Monday, August 10, 2020

James Blew: Pushing More Headscratching Arguments for USED

These days, James Blew's official title is Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the US Department of Education. He's held that job since the Senate confirmed him in July of 2018.

This guy.
That confirmation was a narrow 50-49 party line vote, perhaps because Blew's previous history is focused on dismantling US public education. He was director of Student Success California, part of the 50CAN reformy network, and he served a stint as president of StudentsFirst, the national reform advocacy group founded by Michelle Rhee, former DC chancellor and ed reform's Kim Kardashian. He was the director of the Walton family Foundation's K-12 "reform investments" for 11 years. His background is, of course, not education, but business, politics and "communications."

In short, he's a solid part of the team of foxes guarding the US education hen house.

In late July, he showed (virtually) up at the annual national (virtual) seminar held by the Education Writers Association. The session underlines the current batch of talking points being used by the department, in particular capturing some of the serious cognitive dissonance and headscratching involved. Beth Hawkins covered the interview, and did a handy job.

Blew joined in the declaration that Covid-19 highlights the need for choice, because parents might like to shop around for a school that's opening when they want it to. Blew seems to presume that the school that isn't opening is a public school, which fits nicely with the department's threat to strip funding from districts that don't open up in a manner that suits the department (aka, all the way, right now). Consider that context as you read this boggling paragraph:

“We believe that the local authorities, with health authorities, need to make the decisions about what happens in their schools,” Blew said. “We just wanted to even out the debate a little bit to let everyone know children are better off in school. They’re far better off in school, and there won’t be money coming from the federal taxpayer to support it unless they are."

So local authorities can have a choice, but the feds will only fund the choice that they like. So remember-- choice is good, but only choice that the Secretary approves of. Also, Arne Duncan was evil and awful when he used federal funding as leverage for imposing his own policy ideas on local authorities.

So can we just stop pretending that the DeVos USED has any policy ideas other than "Whatever Will Allow Us To Give Public Tax Dollars To Private Schools"?

Also, note that the department just wants to "even out the debate" like they're just a bunch of bystanders and not the federal agency that should be offering some guidance, leadership and support for the nation's public schools. Meanwhile, some DeVosian aid keeps tweeting about the need for choice, as if the pandemic problems could be solved by choice, as if there are special private schools where the coronavirus can't reach.

Blew's other moments including blaming the failure of ed reform in Detroit on absolutely everybody except the woman who worked tireless to create the regulatory framework (or lack thereof) that made all that possible. Hats off to NPR's Steve Drummond for pointing out what has been obvious all along--that Betsy DeVos has a list of things she wants for the nation's system, and she already got to have all of that list made real in Michigan, where it failed hard.

Blew also tossed out the old baloney about public schools being locked in a factory model that hasn't changed for 100 years, an argument that can only be seriously made by someone who hasn't seriously studied education history and has not set foot in a public school for decades. Oh, and that fact that it persists is the union's fault. It's all baloney, but baloney that has long legs as a talking point.

Just for fun, Blew also accused reporters of being elites. When reminded of the kind of money that reporters actually make, Blew swiftly pivoted to the usual bad guys:

“I have lots of friends who are reporters and I understand the salary pressures on all of you right now,” he said. “I would, by the way, contrast that with the average salary of a teacher in this country.”

Yup, it's the teachers that are the elites, and it takes ordinary everyday salt-of-the-earth millionaires and their well-paid minions to fight back. Consider my head scratched.


  1. I just looked both teacher and newspaper reporter average salaries. They are around the same. 49 years ago, hen I was working for the Caledonian-Record daily paper in St. Johnsbury VT and my girlfriend was teaching high school English, we made the exact same salary.

  2. Have you noticed that he has now established the Defense of Freedom Institute for Policies Studies with another former member of the DeVos USED. | I note that your headline includes headscratching. There is no headscratching if one evaluates James from his own mercinary perspective, which has been consistent for decades and has nothing to do with education "reform". Education is merely a means to an end. | I've also noted in several articles and blogs about him that there is mention about his self proclaimed experience in "communications". Disappointing that no one has ever researched what James means by that. When he was younger he worked for a LA based company that did "political advertising", i.e. propaganda and marketing. Their main client at the time was Nuclear Power companies trying to overcome NIMBY. Later he headed their NYC office. | While he was part of the DeVos USED I was very happy to see that DeVos, and the administration she was a political appointee of, did not take advantage of the best available Goebbels they had. Unfortunately though his new "institue" he is now in a position to be dangerous.