Is DeVos Leading or Falling in Line?

On her second international trip this year, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is in South America participating as a member of the U.S. delegation of the first-ever G-20 meeting of education ministers. After a preliminary visit to Chile, she went to Argentina to participate in meetings with other G-20 education ministers [emphasis added].” So it seems Secretary of Education DeVos enjoys the authority that is the equivalent of a Minister of Education in foreign countries discussing international economic development and cooperation.

When the Carter Administration supported Department of Education Organization Act in 1979 (P.L. 96-88) that created the cabinet position of Secretary of Education, the New York Times editorialized, 

Supporters of the new department dwelt heavily on the need for a “national education policy.” Such a departure from a precious American tradition is precisely what the country does not need — or, in our view, want. Nothing would be more harmful to educational diversity and freedom than even a hint that the new department may engage in the standardizing missions associated with ministries of education in other countries.

It took about 40 years to fully realize just how prophetic the NYT editors had been; but DeVos’s new found authority (the equivalent of a national minister of education) was cinched with the 2015 passage of Senator Lamar Alexander’s (TN-R) Every Student Succeeds Act which for the first time gave the Secretary of Education the authority to reject state plans in their application for federal grants funded by the Act. The authority to extort states into compliance with the federal agenda for education, of course, violates the enumerated powers of the federal government, but Congress rationalized its way out of the “chains of the Constitution” using the “general Welfare of the United States” as justification.

Like the first Secretary of Education, Shirley Hufstedler, DeVos has no professional experience in the field of education. What DeVos does have, is a plan to merge the U.S. Department of Education with the U.S. Department of Labor into a single Cabinet agency, the Department of Education and the Workforce (DEW), which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Jeb Bush education plan rolled out during his 2016 presidential campaign to reduce the Department of Education by 50%.

DeVos’s itinerary includes visits with education leaders and career and technical education programs in Chile and Argentina which is interesting considering the recent changes in administration in those two countries. Chile’s leadership has swung from leftist socialism and an overhaul of public education to conservatism. Among the outgoing president’s most controversial changes was her aggressive push to expand access to free higher education which has strained the national budget since the price of copper fell. Chile’s new president has a free-market agenda and a personal profile much like Trump. Argentina was one of the biggest economic actors in the Americas, until the disastrous administration of the socialist-Peronist government. Argentina’s economic planning has been a complete failure, yet, DeVos believes the U.S. has much to learn from countries that merge labor and education.

The U.S. Department of State notified UNESCO of our country’s decision to withdraw from UNESCO at the end of this year, Yet, Item 2 of the G-2O Education Ministers’ Declaration 2018 Preamble states, “In line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda, we affirm our commitment to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It appears that the U.S. Secretary of Education’s participation in the G20 Summit is a not-so-discrete way of circumventing the U.S. Secretary of State and continuing down the road of standardizing and nationalizing American education for the economy begun by Jeb’s father with America 2000 (which by the way, was released and promoted by then-Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander). Not good. The last thing the Trump Administration needs is Secretary of Education that undermines the goal of his administration to Make America Great Again. But the undermining of a populist president by a Bush-Alexander team is nothing new.

When President Reagan worked to keep his campaign promise to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education and restore control of education to parents and local school boards, his vice-president, G. H. W. Bush supported Reagan’s first Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, in preserving the Department; and it was another Senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander’s mentor, Howard Baker, who thwarted Reagan’s efforts. Alexander worked to get Devos confirmed as Secretary of Education (or is that Minister of Education?). Now, as President Trump works to keep his campaign promise to return education to the states, his efforts are thwarted by his own Secretary of Education and Senator Baker’s protégé. Trump would do himself a service by requesting Secretary DeVos’s resignation, and Tennessee would do America a great service by settling Senator Alexander’s quandary about running for re-election in 2020, and clearing the way for President Trump to accomplish what he was elected to do.

Team Jeb! Grows Bigger and Stronger at U.S. Department of Education

Frank Brogan was appointed the assistant secretary of education for elementary and secondary education.

Team Jeb! grows bigger and stronger at the U.S. Department of Education (USED). The key position of assistant secretary of education for elementary and secondary education has gone to Frank Brogan, a longtime Bush ally from Florida. We don’t know who recommended Brogan, but we do know who appointed him – President Trump. Does this move snuff out the last hope that Trump will keep his campaign promises to stop federal support of Common Core and return control over education to the states and the people?

As soon as Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, concern surfaced about her history of supporting the one education policy that Trump railed against during the campaign: the Common Core national standards (though she backtracked, sort of, when appointed). DeVos also apparently embraced the Bush worldview on education – centralized control with benefits distributed to various corporate and other stakeholders. Her strong and longstanding ties to Team Bush include donating to and serving on the board of Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which pushes policies such as so-called competency-based education, digital training, increased data-collection on students, and government preschool.

All of these policies were favored by the Obama education establishment as well (the only significant difference between Obama and Bush on education issues concerns school choice).  DeVos’s selection thus signaled a continuation of most policies of the last eight years.

Unsurprisingly, DeVos has now surrounded herself not with representatives of the pro-constitutionalist, anti-Common Core wing of education but with Bush acolytes such as Carlos Muniz as USED general counsel. But the USED position of most interest to parent activists throughout the country — assistant secretary for K-12 education – remained to be filled. Giving that job to a proven anti-Common Core warrior would rekindle hope for some change in USED’s trajectory. But Trump gave the job to Frank Brogan.

Brogan’s ties to Bush run deep. He spent most of his career in Florida, as a teacher, school administrator, and then the state’s Commissioner of Education. When Bush ran for governor in 1998, he chose Brogan as his Lieutenant Governor running mate. Brogan served eight years in that position until he moved into higher education, first in Florida and most recently in Pennsylvania.

Common Core is a good litmus test for ascertaining one’s education worldview generally. If he’s sympathetic to the idea of having national standards created by a central, unelected, unaccountable authority and “incentivizing” states to adopt them and the aligned national tests, then there’s no serious argument he’ll stand strongly for state and local autonomy. Brogan doesn’t pass the test.

As he left his position as Chancellor of the Florida State University System in 2013, Brogan was asked about Common Core. He responded, “The standards are basically completed, and most people seem to suggest that they’re fair, they’re rigorous and they’re clear.” He then pivoted to the question of a national Common Core assessment, urging states to take their time. He recommended that policymakers focus on “giving teachers a chance to build curriculum at the local level around those new standards” and to “give school districts and parents the opportunity to understand those standards” before implementing assessments.

Note the Clintonian hedging about the quality of Common Core: “most people” “seem to suggest” it’s fine. (This man has a bright future in Washington.) But his failure to acknowledge the withering criticism of Common Core, even among expert academics who are intimately familiar with it (see here, here, and here), gives away the game. And his mentioning “local” curriculum and better “understanding” for parents falls flat. Curriculum is being churned out by national and international companies, not local teachers, and the more parents “understand” Common Core, the more they hate it.

The pool of strong anti-Common Core, constitutionalist candidates for this position was deep. Trump could have fundamentally altered the landscape by choosing Bill Evers or Sandra Stotsky or Peg Luksik, just to name a few. Such a choice would have energized the parent-activist base that has become demoralized by DeVos’s decisions.

But Trump’s last chance to affect education policy with personnel seems to have slipped away. Perhaps he got bad advice from DeVos, Vice President Pence, or other denizens or defenders of the education swamp. Maybe he doesn’t understand that Common Core is a continuing threat or that there really is something the federal government could do about it. Maybe he’s too busy. Or maybe he just doesn’t care about education.

In any event, congratulations, Jeb! Your consolation prize was the Department of Education.

Education Reform Is Moving Too Slowly?

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was a keynote speaker at the 10th Annual ExcelinEd Summit in Nashville, TN late last month where he told the audience gathered that education reform is encouraging, but moving too slowly.

After highlighting the changes in technology that have happened rapidly – i.e., smart phones and apps, Bush pivoted to education.

“We’ve seen dramatic, dramatic changes, and yet sadly, our education system in spite of the success we’ve made (he mentioned a list of reforms states had adopted earlier in his speech) has made incremental change,” Bush said.

He then compared education to the evolution of the “global economy.”

The global economy is developing at warp speed and at a rapid pace of change that is far, far outpacing the adoption and implementation of education reform.

In the ten years since our last summit, Apple has released 13 versions of the iPhone…13 versions in 10 years. By comparison, our education system, and even with the progress that you all have made, virtually remains the same as it did fifty years ago and even a hundred years ago in some ways.

By comparison, this gap and this growing gap is what we need to deal with. The fact is that the economy isn’t waiting for education to catch up. If we really care about student success we need to significantly accelerate the pace of reform. Frankly, good policy doesn’t need a pilot program anymore. It needs relentless leaders with the courage to advance bold and transformational reform now.

Look, this is probably the place in the speech where it is important to say that the political arguments we have… What we need to do is get beyond that and recognize whether you think our schools are great, and some people do, and whether you think our schools are failing our kids, we need to put that aside and recognize they have to get better and they have to change to the world we are moving toward.

It’s like a quarterback throwing into the end zone. You don’t throw it to where the receiver is, you throw it to where the receiver will be. And that is exactly what we have to do in education. Perhaps rebuild the coalition of the willing to make transformational change happen.

Here are some thoughts I had as I listened to his speech.

  1. Education will never keep up with technology because policymaking is not nimble. It will never be nimble. It is not supposed to be nimble. We have a deliberative process in our legislative bodies, and that is a good thing. One has to make a compelling argument for a policy and persuade people. When there is a bug with an updated version of iOS on our iPhones, they can release another update with the fix. When there is a bug within an education policy implemented in a rush, we won’t recognize it for years. Since public schools are funded with taxpayer money, the taxpayers through their elected representatives must have a say.
  2. Attempts at accelerating “reform” have failed. I was told by a friend who attended the conference that Common Core was barely mentioned if at all. The silence isn’t a surprise since Common Core has been an absolute failure and ExcelinEd and Jeb Bush were some of the top cheerleaders for it. That was an accelerated reform pushed onto the states through Race to the Top, bypassing most state legislatures and the deliberative process they have, and we suddenly had dataless reform in our schools.
  3. “Progress” is not always good. The fact Bush said schools have not changed much in the last 50-100 years (I’m not sure what schools are supposed to look like in his mind because learning styles haven’t changed that much) is ludicrous. We’ve seen countless fads come through our public schools at the expense of tried and true methods that work.
  4. Pilot programs are always needed. Back to this deliberative process. How do you convince a group of people who may be skeptical about a particular education reform? Let them see it work in a controlled environment. Instead of launching widespread change, make sure that said reform works before unleashing it upon the entire K-12 education system. That wasn’t done with Common Core, and we’re paying the price for it now.
  5. We can agree schools need to improve, but what does that improvement look like?  I think most people understand that schools need improvement, but we disagree on how, this goes back to my first point – the deliberative process – circumvent it at your peril.
  6. Want change? Think local. Our schools are tied up with so much state and federal red tape that real innovation and change in education is difficult. Unfortunately Bush and his allies have pushed nationalization of education policy which ironically slows down the very process he wants to speed up.

DeVos’ Staff Picks Would Make Jeb Bush Proud

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

If Jeb Bush can’t be president, he would probably settle for the consolation prize of control over the Department of Education (USED). Bush was happy with President Trump’s “outstanding” appointment of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education, and with her most recent appointments, DeVos has indicated Bush can still be proud of her.

Through organizations she founded and led and through serving on the board of his foundation, DeVos has demonstrated her affinity with Bush on almost all important education issues: supporting the Common Core national standards (although she backtracked, sort of, when she was nominated for secretary), school choice, digital training rather than genuine education, sweeping collection and use of student data by government and corporations, and increased preschool programs to get toddlers into government schooling.  If Trump intended to keep the education promises he made during the campaign, DeVos isn’t the obvious person to help him do it.

DeVos also populated USED with bureaucrats from the Bush wing of education policy, including Democrat and Black Lives Matter supporter Jason Botel (since departed, after angering DeVos’s Michigan friends over that state’s ESSA plan). Conservative activists were disappointed and mystified by these choices, especially since there’s no shortage of solid, highly qualified Common Core opponents who were available (Bill Evers, Sandra Stotsky, and Peg Luksik come to mind).

DeVos’s most recent appointments are a mixed bag. She has chosen former South Carolina State Superintendent Mick Zais for Deputy Secretary at USED. On the one hand, Zais vocally opposed Common Core as S.C. Superintendent; on the other, the review process he put in place resulted in a virtual rebrand of Common Core. According to English and math standards experts Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram, in some respects the new standards are even inferior to the national standards.

Zais also, to his credit, pulled the state out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. But the replacement was the ACT Aspire assessment, which is aligned to Common Core. If S.C. is using a Common Core test, it’s using Common Core.

The most hopeful aspect of Zais’s background is his support of local control in education. In 2011 he withdrew S.C. from the competition for Race to the Top bribery dollars, explaining: “The Race to the Top program expands the federal role in education by offering pieces of silver in exchange for strings attached to Washington. More federal money for education will not solve our problems. Schools need less, not more, federal intrusion to increase student achievement.”

So the Zais pick is disappointing in some aspects, promising in others. But the appointment of James Blew as Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy has less of an upside.

Blew comes from Student Success California, affiliated with 50CAN (the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now). 50CAN is the successor organization to Students First, founded by Michelle Rhee and taken over by Blew when she left. Students First enthusiastically supported Common Core as “establishing rigor for all students.”

Before his Students First/50CAN gig, Blew was the Walton Family Foundation’s Director of K-12 Reform. Under his leadership, Walton donated millions to Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. Even more disturbing, Walton “ardently” supported Common Core and, according to commentators in Arkansas, flexed its muscle to block conservatives there from removing the standards.

With this background, Blew epitomizes the “government-foundation cartel” model of educational policy-making. Theorists in private foundations, who may know little about education, advance their pet policies by 1) placing their people in positions of influence in federal and state governments, and 2) investing millions to propagate their theories and impose them on children and parents nationwide, utterly unaccountable for failure.

Another interesting tidbit is that Blew, like Botel, was or is a registered Democrat. DeVos couldn’t find an anti-Common Core conservative for that post?

Perhaps Blew was chosen because of his previous work on school choice, which is DeVos’s passion. But nothing about his background suggests conservatives can consider him an ally in restoring local control over education.

For months now, conservatives have begged DeVos to spearhead Trump’s promised swamp-draining at USED. From a policy standpoint, her record is mixed; for example, there’s been some inching away from federal hypercontrol over state assessments and from abject surrender to the LGBT lobby, but neither has been accomplished with clarity and confidence.

But from a personnel standpoint, DeVos’s record is, as her boss might say, a disaster. Though she has chosen a few solid people such as Candice Jackson for civil-rights enforcement, even there the resulting policy revisions have been tentative. And too many of the people selected for K-12 policy can be expected to continue the trajectory launched by progressive educators a century ago and reaching new heights under Obama and his secretaries.

With the proper personnel, the Trump administration could revolutionize public education by restoring to states their constitutional authority –to create their own standards, choose their own assessments, hire and evaluate their own teachers, and structure their system however they see fit. Will DeVos make that happen? Or will she allow Democrat and Bush minions to undermine the agenda her boss ran on? Too soon to tell, but the warning signs are there.

Using NAEP Proficiency for Accountability Sets Florida Students Up for Failure

From the beginning, the marketing of the Common Core and other progressive education schemes has been brilliant. The PR guys seized on words and phrases that sounded good to the uninformed public and then painted all opposition as manifestly unreasonable. Why would anyone not want “rigorous” standards that teach “critical thinking” and make our children “college- and career-ready”?

Now Jeb Bush and his minions (including his Foundation for Florida’s Future, or “FFF”) are doing the same thing in Florida on a related topic – assessments and school accountability. This time the popular terms are “proficiency” and “honesty gap.” But the real honesty gap yawns between what FFF claims to be doing and what it’s really up to.

As Karen Effrem of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition explains, all this has to do with school-accountability ratings included in the state plans required by the recent fed-ed bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (you know, the statute that supposedly eliminated federal requirements). FFF is pushing legislation imposing school accountability ratings that are linked to whether students are deemed “proficient” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – “the nation’s report card” – rather than whether they score at grade level on the state tests.

As Dr. Effrem observes, another Bush foundation website – “Why Proficiency Matters” – “makes it appear that these two achievement levels are completely equivalent and that anyone who opposes this idea is against honesty and raising student achievement.”

But like so much else in the “education reform” universe occupied by FFF and its co-advocates, (such as Achieve, Inc., which helped develop the Common Core national standards), this simply isn’t so. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution states flatly, “Equating NAEP proficiency with grade level is bogus.” Why? Because the NAEP proficiency score is “aspirational” – it was set significantly above what most students could be expected to achieve (as Loveless reports, even some education organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences objected to NAEP’s achievement levels from the outset as “fundamentally flawed” and “consistently set too high”).

Even the NAEP governing board warns against conflating the NAEP proficiency level with grade-level achievement. From the board’s “myths vs. facts” brochure: “Proficient on NAEP means competency over challenging subject matter. This is not the same thing as being ‘on grade level,’ which refers to performance on local curriculum and standards.”

This misalignment seems particularly apparent in math. The 2007 Brown Center Report on American Education projected that even in Singapore – with the world’s highest-scoring math students – over a quarter of students would fail to achieve proficiency on the 8th-grade NAEP test.

The irony here is that Bush and his cohorts nationwide are largely responsible for imposing the subpar Common Core standards on most public schools – thereby practically guaranteeing diminished student performance on any genuine achievement test, and especially on a test such as NAEP with elevated proficiency scores. Recent flatlining or declining NAEP scores have borne that out. Bush’s foundations, in keeping with their longtime enthusiasm for Common Core, refuse to acknowledge the connection between those standards and poor academic performance. But while downplaying this negative trend with NAEP scores, they push the bizarre notion that academic achievement can be improved merely by requiring higher scores – without fixing the underlying “Core” problem that depresses achievement in the first place.

Maybe there’s a larger plan in the works. Dr. Effrem outlines the devastating consequences of saddling Florida’s public schools with inferior standards and curricula and then subjecting them to the NAEP proficiency standard rather than a more realistic grade-level standard: “[T]he passing rate on the fourth-grade reading test would be cut in half from 54 percent to 27 percent. . . . The costs to local districts would skyrocket . . . . These costs would include remediation, progress monitoring, more summer school, and make-up exams . . . .” As she sums up, “the public schools would implode.”

Could this be designed to drive education in a different direction? One possibility would be increasing the number of charter schools (with, perhaps, their politically and financially connected management companies). In fact, the Florida House is proposing an increase in charter funding of $200 million and a school-turnaround plan that accelerates converting schools into charters. Whatever their possible benefits, charters are less accountable to the public and in direct competition with private schools that seek to provide an alternative to Common Core (charters, as public schools, teach Common Core).

An alternative direction would be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s favorite project, private-school choice programs. The obvious problem here is that once government money begins flowing into private schools, government regulations will almost inevitably follow. Indeed, when the nationwide anti-Common Core movement originated in such states as Missouri, Utah, and Indiana, the Indiana parents were battling the national standards in Catholic schools –which were forced to administer the state Common Core test, and therefore to teach the inferior Common Core standards, because they accepted voucher students.

While it’s laudable to raise the bar on meaningful academic achievement, that won’t be done by setting the passing scores unreasonably beyond grade level while simultaneously imposing standards and curricula that practically ensure failure. In Florida, this failure will then be tied to high stakes such as 3rd-grade retention, graduation, teacher pay, and school accountability grades. Labeling so many students, teachers, and schools as failures — when they probably couldn’t meet the new requirements even without the downward pull of Common Core — is simply deceitful.

Whatever the motive of the proponents of this plan, Effrem warns about the negative personal and financial “accountability” consequences of holding students, teachers, and schools to an unreasonable standard. “Raising the bar to a level that is quite simply unattainable,” she says, “is just not fair.” If Mr. Bush and his foundations really want to improve schools, they should advocate freeing them from the snare of Common Core. That would be the honest thing to do.

Is President Trump Being Played by Betsy DeVos and Jeb Bush?

Conservatives have been gratified by some of President Trump’s Cabinet choices but alarmed by others. Observers who remember the first Reagan administration may find parallels between the two presidents’ situations – Cabinet picks who went on to undermine the president’s agenda.  Are the very establishment Republicans whom Trump ran against trying to out-maneuver him?

The most obvious area of similarity is education. Candidate Reagan promised to eliminate the recently created U.S. Department  of Education (USED), but as it turned out, his selection of Terrel Bell as secretary of education effectively nullified that commitment.

Bell had once testified in support of the bill to establish USED.  But upon his nomination Bell reversed course and professed to agree with Reagan that USED should be abolished. His subsequent tenure at the department, though, reflected his underlying desire to prevent, as one of his colleagues put it, the “right-wing ideological nuts” from prevailing on education policy.

Despite Reagan’s objections, Bell used his authority as secretary to appoint a commission to assess the federal role in education. The commission’s report (A Nation at Risk) concluded that the public school system was broken, and without a larger federal role in education, it couldn’t be “fixed.” Bell then drove a national campaign to publicize the findings and build support for USED.  By this clever maneuvering he was able to save the department – and undercut his boss’s avowed intention to diminish or eliminate federal involvement in education.  In fact, as one commentator observed, Bell “left [USED] . . . healthier and more resistant to White House meddling than it had been when he signed on.”

Will history repeat in the Trump administration?  During the campaign Trump repeatedly promised to end the Common Core national standards and restore local control over education. He took every opportunity to ridicule Jeb Bush’s opposition to both these goals.  President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, currently claims to be “not a supporter” of Common Core – as Terrel Bell claimed to oppose USED.  But, like Bell, DeVos has a history that belies her claim.  According to Michigan education activists, she and her organizations there were influential in defeating attempts to free their state from the national standards.

DeVos is also closely aligned with Bush and his preferred policies (such as increased student data-collection and replacement of teacher-led instruction with digital training). Not only has DeVos donated generously to his foundation, but she has also served on its board. And it’s worth noting that at the GOP convention, DeVos cast her vote not for Trump but for Common Core-supporter John Kasich.

The individuals whom DeVos is reportedly considering for top staff positions not likely to toe the conservative line. Reportedly, the USED deputy secretary position may be awarded to Allan Hubbard, an Indiana businessman who generously supported individuals and organizations devoted to imposing Common Core.  Hubbard serves on the board of directors of the strongly pro-Common Core Lumina Foundation and was a major donor to Common Core spokesman Tony Bennett (the Indiana state school superintendent whose enthusiasm for the national standards provoked his ouster by irate Hoosiers).  Other pro-Common Core, pro-progressive-education heavyweights, such as New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera and former Louisiana Superintendent Paul Pastorek, have been mentioned as possibilities for top jobs.  And the new senior White House education adviser, Jason Botel, gushed in a previous job at how “excited” he was about Common Core.

These are the people whom DeVos will count on to fulfill the president’s anti-Common Core, pro-local control agenda?

These developments suggest that Trump’s education agenda is headed for a quiet burial at the hands of political appointees, just as Reagan’s was. And unless the grassroots who relied on Trump’s education promises can make enough noise to get his attention, the golden opportunity he has to be their champion will disappear.

There is a further parallel between the Reagan and Trump dissident-appointee scenarios. The other Reagan Cabinet member who pursued a different agenda –  to the point of threatening Reagan’s goals in other areas – was Secretary of State Alexander Haig.  Haig finally resigned and was replaced by George Schultz, who by all accounts placed Reagan’s agenda – which led to the end of the Cold War — above his own.

Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, similarly raises alarm bells with many Americans. Tillerson has been described as a corporatist, comfortable in the swampy world of deals and unlikely to let principle get in the way. He’s also infamous to education activists as a Common Core bully, implicitly threatening the Pennsylvania governor if he allowed his state to replace the national standards. Tillerson succinctly expressed the utilitarian, workforce-development view of education when he described children as “defective products” of the education system if they couldn’t be immediately put to use by the system’s corporate “customers.”

While K-12 education wouldn’t be officially part of Tillerson’s portfolio as secretary of state, he could have significant influence on global education policy through the State Department’s work with the UN Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A man of this children-as-widgets mindset at the State Department could further undermine Trump’s education agenda.

Trump should also be wary of congressional sabotage. Establishment Republicans in Congress have dismissed grassroots warnings that Obama’s signature education bill— the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 — impedes Trump’s education agenda.  They say the law has already restored local control in education – a laughable claim, easily debunked (see here and here) —and so will probably resist Trump’s agenda to legitimately return education policy to the states. Trump was elected precisely to confound these establishmentarians and to crush their predictable attempts to dupe him.  The crowds who turned out for him, and gave him perhaps his biggest applause lines on this issue, desperately want a hero.

Does President Trump realize the threats to his education legacy that are being planted by his personnel choices and by congressional “frenemies”?  The education agenda of President Reagan was doomed by adversaries within his own administration.  Will Trump allow the same thing to happen to him?  Who’s the alpha dog here?  Jeb & Company?  Congress?  Or President Trump?

Frank Cannon: Betsy DeVos Would Be a Jeb-Like Pick for Secretary of Education

Betsy DeVos speaks at the 2016 American Federation for Children Policy Summit.

Betsy DeVos speaks at the 2016 American Federation for Children Policy Summit.

American Principles Project’s President Frank Cannon released a statement about the speculation that school choice advocate and GOP donor Betsy DeVos.

From the very beginning of his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised an end to the failed Common Core standards. He repeatedly assured parents across the heartland that he intended to return power over education to local schools.

“It is puzzling, then, to see reports that the Trump transition team is considering an establishment, pro-Common Core Secretary of Education – this would not qualify as ‘draining the swamp’ – and it seems to fly in the face of what Trump has stated on education policy up to this point.

“President-elect Trump rightly slammed Governor Jeb Bush for his support of Common Core on the campaign trail. Betsy DeVos would be a very Jeb-like pick, and the idea that Trump would appoint a Common Core apologist as Secretary of Education seems unlikely. We remain hopeful that Trump will pick a Secretary of Education who will return control over education to parents and local school districts – someone like Bill Evers, Sandra Stotsky, or Larry Arnn – and not someone who will simply rebrand and repackage the failed Common Core standards that were so thoroughly rejected by voters in both the GOP primary and in the November election.

DeVos is a Common Core supporter who was active in supporting pro-Common Core candidates in Michigan. She also serves on the board of Foundation for Education Excellence founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) that also has been a cheerleader of the Common Core State Standards.

Jeb Bush Doubles Down on Support for Common Core

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush participated in an Askwith Forum at the Harvard Graduate School of Education yesterday. The moderator,  Martin West is an associate professor of education at HGSE, and the deputy director, Program on Education Policy and Governance, at Harvard Kennedy School.

Bush had, what seemed to me, to be an uncomfortable discussion about Common Core.  You can watch below starting at 37:30.

Below is the transcript of that exchange.

Martin West: How about the Common Core? As a Republican candidate you were distinguished not by your initial support for the Common Core, but by  the fact you stayed supportive even as the initiative lost support among the Republican base.

Jeb Bush: So you want politicians…. Is this the new reality that whenever you have had a view and you thought it through whether you are right or wrong you are supposed to abandon your view because it’s unpopular? 

If that is what we want then we are going to get the bread and circuses…

West: Why was this an important issue for you?

Bush: I am for higher standards. High standards assessed faithfully will yield college and/or career readiness after 12 grade. We spend more per student than any country in the world other than Belgium and Luxembourg… that’s it.

We spend a ton of dough and have miserable outcomes – miserable – that now matter a lot more. It really does define whether someone will live a life full of purpose and meaning compared to 30 or 50 years ago. What is a huge challenge if you don’t have the power of knowledge, of acquiring knowledge in the world. We are moving toward where McKinsey’s study here where it suggested half the jobs of here today could be automated in the next 20 years.

We have to dramatically change the path we are on if we are going to allow for this country to continue for people to have a chance to live a life full of purpose and meaning. 

So it matters, it matters a lot. This should be a national priority driven locally with states driving different approaches to how we can achieve college and/or career readiness. 

West: So the education reform movement by which I….

Bush: Common Core is, just to make it clear, started after I was governor and was voluntarily embraced by 45 states. They are all but a handful of places. You can make a case, I think with Massachusetts standards they were nigher or as high as Common Core. I’m not sure why Massachusetts had to change. That was there decision. 

Florida’s weren’t and 45 states, most of those states, were significantly lower. Fewer standards and higher standards assessed accurately allow for stopping this hiding of the fact that we have… you know… Florida – 40 percent of the kids are college and career ready and we have an 80 percent graduation rate. 

West: So did the Obama administration make a mistake by incentivizing participation in the Common Core? Did that make your life more difficult?

Bush: You are damn right it did…. (Laughs…) Trust me.

I am not going to abandon my belief in higher standards because four or five candidates did. They didn’t make the case for a chance of course because well Race to the Top was used. They just said “no I’m not for it anymore.”

Well look, there were a few issues where it is important to believe… to be who you are. Running for president is actually quite easy compared to being President. If you are going to bend with the wind and go into witness protection program ever moment what would you do with the first great challenge you would face as president? 

I never felt like this was a necessary thing for me to do, to abandon the belief that higher standards and higher expectations and how we assess is really an important part of getting to this college and/or career readiness goal which should be our aspiration.

Some observations:

  • I do admire politicians who stay the course with their beliefs and not change on a whim. I just think he picked the wrong thing to get behind.
  • I also don’t have a problem with higher standards provided they respect local control.
  • There is no evidence higher standards that are “faithfully assessed” will do anything to help students be more college and career ready. I think since 2010 we’ve been able to show that Common Core does not do that. Common Core advocates promoted a “faith-based” initiative of sorts as it was a totally dateless reform. It’s not something I would want to hang my hat on.
  • People can have and do have lives filled with meaning and purpose regardless of their level of education.
  • He has said this before, but he does give tacit acknowledgement that Race to the Top was problematic for the assertion that Common Core was a state-based initiative. Let’s not forget the fact however that the National Governor’s Association and Council of Chief State School Officers asked for the money a year or two before it was earmarked in the stimulus package in 2009.
  • Finally an admission that Massachusetts should not have changed their standards. He is absolutely wrong that Common Core was higher than the rest of the state standards. The Fordham Institute’s grading showed that wasn’t the case there were a number of states that had high ELA and/or math standards than Common Core.

HT: Jamie Gass


Act Now to Help Congress Protect the Hearts and Minds of Our Children


The federal fiscal year ends on September 30th.  As Congress wrangles on the federal budget or at least for a temporary extension (continuing resolution) until sometime after the November election, we have a golden opportunity to support the US House in protecting the hearts and minds of our children. 

The US House Appropriations Committee took some very commendable action in the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education bill with regard to the education budget in general and some important specifics. The most important one for parents concerned about privacy is the Institute for Education Sciences (IES). IES houses the federal education data-gathering, psychological-profiling and social emotional learning (SEL – otherwise known as indoctrination) apparatus of the federal government (see details below). The Senate Appropriations Committee has also passed its bill. Although the committee deserves credit and thanks for making some cuts to the FedEd apparatus (relevant details mentioned below), its cuts were generally much smaller than the House’s. It is definitely the House position that should be supported.

Here is the great news first:

Decreased Overall Education Budget (p.3) – The committee deserves praise for significantly decreasing the overall education budget by more than $1.5 billion compared to what was actually enacted and is being spent for 2016,  and by nearly $2.6 billion compared to the Obama administration request.  For those of us who want to “#EndFedEd,” this is a great step in the right direction! The Senate cut only $220 million over what was enacted for FY 2016 and $1.6 billion compared to the Obama/King request; therefore, it is the House position that should be supported.


Cuts to IES Will Slow Data Mining, Mindset Profiling, and SEL Standards – The House bill cuts nearly $82 million from IES over what was spent last year, which is a real budget cut and a whopping $158 million less than the Obama administration requested. (The Senate’s cuts are much smaller, so the House position should be supported.) Fewer funds for this Big Brother agency will stop or slow down:

  1. Invasive Research – The federal  government wants to psychologically profile our children by doing “social emotional research” on them  via IES and the federal Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA). This research results in many invasive, expensive, ineffective, and unconstitutional federal education programs.
  2. Indoctrinating Standards – Less money to the IES may help slow or stop groups like CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) that receives IES funding  vague, subjective SEL standards with assessments and data that will follow children for life. Kudos to Tennessee legislators and activists for standing up to this CASEL effort, but they should not have to fight the federal government as well.
  3. Profiling Assessment – IES also puts out the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), which is a stable long-term test, but which is now planning to illegally and unconstitutionally psychologically profile children by assessing subjective mindsets and school climate. The House budget specifically cuts NAEP funding.

Other welcome and important cuts in this budget include:

Fewer Funds for Mandated State Assessments (p. 120) – Perhaps if states receive fewer funds for mandated assessments, they will be more flexible in allowing districts to test their students as teachers, elected local boards, and parents see fit. Or this could just be that they are finished with the national PARCC/SBAC boondoggle and are transitioning to the constant and technology-based testing of competency-based education. The House committee bill authorizes $300 million dollars on assessments at the federal level, which is $78 million less than enacted in 2016 and $103 million less than requested in the 2017 Obama budget.

No Funds to Enforce Federal Title IX Bathroom/Locker Room Interference (p. 147) – The House bill stops federal bureaucratic enforcement of the unconstitutional and harmful transgender edict until the lawsuit filed by 23 states can be resolved in court. This is a great step in the right direction. “The Committee includes language prohibiting funds from being used to withhold Federal financial assistance to public education institutions subject to the May 13, 2016 Dear Colleague Letter published by the Departments of Education and Justice until an appropriate court determines violations have occurred.”

As with the GOP platform on education, while containing some great news, this budget bill also features very concerning and frustrating items.

Increased Nanny State Pre-K  (p. 4 and p. 95) – Apparently, neither appropriations committee has been reading the more than two dozen studies and other articles demonstrating that federal and state early-childhood programs show one or more of four different outcomes, all of them bad:  1) little or no benefit; 2) fade-out of beneficial effect; 3) academic harm; 4) emotional harm. Even center and center-left think tanks are starting to admit this. There is also much excellent similar analysis from Joy Pullmann, a Heartland Institute education research fellow, and Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project. Sadly, the committee parroted the Marc Tucker/Hillary Clinton/Jeb Bush philosophy that “high-quality preschool improves school readiness and long-term academic success of children by supporting their academic and social-emotional skills.” The committee ignored all of that research and added $432 million in early-childhood funding, including the completely unnecessary $250 million for Preschool Development Grants in ESSA. In this case, the Senate actually did much better than the House, only increasing Head start by $35 million, but overall it still increased early-childhood spending by $310 million. Parents – hide your babies! Tell Congress you want real cuts in these pre-K programs!

School Improvement Programs – The House committee is now labeling some of the subjective, SEL and other educational experiments “School Improvement Programs” instead of “School Improvement Grants.” The House committee funded these Orwellian programs $366 million more than enacted last year and $241 million more than the utopian Obama administration requested. This is a case where the Senate did much better by actually cutting $256 million over what was spent last year and a great $623 million over the Obama request. Therefore, the Senate position should be supported.  Within this new designation of unconstitutional programs appear the following scary items:

  1. 21st Century Community Learning Centers – reporter Barbara Hollingsworth described these programs as “Parent Replacement Centers” with the correct idea that they will turn into hubs for social engineering, while parents are reduced to  mere “breeders and feeders.” These schools have been lauded by both Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and former Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
  2. Student Support and Enrichment Grants (SSAE) – This is the new name and program home for all of the SEL (and social engineering) grants that were located in smaller, more individualized grants that were easier to monitor and have been around since No Child Left Behind passed in 2001. The House committee emphasized that “programs designed to support non-cognitive factors such as critical thinking skills, social skills, work ethic, problem solving, and community responsibility are an eligible use of funds under SSAE grants supporting a well-rounded education.” (Emphasis added). As Robert Holland of the Heartland Institute pointed out: “In plain language, this means the government will assess children every single step (or crawl) of the way, from cradle to career, to be certain they acquire all the attitudes, beliefs, and dispositions the omniscient, omnipotent government deems they must have. SEL, baby, SEL.”


Please contact the following:

  • Speaker Paul Ryan at 202-225-0600
  • Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at 202-224-2541
  • House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers at 202-225-4601
  • Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran at 202-224-5054
  • Your own U.S. House member or use the House Capitol Switchboard at 202-225-3121
  • Your two US senators or use the Senate Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121

Thank them for being willing to decrease the education budget overall and for their great work to protect privacy by cutting the IES budget. Tell them that you support the House position on these items.

  1. Send them this compilation of major research studies showing the failure of government preschool programs and this compilation of quotes showing the subjectivity and dangers of SEL. Respectfully tell them that with $19 trillion in debt, we should not be spending $430 million more on failed preschool programs. Nor should the federal government be spending any of our hard-earned tax dollars to mold and monitor the thoughts and emotions of our children. Tell them that you want to see real and significant cuts in early childhood spending and that you support the Senate cuts for School Improvement Programs that teach and assess SEL.
  2. Be encouraged that all of our work together is making some progress.

The hearts and minds of our children belong in our hands as family, not the hands of some government bureaucrat. If we are to raise the next generation to understand and preserve our heritage of freedom, we must continue and not give up on this fight. Thank you!

Jeb Bush Back to Pushing Failed Education Agenda

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Rested from his presidential bid, Jeb Bush is back in the saddle and ready to ride. But he’s apparently headed back into the canyon where his troops were destroyed the first time around. He doesn’t seem to have learned much from painful experience.

What led to his previous ambush was his support for the noxious Common Core national standards. He pushed Common Core as founder of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), a think tank generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which underwrote much of the marketing of Common Core. Having left ExcelinEd to run for President, he’s now back as chairman – peddling the same ideas, although with more discreet terminology.

Bush explains his preferred policies in a recent essay in National Review Online. After reciting the usual statistics about American students’ mediocre performance on certain international tests, he expresses concern about whether they will “have the skills to compete in the 21st-century job market.” Everyone is in favor of job skills, but Bush’s statements illustrate his continued adherence to the education-as-workforce-development model embodied in Common Core. If there is another point to education (such as teaching students to value truth, goodness, and beauty, and to cultivate academic knowledge rather than empty “skills” – with the side effect that they will become good employees), we don’t hear it from Mr. Bush.

What about Common Core? Bush has learned enough to avoid that toxic phrase, but he continues to push the concept through code language. He insists on “standards aligned with college expectations,” i.e., the “college- and career-ready” Common Core. Apparently he missed the recent ACT report showing that college professors say Common Core doesn’t prepare students for college, and reports of declining college-readiness scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Common Core promoters seem to suffer from unfortunate timing, publishing their paeans to the standards immediately after the latest wave of bad news.

The rest of Bush’s description of the ideal model of 21st-century education confirms he’s still besotted with Common Core. Bear in mind that Common Core is merely Outcome-Based Education (OBE) 2.0, which means the focus of the standards is teaching less academic content knowledge and more “mastery” of “skills.” OBE has been renamed “competency-based education” (CBE), and Bush’s foundation is a huge proponent. A key part of Common Core/CBE is use of invasive personalized technology to continually “assess student mastery of coursework throughout the year,” which is exactly what Bush argues for in his essay.

This brings us to another aspect of his education prescription that should trouble parents. Bush’s ExcelinEd is a true believer in the transformative effect of so-called digital learning. This concept extends far beyond the example he gives (accessing an online AP course that’s unavailable at a particular school) and enters the realm of recording extraordinarily sensitive psychological data about a student’s attitudes, dispositions, and mindsets. Given that federal student-privacy law has been gutted, and that the corporations benefitting from this data employ platoons of lobbyists to make sure states don’t restrict their access to it, parents are rightly alarmed by this casual approach to measuring and exploiting the workings of their children’s brains. If Bush understands this concern, he doesn’t mention it (perhaps because ExcelinEd’s donors include the aforementioned technology corporations).

Bush also pushes for a wide array of school choice, with “portability” of tax dollars so that the money follows the child. One could argue for or against this idea, but Bush doesn’t acknowledge the most dangerous drawback that must be addressed before any such plan is launched: that when tax money follows a child, it’s inevitable that government regulations will follow as well.

The imposition of government regulation on private schools or even homeschools that receive taxpayer funding would be accomplished in the name of “accountability.” How can we give the taxpayers’ money to private schools, the argument goes, without requiring those schools to do things our way and report the data we want reported? Anything else would be irresponsible.

We see how this has worked in states such as Indiana, whose voucher program requires private schools that accept voucher students to administer the state Common Core-aligned assessment – and therefore to teach Common Core. In this regard some choice programs are less dangerous than others, but to advocate all of them with no mention of the creeping-regulation problem is . . . irresponsible.

So Bush is back in his natural environment of education foundations pushing the agendas of wealthy donors. Based on his first missive since his return, parents will likely ignore him now as they did during his campaign.