News Release

Over 1,000 Educators Urge Biden to Pick Kumashiro for Education


As an increasing number of progressives call Biden’s first rounds of appointments a “betrayal” of their support to get him elected, educators offer ideas for rolling back many of the actions of the Trump-Betsy DeVos administration.

Anticipation and advocacy is building around Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Education and whether his policies will significantly depart from past decades.

Building on Biden’s reference to Franklin D. Roosevelt, over 1,000 educators and organizations have sent a letter to Biden urging the appointment of leaders who bring a bold, research-based vision for education that parallels FDR’s New Deal. The letter suggests one such candidate is Kevin Kumashiro, who calls for an “Education New Deal” in his latest book, Surrendered: Why Progressives are Losing the Biggest Battles in Education. Among the signers of the letter available for interviews:

Sleeter is professor emerita at the California State University Monterey Bay, past vice president of the American Educational Research Association, and member of the National Academy of Education. She said today, “At the federal level, education is treated too much as an afterthought, as something to think about and resource after other things, such as the military, have been taken care of. I expect the Biden administration to give more substantive attention to education than previous administrations, mainly because of Dr. Jill Biden’s work and commitment to education. I think that much in Biden’s education platform, such as supporting teacher unions, cutting back on test-driven teaching, and making college more affordable, is important. But there are some areas in which I would like to push the administration.

“First, education needs to be seen as a critical national resource for a vibrant participatory democracy. Over the last four years, we have witnessed so many citizens’ inability to discern fact from fiction, to talk across differences, and to value the right of everyone to be heard. Education tends to be viewed as preparation for jobs. It needs to be treated as vital to building the participatory democracy we aspire to.

“Second, the majority of students in K-12 public schools now are students of color. Students of color still tend to be framed in terms of deficits (such as around efforts to close the achievement gap) or ignored entirely. Yet, there is much exciting work that has centered students and teachers of color, work that can enable a shift in how we think about education in this country. We need leadership at the national level who are willing to immerse themselves in such work (work such as the ethnic studies movement, or movements for teachers of color), and take seriously the implications of such work for transforming education for a diverse democracy.”

Welner is professor and director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, fellow of the American Educational Research Association, and co-author of the research brief, “What’s Next for PreK-12 Funding?

He said today that Biden’s “initial appointments have evidenced a strong desire to draw upon expertise developed during the Obama administration. The appointees know the ropes and will be able to immediately embark on the difficult work of responding to the pandemic and economic crisis, as well as reversing four years of damage.

“But experience is not always a good thing. Specifically, past experience is not beneficial in a policy area like education, where the President-elect has promised to set a new course. The Obama-era Department of Education, led by Arne Duncan and then John King, had largely continued the test-based accountability and charter-school policies of the George W. Bush administration. These policies are rooted in beliefs that educators and students lack sufficient motivation to work hard, to demand universal excellence, or to efficiently use existing resources.

“Candidate Biden and the Democratic Party Platform promised to shift education policy away from this old thinking — and to instead focus on closing resource gaps and opportunity gaps. While Duncan and, particularly, King took some positive steps in the area of civil rights, their overall approach was inconsistent with the direction the President-elect has promised. Their experience, and the experience of their deputies and lieutenants, comes with far too much baggage.

“If experience were truly crucial, then President-elect Biden should choose the person currently leading the Department: Betsy DeVos. That suggestion is absurd. … The effectiveness of the nominee will depend on experience as well as a host of other characteristics: honesty, vision, leadership, communication skills, connections with the larger community, intellect, etc. But effectiveness is only valuable if the goal is valuable.

“The Biden team is fortunate to be able to choose any of a number of highly qualified progressive educators for Secretary of Education and other top Department of Education posts, including Dr. Kevin Kumashiro — who has been endorsed already by more than 1,000 educators and organizations.”