When Arne Duncan Visited Harvard

Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited his alma mater, Harvard University, he used the opportunity to criticize the Trump Administration and bemoan the state of federal K-12 education policy.

Henry Zhu at The Harvard Crimson writes:

Duncan discussed his perspectives on the current state of K–12 education and the persistent inequality in educational opportunities in American schools. The former secretary criticized the administration of current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos under President Donald Trump.

Duncan delivered a blunt assessment of the educational philosophy of the Trump administration, claiming that officials’ silence and inactivity on K–12 education reform are deliberate.

“I would argue this administration does not want a well-educated citizenry, does not want people who can think independently,” Duncan said. “The absence of voice is not a mistake; I would argue that is intentional.”

He was also critical of the state of teacher training in America, referencing a survey that stated that two-thirds of education school graduates felt that they were not prepared to enter the teaching profession.

“If two-thirds of doctors said they were unprepared to practice medicine, we would have a revolution in this country,” Duncan said. “But we don’t value teachers. We don’t value education.”

Read the rest. Here are four brief thoughts.

First, the Trump Administration with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has done plenty to meddle in K-12 education policy (for example ask Utah). We wish she would stop. 

Second, the Every Student Succeeds Act, despite what its supporters would say, guarantees more meddling by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Third, if Duncan thinks there is silence from the Trump Administration on K-12 education policy, it shows you just how much the Duncan expanded federal control. 

Fourth, the federal government will help improve teacher training how exactly? I shudder to think. 

Arne Duncan Does Not Regret Race To The Top or Common Core

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan just wrote a new memoir entitled How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest Serving Secretaries of Education. In it, he discusses the Race To The Top program that contributed to foisting Common  Core onto the states. 

He has no regrets.

Education Week provided a highlight:

Duncan wrote that he loses sleep over some of the things that happened during his tenure in Washington, but not Race to the Top, or at least not anymore.

Race to the Top, which was created through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, rewarded 12 states with for adopting the common core standards, teacher evaluation through test scores, dramatic school turnarounds, and more.  

Duncan said the program “changed the education landscape in America. … Since Race to the Top, 46 states and the Washington, D.C., [school system].. have either adopted common core or developed their own high standards.” 

It’s true that the common core is still on the books in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia. And plenty of states have kept teacher evaluations through student outcomes—although six states have ditched them since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which prohibited the federal government from monkeying with teacher performance reviews.

Duncan writes that he tried to stay out of the political fray when it came to the common core standards. But the secretary—and especially Obama, in his re-election campaign—took credit for the widespread adoption of the common core. That’s part of the reason the standards ended up facing such widespread opposition

I am still waiting to see some tangible, documented positive results demonstrating the effectiveness of Common Core. I’ve heard talking points and warm fuzzies from teachers who like it, but there has not been any data that has demonstrated that this widespread, top-down reform has made a positive difference.  I have seen stagnant NAEP scores and a widening achievement gap though.

As far as Duncan trying to stay out of the fray I think there are some white suburban moms who feel differently.

Read other highlights here.

The Education Legacy Obama Is Not Talking About

President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Valarie Strauss at The Washington Post before the weekend reported on a speech that President Barack Obama gave at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, DC noting that the President did not really put a spotlight on his actual education legacy.

He did not mention by name the Common Core State Standards initiative, another big priority for the administration during Duncan’s seven-year tenure running the Education Department, during which he wielded more power than any previous education secretary while also attracting more opposition than his predecessors.

Adopting common standards was also on Race to the Top’s list of preferred reforms Duncan sought from applying states, and the administration spent some $360 million for two multi-state consortia to develop new Core-related standardized tests. Duncan himself promised that the new tests would be “an absolute game-changer” in public education.

It didn’t work out that way. The tests were nowhere as sophisticated as originally promoted. The rush to get them into schools led to computer troubles in some states, some of them severe. One of the tests, known as PARCC, was abandoned by most of the states that had agreed to use it, and the overall idea behind the standards and aligned testing — that test results would be comparable across states — has not been accomplished.

The Education Department’s ties to the Gates Foundation, which funded the creation and implementation of the Core, also sparked criticism that the administration was too close to wealthy philanthropists who were intent on driving their own personal vision of school reform.

He also isn’t talking about his feeding education reformer’s standardized testing obsession.

The administration’s obsession with standardized tests led to a rebellion by parents, students, teachers, principals and even superintendents. Many spoke out against testing policies — and many parents refused to allow their students to take exams mandated by states for federal accountability purposes. In New York, with the most active movement, 22 percent of students “opted out” of at least one test, and opt-outs were reported in numerous other states. It was only after the “opt out” movement began to grow that the administration conceded that kids were being tested too much.

The New York State commissioner of education who pushed the test-based teacher accountability system — which has been crashing and burning for years — was John King Jr., who left the job early after 3 1/2 years, essentially getting a public shove by Gov. Andrew Cuomo not only for the teacher evaluation fiasco but for a botched implementation of Common Core. The reason this is worth mentioning is that King — who has an inspirational personal story — is now Obama’s second education secretary.

Read the whole thing.

Will The Senate Vote to Stop John King?


Dr. John B. King, Jr., the acting U.S. Secretary of Education, is up for a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate later today. As most of our readers know King was a disaster as the New York State Commissioner of Education prior to being hired as an Assistant Secretary of Education. President Barack Obama then appointed King to replace Arne Duncan when he announced he was stepping down as Secretary of Education.

It doesn’t look promising unfortunately since his confirmation was passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) on a 16 to 6 vote last Wednesday. U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Rand Paul (R-KY), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and Tim Scott (R-SC) voted against King’s nomination in committee.

Will Estrada, the director of federal relations with the Home School Legal Defense Association, explained in a video released late last week why King’s confirmation should be stopped.

In a nutshell as Commissioner of Education in New York he worked to suppress parent and activist voices from being heard by cancelling town halls when he realized they were not going to go his way. They later rescheduled town halls stacked with friendly voices. He supported Common Core, and oversaw the failed implementation of the standards and aligned assessments in his state. He also supported the Every Student Succeeds Act. Senators who supported that bill have the chance to redeem themselves by voting against his confirmation.

You can still contact your Senators today and tell them to vote no on King’s confirmation as Secretary of Education, the vote is expected to take place at 5:30p (ET).

Lamar Alexander’s Past Discernment on Secretary of Education Nominees


John B. King will have his first hearing in the process toward being confirmed as the next U.S. Secretary of Education.  This hearing will be before the Senate Education Committee and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TX) will chair those hearings.

He doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to President Obama’s picks for Secretary of Education.

Take for instance the following Politico article from January 2009:

With Republican friends like these, Arne Duncan should have no problem selling Barack Obama’s education agenda to Congress.

“I think you’re the best,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told Duncan Tuesday morning during the confirmation hearing for the next education secretary. And Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) engaged in the love fest too: “This is a guy who gets it.”

Aw shucks, I wonder what Alexander will say to King? “Hey you’re doing a great job as Acting Secretary”?

We don’t need a love fest today, we need Senators asking tough questions of the guy who practically was run out of New York on a rail, but landed a cushy job at the U.S. Department of Education instead.

Based on Alexander’s track record I’m sure we can suspect that he’ll say to King, “you’re the best,” and press for his confirmation so the rest of us can be afflicted by the former failed New York Education Commissioner.

Former Arne Duncan Staffer: ESSA Mandates Common Core

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Peter Cunningham, the former assistant secretary for communications at the U.S. Department of Education, served under outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  He called U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander’s victory lap over the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act “misleading” in an article at the Education Post.

Cunningham writes:

(Alexander) begins an op-ed in the Tennessean with the outlandish claim that he ran for reelection last year on a promise to “repeal the federal Common Core mandate and reverse the trend toward a national school board.”

Sorry, Senator, but there never was a Common Core mandate so your new law can’t repeal what didn’t exist.

There was an incentive to adopt “college- and career-ready” standards in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program and some conservative pundits and politicians viewed this incentive as “coercive.” But it wasn’t a mandate. It was voluntary and 46 states and D.C. leaped at the opportunity to compete for those dollars by adopting higher standards.

Ironically, the new law that the senator from Tennessee is so proud of, the Every Student Succeeds Act, now mandates the very thing he rails against. Under the new law, every state must adopt “college- and career-ready” standards. Thus, the new law all but guarantees that Common Core State Standards—or a reasonable imitation under a different name—will likely remain in place in most states.

This is exactly what we’ve been saying all along.

Arne Duncan: ESSA embodies the “core of our agenda”


Politico Pro just released an interview with outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that is pretty damning of Congressional Republican leadership.

They asked about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

I’m stunned. at how much better it ended up than either [House or Senate] bill going into conference. I had a Democratic congressman say to me that it’s a miracle — he’s literally never seen anything like it…

…if you look at the substance of what is there . . . embedded in the law are the values that we’ve promoted and proposed forever. The core of our agenda from Day One, that’s all in there – early childhood, high standards [i.e.,Common Core], not turning a blind eye when things are bad. For the first time in our nation’s history, that’s the letter of the law.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Congressman John Kline (R-MN) fed this bill to their colleagues with talking points that it returns local control, provides more flexibility for states, and “ends Common Core.”  Over and over and over we heard about how this bill will end the “national school board.”

Yet Duncan on his way out says that what they’ve “promoted and proposed forever” is embedded in their bill.

Had members of Congress actually read the bill they would have seen that. We knew, we warned, and our warnings fell on deaf ears.  We’ll remember.

John B. King is Not An Improvement Over Arne Duncan

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan resigned last week as I’m sure you are all aware. John B. King, current assistant secretary of education and former commissioner of education in New York, was appointed as “Acting Secretary” (avoiding a confirmation vote for now).

King was a staunch defender of Common Core and high-stakes testing during his time in New York.  He was essentially tone deaf over concerns expressed by New York teachers and parents.  When he realized town hall meeting with parents were not going to be all rainbows and unicorns he closed them down.

King is not an improvement as a replacement. He may be even worse.

Here are some of his “greatest” hits.

Capital New York has a nice summary of that period of time.

The fall of 2013 was arguably the most difficult period of King’s three-and-a-half year tenure as education commissioner in New York, where, as the state’s first black and first Latino schools chief, he led the implementation of the Common Core standards, controversial state exams aligned to the more difficult material, and teacher performance evaluations based partially on the tests.

After the Oct. 10, 2013, assembly devolved into chaos, King canceled (and subsequently rescheduled under pressure) the rest of his planned statewide tour, accusing “special interests” of co-opting the raucous crowd.

Teachers’ unions, parent groups and some state lawmakers called for King’s resignation. The state’s powerful teachers’ union later held a no-confidence vote to make official their feelings about him. A parent-led and union-boosted testing boycott movement began under his leadership, and subsequently exploded.

Oh yay.

An Admission of Federal Manipulation Through Race to the Top


Arne Duncan’s former chief of staff pulls back the curtain on Race to the Top

Joanne Weiss was the director of the Race to the Top program at the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s chief of staff. She wrote an essay at Stanford Social Innovation Review that is enlightening in that we finally have a USDED official admit the truth about the federal role in foisting Common Core on to the states.

I encourage you to read the whole piece, but I’ll pull a few excerpts of interest.

Weiss acknowledges that budgetary challenges along with offering larger awards induced states to apply.

The competition took place during a time of profound budgetary challenge for state governments, so the large pot of funding that we had to offer was a significant inducement for states to compete.

This process is typically different than how federal grant making has been done before as she explains:

…we decided that winners would have to clear a very high bar, that they would be few in number, and that they would receive large grants. (In most cases, the grants were for hundreds of millions of dollars.) In a more typical federal competition program, a large number of states would each win a share of the available funding. The government, in other words, would spread that money around in a politically astute way. But because our goal was to enable meaningful educational improvement, we adopted an approach that channeled substantial funding to the worthiest applicants.

When you see “worthiest applicants” read those states whose priorities matched ours.

They leveraged the governors.

…we placed governors at the center of the application process. In doing so, we empowered a group of stakeholders who have a highly competitive spirit and invited them to use their political capital to drive change. We drew governors to the competition by offering them a well-funded vehicle for altering the life trajectories of children in their states.

Weiss acknowledges their criteria was too broad.

Our commitment to being systemic in scope and clear about expectations, yet also respectful of differences between states, was a key strength of the initiative. But it exposed points of vulnerability as well. In our push to be comprehensive, for instance, we ended up including more elements in the competition than most state agencies were able to address well. Although the outline of the competition was easy to explain, its final specifications were far from simple: States had to address 19 criteria, many of which included subcriteria. High-stakes policymaking is rife with pressures that bloat regulations. In hindsight, we know that we could have done a better job of formulating leaner, more focused rules.

Weiss touts that states who didn’t win a grant still followed through on their “blueprint.”  Perhaps that had something to do with having to adopt Common Core and join Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or PARCC before they submitted a final application?

In applying for Race to the Top, participating states developed a statewide blueprint for improving education—something that many of them had previously lacked. For many stakeholders, moreover, the process of participating in the creation of their state’s reform plan deepened their commitment to that plan. In fact, even many states that did not win the competition proceeded with the reform efforts that they had laid out in their application.

The plan behind the grant was meant to diminish local control and serve the state agenda which in turn was informed by the federal agenda behind the grant.

The overall goal of the competition was to promote approaches to education reform that would be coherent, systemic, and statewide. Pursuing that goal required officials at the state level to play a lead role in creating and implementing their state’s education agenda. And it required educators at the school and district levels to participate in that process, to support their state’s agenda, and then to implement that agenda faithfully.

Weiss explains further.

To meet that challenge, we required each participating district to execute a binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with its state. This MOU codified the commitments that the district and the state made to each other. Reviewers judged each district’s depth of commitment by the specific terms and conditions in its MOU and by the number of signatories on that document. (Ideally, the superintendent, the school board president, and the leader of the union or teachers’ association in each district would all sign the MOU.)

….The success of the process varied by state, but over time these MOUs—combined, in some cases, with states’ threats to withhold funding from districts—led to difficult but often productive engagement between state education agencies and local districts.

Tyranny by contract as a friend of mine likes to put it.

Catch this next excerpt as it’s pretty disconcerting.

…we forced alignment among the top three education leaders in each participating state—the governor, the chief state school officer, and the president of the state board of education—by requiring each of them to sign their state’s Race to the Top application. In doing so, they attested that their office fully supported the state’s reform proposal.

They forced alignment?  Indeed the Race to the Top application required signatures from all three officers.

Weiss acknowledged that the program drove education policy change at the state level before any grant was awarded.

One of the most surprising achievements of Race to the Top was its ability to drive significant change before the department awarded a single dollar to applicants. States changed laws related to education policy. They adopted new education standards. They joined national assessment consortia.

She then explained that three design features in the grant program spurred the change.

First they had to get rid of those pesky state laws that stood in the way before they were eligible to compete.

…we imposed an eligibility requirement. A state could not enter the competition if it had laws on the books that prohibited linking the evaluation of teachers and principals to the performance of their students. Several states changed their laws in order to earn the right to compete.

I remember Iowa ramrodding through poorly written charter school legislation just so they could have a seat at the trough.

They then also awarded points based on what states did before submitting their application… Clever right? Get states to work towards these reforms in order to be competitive.  This manipulative tactic also ensured that states not awarded a grant would continue to follow-through on some of these reforms.

…we decided to award points for accomplishments that occurred before a state had submitted its application. In designing the competition, we created two types of criteria for states to address. State Reform Conditions criteria applied to actions that a state had completed before filing its application. Reform Plan criteria, by contrast, pertained to steps that a state would take if it won the competition.

The State Reform Conditions criteria accounted for about half of all points that the competition would award. Our goal was to encourage each state to review its legal infrastructure for education and to rationalize that structure in a way that supported its new education agenda. Some states handled this task well; others simply added patches to their existing laws. To our surprise, meanwhile, many states also changed laws to help meet criteria related to their reform plan. To strengthen their credibility with reviewers, for example, some states updated their statutes regarding teacher and principal evaluation.

Race to the Top created a “treasure trove” of data to mine through.

We couldn’t keep up with the enormous load of data that the competition generated—and we learned that we didn’t have to. The public did it for us. State and local watchdogs kept their leaders honest by reviewing and publicly critiquing applications. Education experts provided analyses of competition data. And researchers will be mining this trove of information for years to come.

What a stunning admission of manipulation and coercion perpetrated by the U.S. Department of Education.  What is lacking in Weiss’ piece is mention of how unpopular this program actually was, and no mention of Congress’ push to ensure that future U.S. Secretaries of Education can ever use a grant program in this way again.

Nevada Falls Short of NCLB’s Testing Mandate

nevada-state-flagNevada fell short of the 95% testing threshold required of states by No Child Left Behind.  Falling short would be an understatement.  Nevada’s roll out of Smarter Balanced was an epic disaster.

The Las Vegas Sun reports:

Only 5 percent of students in Clark County were able to take the new Smarter Balanced Assessment this year. Statewide, 30 percent of students took the test.

That’s nowhere near the 95 percent test participation required by the federal government.

The failure of the new test this year was the result of technical problems encountered by schools across the state, especially in Clark County.

Because the test is taken online, the large number of students logging in at one time caused the servers of Measured Progress, the state-contracted testing company, to crash.

The outages prevented so many students from taking the test that the Clark County School District simply stopped testing altogether. After that, testing continued relatively smoothly for the rest of the state.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan however has given Nevada a pass and won’t withhold funds even though they are in clear violation of the law.

Because that would be embarrassing, but I doubt he’ll be as charitable if a state or school failed to reach the threshold due to opt-outs.