News Release

Department of Education: From Disaster to Disaster?


Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post reports: “Now that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has decided to step down in December, the U.S. Department of Education will be headed by John King. And if you thought Duncan was controversial, meet his successor. … King was the New York State education commissioner, taking over in 2011 and announcing in December 2014 that he was leaving to become Duncan’s No. 2, a job officially titled ‘Senior Advisor Delegated Duties of Deputy Secretary of Education,’ according to the Education Department’s biography. King can run the department without being officially nominated as education secretary.”

PAULINE LIPMAN, plipman at
Professor of educational policy studies at the College of Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Lipman is author of The New Political Economy of Urban Education Neoliberalism, Race, and the Right to the City. She said today: “Hopefully, Arne Duncan’s resignation will mean a shift in direction for the U.S. Dept. of Education. Duncan led the DOE in promoting school closings and privatization through Race to the Top and devastated public schools in urban communities of color from Detroit to Philadelphia to Chicago. His return to Chicago, the laboratory for his national policies, is not good news for parents, students, and teachers who are dealing with the effects of the two-tier school district he left behind — increased racial gaps in academic achievement, graduation and dropout rates, disinvestment in neighborhood schools in communities of color and over-investment in charter and magnet schools, and vastly unequal opportunities to learn.”

CAROL BURRIS, burriscarol at
Executive director of the Network for Public Education Fund, Burris was a New York State High School Principal of the Year during King’s tenure. She said today: “John King’s tenure in New York State was a disaster. He was the first Commissioner of Education in New York to receive a vote of ‘no confidence’ by the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). He referred to parents as ‘a special interest group’ and his successor is now charged with repairing the relationships that were damaged by Mr. King. Not only was the implementation of the Common Core in New York chaotic, the controversial Pearson tests that were given during his tenure resulted in over 200,000 students opting out of the exam this spring. It is difficult to imagine a worse choice for Secretary of Education. ”

KEVIN KUMASHIRO, kkumashiro at
Kumashiro’s books include Bad Teacher!: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture. He is dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco.

He said today: “Today we hear praise for outgoing Secretary Arne Duncan, whose seven years heading the Department of Education has indeed changed the national dialogue and instituted fundamental changes in how we as a nation address such issues as assessment, accountability, and allocation of resources.

“But behind the rhetoric of ‘reform,’ we see the continuation of policies first piloted during his tenure as CEO of Chicago Public Schools that, even then, set the stage for growing, not closing, the large gaps in achievement, equity, and wellness of our public school students and employees. Such policies include what would soon become federal policy under Race to the Top and other initiatives that attach high stakes of disciplining and punishing schools to narrow measures of learning and growth.

“For example, under Duncan the Department has moved even more squarely towards neoliberal policies that center on marketization, such as policies for funding and other resource allocation that rest more on competition and entrepreneurialism rather than formulas, based on rigorous research, that would leverage effective strategies to address the root problems. Furthermore, the Department has placed much faith in data-analysis methods that scientists themselves have, for years, been saying are neither valid nor reliable for the kinds of decision making that have become our nation’s obsession, including using value-added measures (seeing growth in student test scores over time that look narrowly at only certain types of learning) to make unwarranted conclusions that lead to unfairly rewarding or punishing teachers, administrators, schools, and even teacher-preparation programs.

“The failure of the Department to usher effective reforms and to steer the national debate away from an over-reliance on testing has led to the current discussions in Congress to reauthorize ESEA in a way that greatly weakens the ability of the Department to lead change, thus signaling an amnesia about why ESEA was created in the first place — to bring vision and capacity at the national level that pushes states to more effectively address inequities. The nation needs to take this moment to pause and seriously consider what direction public education needs to go, and who would be the right person for this moment.”