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.

USPIE: Merger Will Compound Harmful Federal Education Mandates

Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss and President Donald Trump at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, FL

Last week, U.S. Parents Involved in Education (USPIE) released a statement critical of the Trump Administration’s proposed merger of the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor to create the U.S. Department of Education and the Workforce. 

Read the statement below:

USPIE opposes all efforts to convert American education into a workforce development system and opposes enabling massive data collection of citizens, especially children, facilitated and coordinated by the Federal government. USPIE believes the effort to make this dramatic conversion through government schools is misunderstood by most Americans and nearly all elected officials.

The mission of USPIE is to close the US Department of Education (USED) and end all Federal education mandates. The merger proposed by President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to combine the Federal Education and Labor Departments directly contradicts USPIE’s primary goal.

USPIE recognizes the intended goals of the merger — smaller government, streamlining, and saving taxpayers’ money — are all positive efforts. However, USPIE cannot support the merger because it moves the ball in the wrong direction for ending workforce development-based education and the collection of data from children. In fact, the proposed streamlining could make these troubling Federal education mandates more entrenched, more powerful and more destructive. Despite departmental staffing and cost reduction efforts, USED continues to usurp local and parental control in the heavy-handed oversight of ESSA State Plans, and by over-ruling State laws protecting parental rights. Likewise, State ESSA Plans impose Common Core-aligned standards and tests on all schools without local school board approval.

The Executive Order initiating the OMB Reform Plan, which recommends the merger, says the plan; “shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and merge functions;” and
“shall consider… whether some or all the functions of an agency, a component, or a program are appropriate for the Federal Government or would be better left to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise…” 

USPIE firmly believes education is best left to States, local communities and parents. 

OMB utterly neglected the opportunity provided by the Executive Order to at least begin this process.

Moreover, the OMB Reform Plan itself says:
               “It is no longer appropriate to avoid having foundational discussions about services that might be better served by direct State, local, or even private-sector stewardship.” 

USPIE welcomes the opportunity presented by the merger proposal to engage elected officials and the American public in a discussion about workforce development education and massive data collection of children mandated by the Federal government through both USED and the Department of Labor. 

If the goal of President Trump’s merger is to save tax payers money, and if President Trump is still interested in ending Common Core and returning control of education to parents and communities, following the USPIE Blueprint to close the Department of Education is a much better plan and one that has the support of many American parents who want to make American education great again!

White House Petition Against Education and Labor Department Merger Launched

Karen Bracken, a parent activist in Tennessee, launched a White House petition for citizens to express their opposition to the proposed merger between the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor.

It reads:

Education was never about getting a job. When we make education about getting a job we are no longer educating future American citizens we are training human capital to meet the needs of the corporate world. A truly “educated” citizen is capable of learning anything to be successful. A “trained” citizen becomes an obedient slave. The schools are to educate. The employer is to train. Using the education system to provide trained workers is NOT education. C. S. Lewis said it best “If education is beaten by training, civilization dies,” NO MERGER!!

You can go here to sign if you like.

The petition needs 100,000 signatures by July 24th to receive a response from the White House. At the time of this writing, they had 494 signatures. So if you oppose the merger I’d encourage you to go sign.

The Trump Administration Proposes to Merge Education, Labor Departments

Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss and President Donald Trump at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, FL

***See update below***

The White House plans to propose today merging the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

A source within the Trump Administration with knowledge of the proposal told the Wall Street Journal that the plan is the result of a review of Cabinet agencies ordered by the President to look for ways to shrink the federal government.

This proposal would require Congressional approval since an act of Congress established both departments.

I have mixed feelings about this:

  • This proposal will not end federal involvement in education; it will just move the responsibilities and oversight to a new department. So, unfortunately, it will not diminish their influence.
  • The merger of the Education and Labor Departments will further institutionalize the workforce development model of education. This idea is what led to the testing and accountability reforms, Common Core, a hyper-focus on STEM, and corporate influence in K-12 education.
  • There are data privacy concerns as far too much student data has been shared with the U.S. Department of Labor as they have been funding state databases to link workforce data with education data. This merger, I’m afraid, will advance preK-workforce tracking.
  • On the flip side, since I favor limited government, reducing the bureaucracy is welcome, I would rather see the U.S. Department of Education eliminated. The Department of Justice can address civil rights abuses in schools.  The Department of the Treasury can disburse Title I funding to states, preferably in the form of block grants or, better still, eliminate federal funding. Federal funding is a small piece of the education funding pie but drives many of the regulations.

I don’t want to discourage government reorganization or finding ways to reduce the size of the bureaucracy in DC, but the Trump administration does have to consider the implications of certain mergers. I hope that they would go big and eliminate an unconstitutional department.

Update: It’s official. The plan is to merge the two departments and create a “Department of Education and the Workforce.” You can read the details below.

Alabamians Ask; Trump Administration Enables State Control of Assessments

Alabama State Department of Education Headquarters

Alabama Superintendent Sentance sent a letter June 1, 2017, to Acting Deputy Jason Botel of the United States Department of Education (USDE) on behalf of Alabama State Board of Education that requested to substitute other assessments for Aspire.  Superintendent Sentance also had a phone conversation with Mr. Botel and other officials from the USDE. The request was denied by USDE. Sentance then told the Alabama State Board of Education in regard to the waiver, “It was pretty clear right from the start the answer was going to be no.” The Alabama State Board of Education requested that Sentance make a more formal request from the USDE. Meanwhile, Stephanie Bell and other Board members appealed to Washington officials.

That’s when Alabamians began showing their support for the State Board’s position. On June 14, Eagle Forum in a memo to the Alabama Congressional delegation wrote:

 “….we need our Congressional delegation to intervene right away.  The State Board is facing a July 1 deadline to non-renew Aspire …Because Aspire claims to be aligned with Alabama College and Career Ready (Common Core) Standards, the continued use of Aspire will lock Alabama into the failing common core system that has resulted, for example, in our NAEP scores dropping from 25th and to dead last…”

This message went to key White House and USDE staffers as well as to influential Alabama constituents. On that same day, Congressman Brooks responded and immediately sent a letter to the USDE requesting that Alabama be granted flexibility in its choices in regards to assessments. And on June 15, Betty Peters published her article: “What Do the Feds Expect Us to Do Without ESSA Waiver?” The Alabama Congressional delegation was working toward releasing a joint letter to USDE officials the word came on June 19 that USDE would be allowing the waiver.

Subsequently, the Alabama State Board of Education voted unanimously on June 21, 2017, not to renew the contract with Aspire. No replacement assessment was confirmed by the Alabama State Board of Education.  Eagle Forum will continue at every opportunity to push for the restoration of local control and academic excellence in education.

Other states will want to follow Alabama’s example and pursue their own course under an administration that in Alabama’s case showed respect for local and state control of education.

Eunie Smith is the President of Eagle Forum and Deborah Love is the Executive Director of the Eagle Forum of Alabama.

The Trump Administration Wants Feedback on Cutting Education Regulations

Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss and President Donald Trump at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, FL

The Trump Administration via the U.S. Department of Education just announced they are soliciting public feedback on cutting back and/or getting rid of burdensome education regulations.

This notice is in response to Executive Order 13777 that President Trump signed back in February directing his agency heads and cabinet members to enforce the regulatory reform agenda of his administration.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos commented on the department’s regulatory reform task force’s progress.

The Regulatory Reform Task Force has been hard at work over the last few months cataloging over 150 regulations and more than 1,700 pieces of policy guidance on the books at the Department of Education. As their work continues, they have been tasked with providing recommendations on which regulations to repeal, modify or keep in an effort to ensure those that remain adequately protect students while giving states, institutions, teachers, parents and students the flexibility needed to improve student achievement.

To ensure an open and transparent process, the Task Force’s progress report will be published on the Department of Education’s website. I look forward to the Task Force’s continued work and to hearing from the public as we work to prioritize the needs of students over unnecessary and burdensome requirements.

Trump’s order required each department’s regulatory reform task force to, at a minimum, look for regulations that:

(i) eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation;

(ii) are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective;

(iii) impose costs that exceed benefits;

(iv) create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory reform initiatives and policies;

(v) are inconsistent with the requirements of section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, 2001 (44 U.S.C. 3516 note), or the guidance issued pursuant to that provision, in particular those regulations that rely in whole or in part on data, information, or methods that are not publicly available or that are insufficiently transparent to meet the standard for reproducibility; or

(vi) derive from or implement Executive Orders or other Presidential directives that have been subsequently rescinded or substantially modified.

The department has published their notice here. Comments are due by August 21, 2017. To make comments electronically you need to go to To learn how to leave a comment, go to the help section and click on the “submit a comment” tab.

Alabama Is an Example that Local Control Under ESSA Is a Sham

Photo credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

Tricia Powell Crain with reported last week that the Alabama State Board of Education learned at their last meeting that the U.S. Department of Education denied the state’s request to dump ACT Aspire and use interim tests next spring.

She wrote:

The U.S. Department of Education rejected Alabama superintendent Michael Sentance’s request to use different tests next spring.

Sentance and board members have expressed their dislike for the ACT Aspire in recent months and need the waiver in order to keep from having to renew the ACT Aspire contract for another year. The board must either renew or cancel the contract with ACT Aspire by July 1.

Sentance told board members he and other state education staffers held a phone conference last week with Acting Assistant Secretary of Education, Jason Botel, and other federal education officials to ask for permission to stop using the ACT Aspire.

Instead, Sentance wanted to use a series of interim tests, given throughout the 2017-2018 school year, to measure student progress and growth while Alabama decided on a new annual test to use for federal accountability.

Telling board members the phone call was “pretty unsatisfactory,” Sentance said, “It was pretty clear right from the start that the answer was going to be no.”

Alyson Klein at Education Week reports that the U.S. Department of Education has not made their final decision:

The U.S. Department of Education however, has a different take: They haven’t given their final answer yet.

“We have received Alabama’s formal waiver request and it is being assessed,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman.

So we are to believe Superintendant Sentance just misunderstood? It had to be pretty clear what the decision was going to be if he told the board members they said no.

Also, this is what the Trump administration considers local control? This is EXACTLY the type of authority that the Every Student Succeeds Act gave the Secretary of Education, and this power is something Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said was appropriate for the federal government.

Klein also pointed out:

It’s not a total surprise though, that the conversation may not have gone as Alabama hoped. The Every Student Succeeds Act does indeed allow states to use a series of interim—assessment-speak for short-term—tests instead of one big overall exam for accountability purposes.

But these interim tests must meet certain quality requirements, ESSA says. For instance, the onus is on the state to show that the interim tests do indeed provide the same information as a single summative score. And the tests are supposed to go through the department’s rigorous peer review process. It would be a big deal for DeVos to waive those requirements.

And it’s not clear that the interim tests Alabama was asking to use met the law’s standards. (We’ve put out a call to the Alabama Department of Education and will update if we hear back.)

We do know, however, that ACT Aspire didn’t quite meet the federal department’s requirements for tests that are rigorous and reflect state academic standards. The department said so in a recent peer-review letter.

The Trump administration has a big decision here. They can give lip service to local control, or they actually can respect it and allow Alabama to proceed.

Give the White House Your Feedback About the Dept. of Education

The Trump Administration is looking for feedback on reorganizing the executive branch, and they have set up a form on the White House website where you can share your input.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, makes his appeal so he can submit a plan to President Trump in response to an executive order recently signed to start work on making the executive branch more efficient.

Ideas need to be submitted by June 12. Take this opportunity to share with President Trump ways he could make the U.S. Department of Education more efficient, by, say, eliminating it. (Just a suggestion). President Trump’s first budget cuts the U.S. Department of Education’s budget by $9 Billion, so we can encourage him to go further.

You can find the form here.

Michelle Rhee Is Out of the Running for Secretary of Education

Photo credit: Commonwealth Club of California (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Commonwealth Club of California (CC-By-2.0)

Michelle Rhee announced on Twitter this afternoon that she is not pursuing a position with the Trump administration.

Here is her statement below:

I am not pursing a position with the Administration but I have appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts on education with the PEOTUS. Interestingly many colleagues warned me against doing so. They are wrong. Mr. Trump won the election. Our job as Americans is to want him to succeed. Wishing for his failure would be wanting the failure of our millions of American children who desperately need a better education.

Rhee is a registered Democrat and Democrats for Education Reform warned Democrats such as Rhee and Eva Moscowitz (who also said she wasn’t interested in the job) to not accept the Secretary of Education role should it be offered.

From the original short list Ben Carson can be scratched off, Eva Moskowitz can be scratched off, and now Michelle Rhee. If you believe Buzzfeed that would mean the position is Betsy DeVos’ to lose, but I don’t.