Eight years ago, Eduflack wrote on the appointments the then new Obama Administration had made. With almost all of the senior, Senate-confirmable appointments made by then EdSec Arne Duncan, we saw a great deal of ED leaders coming with backgrounds including the Gates Foundation and New Schools Venture Fund, but almost none that came with experience working on educational issues at the state level.
Oh, the good ol’ days!
Here we are in May of 2017, and we are still waiting to see what experiences and backgrounds the senior ranks of EdSec Betsy DeVos’ Education Department will bring. One would like to believe that she will have strong representation of those with experiences at the state and local level. One can assume that the state of Michigan, as well as the American Federation for Children, Great Lakes Education Project, and other efforts DeVos has personally involved herself in. But that’s what it is, a belief. It is a guess. It is a hope (or for others, a fear).
It’s not a matter of waiting for those positions to be confirmed by a cantankerous Senate. No, it is still an issue of actual nominations being put forward.
No word on who will serve as Under Secretary, with a responsibility of overseeing most higher education work, including student loans. No word on who will serve as Deputy Secretary, essentially running ED day to day. No word on who will run Elementary and Secondary Education, overseeing ESSA implementation and all that comes with it. No word on who will run the Office of Innovation and Improvement, with the likely portfolio of implementing DeVos’ school choice effort. Not even word on who will run the Office of Communications and Outreach, ensuring a consistent message and a community of supporters to move whatever agenda is ultimately put forward forward.
EdSec DeVos has an opportunity to really move some things. Setting aside budget politics for a second, the Trump agenda allows for significant action on issues like career and technical education, adult education, and early childhood. The school choice proposal is on par — both financially and inspirationally — with Duncan’s Race to the Top Efforts or Rod Paige’s NCLB agenda. But to take advantage of it, DeVos needs leaders who can help shepherd parts of a cohesive policy agenda. She needs individuals who can build coalitions and recruit advocates. She needs visionaries who can help states and localities think outside the box. And yes, she needs rabble rousers who can constantly push against the defenders of the status quo.
Until we see who is in those positions, we truly have no idea what the potential impact of a DeVos agenda may be. Washington, DC is often where good ideas go to die. Whether it be because of Hill inaction, lobbyist pressures, grassroots uprisings, implementation challenges, or unforced errors, change in education is a hard nut to crack. Time will tell if Team DeVos will get to enjoy the meat, or will continue to tap away at the often unpenatrable shell.