Who Should Be In Charge of the U.S. Department of Education and Why?
By Sandra Stotsky | January 30, 2017, 17:08 EDT
Many parents have been tweeting to President Donald Trump to withdraw his support for charter school champion Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and to propose a different kind of nominee for the U.S. Department of Education. The problem for these parents is not that both DeVos and the nominee for Deputy Secretary of Education, Allan Hubbard, have long promoted Common Core’s so-called standards — which responsible parents don’t want.
The problem is that the U.S. Department of Education currently has many staff employees who are determined to use the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed under Senator Lamar Alexander’s watch in December 2015, to preserve the Common Core project and to centralize all education policies and data gathering at the federal level.
Many parents and others (as in North Dakota) want strong academic standards under their own state’s or community’s control, not charter schools or inferior Common Core standards and tests controlled by the federal government. They also want assurance that no federally mandated tests or other federal strings such as a collection of personally identifiable information are attached to charters and other forms of “choice” in the name of accountability
Federal control is to take place, as spelled out in ESSA, with the help of state education agencies, most of which have already ensured that revisions of their original Common Core standards (as in Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia) turn up “new” standards that are Common Core-compliant (i.e., suitable for Common Core-aligned tests or test items) no matter how they are branded. Massachusetts may also be part of this national strategy of public deception; a draft of its “revised” Common Core-based standards, adopted by the state board of education in 2010-2011, is soon to be released.
The U.S. Senate may possibly vote on DeVos’s nomination within the next few days. Parents who want a sound academic curriculum in their local schools, and want to be able to influence what is happening in the schools their children or grandchildren attend, do not believe that her confirmation and Hubbard’s confirmation will further their interests. School “choice” is chiefly for low-income parents, not for the broad middle who now see public schools failing their children, mainly because of the stranglehold of the Common Core project.
Directly or through parent groups in every state of the union, parents have regularly brought their concerns to their national and state representatives about the effect of the Common Core project on their children. Most parent groups want Common Core eliminated in all ways so that their children can get a decent education in their public schools and federal data-gathering stops.
Parents remember that President Trump noted concerns about Common Core in his presidential campaign, promising to eliminate both the Common Core project and the U.S. Department of Education. These are not the goals of Betsy DeVos or Allan Hubbard.
Common Core advocates currently undermine local control and parents’ authority over their children’s education because they claim “experts” know how to educate children better than their parents do and seem to assume all parents are derelict in their parental responsibilities.
The parents in the many grassroots anti-Common Core groups in this country are not incapable of guiding their children as drug-addicted single parents might be — the image of a parent that Common Core advocates seem to hold. They are responsible parents who want their values, not those of a distant bureaucrat, underlying local school policies. While not necessarily opposed to “school choice,” they are far more concerned about the loss of a decent curriculum in the regular public schools they already pay for.
They want both a Secretary of Education and a Deputy Secretary with strong academic credentials, managerial experience in a higher education institution, and a focus on recruiting and preparing academically strong teachers. They would feel assured if people like Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, and Terrance Moore, headmaster of the Classical Charter School in Atlanta, were confirmed as Secretary and Deputy Secretary to be in charge of a pro-Common Core staff.
Many years ago, historian Richard Hofstadter pointed out, in Anti-Intelllectualism in American Life, how “honeycombed bureaucracies” reflecting an ancien regime stymied new administrations. Can the Trump administration address parents’ concerns?
Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is professor of education emerita at the University of Arkansas. Read her past columns here.