Tag Archives: neoliberalism

Education with the Biden Team

16 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/16/2021 – Updated 1/19/2021

Joe Biden has garnered wide spread praise for his choice of Miguel Cardona as Secretary of Education; maybe too wide. The co-founder of Bellwether Education, Andrew Rotherham says Cardona is “a Goldilocks on charter schools.”  However, Goldilocks was a fairy tale and Rotherham is a well known neoliberal who campaigns for “school choice.”

At the Democratic convention in 2008, the largest groups of delegates cheering the loudest for their new standard bearers were teachers. They saw in Barack Obama and Joe Biden leaders who would end the destructive nightmare, No Child Left Behind. Linda Darling-Hammond the progressive education scholar advising Obama was viewed as someone who would bring professional sanity to national education policy and end the unjustifiable attacks on public schools and their teachers.

They were not aware of a pre-convention seminar billed “Ed Challenge for Change.” This seminar sponsored by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and real estate mogul Eli Broad included a new group of young wealthy hedge fund managers named Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). They had previously established a relationship with Senator Barak Obama. He seemed to share their ideas on education issues like charter schools, performance pay, and accountability. DFER, Gates and Broad viewed Darling-Hammond as a touchy-feely anti-accountability figure and believed she would destroy any chance that Obama would follow through on any of their education reform initiatives.

The seminar group began subjecting Darling-Hammond to withering criticism. They championed the non-traditional (meaning no education background) leader of the Chicago school system, Arne Duncan, to be the next Secretary of Education. Darling-Hammond was berated as favoring the status quo in education policy for her criticisms of alternative teacher certification programs like Teach For America (TFA) and was seen as too aligned with teachers’ unions. The education scholar was sent back to California without a government role and Obama’s basketball playing buddy joined the Obama-Biden administration.

Now, Joe Biden has chosen a person with an education background to lead the department of education but his experience running large organizations is almost non-existent. He was assistant superintendent of a school district with less than 9,000 students from 2013 to 2019. He then became Education Commissioner of Connecticut. That system serves less than 530,000 students. His primary strength seems to be he has not engaged with the controversial education issues of the day like “school choice” and testing accountability.

Which begs the question, will the Biden-Harris administration support and revitalize public schools or will they bow to big moneyed interests who make campaign contributions? Will Biden-Harris continue the neoliberal ideology of “school choice” or will they revitalize public schools? Will they continue wasting money on standardized testing that only accurately correlates with family economic conditions or will they reign in this wasteful practice?

The evidence is mixed.

The Biden-Harris Team

Miguel Cardona will be taking command at the Department of Education, however, there are many other forces accompanying Biden to Washington DC. One of those forces is the embrace of neoliberalism by people he selected to serve.

Dr. Jill Biden – The First Lady is one of the most important members of the Biden-Harris team in regards to education. She has 30 plus years experience as an educator mainly teaching Community College English. Dr. Biden continued teaching full time at Northern Virginia Community College while her husband served as Vice President of the United States. In 2017 she was named board chair of Save the Children, which works in 120 countries – including the United States – and focuses on the health, education and safety of kids.

Dr. Biden does not have much k-12 background and while serving as 2nd Lady, she did not speak out against the Race to the Top agenda. However, that does not mean she agreed with it.

Gina Raimondo – Biden’s selection for Commerce Secretary is the Governor of Rhode Island and a former venture capitalist at Village Ventures which was backed by Bain Capital. The neoliberal Democrat has pushed “school choice” and billionaire style education reform. Her first selection for Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, Ken Wagner, came from John King’s New York Department of Education. At the time, Wagner was given high praise by New York’s billionaire Chancellor Merryl Tisch. In 2019, Raimondo selected former Teach For America (TFA) corps member and New York City acolyte of Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg, Angélica Infante-Green, to replace Wagner.

Neera Tanden – She is the selection to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden was one of the many youthful neoliberals who were part of the Clinton administration. In 2008, she was a key player in Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign and is CEO of the left leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) which supports Clinton style neoliberalism. One of the Clinton emails that were released by Wiki-leaks during the 2016 campaign was a joint report on education policy from Tandan and a CAP Senior Fellow Catherine Brown. In it they informed Hillary Clinton,

“1. In spite of the challenges that remain, the standards-based reforms implemented over the last two decades have resulted in significant, positive change.

 “2. Teach For America … offers a powerful proof point that it is possible to diversify the teaching force while retaining a high bar.”

Bruce Reed – He will be Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Reed’s own bio states,

“Reed supervised the landmark 1996 welfare reform law, the 1994 crime bill, and the Clinton education agenda. In the Obama White House, he served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Vice President Joe Biden, working on economic, fiscal, and tax policy, education, and gun violence. … After leaving the Obama administration, Reed spent two years as the first president of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, where he led nationwide efforts to strengthen public education in urban areas.” (Emphasis Added)

Reed also has served as President of the Democratic Leadership Council which embraced neoliberalism.

Reed’s 2016 advice to Hillary Clinton was also revealed in the Wiki-leaks dump. Reed states that choice in the form of charters and higher standards should be the center piece of what we do as a country for education reform. He claimed school districts with elected boards are another part of “broken democracy.” Reed praised the portfolio model of school reform and promoted edtech by holding up Summit Charters as a good example.

Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers – She has been appointed special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs. Demers’ résumé includes advising TFA corps members and interviewing future candidates.

Dani Durante – She has been tabbed as Director of leadership and Training. Durante previously served as Senior Director of Operations at OneGoal: Graduation. OneGoal is a non-profit working to advance graduation rates in poor and minority communities. Its major funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Susan and Michael Dell Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Anne Hyslop is assistant director for policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Alliance is the digital learning advocate (edtech sales) that former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise once led. She noted the new staff’s TFA experience observing it “has been a stepping-stone for a lot of Democratic political folks for some time, so that’s not a surprise.” Durante, like Demers, worked at TFA.

Some Known’s about Cardona

A former member of Bush 41’s education department, Diane Ravitch, has noted:

“The good thing is, first of all, he’s not Betsy DeVos, and every educator in America, or almost every educator, will be thrilled about that. But, secondly, he’s a public school person. He went to public schools. His children go to public schools. He’s been in public schools throughout his career. And that’s a big plus for many people who have been watching the attacks on public education and on teachers for the past four and more years.”

Cardona is a Puerto Rican born in a Meriden, Connecticut public housing project. He was a language learner upon entering primary school. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in bilingual and bi-cultural education and a doctorate in education.

His 2011 doctoral dissertation presented to the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education was titled, “Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities.” In it he highlighted “patterns of complacency” and “institutional predeterminations” limiting learning opportunities for English Learners. He concluded,

 “Without a focused commitment of political will among educational leaders to make the necessary improvements in academic programs, gaps in student achievement will likely persist.”

From my perspective, it seems that the normalization of failure of the ELL students continues to influence practices.”

However, all is not sweetness and honey with this new nominee. According to EdWeek, Cardona has been affiliated with New Leaders where he participated in a fellowship program. This is concerning because New Leaders is a billionaire financed organization working to replace University based programs training education leaders with a program featuring their own reform ideology. New Leaders embraces the privatization of public schools and the “school choice” agenda.

In a Bloomberg opinion piece, Andrea Gabor gave this advice to Cardona,

“Eliminating or sharply curtailing standardized tests would save states as much as $1.7 billion and allow districts to reallocate resources. For perspective, that is over 4% of the $39 billion the federal government spends on K-12 education, based on 2018 figures.”

Gabor’s piece prompted Education expert Peter Greene to share a compendium of his articles written about the useless nature of the “Big Standardized Test.” He opened his compendium with this simple declarative sentence, “I’ve been banging the ‘Get Rid of the BS Test’ for years, but all the reasons it’s a lousy, toxic, destructive-and-not-even-useful force in education are amplified a hundred-fold by our current pandemess.”

Unfortunately, it appears Cardona disagrees. In 2020, the state of Connecticut got a waiver from testing but did not apply for a 2021 waiver. Cardona sent a memo stating, “State assessments are important guideposts to our promise of equity.” and “They are the most accurate tool available to tell us if all students … are growing and achieving at the highest levels on the state standards.”

This is sad because it has been widely demonstrated that the BS test is useless for measuring student achievement. Their only values are as a profit generating business and creating propaganda to privatize schools.

During his Connecticut confirmation hearing, Cardona responded to a question about charter schools with “Charter schools provide choice for parents that are seeking choice, so I think it’s a viable option.” Hopefully when he gets out of a state that only has 24 charter schools, he will recognize the devastation they are wreaking on public schools.

The other issue Cardona will face immediately is reopening schools for face to face classes. The AP reports that Biden wants all schools opened within 100 days of his nomination. That means all schools open by May 1. If Biden gets his announced recovery package through and 100 million people vaccinated by then, it seems doable. It is concerning that Cardona tried to get Connecticut schools open with the pandemic raging.

A coalition of Connecticut labor unions said in a joint statement. “If selected as Secretary of Education, Dr. Cardona would be a positive force for public education — light years ahead of the dismal Betsy DeVos track record.” That may be true but the labor leaders don’t seem to be in touch with their rank and file.

Nicole Rizzo an organizer for Connecticut Public School (CTPS) Advocates conducted a survey on the (CTPS) Advocates Facebook page in reaction to the Education Union Coalition’s endorsement of Cardona. She found that an extremely small percentage of the 392 educators polled supported his nomination (7.1%), while a big majority did not (92.9%).

Final Comment

At the Education Forum 2020, Joe Biden’s responded to Dr. Denisha Jones’ question will you end mandated standardized testing in public schools? He answered with an unequivocal “yes.” Biden then went on for more than five minutes about why he opposed testing. However as Diane Ravitch has observed, he did not include this policy change on his education agenda webpage.

Jan Resseger shared,President Elect Joe Biden prioritized public school funding as the center of his education plan during his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for President.”  Although he does not specifically commit to ending standardized testing, he does commit to significantly increasing public school funding and elaborates on these five listed points of emphasis:

  1. “Support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve.
  2.  “Invest in resources for our schools so students grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults, and educators can focus on teaching.”
  3. “Ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.”
  4.  “Provide every middle and high school student a path to a successful career.”
  5. “Start investing in our children at birth.”

There are many reasons for students, parents and teachers to be hopeful that responsible leadership has come to national education policy after a fifty-year drought. On the other hand, it is not clear that the new administration will oppose the destructive “school choice” ideology as a central focus. There are reasons to pay close attention to the neoliberal anti-public school forces embedded throughout this new administration and be ready to once again man the ramparts. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify.”

Update added 1/19/2021: Today, Cindy Marten was nominated by Joe Biden to be Deputy Secretary of Education. I have met Marten a few times and believe she is a special kind of leader committed to public education. This gives me great hope. For the first time, we have two educators with deep k-12 experience running the Department of Education. This article from the San Diego Union gives a good synopsis of her education career. In his announcement Biden noted, “Superintendent, principal, vice principal and literacy specialist are all job titles Marten has held in her 32-year career as an educator.”

The appointment makes me think the Biden administration may become the best friend public education has had in Washington DC since the Department of Education was created. Of course, Marten does not walk on water but from my perspective she is the real deal.

“The End of Public Education”

27 Dec

Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Rochester, New York, David W. Hursh has written a fascinating little book with the above title. It is subtitled: “The Corporate Reform Agenda to Privatize Education.”[1] Professor Hursh makes two powerful points. First, the threat to public education’s existence is real and serious. Second, this threat is driven by neoliberal philosophy which is widely promoted by many extremely wealthy individuals.

“We may be witnessing the end of public education in the United States. Not in the sense that public funding of schools will cease, although funding is likely to decrease.” These are the first two sentences of the book. When you read Professor Hursh’s detailed account of the money and political clout purchased in the cause of privatizing public education in New York, the reader is left with the sense that the “End of Public Education” in that state is more likely than not.

Neoliberal Philosophy Shakes off Its Laissez-faire History

During a crushing worldwide depression and World War II, Franklin Roosevelt successfully established several popular government programs including social security. It was in this environment that the Austrian born economist Frederic Von Hayek attacked Roosevelt’s “new deal” and its Keynesian philosophy of economics underpinning. Hayek warned about the tyranny of government control in his book The Road to Serfdom. In the early 1950’s Milton Friedman, at the University of Chicago, started making similar criticisms of government programs which he said should be left to the market place and private business.

Hayek and Friedman were marginal personalities until the early 1970’s when the large government deficits caused by spending on the Viet Nam war provided some credence for them. Their rather old and discredited economic philosophy gathered new momentum and a modern name, Neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is a term whose usage and definition have changed over time. Since the 1980s, the term has been used by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences and critics primarily in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, its advocates supported extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. Neoliberalism is famously associated with the economic policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States.”

Coevally, Richard Nixon appointed Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court. Quoting from Wikipedia “he had been a board member of Philip Morris from 1964 until his court appointment in 1971 and had acted as a contact point for the tobacco industry with the Virginia Commonwealth University. Through his law firm, Powell represented the Tobacco Institute and various tobacco companies in numerous law cases.”

Just before taking his place on the court Powell wrote a confidential memo to a friend at the Chamber of Commerce recommending more aggressive action in molding politics and the law in the United States to promote free enterprise. It appears that this memo sparked the establishment of several neoliberal think tanks including the American Heritage Institute and the Cato Institute.

These well financed think tanks and associated lobbying organizations have promoted a neoliberal agenda with spectacular success. Many of their ideas have grown to the status of what Professor Hursh calls “social imaginaries” or ways of thinking shared in society by ordinary people. For example, there is a widely held belief that government is inefficient and wasteful while private business and markets are efficient and fair.

Hursh says (page 34): “Venture philanthropists aim to use philanthropy to design and implement education policies of privatization, markets, efficiency, and accountability.” The “social imaginaries” that have been developed support their effort.

Relative to this idea he quotes the following explanation (page 44):

 “Olssen, Codd and O’Neill (2004) write that: ’every social transaction is conceptualized as entrepreneurial, to be carried out purely for personal gain. The market introduces competition as the structuring mechanism through which resources and status are allocated efficiently and fairly. The ‘invisible hand’ of the market is thought to be the most efficient way of sorting out what competing individual gets what.’”

Education Policy Decided by Unelected Foundations and Corporations

The most powerful neoliberal in the United States is Bill Gates. He is emblematic of the new form of government we have developed. Instead of a representative democracy, we now have governance by foundations. The people making the decisions do so behind closed doors and never stand for election. There are hundreds of private foundations across America spending large amounts of capital to shape a privatized education system. The big three are the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Foundation and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Hursh reports (page 97):

 “Bill Gates uses his fortune to fund the corporate education reform focusing on the Common Core standards, curriculum and assessment and on privatizing education through charter schools. In addition, as evidenced by his funding of organizations such as NewSchools Venture Fund, he is interested in developing projects that will create profits for investors.”

Working with and supporting the foundations to drive the privatization agenda are thousands of corporations. There are real estate firms forming Education Management Companies so they can institute property lease-back schemes. There is an uncountable number of technology companies, both large establish ones and startups, angling to sell products of dubious pedagogical value to schools. There are consulting firms, investment bankers, hedge funds and on and on and on. The largest publishing company the world has ever witnessed, Pearson, has plans to control all curricular and testing services worldwide.

Democratic Party Supports the Neoliberal Education Agenda

Barak Obama and the Democratic Party’s have embraced neoliberal ideology especially in regards to education. In 2008, the hedge fund dominated group Democrats for Education Reform convinced Obama to dump his presumptive Secretary of Education nominee, Linda Hammond-Darling, and appoint Arne Duncan. Obama and Duncan put into place the test centric and competition oriented Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative. For the first time ever, in accord with neoliberal theory, states were forced to compete for education dollars.

RTTT was all about objective measures and competition. In order to win race to the top monies, states had to agree to enact Common Core State Standards (or their equivalent), evaluate teachers and schools based on testing results and open a path for more privatized schools (charter schools). The Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, enthusiastically embraced RTTT even parroting Milton Friedman, saying he wants to destroy “the public school monopoly.”

The great American public education system was not built by the federal government nor was it built by corporate structures. It was built by common citizens in their communities to educate their own children. These wonderful schools that produced what Neoliberals call “American exceptionalism” are being stolen from their communities. I agree with Hursh’s conclusion (page 105/6):

 “We need to defend public education as worth public funding and as an area in which everyone has an input, rather than only those who are wealthy or have political connections.”

 I hope my effort to supply a little flavor of what David W. Hursh has written about will encourage you to read his book and take action to save public schools from the ravages of greed, hubris and bad philosophy.

Hursh, David W. The End of Public Schools, Routledge, 2016