DeVos, Foxx Celebrate Announced Merger of Education and Labor Departments

Betsy DeVos at CPAC 2017

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Committee
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

After the White House announced it’s government reform plan on Thursday that includes a proposed merger between the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lauded the decision.

“President Trump campaigned and won with his promise to reduce the federal footprint in education and to make the federal government more efficient and effective. Today’s bold reform proposal takes a big step toward fulfilling that promise. Artificial barriers between education and workforce programs have existed for far too long. We must reform our 20th century federal agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” DeVos said in a released statement.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” she added.

First, the fact that DeVos issued a statement, but U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta did not, gives us an idea who will remain a part of President Trump’s cabinet.

Secondly, DeVos celebrates the elimination of “artificial barriers between education and workforce programs.” What artificial barriers?

She’s not allow in celebrating. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce lauded the proposal as well.

“The federal government is long overdue for a serious overhaul. The proposed Department of Education and the Workforce is recognition of the clear relationship between education policy at every level and the needs of the growing American workforce. At the Committee on Education and the Workforce, we make these connections in everything we do. We welcome the administration’s focus on education and workforce issues together, and as we continue our oversight over the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, we look forward to working with the administration on the proposal and how the new department could function to best serve American students, workers, job creators, and families,” Fox wrote.

No word from U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee, however. Which makes me think the proposal may have a harder time passing the U.S. Senate.

As I said yesterday, this institutionalizes “workforce development” as the education model and that is being celebrated this week.

Jane Robbins Testifies to House Committee on Education & the Workforce

Jane Robbins, senior fellow, with American Principles Project was one of four witnesses for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce‘s hearing on “Evidence-Based Policymaking and the Future of Education.”

Robbins and Paul Ohm, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, were the only two witnesses who seemed to be concerned with student privacy. The other two witnesses, Dr. Casey Wright, Mississippi’s State Superintendent of Education, and Dr. Neal Franklin, the program director for Innovation Studies with WestEd, were touted the gains that could be made with student data.

You can watch the whole hearing below:

Here are the transcript and video of Robbins’ opening statement to the committee:

Madam Chairman and members of the committee:

My name is Jane Robbins, and I’m with the American Principles Project, which works to restore our nation’s founding principles. Thank you for letting me speak today about protecting privacy when evaluating government programs, especially in the area of education.

The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking was created to pursue a laudable goal: To help analyze the effectiveness of federal programs. We all certainly agree that public policy should be based on evidence, on facts, not on opinion or dogma. So unbiased scientific research, for example, is vital for policymaking.

But the problem arises when the subjects of the research and analysis are human beings. Each American citizen is endowed with personal dignity and autonomy and therefore deserves respect and deference concerning his or her own personal data. Allowing the government to vacuum up mountains of such data and employ it for whatever purposes it deems useful – without the citizen’s consent, or in many cases even his knowledge – conflicts deeply with this truth about the dignity of persons.

Bear in mind that the analyses contemplated by the Commission go further than merely sharing discrete data points among agencies. They involve creating new information about individuals, via matching data, drawing conclusions, and making predictions about those individuals. So, in essence, the government would have information about a citizen that even he or she doesn’t have.

Our founding principles, which enshrine the consent of the governed, dictate that a citizen’s data belongs to him rather than to the government. If the government or its allied researchers want to use it for purposes other than those for which it was submitted, they should get consent (in the case of pre-K-12 students, parental consent). That’s how things should work in a free society.

Let’s consider a few specific problems. The Commission’s recommendations to improve evidence-building, while well-intentioned and couched in reasonable language, fail to recognize that data turned over by citizens for one purpose can be misused for others. It is always assumed that the data will be used in benevolent ways for the good of the individual who provides it. But especially with respect to the enormous scope of pre-K through college education data, that simply isn’t true.

Literally everything can be linked to education. Data-analysis might study the connection between one’s education and his employment. Or his health. Or his housing choices. Or the number of children he has. Or his political activity. Or whether his suspension from school in 6th grade foreshadows a life of crime. Education technology innovators brag that predictive algorithms can be created, and those algorithms could be used to steer students along some paths or close off others.

And much of this education data is extraordinarily sensitive – for example, data about children’s attitudes, mindsets, and dispositions currently being compiled, unfortunately, as part of so-called “social-emotional learning.” Do we really want this kind of data to be made more easily accessible for “evidence-building” to which we as parents have not consented?

The Commission recommends that all this data be disclosed only with “approval” to “authorized persons.” But we should ask: Approval of whom? Authorized by whom? There are myriad examples of government employees’ violating statute or policy by misusing or wrongfully disclosing data. And even if the custodians have only good intentions, what they consider appropriate use or disclosure may conflict diametrically with what the affected citizen considers appropriate. Again, this illustrates the necessity for consent.

We should take care to recognize the difference between two concepts that are conflated in the Commission’s report. “Data security” means whether the government can keep data systems from being breached (which the federal government in too many cases has been unable to do). “Data privacy” refers to whether the government has any right to collect and maintain such data in the first place. The federal Privacy Act sets out the Fair Information Principle of data minimization, which is designed to increase security by increasing privacy. A hacker can’t steal what isn’t there.

Another problem with the “evidence-building” mindset is that it assumes an omniscient government will make better decisions than individuals can themselves. But what these analyses are likely to turn up are correlations between some facts and others. And correlations do not equal causation. So, for example, we might end up designing official government policy based on flawed assumptions to “nudge” students into pursuing studies or careers they wouldn’t choose for themselves.

Human beings are not interchangeable. Our country has thrived for centuries without this kind of social engineering, and it’s deeply dangerous to change that now.

In closing, I reiterate my respect for the value of unbiased research as the foundation for policymaking. But speaking for the millions of parents who feel that their concerns about education policy and data privacy have been shunted aside at various levels of government, I urge you to continue the protections that keep their children from being treated as research subjects – without their consent. This might happen in China, but it should not happen here. Thank you.

You can read her longer, written testimony here.

Different committee members asked questions of the panel. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the committee chair, asked Robbins the first question.

Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-KY) asked Robbins whether there is a balance between gathering useful information and privacy protection that can be found.

She had an exchange with Congressman Rick Allen (R-GA) about data collection and student privacy.

Congressman Tom Garrett, Jr. (R-VA) asked her why couldn’t the federal government pull together all of the metadata already out there.

She discussed the College Transparency Act with Congressman Paul Mitchell (R-MI).

She also explained to Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) why education reformers will ignore evidence when it is negative, like in the case of digital learning.

She discussed longitudinal data systems with Congressman Glenn Grothman (R-WI).

Congressman Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) asked what student data would be ok for schools to collect, and if there was any data ok to share.

Virginia Foxx: “Sometimes Doing Nothing From the Federal Level Is Good”


Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the chairwoman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, was the subject of an interesting profile by Anna Douglas with the McClatchy DC Bureau.

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

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

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

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

She wants to send power back to the states and local school districts:

Foxx, who served on Watauga County’s school board for 12 years before joining Congress in 2005, wants decision-making left to states and local school districts.

“The closer you are to what’s happening, the more likely there is to be self-correction,” she said. “I want to devolve as much as possible to the localities and to the states.”

She has been irritated by recent overreach from the Department:

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

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

She shared what she thought was one roadblock to closing the U.S. Department of Education outright:

Foxx’s big idea? Which is highly unlikely to happen: Stop collecting federal taxes for education.

“I’d get rid of the Department of Education if I could,” she said. “But we cannot just devolve things without allowing (states) to have the money. . . . If we’re still hauling that money in up here, we haven’t solved the problem.”

Foxx’s rhetoric is encouraging, as I’ve noted before, and her support ending Obama-era regulations is a good first step, but I am skeptical. Foxx has supported several federal education initiatives including the Every Student Succeeds Act. She says, “we’ve got some good laws in place.” What exactly constitutes a “good” federal education law in her mind? Certainly, the U.S. Department of Education needs to be placed in check whether it is under the leadership of Democratic or Republican leadership, preferably it needs to be shuttered. Whether she will indeed lead that charge or just give lip service to it remains to be seen.

Another question is whether she will place a check on Congressional overreach as well? Now that she is in the driver’s seat in the House she will have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate that is a priority.

Supplement Not Supplant Is Dead

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday killed their draft rule for Title I funding in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) known as “Supplement, Not Supplant.” It’s not an issue that we’ve written a whole lot on here, but it highlighted one way that the Secretary of Education could gut any flexibility members of Congress thought they had when they passed ESSA.

If you were not familiar with the rule it basically said that  in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as recently revised by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), that federal funds must supplement, and may not supplant, state and local funds. Civil rights activists and department bureaucrats were concerned that federal funding would replace state and local funding to the detriment of lower-income schools.

“For too long, the students who need the most have gotten the least,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr said in a released statement announcing the proposed rule last Summer. “The inequities in state and local funding that we see between schools within districts are inconsistent not only with the words ‘supplement-not-supplant’ but with the civil rights history of that provision and with the changes Congress made to the law last year. No single measure will erase generations of resource inequities, and there is much more work to do across states and districts to address additional resource inequities, but this is a concrete step forward to help level the playing field and ensure compliance with the law.”

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday also expressed concern with this proposed rule and promised to enforce ESSA in way that “Congress has intended.”

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN) issued a joint statement praising the decision.

This is a significant victory for students, parents, and school leaders across the country. The department’s regulatory scheme would have violated the law and unleashed serious harm on some of our nation’s poorest schools and communities. While this is encouraging news, we should never have faced the threat of this misguided regulatory proposal. We look forward to working closely with the new administration to ensure recent K-12 education reforms are implemented in a manner that respects the letter and intent of the law.

Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) also responded in a released statement:

I am glad the Education Department has listened to Congress and has chosen not to move forward with its proposed ‘supplement-not-supplant’ regulation. This proposal would have dictated from Washington how states and school districts should spend nearly all state and local tax dollars on schools in order to receive federal Title I dollars — which are only about 3 percent of total national spending on K-12 schools. A regulation like this is not authorized by law; in fact, it is specifically prohibited by law.

I look forward to working with the incoming Trump administration and Betsy DeVos, once confirmed, so we can ensure that the Every Student Succeeds Act is implemented as Congress wrote it, restoring control of public schools to states like Tennessee and to local communities.

So this is good news, but it would be even better news if Congress scraped ESSA altogether and sunset the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Virginia Foxx: I Would Love to Dismantle the U.S. Department of Education

virginia-foxx-blowing-rock-elementary-school

Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) represents North Carolina’s 5th Congressional District. Politico reports this morning that she is poised to become the chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee and she wants to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education and President Obama’s legacy.

They write in today’s edition of Morning Education:

 The 73-year-old GOP lawmaker and former community college president is poised to assume the leadership of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and she wants to veer far away from what she regards as Obama’s wrongheaded approach. “I’m going to push to diminish the role of the federal government in everything it’s in that isn’t in the Constitution,” Foxx said in an interview in her district in North Carolina. “That’s education, health care. All the things that the federal government does that it should not be doing. I’m happy to diminish its role.”….

…. Foxx would love to dismantle the federal Education Department, but is realistic enough to acknowledge that that is probably unlikely in the near term. “I definitely don’t think the Department of Education has any business doing all the things that it’s doing,” she said, “but I don’t think you do it overnight. I think you have to devolve it over time.”

I’ll admit I know very little about Congresswoman Foxx, but the fact she is saying things like this publicly is encouraging. If she does become chair we’ll have to see what kind of an agenda comes out of her committee. President-elect Trump will not be able to do much to shrink the size of the U.S. Department of Education on his own, but with willing partners in Congress significant progress can be made.

But will they really? Only time will tell.

The ESEA Reauthorization Process Stinks

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

I recently wrote about the compromises that had been reported in the framework for the Elementary and Secondary Education reauthorization bill.  The language of this framework has yet to see the light of day.

We have learned that the conferees for the ESEA reauthorization reconciliation received a hard copy of compromise bill on Tuesday night.  Hard copies are not easily shared.  Erin Tuttle of Hoosiers Against Common Core, who has been unable to obtain a copy of the framework, shared in an email that she was told the bill was 5 to 6 inches thick and didn’t have page numbers.

The conference committee is being rushed along when it would take at least a month to go through this bill.

Not only does the bill stink, from what we’ve been able to learn about it, the process stinks as well.  This is not how a constitutional republic is supposed to work.  In the interest of transparency this bill needs to be shot down.

Here is a list of the House Conferees and their Twitter handles courtesy of Karen Effrem:

  • Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman, Committee on Education and the Workforce  @repjohnkline
  • Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman, Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education  @toddrokita
  • Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)  @VirginiaFoxx
  • Rep. David P. Roe (R-TN)   @DrPhilRoe
  • Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) @CongressmanGT
  • Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY)  @brettguthrie
  • Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN)  @RepLukeMesser
  • Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) @reprussell
  • Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) @repcurbelo
  • Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI)  @repgrothman