It’s interesting how previous education secretaries go on to jobs that are anti-public schooling, mostly promoting digital learning.
Arne Duncan, who was President Obama’s education secretary, just resurfaced to write an Op Ed in the Chicago Tribune. He argues that education reform after his oversight is doing well. Of course many disagree.
We know that by working within the U.S. Department of Education, education secretaries were able to create the changes to bring us where we are today. Unfortunately, that’s closer to school privatization involving choice and online learning that replaces teachers.
In an alternate universe our education secretaries would care for democratic public schooling. They’d fight for school funding including affordable colleges. They’d respect public school teachers as professionals, and support their efforts to help children learn in the classroom. They would also implement good change that is implemented thoughtfully. They would care about parents and the privacy and well-being of their children. America would be seen as a great example of a country that cares for the people, especially its children.
Here’s what our former education secretaries are doing now.
John King, Jr. (March 14, 2016-2017 Obama)
King only acted as education secretary for a short time. He had mostly worked with charter schools. Since February, 2017, he has been the CEO of The Education Trust.
The Education Trust is a nonprofit, corporate school reform group that is critical of public education. It has funders like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many others.
The title has always reminded me of the snake Kaa’s song in The Jungle Book Disney film.
Arne Duncan (2009-2016 Obama)
Duncan has taken the role as a partner in the Emerson Collective, a nonprofit organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs in 2004. Jobs is behind XQ Super School which is unfairly super critical of America’s public high schools.
Duncan sits on the Board of Directors of Pluralsight, called the “Technology Learning Platform.” There he wants to align with Pluralsight’s mission to democratize professional learning for all. According to Education Week, the company was worth $1 billion, but they hit a snag with a lawsuit in 2016 that involved their not allowing a way to end their subscription service.
Duncan also appears to be doing something decent. He’s helping Chicago’s “disconnected youth,” ages 17 to 24, who aren’t in school and don’t have jobs. Many have criminal records and haven’t graduated from high school. With a background in sociology, he’s working in his area.
Margaret Spellings (2005-2009 G.W.Bush)
We can thank Margaret Spellings for No Child Left Behind and school reform under President George W. Bush’s administration. While she pushed for “highly qualified teachers” she had no experience teaching herself. What she did to K-12 public education she seemed to want to do to universities, starting the Commission on the Future of Higher Education.
In 2015, Spellings was elected President of the University of North Carolina by the Board of Governors, despite the objections of many.
Her “Inside Higher ED” report suggesting transformation of the university system raises concerns.
Rod Paige (2001-2005 G.W. Bush)
Also education secretary under President Bush, Paige, like Spellings, was instrumental in writing NCLB. Both he and Spellings also pushed alternative teacher preparation programs. Paige didn’t like teachers and he called their union a “terrorist organization.”
Since he left his position, Paige has been on committees including the Texas Education Agency, and he has chaired various business and school groups. He serves on the Board of Trustees for the American College of Education, an online for-profit school.
Paige sits on the board for The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning. Their advisory board involves charters and digital groups, and their partners are concerning. They include The American Federation of Children, Betsy DeVos’s group.
Richard Riley (1993-2001 Clinton)
Riley was governor of South Carolina and well-liked when he was education secretary. He currently sits on the Advisory Group of the Alliance for Exceptional Education.
The group is run by Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia. In 2010, Wise paired with Gov. Jeb Bush to promote their “10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning.” Wise and Bush were also joined by Susan Patrick of iNACOL to discuss how digital learning can improve student learning and how it can help transform the education system.
On the website they highlight Future Ready Schools and getting superintendents to sign a “Future Ready District Pledge” for digital learning.
Lamar Alexander (1991-1993 Reagan)
Senator Alexander has been a proponent of vouchers. Alexander still supports choice and charter schools. From the Chalkbeat:
Singling out KIPP and Rocketship – two national charter school networks operating in his home state – Alexander called for federal grants to seed more high-quality charter schools. “Our goal is to grow the federal investment in expanding and replicating high-quality charter schools with a demonstrated record of success, and hold charter schools accountable for their performance,” he said.
Many educators and parents were disappointed that Alexander led the recent rewrite of NCLB which resulted in the Every Student Succeeds Act. He supported the nomination of Betsy DeVos for education secretary.
William Bennett (1985-1988 Reagan)
Bennett was never a friend to public schools and can still be found promoting pro-privatization like Next Generation Science which is tied to Common Core State Standards.
Bennett has profited directly from school privatization efforts through the online program K12 Inc. which repeatedly shows bad results. Still, it is purchased by school districts around the country. K12 is a great example of how the market fails children and the country.
Terrel Bell: (1981-1985 Reagan)
Terrel Bell was a teacher, bus driver and superintendent. He formed the commission that would write A Nation at Risk.
Bell eventually resigned from the Reagan administration. He wrote books, and started a nonprofit company called T.H. Bell and Associates, with his business partner Dr. Donna Elmquist, to make recommendations for improving the US education system.
He died in 1996.
Andrew Ujifusa. “Former Ed. Secretary Arne Duncan Joins Ed-Tech Company Board of Directors.” Education Week. June 9, 2016.
Momma Bear says
Isn’t it ironic that the more anti-public education all these secretaries are, the more money our towns allocate to public schools? Our town budget is about 65% allocated to public schools, and I bet it is similar across the board. I’m beginning to think they are not really AGAINST “public schools” as much as they are FOR getting their hands in a piece of that fiscal pie.
Nancy Bailey says
I’m not sure where you live. Most school districts are struggling. Read about the conditions of schools in Oklahoma, for example, where teachers are fighting, not just for better salaries, but better conditions.
I would agree that in many places funding is not in short supply for technology.
Thank you for your comment.
Momma Bear says
I’m in CT. True, and I think they are struggling because more is needed as $$ goes to things that don’t help kids as a result of unending “unfunded” mandates (i.e. Tech as a result of technology standards embedded in Common Core k-12, and online testing)
I’m in a wealthy town, so the money is seemingly always available, but in both cases, parents are pushed out of the equation, and the effect is the same – destruction of “public education” as we know it.
But the new model is emerging. I think the goal is to starve the poor districts to the point where they close, and become “gentrified” by charter/private schools, and/or surviving public schools find “efficiencies” through regionalization.
I think it is all part of the plan. I could not believe that we went through two presidential elections and education did not rise to the top as a political issue, and IMO it is because they both major parties are finding ways to benefit off of it.
Nancy Bailey says
Absolutely agree! Thank you for sharing. Interesting, isn’t it, that the real education issues are never in the education political debates. Thanks for mentioning that.
Is Arne Duncan a for profit partner of the not for profit Emerson Collective? How exactly does this work that he is a “managing partner” of a not for profit. Is his presence a way to earn money for him and free publicity and more donors for Emerson Collective?
And wasn’t Margaret Spellings involved in promoting inBloom?
Nancy Bailey says
Good question about Duncan.
I believe Spellings was on the inBloom board along with Bob Wise. Thanks!
Jim Katakowski says
It seems to be as a former educator that a Sec. of Education should see that all the states are doing well in public education. What I see is Oklahoma with 4 day school weeks not acceptable. Then I see where Alabama is bringing back more bigotry and turning back the hands of time with separate but equal districts in schools over 5000 students. Several districts have done this already and this disgusts me. Sending some students and areas to lesser districts that are underfunded. Then we have Betsy DeVos selling private schools with vouchers that will help rich kids. I am so sick of what is happening to public education being underfunded throughout this country we need some real leaders. All public schools should be improved. We need to get to the business of making all public schools across this nation great.
Nancy Bailey says
Agreed! Thank you, Jim!