Tim Shriver is supposedly being vetted to be education secretary, a surprise for those waiting to hear of a Jahana, a Julian, a Randi, Lily, or another educator with classroom experience getting the post. There seems to be a fight for school control between the teachers and the school reformers. [Please see below for additional information that came to light after originally posting this.]
DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) shared their nominees, and now another group, the National Charter Collaborative, has made the list longer. Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone; Charter school CEO Margaret Fortune; Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D); Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.); Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.); and Howard Fuller, considered a school reform and school choice activist, were added to the mix. Bennett isn’t interested.
Tim Shriver? The HuffPost describes him as someone above the fray of debates within the education community on issues of school accountability.
“After decades of reform efforts in schools, most federal and state policy is mired in these culture wars and disputes and these debates. He believes they are unproductive and so divisive and expensive, and no one seems to be winning them, least of all children. He wants to figure out how we can teach children and how children actually learn,” said the source.
He says he wants to figure out how to teach children, but it’s the teachers in the field who need to be given the freedom to do so without outside interference. To not understand the concerns of teachers about public schools, during this time, especially with Covid-19, raises more questions than gives answers.
Shriver is chairman of Special Olympics. If he were appointed education secretary, he could champion the school needs of students with disabilities. When Shriver speaks about this area, it’s easy to see he cares like his mother.
However, it’s important to remember that while Special Olympics is a wonderful organization, it’s not public education. The students who participate might be public school students, and the organization works with schools.
As a nonprofit organization that is exempt from federal taxation, we ensure our donors’ money is spent as efficiently and effectively as possible.
This fact became murky when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos threatened to cut funds to Special Olympics last year. None of us wanted to hear that, and Shriver wrote an impassioned article supporting the organization. He used the term Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools, and some did not understand that cutting funds to a nonprofit like Special Olympics was different than cutting funds to public schools.
For the record, my public college in the 70s, Central Michigan University, sought to host the International Special Olympics. I’ll never forget what an inspiring event it was to strive to win that right. Or the thrill of hearing Eunice Kennedy Shriver cheer for the talented athletes. They used to host the Very Special Arts Festival, which was equally exciting and showcased students’ artistic talent with disabilities.
These activities, however, have sometimes been challenged as not being mainstream enough.
It’s also troubling that Shriver has other entanglements, and it isn’t clear that he understands the fight for democratic public schooling.
He co-founded and currently chairs the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning called CASEL, another nonprofit. Linda Darling-Hammond who is guiding the Biden education transition team, is a CASEL board of directors emeritus. Social-emotional learning has been controversial among parents, but it was sweeping through the education curriculum before Covid-19 hit. Some promote it as replacing the past harsh test requirements but getting students better prepared for tests if you read between the lines. SEL is like sophisticated character education with publishing companies cashing in on questionable assessments that collect online data about student behavior.
I’ve written about SEL here and here, and more on my blog. Other bloggers like the Missouri Education Watchdog have written about it too.
Shriver’s education qualifications are highlighted, but there are questions. He’s repeatedly called a leading educator. But he has done more in entrepreneurial pursuits than in public schools. The CASEL website bio states: He has produced four films, written for dozens of newspapers and magazines, founded an ice cream company, and been rewarded with degrees and honors which he said he didn’t deserve but happily accepted on behalf of others. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hardly a vita that emphasizes time in the classroom.
Shriver has been a high school teacher including in special education and a counselor and teacher with the University of Connecticut branch of Upward Bound, another nonprofit. What did he teach in the public high school for how long, and was he qualified to be teaching special education and the course he taught?
His undergraduate degree is from Yale, but what degree did he receive? His master’s is in religion from a Catholic university. His doctorate is in education but exactly what in education is also unclear.
These might seem like picky questions, but this nation has suffered for too long under education secretaries who are not real educators and true advocates of Democratic public schooling.
It seems that President-elect Biden has quite a choice to make, whether to side with the teachers in this country or those with privatization plans for public schools. Shriver might seem like he is middle of the road, but his nonprofit connections say otherwise, and one is left to wonder if he is really a true advocate for teachers and democratic public schools.
It came to my attention after posting this that Tim Shriver is also chair of the board of advisors of Leeds Equity Partners, a long-time bad actor in the for-profit college industry.
Edison schools were a failed attempt to privatize public education, by Chris Whittle. What’s left is an attempt to move into digital learning.