Many want to say good riddance to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her boss. But educators and parents fighting for public education, and the ninety percent of students who attend public schools, deserve a more inclusive group of people to push back on harmful school reform. The Biden/Sanders Unity Education Task Force leaves much to be desired.
For example, parents of children with disabilities struggle to teach their children during Covid-19. Classes for their children were never fully funded before the disease. Sen. Bernie Sanders promised better in his Thurgood Marshall Plan. Searching with a magnifying glass, I see no representation for students with disabilities on this panel.
Black and brown parent advocates have started a petition to make the education task force more inclusive.
Where are the scholars from the: National Education Policy Center? Network for Public Education? Defending the Early Years? Economic Policy Center? Where are teachers from the Badass Teachers Association, or representation by those who organized and marched in the Red for Ed rallies? What about parents and school board members who fight for children?
Teacher union presidents Lily Eskelsen García and President Randi Weingarten are on the panel, but there’s concern by teachers and parents as to the school reforms they’ve signed on to in the past, like Common Core State Standards and charter schools.
The panel is heavily focused on international education. Where’s concern surrounding school privatization with charters, vouchers, and technology?
This is not meant to demean the accomplishments of those in the education unity panel, but the group is incomplete, and concerning. Those who voted for President Obama are still paranoid about where Democrats stand when it comes to public education. Race to the Top was a huge disappointment.
Alejandro Adler, Ph.D.
A professor at Columbia University, Adler focuses on student well-being. He studied under University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology director Martin Seligman. Angela “Grit” Duckworth sat on his dissertation committee. Adler’s background is economics and psychology. His work sounds like an ad for social-emotional learning (SEL), trendy but controversial. He supports mindfulness.
SEL involves school transformation by those who aren’t always educators. Think character education on steroids. SEL online behavioral assessment, data collection, data mining and student profiling, keep parents up at night.
In 2017, Adler did a paper titled “Well-Being and Academic Achievement: Towards a New Evidence-Based Educational Paradigm.” He asked:
Should schools teach the skills for well-being? Embedded in the concept of education is the notion of changing individuals in a particular direction, of taking them from their current state to, ideally, a better one.
Concerns surround manipulating behavior for better outcomes, especially for children living in poverty. We all want children to feel good, but who decides the best state for children? Is it right to stress students with high-stakes testing, then teach them mindfulness to improve their stress? How many students are denied recess, free play, and later taught how to meditate?
Will SEL address the lack of counselors and school nurses? Will it provide better mental health for the those who truly need it? When do educators teach academics?
The character framework of Adler’s mentor, Martin Seligman, is used with KIPP Charter Schools. How does Adler feel about KIPP? KIPP is known for its strictness. Is there a plan to convert more public schools to KIPP? See Jim Horn’s book about KIPP, Work Hard Be Hard: Journey through “No Excuses” Teaching.
In 2013, Adler is mentioned in a University of Pennsylvania report called “Teachers Are Students, Too: Improving teacher education through high impact philanthropy.” Will impact investing be the new norm for public education?
Adler has done important work surrounding well-being in children. But how will his feedback change public schools? Will he help save them?
Christie Vilsack taught English and journalism at the k-12 level, and college as an educator and librarian. She and her husband, former Governor Tom Vilsack, are to be commended for their outreach efforts. She is said to have used her influence to open doors and foster equality for women and girls.
Vilsack worked as a senior adviser on international education with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In recent years, Vilsack promoted the National Center for Family Literacy which became the National Center for Families Learning, a nonprofit whose goal is to eradicate poverty in children. They mention improving school attendance, reading at grade level, and gaining employability skills. Note: The website provides online resources that might be helpful to parents at this time.
I don’t, however, see Vilsack championing public schools. She’s advocated for public libraries, and there’s a brief mention of school libraries here. But her main emphasis seems to be public libraries and computer literacy. Great! But what about the loss of librarians and public school libraries? Nuance matters.
If the concern is literacy, the Reading War is currently a controversial issue, where are the reading leaders on this panel? I can think of many scholars on both sides of the aisle. Shouldn’t some of them be at the table?
Professor Hirokazu Yoshikaw
Professor Yoshikaw has focused on immigration, race and diversity, policy backlash, employers’ labor practices, income inequality, gender inequality, and climate change. Those issues are related to public schools. After the problems at the border, his attention to family separation difficulties is welcome.
He worked under both the Clinton and Obama administrations, serving on the DHHS Advisory Committee on Head Start. He was also on the Tulsa CAP Career Advancement Program.
One of CAP Tulsa’s goals is to ensure that children reach their full developmental potential by the end of third grade. They are heavily driven by online learning.
I see no advocacy by Yoshikaw when it comes to public schools. On Twitter he mentions the mind, the brain and education, and the promise of technology to reach children. Those worried about a tech takeover, are concerned by his background.
Others on the list seem focused on issues that are about higher education and social justice.
I hope this group will save public education, but I’m not optimistic. It’s troubling during this fearful time, when none of us know how this virus will affect the future education of children.
It’s frustrating when we watch Governor Cuomo giving the keys to New York’s schools to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
We know Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump will destroy public schools. So, put that in perspective, ask questions, vote the other issues that matter to you, and keep hoping the Democratic Party will get a hearing aid. Their tone deafness when it comes to the importance of public schools is dangerous.
The loss of good academic instruction for students will haunt this nation and the world for years to come. It will impact every other issue that Americans care about. This task force does not do public schooling justice.
I welcome further scrutiny of this panel.