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Trump considering wildly unpopular cabinet choices for Education Secretary

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 9:49
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screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-10-23-24-amEarlier in the election cycle, candidate Trump leaked some possibilities for his choice for Education Secretary. On the list were people like Ben Carson (talented surgeon, but not a student of education policy or process) and William Evers (who already served once in the U.S. Department of Education in the George W Bush administration.) Those across the country who fought Common Core were enthusiastic about someone like Evers being appointed. He has long been a fellow warrior against the Core and should have been an obvious choice for a candidate who campaigned saying Common Core was terrible and he would get rid of it.

So it was somewhat of a surprise to read yesterday that President Elect Trump has now placed Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz on his list of potential appointees to the Education Secretary post, and that is putting it mildly. The nation of warriors against Common Core is spitting mad that he would even consider Rhee, a watergirl for the Core from the very beginning. Search the web for Rhee and Common Core and you will find dozens of articles showing her spouting CCSSI talking points, with conviction, even just two years ago, well into the revolt against the national standards.

Gretchen Logue wrote on MEW about her appearance on Fox & Friends talking about Common Core remarking, “She wasn’t listening a whit to what several people had said about the standards or the interviewer relaying other horror stories from citizens about the standards.  She clearly doesn’t care.  She is defending an agenda and could care less what it is doing to teachers or children.”

The New York Times wrote this about Ms. Rhee in 2011 when Washington DC schools were under investigation for the high rate of erasures and suspiciously high test-score gains. In one school the percentage of answers erased and changed to correct answers was 97%.

“Ms. Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington public schools from 2007 to 2010, is the national symbol of the data-driven, take-no-prisoners education reform movement…  These days, as director of an advocacy group she founded, StudentsFirst, she crisscrosses the country pushing her education politics: she’s for vouchers and charter schools, against tenure, for teachers, but against their unions.”

Rhee’s greatest success has been her ability to raise money to become an education lobbyist for businesses who want to make money off of public education. Take Friends of Bedford, a private contractor who she brought in to fix Dunbar Senior HS in New York. FOB was not successful in turning around the failing school which, as most public schools do, had to take all eligible students, not just the ones they wanted as FOB had done at the much touted Bedford Academy. Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post wrote that it was unlikely one success would translate to another for FOB. “The schools have little in common, but there’s this: The head of Friends of Bedford, Chief Executive George Leonard, shares an ignore-the-parents management philosophy employed by Rhee when she ran D.C. schools.”

It seems Gretchen was right about Rhee’s complete disinterest in parent’s needs or perspective.

And this is someone Trump is considering for Education Secretary?

Then there’s Eva Moskowitz head of the vaunted Success Academy charter school corporation and at one time potential mayoral candidate in New York City.  Her schools are noted for are two things: test scores and discipline. The test scores are high. The level of discipline is also high. This exchange between PBS’s John  Merrow and Moskowitz paints a pretty clear picture of life inside a Success Academy school.

JOHN MERROW: The code of conduct runs six pages and identifies 65 infractions, from bullying and gambling to littering and failing to be in a ready-to-succeed position.

Former Success Academy student Jamir Geidi told me about some of the other rules.

JAMIR GEIDI, Former student, Success Academy Upper West: I would always have to keep my shirt tucked in. And let’s say I wasn’t wearing black shoes, and I was wearing red shoes. Then that would be an infraction.

JOHN MERROW: These infractions, if repeated, could trigger an out-of-school suspension, at the discretion of the principal. By contrast, principals at traditional public schools have to have district approval before suspending any K-through-third-grade student.

Suspension rates at Success Academies are almost three times higher than the city’s K-12 public schools, even though 70 percent of Success Academies are elementary schools.

What does a 5-year-old do that warrants an out-of-school suspension of one day or multiple days?

EVA MOSKOWITZ: Well, using sexually explicit language. It’s very upsetting.

JOHN MERROW: First time?

EVA MOSKOWITZ: First time, yes.

JOHN MERROW: But your code of conduct calls for out-of-school suspension for a lot of other things, not just sexually — I mean, for example, calling out the right answer twice without being called on.

EVA MOSKOWITZ: That’s not…

JOHN MERROW: The first time you do it is at level one infraction. The second time is a level two. And one consequence of level two is out-of-school suspension. Or getting out of your seat without permission…

EVA MOSKOWITZ: Yes.

JOHN MERROW: … is a level two, which could be out-of-school, or even having…

EVA MOSKOWITZ: But it — it could be, but it’s not.

JOHN MERROW: I’m sorry?

EVA MOSKOWITZ: We haven’t.

JOHN MERROW: It’s there, but you don’t — you haven’t done it?

EVA MOSKOWITZ: I mean, that’s not the context. A disciplinary code is written to give maximum freedom. And we believe it’s preparing children for life.

The accusation, which Moskowitz denies, is that Success Academy targets problem children with sequential suspensions to encourage them to drop out of the school leaving the high academically performing students to raise the overall test scores.

There’s no denying that political correctness has taken many sticks away from schools leaving them only with carrots to try to improve behavior. MEW’s posts recently have focused on all the carrot waving digital education programs being implemented. Meanwhile, children with severe behavior problems remain in standard classrooms in the misguided belief that mainstreaming them will improve their self esteem and thus their academic success. Success Academy’s ability to use sticks that most public schools cannot use (which we should be questioning as well) may point at changes that can be done in the public schools to improve them without having to displace all the children who live around them to alternative education providers.

If the accusations against Success Academy are accurate, would a Secretary Moskowitz recognize that the public school system can’t counsel behaviorally problematic kids out? Much as it will be interesting to see if the Clinton’s ability to demand top dollar for speeches remains now that their political influence has been greatly stripped, it would be interesting to see if a Moskowitz styled public school would do as well on tests as her supposedly take all comers Success Academy school does.

Moskowitz’s attractiveness to Trump is easy to understand. She is a regular at the Allen & Company conferences in Sun Valley where the private investment firm invites more than 300 of the wealthiest and most powerful executives in media, finance, politics and technology. The annual retreat, often referred to as ‘mogul summer camp,’ provides networking opportunities for its attendees and is suspected of being the progenitor of major company mergers and acquisitions. Moskowitz has rubbed elbows with these titans as, no doubt, has Trump. They are also both pro-charter, so it is easier to see why he may have put her on the list.

The United Federation of Teachers has always been staunchly opposed to Moskowitz’s leadership. They regretted her decision not to run for Mayor of NYC because it denied them the opportunity to let the world see the real Eva Moskowitz. Perhaps a Trump nomination to a cabinet position will finally give them their chance to draw back the curtain.

Meanwhile those who oppose Common Core are taking to social media with hot pokers and hashtags letting the Trump transition team know of their extreme displeasure with his options on Rhee and Moskowitz, linking both to Jeb Bush’s failed education policies. If Trump moves ahead with either candidate, expect the phone lines to the Senate to be set ablaze with calls to not confirm the new President’s cabinet appointment for Education.

Watch for a trending #EversForED.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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