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Congresswoman Foxx’s Advice to Betsy DeVos: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

April 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week the “TrumpEd” articlesection of the eSchool Media Website published an by Anna Douglas of the McClatchy news organization titled “Could the Education Department’s Days Be Numbered”. The short answer to the question posed in the title is “NO”… but, as the article notes, NC GOP Congresswoman Virginia Foxx is ready to do everything possible to minimize the impact of the department under Mr. Trump’s and Ms. DeVos’ leadership. Ms. Douglas writes:

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx wants the federal Department of Education to disappear. She wants Washington to stop passing down rules and regulations schools have to follow.

As the new chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, the seven-term North Carolina congresswoman has a powerful forum to talk about all that…

Foxx, who helped lead the writing of the 2016 Republican Party platform and served in House leadership, figures she’ll have to dilute Education Department power bit by bit. Already, she’s championing the use of a rare legislative tactic in Congress to eliminate some Obama administration regulations.

And Foxx is putting pressure on her colleagues in Congress to write the sort of legislation she wants, contending that some past laws were written sloppily and left too much leeway for federal departments to fill in gaps with rules and regulations.

Any federal educational policies, she told McClatchy in an interview, should come from lawmakers–not bureaucrats.

“We’ve got some good laws in place–let Congress do its oversight,” she said. “Sometimes doing nothing from the federal level is good.”

I would hope after seven terms in office that Ms. Foxx would understand the necessity for bureaucrats— not members of Congress— to write policy and develop regulations. Given the arcane financial products on the market, the detailed medical and scientific knowledge required to regulate health providers and consumer products, and the broad scope of Congress’ work it is hard to fathom how “lawmakers” could devise any meaningful policies in those fields.

I would also hope that Ms. Foxx realizes that if the federal government had “done nothing” in the past that poverty and inequality would be even more rampant in our country… and racial equality would be even more retrograde than it is now.

On the other hand, though, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama’s insistence that standardized tests be used as a metric for school quality and teaching effectiveness makes Ms. Foxx’s notion of “doing nothing” seem like a good idea. Indeed, one of the two items the GOP repealed using the Congressional Review Act was a misguided attempt by the Obama administration that “…required states to build a rating system for local teacher education programs, including judging teacher preparation based on student performance.” ETS and Pearson probably bemoaned that decision, but teacher educators and current teachers and administrators should be happy to see a de-emphasis on testing. The other item the GOP repealed, a “requirement to submit detailed school-accountability plans to the federal Education Department“, may or may not be salutary. Had standardized testing been a primary element of the “… detailed school-accountability plans”, in all probability the high-stakes testing regimen would have continued for another decade or so. But it is also possible that allowing the States to develop their own school accountability plans could lead to mis-use of tests by increasing VAM and/or ignoring any disparate scores that minority and low income students attain on such tests.

While ending the Department of Education is unlikely, it IS highly likely that the Department will be stripped of its authority. As Douglas explains:

Democrats in Congress will have limited power as Foxx and other conservatives look for a reset at the Education Department. Foxx said she’d found an ally in Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As things unfold, Foxx’s simple advice to DeVos has been: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

Rules, regulations and “dear colleague” letters from the department in the past incensed Foxx. Too often, she said, federal departments use regulations or executive power to distort legislative intent.

“We’re gonna stop this foolishness of letters and then people saying, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ Where is the authority for that? There’s no authority, but the school systems are scared,” she said.

One would hope that instead of “doing nothing” the federal government would pass legislation that intends to level the playing field for all students so that everyone, no matter what zip code they are born into, would have an equal opportunity. Alas, with Foxx, DeVos, and Trump setting the tone I do not foresee that kind of moral leadership forthcoming

 

DeVos Appointee to Head Office of Civil Rights is Chilling

April 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Friday Pro Publica blogger Annie Waldman posted a profile of Candace Jackson, Betsy DeVos’ nominee to serve as de facto head the Office of Civil Rights (OCR)… and it is chilling. Unlike her predecessors, who typically had in depth legal background and experience, Ms. Jackson has “…limited background in civil rights law”. Her inexperience, though, is less problematic than her perspective on the mission of OCR:

A longtime anti-Clinton activistand an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jackson’s inexperience, along with speculation that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will roll back civil rights enforcement, lead some observers to wonder whether Jackson, like several other Trump administration appointees, lacks sympathy for the traditional mission of the office she’s been chosen to lead.

My description of Mr. Jackson as “de facto head of OCR” is based on the workaround Betsy DeVos has concocted. Instead of nominating her to head the division, which would require approval by the Senate, Ms. DeVos appointed her as deputy assistant, leaving the inexperienced Ms. Jackson in charge of “…about 550 full-time department staffers, who are responsible for investigating thousands of civil rights complaints each year.” 

As Ms. Waldman notes in her profile of Ms. Jackson, as an undergraduate at Stanford she wrote articles in opposition to affirmative action and feminism, and later was involved in several libertarian organizations, one of which opposed mandatory education. When And in the recent past?

In the past few years, she has operated her own law firm. According to a recent biography on her website, her practice specialized in “business, entertainment, and litigation matters,” for a range of clients, “from restaurants to medical clinics, and from authors and musicians to filmmakers and record labels.”

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, titled “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.” She gained national attention last October after she arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Jackson sat with the women in the front of the audience. A few days before the debate, Jackson established Their Lives Foundation. In registration documents, she described two of its purposes as “giving public voice to victims of women who abuse positions of power” and “advocating for and against candidates for political office.”

Less than a week after the debate, Jackson posted on Facebook that her foundation “supports all victims of power abusers,” but labeled Trump’s accusers “fake victims.” Since the initial announcement of her Education Department role, her Facebook page has been taken offline.

And so the person responsible for overseeing “…thousands of civil rights cases per year” is a libertarian, anti-affirmative action, anti-feminist whose only legal experience is in “...business, entertainment, and litigation matters”. These are sad times for progressive educators and those who value social justice.

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President Trump’s Decision to Create “Office of Government Innovation” Echoes Earlier Presidential Initiatives to Run-Government-Like-A-Business

April 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included one on the topic of President Trump’s decision to create a new Office Of American Innovation (OAI) and name his son-in-law Jared Kushner to head the organization. Here’s a quote from Mr. Trump’s announcement:

“As a former leader in the private sector, I am proud to officially announce the White House Office of American Innovation, which will develop innovative solutions to many problems our country faces,” President Trump said. “One of the primary reasons I ran for President was the need for new thinking and real change, and I know the Office and its team will help us meet those challenges.”

The fact that this announcement came on the heels of many articles decrying his decision to leave many key science and technology positions unfilled is ironic. But the biggest irony from my perspective is that it echoed the pledge of a previous President, who pledged to

…”reinvent government” (declaring that) “Our goal is to make the entire federal government less expensive and more efficient, and to change the culture of our national bureaucracy away from complacency and entitlement toward initiative and empowerment.”

To accomplish this end he appointed his Vice President to lead a National Performance Review modeled on the kind of consulting done in the business world that had the lofty goal of streamlining the government in the name of business-like efficiency. The NPR report offered a series of recommendations in six months time:

 The National Performance Review (NPR), which was later renamed the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (report) contained 384 recommendations for improving bureaucracy’s performance across the entire federal government[3] The report was the product of months’ worth of consultation of various government departments and meetings within (the President’s) bureaucracy, which narrowed down 2,000 pages of proposals to the final report.[2]

NPR promised to save the federal government about $108 billion: $40.4 billion from a ‘smaller bureaucracy,’ $36.4 billion from program changes and $22.5 billion from streamlining contracting processes[3] Each of the recommendations would fall into three categories: whether it required legislative action, presidential action, or internal bureaucratic reform.[2] Major branches of bureaucracy that were targeted were the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Agency for International Development (AID), Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).[3] The first-year status report of the NPR claimed that, pending Congressional action, likely savings would amount to about $12.2 billion in (the first year).

The quotes above come from a Wikipedia entry describing Bill Clinton’s efforts to “Reinvent Government” when he took office in 1993. Four years after launching this initiative, Vice President Gore issued a progress report on reinvention:

In a September 1996 pamphlet, Gore wrote that the federal government had reduced its workforce by nearly 24,000 as of January 1996, and that thirteen of the fourteen departments had reduced the size of their workforce[4] In addition, thousands of field offices that were considered ‘obsolete’ closed.[4] In September 1997, Gore reported that 2.8 million people left the welfare rolls between 1993 and 1997.[5]

The metrics cited above are telling. They reflect the “Third Way” thinking of the neoliberal movement, a “lite” version of the anti-tax and anti-government movements successfully launched by Reagan-ites in the 1980s. This anti-tax and anti-government mentality was amplified by Newt Gingrich in his Contract for America, served as the basis for the Tea Party movement, and activated the base of Trump voters. In the meantime, the neoliberalism of President Clinton became the basis for the DNC’s platforms, platforms that avoided calling for higher taxes or bigger government. Platforms that were friendly to the “reform” movement in public education, a movement that at its root was pro-business, anti-union, and anti-democratic.

Mr. Trump’s OAI is unlikely to find any innovative solutions. It is more likely to recommend more privatization which will ultimately lead to the demise of “government roads”, “government water”, “government lands”, and… yes… “government schools”. Here’s hoping that the Democratic party recommends a stronger government, one that funds roads, infra-structure, and… yes… schools.

Vacant Jobs in Science and Technology Have a Ripple Effect, and Public Education Will Be Affected

March 31, 2017 Leave a comment

I cannot keep up with the adverse impact the Trump administration is having on public education. Today’s NYTimes reportoffers yet another example of how various “redundant” and “unnecessary” government agencies and jobs impact policies that have an impact on public schools. Cecilia Kang and Michael Shear that Mr. Trump has intentionally left scores of positions unfilled in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Why? Here’s one of his advisor’s response, and what Mr. Trump has stated publicly since then:

“Eliminating the O.S.T.P. (or at least electing not to staff it until Congress can act) would not block the president from access to science and technology advice,” James Jay Carafano, who advised Mr. Trump’s transition team, wrote in report issued last summer by the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Rather, it eliminates a formal office whose purpose is unclear and whose capabilities are largely redundant.”

Mr. Trump has echoed that sentiment, at least when it comes to government jobs over all.

Last month he responded to criticism about the high number of vacancies across his administration by telling Fox News that “a lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have.”

“You know, we have so many people in government, even me,” Mr. Trump said. “I look at some of the jobs and it’s people over people over people. I say, ‘What do all these people do?’ You don’t need all those jobs.”

Ms. Kang and Mr. Shear describe what some of the people in O.S.T.P. have done in the past… and the list of tasks and accomplishments is impressive:

Mr. Obama turned to the science office during crises like the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa; the 2011 nuclear spill in Fukushima, Japan; and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The staff of the science office developed the White House’s recommendations for regulation of commercial drones and driverless cars at the Transportation Department. Last year, the staff produced an attention-grabbing report that raised concerns about the threat that robots posed to employment and that advocated retraining Americans for higher-skilled jobs. The staff also put on the annual White House science fair.

In 2011, when lawmakers proposed an online piracy bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, internet architecture engineers on the team advised the president to veto the bill because of security and privacy issues it would create.

“The O.S.T.P. is the conduit for scientific perspective and scrutiny to the president and is a priority in White House decision making,” said Danny Weitzner, a former deputy chief technology officer in the Obama administration and now the director of internet policy research at M.I.T.

Under Mr. Obama, the science and technology office included 19 policy advisers in the environment and energy division, 14 in the national security and international affairs division, nine in the science division and 20 in the technology and innovation division.

“We are all sitting on the edge of our seats hoping nothing catastrophic happens in the world,” said Phil Larson, a former senior science and technology adviser to Mr. Obama. “But if it does, who is going to be advising him?”

Current White House officials declined to say how many people remained in each division. But four former officials who recently left the office said that a wave of departures scheduled for Friday could potentially reduce the number of people left to a handful, not counting about eight administrative staff members.

Based on the hasty and ill-informed legislation on internet privacy making its way through Congress and Mr. Trump’s reported desire to end net neutrality it seems Mr. Trump would benefit from advice from scientists with technological know-how. When asked about the delay in filling the key positions, an unnamed spokesman for the President indicated Mr. Trump “… is still reviewing candidates to be his chief science adviser, (and he) considers the science and technology office important and will soon have a new staff for it.”

Actions speak louder than words, though…. and the evidence is overwhelming. Mr. Trump’s inaction on filling slots combined with a budget that recommends cuts of “…$5.8 billion, or 18 percent, from the National Institutes of Health and $900 million, or about 20 percent, from the Energy Department’s Office of Science, which runs basic research at the national laboratories. The Environmental Protection Agency would be cut by 31 percent” show that he does not value science…. and that message will permeate into schools. As the President would say: “SAD!”

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You Thought Your Student Loan Was Forgiven? Think Again! This New Administration is Reneging

March 31, 2017 Leave a comment

In an appalling development, the US Department of Education is reversing its position on a student loan forgiveness program that was instituted in 2007 as the result of bi-artisan legislation passed at that time. In a NYTimes article today, Stacy Cowley reports:

In a legal filing submitted last week, the Education Departmentsuggested that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding and can be rescinded at any time, the agency said.

The filing adds to questions and concerns about the program just as the first potential beneficiaries reach the end of their 10-year commitment — and the clocks start ticking on the remainder of their debts.

How many will be affected by this? According to the article 550,000 individuals who work either for the government or for non-profits received approval from the program’s administrator over the past ten years… and up to 25% of the work force may be qualified as well:

The forgiveness program offers major benefits for borrowers, advocates say, to the point of persuading some people to take public service jobs instead of more lucrative work in the private sector. The program generally covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit organization, a diverse group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters. The federal government approved the program in 2007 in a sweeping, bipartisan bill.

About 25 percent of the nation’s work force may qualify for the program, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated. Eligibility is based on a borrower’s employer and whether it meets the program’s rules, not on the specific work an applicant does.

Of that group, those working in non-profits seem to be most at risk since that seems to be the group particularly targeted by USDOE. And why would the Federal government agency administering these loans suddenly decide to renege? Linda Klein, president of the American Bar Association has a theory. She called the department’s response”

…“illogical, untenable and bewildering.” An unreliable certification system “exposes those undertaking public service work — exactly what Congress intended them to do — to crippling financial risk,” she said.

So now idealistic individuals with medical and law degrees who decided to accept low wage assignments in the non-profit and government might be on the hook for loans in excess of $100,000. The drowning of the government in a bathtub is proceeding apace.

 

President Trump’s Plan for Destroying “Failed” Programs and Departments

March 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Most presidents want to build things to leave a legacy. But from what I’ve witnessed thus far, it is evident that Donald Trump wants to destroy the government as we’ve known it and, in it’s wake, destroy democracy as well. A post published by Diance Ravtich on the vacancies in the US Department of Education positions reinforced this notion. In the post, she draws from fellow blogger Laura Chapman’s post enumerating the positions filled thus far, which are far down on the organization chart, and those that remain vacant, which are key assignments that require an ethics review. Dianne Ravitch summarize the filled vacancies in one blistering sentence: “All of the appointments to date are political cronies of Trump or DeVos.” And Ms. Chapman offers this list of positions that are unfilled:

Deputy Secretary
Under Secretary
General Counsel, Office of the General Counsel

Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director, Office of English Language Acquisition
Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Innovation and Improvement

Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights
Assistant Secretary, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education
Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
Assistant Secretary, Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs
Assistant Secretary, Office of Management
Assistant Secretary, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development
Assistant Secretary, Office of Postsecondary Education
Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Director, Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Director, Educational Technology
Director, Institute of Education Sciences
Director, International Affairs Office

Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education

Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans
Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans
Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Performance Improvement Officer

Ms. Chapman concludes this list with this observation:

On April 3, 2014 about twenty states will be submitting to USDE their ESSA compliance plans. I think these will probably be unopened and just sit “somewhere” because nobody seems to be in charge of Elementary and Secondary Education. These plans run 150 pages or more and are supposed to be “approved” by someone at USDE after they are thoroughly reviewed.

This slow filling of vacancies in the USDOE is a feature, not a bug…. and it is happening in every department Mr. Trump wants to eliminate or make small enough to drown in a bathtub. When State Department of Education officials are forced to wait for months to determine if their plans are approved the complaints about the ineffectiveness of the USDOE will mount and Mr. Trump will have “proof” that the Department of Education should be eliminated and education should be returned to the states where it belongs. He will also have “proof” that the need for regulations regarding the spending of block grants is unimportant which, in turn, makes any number of jobs in USDOE superfluous.

Moreover, Mr. Trump seems to be completely indifferent to public education, so USDOE seems like a good place to stick people who are wholly unqualified to lead. And as an added bonus, many of those appointees have a deep seated antipathy for public schools that will help them sabotage the efforts of a department supposedly committed to the improvement of public education. And if they do a terrible job they will help him “prove” that the USDOE is worthless!

BUT… at the same time, like every politician he spoke of disdainfully, Mr. Trump needs to reward those who did legwork to get him in office by giving them a job…. and like every CEO with an over-large ego he needs to reward sycophants as well….

Finally, this is not the only program that will suffer at the hands of intentionally incompetent leadership or understaffing. Watch what happens in the next few months with Obamacare… Mr. Trump will be making sure that it crashes and burns by underfunding HHS and keeping scores of positions open or filled with people who are opposed to programs they are “overseeing”. The same will be true in Energy, in Interior, and State Departments. In Mr. Trump’s administration, in every department except Defense and Homeland Security, “Small is Beautiful”.

More on Frank Edelblut’s Appointment

March 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the weekend I was out of town and unable to offer an extended reaction to Rob Wolfe’s excellent Valley News article on Frank Edelblut. Let me begin with a recap of the facts to date:

  • Last year, after two full years of disputes over the issue of their tuition practices, the Croydon School Board was sued by the State Department of Education for violating state laws that prohibit the use of public funds to send children to private schools. As a result of their “heroic” efforts to institute school choice in the face of State Departments, Croydon became the darling of conservative publications and “reform” publications like The 74.
  • To fund the costs of their suit, Croydon Board members raised funds on line, and one of their donors was a wealthy but relatively unknown conservative State legislator, Frank Edelblut.
  • In response to this suit, the NH Legislature passed a bill enabling districts like Croydon, that do not have public schools that serve children at all grade levels, to tuition their children to private schools. Relatively unknown conservative State legislator Frank Edelblut was one the legislators who offered full support for the bill.
  • Then Governor Maggie Hassan vetoed the bill and it died.
  • Relatively unknown conservative State legislator Frank Edelblut ran for governor against the establishment candidate, Chris Sununu, and was narrowly defeated in the primary.
  • Once elected as Governor, Chris Sununu nominated Frank Edelblut to become Commissioner of Education, an appointment that required approval by the five-member Executive Council.
  • The five-member council approved of Mr. Edelblut’s appointment by a 3-2 vote along party lines.
  • During the course of the approval process, the Valley News in Lebanon, NH, sought information on the donors to the Croydon Board, who initially pushed back on the basis that the names of the donors to a public school was not public. When that assertion was contested, Mr. Edelblut confirmed to the Valley News and to one of the Democratic Party members protesting his appointment that he donated $1,000 to support Croydon’s suit against the State Department of Education.
  • Following the appointment of Mr. Edelblut last week, the Valley News received copies of email correspondence between Croydon School Board members and Mr. Edelblut.

Which brings us to the content to those emails, which was the focal point of Saturday’s Valley News article. Two sections of the article regarding the exchange of emails between Croydon School Board members and Mr. Edelblut were particularly noteworthy:

Emails obtained this week by the Valley News through records requests for contacts between Edelblut and members of the Croydon School Board indicate that he and Jody Underwood corresponded frequently in the past year or so, including when Edelblut was running for governor.

Jody Underwood in late 2016 emailed back and forth with Edelblut, discussing amendments to the proposed legislation, which eventually passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.

Sununu, who was elected in November and also supported the Croydon bill last year, said he looks forward to signing the latest iteration, which already has passed both chambers but requires reconciliation before reaching his desk.

Last March, Underwood invited Edelblut to a public forum in Croydon to discuss a judge’s decision to block the School Board from sending students to the private Newport Montessori School using public money.

Three of those children are related to the sitting chairwoman, Angi Beaulieu.

WAIT! The Chairman of a local school board has adopted a budget that effectively pays her children’s tuition to a private school and this is fully supported by the “choice” movement. In effect, the taxpayers in the small town of Croydon are paying roughly $21,000 (@ $7,000/year) for the children of the board chairman to attend a private school.

The other section of the article that I found problematic was this:

Early last month, when Edelblut had been nominated but not yet confirmed as commissioner, Underwood emailed him to ask whether she should respond to a Valley News request for comment for a story about him and Betsy DeVos.

At the time, the nomination of Edelblut, a business executive who had home-schooled his children, spurred comparisons to that of DeVos, a conservative megadonor chosen as secretary of education by President Donald Trump.

The correspondence continued after Edelblut was confirmed, with Underwood reaching out to schedule meetings, suggest regulatory changes and, in one instance, submit a proposal for an “accountability” policy that questions the value of tenure for teachers.

“In all of this, there need to be consequences for failure,” the six-page treatise written by Jody Underwood reads. “If there are not, then there is no accountability. As far as I can tell, tenure has no accountability.

“Perhaps after teachers have proven themselves consistently effective over a course of years they can have some level of job security (which they would, just by being effective). But to gain tenure after three years of teaching with no further requirements just seems too easy. Why does tenure exist in the first place? Is it a solution to a problem that no longer exists? Or does it still solve an existing problem? If so, are there other solutions that would give what we want (job security for good teachers) without also giving what we don’t want (job security for poor teachers)?”

This section was of particular interest to me since I sent a copy of the Open Letter to Mr. Edelblut, which was published in the Valley News, directly to his State Department e-mail and have heard nothing from him. It IS possible that my earlier correspondence to the Executive Council questioning his qualifications was a factor in his reluctance to correspond with me… but it may be that the advice I offered contradicted his views on public education.