department. We have a very strong team around our IT and we are very focused, as folks are across the administration, on continuously strengthening cyber security. This is actually cyber security awareness month. Just came from a cyber security convening at the department this morning. We’re very focused on making sure that our IT systems are as strong as possible, that we protect the security of data. And that we insure that we’re providing good services.

So for example, is a tool that we’ve built and through our investment in the strength of our IT systems, and work across the administration to leverage technology on behalf of taxpayers and students, allows students to find information about every college, to find out about their graduation rates, how much people make who’ve graduated from that school, how able folks who’ve graduated from that school are able to repay their loans. It’s a great tool that we’ve made available and that is continuously evolving to try to provide services.

So IT is really a strength now of the department. But as is true across– for any employer, there are sometimes employees who make mistakes and we have systems in place to insure that that’s dealt with.

Brilliant reader Chiara, who lives in Ohio, wrote this timely observation:

“U.S. Education Secretary John King on Wednesday weighed in on a swirling schools controversy, criticizing what he called “arbitrary caps” on the growth of high-quality charter schools, publicly funded but, in many cases, privately operated K-12 schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

Appearing at the National Press Club, King said the USA is “fortunate, I think, as a country, to have some high-performing charters that are doing a great job providing great opportunities to students — charters that are helping students not only perform at higher levels academically, but go on to college at much higher rates” than students at similar neighborhood public schools. “That’s good. We should have more schools like that, and I think any arbitrary cap on that growth of high-performing charters is a mistake.”

Obama Administration continues their 8 year practice of advocating exclusively for charter schools and completely ignoring the existence of public schools.

King’s statement is nonsense. He has it backward. Obama and DC REQUIRED states to arbitrarily lift caps on charter schools regardless of quality in order to receive federal money. They made no distinctions on ‘quality’ or which states- they cheerled every single charter school expansion in all 50 states.

They just handed 71 million dollars to expand the worst charter sector in the country in Ohio. They weren’t even aware that Ohio’s charter sector is a disaster.

This isn’t about “quality”. It’s about an ideological preference for privatized schools and outright hostility to existing public schools and it permeates DC.

None of these people ever talk about improving public schools. It is all charters all the time in the echo chamber. They couldn’t be bothered to act as advocates for public schools when state after state gutted funding during Obama’s terms. Not a peep out of any of them. But, threaten charter schools and the whole gang rises up in anger!

Ridiculous that they’re all public employees. Public employees who oppose public schools. They should find work in the private sector.

Secretary of Education John King refuses to believe that the new federal law restricts his ability to control U.S. education. Today he released regulations that would threaten the federal funding of teacher education programs if their graduates teach low-scoring students.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, blasted King’s overreach and poor judgment

AFT’s Weingarten on Teacher Preparation Programs Regulations

“WASHINGTON—Statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the Department of Education’s final regulations for teacher preparation programs.

“It is, quite simply, ludicrous to propose evaluating teacher preparation programs based on the performance of the students taught by a program’s graduates. Frankly, the only conceivable reason the department would release regulations so out of sync with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and President Obama’s own call to reduce high-stakes testing is that they are simply checking off their bucket list of outstanding issues before the end of their term.

“The final regulations could harm students who would benefit the most from consistent, high-quality standards for teacher preparation programs. The regulations will create enormous difficulty for teacher prep programs and place an unnecessary burden on institutions and states, which are also in the process of implementing ESSA.

“Instead of designing a system to support and improve teacher prep programs, the regulations build on the now-rejected high-stakes testing system established under NCLB and greatly expanded under this administration’s Race to the Top and waiver programs. It’s stunning that the department would evaluate teaching colleges based on the academic performance of the students of their graduates when ESSA—enacted by large bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate last December—prohibited the department from requiring school districts to do that kind of teacher evaluation.

“Teacher prep programs need to help ensure that teachers are ready to engage their students in powerful learning and creating an environment that is conducive to learning. These regulations will not help achieve that goal. These regulations do not address ways to help the current status of the teaching profession: the shortages, the lack of diversity or the high turnover.

“While the department has made minor tweaks, the flawed framework remains the same. The regulations will punish teacher prep programs whose graduates go on to teach in our highest-needs schools, most often those with high concentrations of students who live in poverty and English language learners—the exact opposite strategy of what we need. As we brought up in January 2015—in our comments to the department’s proposal— if programs are rated as the department proposes, teacher prep schools will have incentive to steer graduates away from assignments in our toughest schools, and that will only make matters worse.

“If we want to get it right, we should look to countries like Finland, where prospective teachers receive extensive training in their subject matter and teaching strategies combined with clinical training. Finland has no alternative prep programs. Programs are highly selective and free of cost; their graduates go on to work in supportive, professional environments with strong unions, fair pay and benefits, and without high-stakes testing.”


Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, said to be a progressive worked out a deal where his state will get $71 million in federal funds, with oversight by the charter-loving US Department of Education. As readers of this blog know, Ohio has large numbers of low-performing charters and some of the worst for-profit charters in the nation.

“Sen. Brown said various measurements will be used in oversight by DOE to monitor how the money is spent. If Ohio doe not satisfactorily comply with the conditions, he said federal officials can suspend or terminate the grant. “They [DOE] know a lot more now than before,” he said, adding, “The days of the federal government throwing money around is over.”

And here is the oversight entrusted to John King:

ED will require the Ohio Department of Education to:

Hire an ED-approved independent monitor to oversee the Ohio Department of Education’s implementation of the special conditions ED has placed on its grant;

Create a database that indicates public charter schools’ academic, operation, and financial performance;

Submit expenditure documentation to ED for review and receive approval for all withdrawals from the grant account;

Submit semi-annual budgets to ED for review and approval;

Submit to ED and post publicly semi-annual financial reports related to the use of the grant; and

Form a Grant Implementation Advisory committee of parents, teachers, and community members to create transparency.

Cathy Rubin interviewed several well-known educators and asked what they would do if they were Secretary of Education. I was one of them. Here is the interview. The interview was conducted about four or five years ago. I focused on the errors of the Bush-Obama agenda of test-and-punish. It was a bad idea in 2002, a worse idea in 2009, and today it is a proven failure.

If I were Secretary of Education, I would focus federal funding on greater resources for the neediest students. My theme would be equity and equality of educational opportunity. I would create a fund to promote increased desegregation. I would campaign for community schools and wraparound services. I would not fund privately managed charters. I would fund only charters that are created and supervised by school districts to meet needs. I would be a champion for the principles and values of public education and a champion for teachers.

Peter Greene read a new publication from the U.S. Department of Education that is chock-full of useless and redundant information.

He sums it up:

Okay, listen carefully boys and girls, because this is some pretty heavy-duty stuff. Here’s the process for implementing evidence-based interventions:

1) Figure out what problem needs to be solved
2) Pick a solution that looks like it would work
3) Get ready to implement the solution
4) Implement the solution
5) Check to see if it worked

Oh, and there’s a graphic– five balls in a circle with arrows pointing from one to the next. I think I speak for Americans everywhere when I say thank God there are federal bureaucrats out there willing to provide us with this kind of hard-hitting guidance, because God knows, we would all be out here spinning our wheel randomly. Granted, I’ve translated the Department’s guidance into what I like to call “Plain English,” but I am absolutely stumped as I try to imagine who was sitting in DC thinking that this needed to be published. Was someone sitting in the Department saying, “You know, I bet people don’t understand that they should pick out solutions that will fit the problem. They’re probably picking some other solution. Probably a bunch of school districts out there thinking they need a new math series to get their reading scores up. We’d better address this. Oh, and add a graphic.” , listen carefully boys and girls, because this is some pretty heavy-duty stuff. Here’s the process for implementing evidence-based interventions:

1) Figure out what problem needs to be solved
2) Pick a solution that looks like it would work
3) Get ready to implement the solution
4) Implement the solution
5) Check to see if it worked

Oh, and there’s a graphic– five balls in a circle with arrows pointing from one to the next. I think I speak for Americans everywhere when I say thank God there are federal bureaucrats out there willing to provide us with this kind of hard-hitting guidance, because God knows, we would all be out here spinning our wheel randomly. Granted, I’ve translated the Department’s guidance into what I like to call “Plain English,” but I am absolutely stumped as I try to imagine who was sitting in DC thinking that this needed to be published. Was someone sitting in the Department saying, “You know, I bet people don’t understand that they should pick out solutions that will fit the problem. They’re probably picking some other solution. Probably a bunch of school districts out there thinking they need a new math series to get their reading scores up. We’d better address this. Oh, and add a graphic.”

Someone was paid to write this. Really.

Considering that this came from a federal agency that has been trumpeting the success of Race to the Top, you may rightly assume that the department has no idea what evidence based interventions are. What was the evidence for closing schools as a “reform”? What was the evidence that firing entire staffs and calling it a “turnaround” was evidence-based (it hasn’t worked in Chicago)? What was the evidence for evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students (answer: none)?

The ED needs to find out more about what constitutes “evidence.” It is not what you feel like doing, or a hunch, or a whim, or something Bill Gates told you to do.

It means that the approach was tried out and the results were reviewed to see what effects were produced. And then this was repeated again and again, to be sure that the relationship between cause and effect are genuine.

Michael Hansen of the Brookings Institution lists the five questions he thinks that the candidates should be asked about education. They are not the questions I would ask. (Hansen, by the way, has defended VAM, pooh-poohed parent concerns about overtesting, and defended the effectiveness of Teach for America.)

They are not bad questions (what kind of person would you choose for Secretary of Education? how can Title I be improved? Have the Obama administration policies for higher education helped students? Which federal education programs would you expand, which would you shrink? How much would you increase funding for education research?). I actually would like to see these questions asked, since I am willing to bet that Donald Trump has no idea what Title I is, what No Child Behind was, what the Obama administration policies in higher education are, or which federal education programs are worth expanding or eliminating. He is for charters. He is against Common Core. Other than that, there is no indication that he knows anything about education issues.

Here are questions I would ask:

1. Do you think the federal government should continue to support the privatization of public education? Does the federal government have a role in strengthening and protecting public schools that have democratic governance?

2. Would you expand or shrink the funds now dedicated to privately managed charter schools?

3. What is your view of vouchers that allow public dollars to be spent in religious schools?

4. How would you define the federal role in education?

5. What do you see as the federal role in increasing equitable resources among districts and schools?

6. Would you be willing to persuade Congress to reduce the burden of standardized testing? Specifically, how would you change the federal law to ease the federal pressure to test students annually, a practice unknown in high-performing countries?

7. Do you think that every child should be instructed by a professionally prepared and certified teacher? How can the federal government verify that states are hiring fully qualified teachers?

I am sure you have many more good questions. Please suggest them.

Melinda Gates told the National Conference of State Legislatures that the Gates Foundation has no intention of backing away from their agenda of Common Core, teacher evaluations that include test scores, charter schools, and digital learning.

No matter how controversial, no matter how much public pushback, they are determined to stay the course. For some reason, she thinks that the foundation is a “neutral broker,” when in fact it is an advocate for policies that many teachers and parents reject. She also assumes that the Gates Foundation has “the real facts,” when in fact it has a strong point of view reflecting the will of Bill & Melinda. There was no reference to evidence or research in this account of her position. Her point was that, no matter what the public or teachers may say, no matter how they damage the profession and public education, the multi-billion dollar foundation will not back down from its priorities. The only things that can stop them are informed voters and courts, such as the vote against charter schools in Nashville and the court decision in Washington State declaring that charter schools are not public schools.

The question that will be resolved over the next decade is whether the public will fight for democratic control of public schools or whether the world’s richest man can buy public education.

Melinda Gates said she and her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, learned an important lesson from the fierce pushback against the Common Core State Standards in recent years. Not that they made the wrong bet when they poured hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting the education standards, but that such a massive initiative will not be successful unless teachers and parents believe in it.

“Community buy-in is huge,” Melinda Gates said in an interview here on Wednesday, adding that cultivating such support for big cultural shifts in education takes time. “It means that in some ways, you have to go more slowly.”

That does not mean the foundation has any plans to back off the Common Core or its other priorities, including its long-held belief that improving teacher quality is the key to transforming public education. “I would say stay the course. We’re not even close to finished,” Gates said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has helped shape the nation’s education policies during the past decade with philanthropic donations that have supported digital learning and charter schools and helped accelerate shifts not only to the new, common academic standards, but to new teacher evaluations that incorporate student test scores.

The Obama administration shared and promoted many of the foundation’s priorities, arguing that they were necessary to push the nation’s schools forward and close yawning achievement gaps. Now that a new federal education law has returned authority over public education to the states, the foundation is following suit, seeking to become involved in the debates about the direction of public schools that are heating up in state capitals across the country.

Speaking here at a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, Melinda Gates told lawmakers on Wednesday that the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, gives them a chance to grapple with whether “we are doing everything in our power to ensure that students are truly graduating ready to go on to meaningful work or to college.”

“I want the foundation to be the neutral broker that’s able to bring up the real data of what is working and what’s not working,” Gates said in an interview afterward.

She went on to say that the foundation would continue to pursue its priorities.

“I think we know what the big elements are in education reform. It’s how do you support the things that you know work and how do you get the whole system aligned behind it,” Gates said. “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. There are now 50 states that have to do it, and there isn’t this federal carrot or the stick, the push or pull, to help them along.”

The agenda she described is not one that everyone considers neutral. It includes supporting the Common Core standards and developing lesson-planning materials to help teachers teach to those standards; promoting personalized learning, or digital programs meant to target students’ individual needs; and, above all, improving the quality of teachers in the nation’s classrooms, from boosting teacher preparation to rethinking on-the-job professional development.

Vermont is the smartest state in the nation. Not because of test scores, but because the officials in charge of education actually care about children and about education. When they look at the state’s children, they see children with names and faces, not just data. When they think about their schools, they see them as places where children should experience the excitement and joy of learning.

Vermont did not apply for a Race to the Top grant, meaning that it never was compelled to adopt Arne Duncan’s ideas about how to reform schools (which he failed to do when he was superintendent in Chicago).

Vermont never enacted charter school legislation. Vermont has its own kind of school choice program. If a district or town does not offer a public elementary or high school, students may receive a voucher to attend a private (non-religious) school. Such vouchers (called “town tuitioning”) are available only when there are no public schools available.

Vermont education officials think for themselves. Read their brilliant letter to Secretary of Education John King, advocate of high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools, about the inadequacies of ESSA and his proposed regulations.

They say:

The logic of ESSA is the same as NCLB. It is to identify “low performing schools.” Its operating theory is pressuring schools in the belief that the fear of punishment will improve student learning. It assumes poor achievement is a function of poor will. If we learned anything from NCLB, it is that that system does not work. It did not narrow gaps and did not lead to meaningful improvements in learning. If ESSA is similarly restrictive, we can expect no better.

This thinking perpetuates a disabling narrative about public schools. We ask for leadership from Washington that celebrates the glories of what we can accomplish rather than unrelenting dirges.

We are dismayed that the federal government continues to commoditize education and support charter and private schools which segregate children and show no particular learning advantage. We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools. We are disappointed that the federal government could not embrace and promote a more expansive understanding of the purpose and value of public schools in creating a strong citizenry.

We take note of the $1.3 billion budget cut approved by the House Appropriations Committee. While you have recently called for a broader “well-rounded” education, you suggest that these initiatives be paid for out of the funds that were just slashed. The federal government is ill- credentialed to call on more from states while providing less.

The Vermont State Board of Education feels it is time we commit to attacking the underlying challenges of poverty, despair, addiction and inequity that undermine school performance, rather than blaming the schools that strive to overcome the very manifestations of our greater social troubles. In the rules and the implementation of ESSA, we urge the federal government to both step-back from over-reach and narrowness; and step-up to a new re-framing, broadening and advancing of the promises of what we can achieve for the children and for the nation.

The letter can be found here.

In an interview published in The Hechinger Report, Randi Weingarten expresses her belief that Hillary Clinton will change course from the Obama education policies. She expects that a President Clinton would select a new Secretary of Education, one who shares her expressed belief in strengthening public schools and supporting teachers.

Emmanuel Felton, who conducted the interview, writes:

While teachers unions have long been a key pillar in Democratic Party, they’ve been on the outs with President Barack Obama’s education department. The administration doubled down on Republican President George W. Bush’s educational agenda of holding schools accountable for students’ test scores. Under the administration’s $3 billion School Improvement Grant program, for example, struggling schools had options to implement new accountability systems for teachers, remove staff, be closed or converted into charter schools, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

These policies devastated some local teachers unions, including Philadelphia’s, which lost 10,000 members during the Obama and Bush administrations. Weingarten expects Clinton to totally upend this agenda, and hopes she won’t reappoint Education Secretary John King, who was just confirmed by the senate in March.

From the day he was elected, President Obama decided to maintain the punitive policies of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and made standardized testing even more consequential. He and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pressed for higher standards, tougher accountability, and more choices, especially charter schools. They used Race to the Top to promote the evaluation of teachers by their students’ test scores, a policy that cost hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

Let’s all hope that Hillary Clinton, if elected, will recognize the damage done by the Bush-Obama education agenda and push the “reset” button for a federal policy that helps children, educators, and public schools.