DeVos, the Teachers Unions, and Political Cartoonists

While not endorsing the message of the below cartoon, Eduflack was fascinated by the following piece that appeared in the Tampa Times last week (the newspaper of record for Eduflack’s parents during winter time). 

I recognize that far too many people are looking to sources like Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show for their news these days. But what was most interesting was that the DeVos confirmation rose to the level of a syndicated political cartoon (particularly one distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group) and that the cartoon would differ so strongly from the editorial content that the Post was publishing on the same topic. 

Any sightings of this in other newspapers? If so, please share.

“The Man in the Arena”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Teddy Roosevelt, in his Citizenship in the Republic speech, delivered in Paris on April 23, 1910

Is Education Level, Alma Mater the Measures of Ability?

My grandfather was a high school dropout. After ending his formal education, he joined the U.S. Army. The Army taught him how to drive a truck and how to repair them. After his service to our country, he put those skills to work, taking care of my grandmother and their five children. His 10th grade education and the skills he obtained allowed him to pay the mortgage, cloth and feed his family, and generally love the middle class American dream. Sure, money was always tight, but they found a way.

My grandfather took great pride in not trusting “college boys.” When my mother brought home my dad, a 24-year-old doctoral student, for the first time, my grandfather couldn’t fathom how one could be 24-years old and still in college. My grandfather had obtained his education though his life experiences, and education on the streets (and highways).

Coming out of the 2016 elections, I’ve often thought about my grandfather and what he would have thought about this election. He was a loyal Teamster, and often voted as the union leadership instructed their truckers. In all likelihood, he would have been part of Trump’s America, embracing an outsider, someone who would stick it to the man, and someone would pledged a commitment to hard work and the good ol’ days. He would have pointed to Trump’s successes as a businessman, particularly his ability to get things done, to complete projects on time, and the perception that Trump was always getting the better end of the deals he negotiated.

I also thought about my grandfather in reading Shaun King’s latest for the New York Daily News. In it, King laments how we are likely facing the least-educated presidential administration in recent times. Donald Trump will be the first president in more than two decades to “only hold a bachelor’s degree.” He is nominating potential cabinet members who also hold only lowly bachelor’s degrees as their highest educational attainment. And even worse, some of those attended non-Ivy League colleges!

King longs (channeling a Ta-Nehisi Coates interview on the topic) for a cabinet of Nobel Laureates and Ivy League Ph.Ds. We all have our vision of who makes the best leaders. But when one sees educational attainment (including from which institution obtained) as the ultimate measure of ability and success, aren’t we again projecting a sense of entitlement? And in the process, aren’t we discounting the skills and abilities of some to fit the preferences and prejudices of others?

There is no Ivy League Ph.D. program, law school or MBA coursework, that prepares one to be president (or even a Cabinet secretary). A former Nobel laureate Energy Secretary may go down in history as one of the worst at the position. In fact, one could argue such academic accomplishments (and the Ivy towers that come with them) ensure that individuals are not prepared for effectively leading large bureaucracies or owning the bully pulpits that come with being a politician on the national stage.

Many have taken school choice advocate Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Education Secretary as a sign of what is wrong with the system. As King and many others have noted, DeVos “only” holds a bachelor’s degree from Calvin College. She’s also been attacked for having never worked as a public school teacher or for having never worked in K-12 in general (among other criticisms).

But many of the same people who criticize DeVos for her lack of education pedigree are the same who were uber-critical of Rod Paige when he was named EdSec in 2001. Dr. Paige held a doctorate. He had been a K-12 teacher (though in a subject that many dismissed), a school superintendent, and had worked in higher education. We dismissed those experiences as well, saying he shouldn’t be the EdSec, because we didn’t like the schools he attended or the subjects he taught. He didn’t fit the pre-conceived perceptions that many had for an EdSec.

I’d remind folks that those who think teaching experience is a pre-requisite for being EdSec, such a filter would have denied us EdSec Richard Riley, perhaps the most successful Secretary since the creation of the Department in the Carter Administration. And for those who think an advanced degree is a requirement for becoming president, it would have kept us from Presidents Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan (just to name a few).

What is of even greater concern is the focus on where the degrees of nominees may be from. We discount Trump’s B.A. from a lesser Ivy like UPenn, and folks are having a field day with DeVos’ Calvin College. Here in America, we tell our kids that a college education is the most important investment they can make. Almost as frequently, we tell them where they attend doesn’t matter (as long as it is accredited) as long as they work hard and earn their degree.

But the scorn that is now being displayed for the Trump administration on its attainment levels and alma maters tell a very different story. We are telling our kids that if they only get a bachelor’s degree, they can’t be a true success (I guess we will forget Bill Gates dropping out of school and such). And we’re telling them that that undergraduate degree from an affordable state college isn’t worth as much as one from an elite private school charging $75,000 a year. 

Even worse, we are telling our kids that one’s success is measured by the letters after their name and the public recognition of the college bumper sticker on their car, not by what they have achieved in their lives.

Sure, I know that isn’t what King is intending to say. But it is how it can come across to so many. We should measure our leaders (and everyone else) by what they know and are able to do. It should be about earning success and demonstrating achievement. A graduate degree can be one measure of that. So can military service. So can experience building a non-profit organization or serving as a community leader. So can a whole lot of things that just aren’t measured by a sheepskin.

What Edu-Reporting Can Learn from the 2016 Campaign

What [the election] means for us is both calling out racism when we see it, and also speaking to people who don’t necessarily see common ground with each other. I don’t know that we weren’t doing that before, but going forward we are intending on making sure our language is as honest and accurate as possible, and holding people accountable.

– Hechinger Report’s Sarah Garland, in Alexander Russo’s Make [Education] Reporting Great Again

A Steady Hand for Trump EdSec

Last month, Eduflack wrote about his dream, that the next U.S. President would select a family advocate as the next Education Secretary. Now that the election dust has settled and we start to see the names being put forward as possible EdSecs in President-elect Trump’s administration, I become a realist. We may not get a parental engagement beacon as EdSec, but I can still hope for a new assistant secretary for family and community engagement, can’t I?

So it begs the question, who will become the next EdSec? The current parlor games have “sexy” candidates like Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz or former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee dominating headlines. School choice advocates like Betsy DeVos and Jeanne Allen are also frequently mentioned. Former state chiefs like Gerard Robinson (of VA and FL) and Tony Bennett (IN and FL) also gain mention. In fact, of all those who have been mentioned, only surgeon Ben Carson seems to have taken himself out of the running.

What do we make of all this? If we look to when Trump selected a vice president, most folks were willing to bet that either New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were jockeying for the number two slot. It wasn’t until the final hours that some started seeing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as a possibility.

We know that Donald Trump likes to be the big dog. That means an EdSec who dominates the spotlight (and the media coverage) is likely not what he is looking for. We know he believes in state and local control, so a DC power broker seems unlikely. And we know that education is not likely a top concern of the Trump administration, so ED needs a steady hand that understands policy, can work with the Hill, and can get things done without too much drama.

Or more simply, ED needs an adult who both understands how a bureaucracy like the Education Department operates, who knows how to get the most out of all the career employees embedded over on Maryland Avenue, yet understands how and why to continue to push decisions and actions to the states.

With all that, the Eduflack shortlist for EdSec includes:

Bill Evers – Evers is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was assistant secretary of education for policy in the George W. Bush administration. Evers served on several academic standards commissions in California and is a former elected board of education member and charter school board member.

Bill Hansen – Currently the President and CEO of USA Funds, Hansen was the deputy secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration. He brings significant private sector education experience, while serving on state education commissions in Virginia. Hansen brings a mix of both K-12 and higher education experience.

Hanna Skandera – Skandera has severed as New Mexico’s Secretary of Education since 2010. She was previously Florida’s deputy commissioner of education, undersecretary of education in California, and as a senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education.

While I could keep going, listing a number of congressmen, governors, university presidents, and corporate executives, I couldn’t say any of them would be better choices than one of these three. Each are steeped in K-12 and higher education knowledge. Each understand the federal/state/local balance. And each is a workhorse, unlikely to upstage the boss on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Who am I missing?

A Personal Dream, Shattered

Those who know Eduflack well know that one of my life dreams is owning and running a small-town weekly newspaper. Perhaps it was having my first written work published in the Sharon (MA) Advocate when I was seven years old. Maybe it was all my dealings with weekly newspapers in West Virginia while working for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Or it could be I just love how newspapers remain a hub of community in small towns across the country.

A few years back, I came really close to buying a weekly pub in Connecticut (after kicking the tires on another one in Tennessee). But the timing just wasn’t right. Don’t you hate when life just gets in the way?

We’ve all seen those contests every few months from someone who is raffling off a bed and breakfast. Write an essay, submit a $200 fee, and you could win your own B&B. I’d look at those ads and wonder, who wants all of the work of actually running a B&B (and having all of those strangers in your house all the time)?

Earlier this year, though, I read an article on a similar contest. Only instead of a B&B, the price was the Hardwick Gazette, a small-town weekly newspaper in northern Vermont. I immediately romanticized the idea of owning the Gazette. I penned  a beautiful essay. I was the next publisher of the Hardwick Gazette.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. A few months ago, the owners alerted all contestants that not enough submissions were in to make the contest go. So they extended the deadline. Then they added a Kickstarter campaign to try and add enough charitable contributions to make the deal worthwhile for the family. Today, I got word that none of those worked as intended, and the contest was cancelled.

As they noted in their email, “The quality of essays received to this point is outstanding. I am heartened by them. The essayists have journalistic and business experience. They convey an appreciation for independent, local journalism, an understanding of community and a knowledge that hard work and thick skin go with the territory. Their passion for newspapers shines through.” But it just wanted meant to be.

I wish the Hardwick Gazette the best of luck as they now try to find a traditional buyer for their paper. I hope they get what they are looking for. I just need to see it as a dream deferred. There may still be a newspaper in my future yet.

 

 

A Million Thanks!

Nine and a half years ago, I started Eduflack as cathartic tool. I was looking for an outlet to express my thoughts, I wanted to write more, and the idea of education blogging was just taking off. I wrote my first post in March 2007. It was before I joined Facebook. It was before I signed up for Twitter (even though I thought it was an incredibly silly platform at the time, after all, who wanted to blog in fewer than 140 characters). It was even before my daughter was born. 

So it is with extreme gratitude that I want to thank everyone who has read and shared this blog. As of this week,  there have been 1 million visitors to Eduflack. What I once thought no one would ever read has attracted enough eyeballs to win an election in a questionable country. 

I’m truly humbled by the continued readership and interest. I recognize I font wrote nearly as frequently as I once did, and that my @Eduflwck Twitter feed gets far more attention these days. But I am grateful for every single reader and will work harder to share thoughtful, thought provoking posts in the future. 

A million thanks to you!