Saturday, March 4, 2017

Education44: Obama USED Parting Shot

March continues to come in like a lion who really wants to create a blog about his experiences over the past five or eight years. We have looked at FutureEd and The Line, two new websites that are make sure we can all still get to hear the voices of a bunch of ed reform types who wouldn't shut up for the last decade. FutureEd has set out to plug Common Core and all the fun things that came with it, while The Line seems dedicated to making sure that Chiefs for Change and the Broady axis of reform still get the word out (I am wondering if Peter Cunningham, previously tasked with this important work at Education Post, is feeling abandoned).

But good lord, that's not all. Because who needs a website to get the word out about their hard work then the folks at the Obama Department of Education.

Oh, the fun we had trashing public ed

That's right-- a bunch of USED refugees have created a website as a monument to eight years of.. well, we'll get to that. Of all these sites, Education44 most explicitly promises to keep its eyes on the rear-view mirror of education policy:

Under President Obama – the 44th President of the United States – the U.S. Department of Education worked to make America’s promise attainable for more students. The administration’s agenda focused on protecting access to a high-quality education for all students while reforming and innovating public education to produce greater equity.

Here you will find the legacy of the Obama administration’s work, and a balanced platform where you can learn about policies and ideas for improving public education.

That link takes you to our first legacy document-- John King's exit memo that attempts to sum up the many accomplishments of the Obama-Duncan-King Ed Department. Those missions that have been accomplished are:

1) Greater access to pre-school and more high school grads. Are the pre-schools any good? Did schools fudge numbers to get more "grads." Oh, let's just not talk about that.

2) Higher standards and better assessments. Oh, honey. Trying to take credit for Common Core without saying its name is ballsy, but dumb. Those standards were craptastic, and we'll be years trying to undo the damage. And no-- the assessments aren't better, and the administration's insistence on placing the Big Standardized Test at the center of the educational system will long stand as one of the most destructive, toxic, and foolish legacies of the administration.

3) More personalized learning through technology. Well, at least they admit that's what they've been up to. It is a dead end--and an expensive one-- so thanks, Obama, for that special gift.

4) Historic investments in higher education. Yeah available loans were increased, allowing even more students to go into debt. Hooray?

5) Early learning. Here they brag about the grants used to extend all of their bad educational ideas (standardization, test-driven ed, computer-based instruction) down to the 0-5 year old crowd. Admit it-- you guys have no idea whether any of that resulted in actual learning or not. All we can be sure of is that it warped a lot of small children's childhood while getting them a good head start on having their digital privacy violated.

6) Opportunity and success. This is super-vague, but I gather that they are pleased with ESSA (despite its punch-in-the-face to their department) and also, they are serving the hell out of underserved students. Somehow.

7) Innovation and evidence of what works in education. They have gathered evidence from grant-spurred programs that provide evidence of the evidence-based approach to education that really works, because they have evidence. Somewhere. Honest.

8) Support for education and the teaching profession. Oh, please. The last eight years were just as hostile to teachers and public education as any other years ever (with the possible exception of the next four years). You treated us like the problem, ignored our voices, and drove us out of the current and future profession. The department tries to get applause for its ambassador fellowship program that accomplished jack. Okay, not quite true-- it made the department pat itself on the back for allowing a handful of teachers to come pretend to be listened to. Meanwhile, the department claims that we were all clamoring for better feedback on professional development. Incredibly, King gives them credit for pursuing the program of finding great teachers and moving them around to needy schools, a policy idea that never, ever actually happened anywhere (which is good, because it was a dumb idea). They would also like credit for "helping" the profession by meddling in college teacher prep programs. Dammit you guys-- you were never our friends, ever.

9) Strong students support. Here's a list of some grant programs. Whoop-de-doo.

10) Protection of student civil rights. It was one of their more creative approaches to strong-arming state and local ed leaders. Of course, in Trumpistan, there will be no such activity.

11) College affordability. Well, the department made a big fat ton of money on college loans, but I don't think that much helped people who wanted to go to college.

The exit memo then lists assorted policy ideas that a future department should follow to continue the Great Work. This is kind of sad, since even when the new department continues the old department's initiatives (like, say, a fetish-level love and pursuit of charter expansion) they'll never admit it. I would feel badly for all the department folks who will suffer the frustration of feeling as if they have a lot of expertise to offer, but nobody will listen to them-- but that's exactly how teachers were treated by their administration, so my sad feelings are not happening.

What else can we find at Education44? Well, there are some collected items from elsewhere, like Arne Duncan's WaPo piece about how sucky Trump is for rolling back trans student rights. There are more pieces about all the cool programs that the department used to run. There's an attempt to argue that the School Improvement Grants were not the colossal waste of time and money that others have made them out to be.

There's a buttload of "fact sheets," so perhaps the idea here was that the Ed department would rescue valuable information form the ravenous maw of the Trumpites. As the site sadly notes at the bottom of the page: "Education44 is the legacy website for the Obama administration's Education Department. Our content includes historical material via links to external websites. Some links may not work."

The problem with a legacy site for 44's ed department is that their legacy was kind of lousy. They pursued a lot of anti-teacher, anti-public ed policies. They abandoned Democrat principles and constituencies in favor of neo-liberal and lipsticked-pig conservative programs. They pushed testing to the center of the American education system, and then when it became obvious that the testing emphasis was having a toxic effect, they shrugged their shoulders and said, "How could such a thing have happened?" They ignored teachers, pushed charters as a way to undermine public schools, and suggested that students with special needs just needed teachers who would expect harder. They turned proper funding into a zero-sum winners-and-losers contest. And by botching their response to troubled schools, they made it possible for future departments to dismiss the whole idea of providing financial support for schools.

In fact, by botching pretty much everything, they built broad support for getting rid of the department entirely.

Right now is a tough time for a supporter of public education. I am so very not happy that Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump are here, but at the same time, this site reminds me that I am not sorry that the Obama-era department is gone.


  1. The "best" part (being facetious) was when our lovely union stood next to Obama as he signed ESSA. Or hyped RTTT. Thanks, Randi and AFT!

  2. Gil Scott-Herron had a song/wrap re: politics in the 70's " Halderman Alderman Mitchell & Dean" it follows a pattern if you know what I mean. I love Barack but there must be a similar rhyme for Rahm, Arne, Eli & John King. We must remember the Dyett hunger strike and continue to protect kids & families.