Tag: Arne Duncan

Obama Administration Doesn’t Walk the Ed Reform Walk

Oh, they’ll chew your ears off about how boldly they support and are catalyzing  real education reform, and how they won’t accept the failed status quo. Yes sir, they’ll boast nonstop about what a gigantic success their  Race to the Top initiative has been, despite having no real evidence to back that up. Without question, the Obama administration will talk the talk about transformative education reform. But walk the walk? That’s another story.

Let’s put this in perspective. Almost the entire basis for the Obama administration’s claim to school reform supremacy is Race to the Top. And what does RTTT do? It furnishes $4.35 billion to entice states into submitting sort of bold-sounding plans for education reform while requiring them to do very little when it comes to implementing those plans. At the very least, we have little reason to believe the administration can or will hold states to their promised reforms. And by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s own admission, the only winners to date won by getting lots of union and school district buy-in for their proposed reforms. So, as far as we can tell, Race to the Top itself is way more hot air than fiery reform.

But that isn’t even close to the clearest evidence that the Obama administration does little more than flap its gums about real reform while substantively supporting something very different. The clearest sign is that the so-called “stimulus” from which RTTT funding came furnished about $100 billion for education, and the vast majority of that was intended to keep as many people employed in our incredibly inefficient, labor-dominated public schooling monopoly as possible. In other words, the “stimulus” provided a gargantuan payoff for the very people who are supposed to be the subjects of tough reforms, while furnishing a relatively tiny sum for the program supposedly intended to inspire such reforms. (Of course, the Obama administration also helped kill the proven-effective D.C. school choice program, but we’ll save that for another time.) 

And the hits just keep on coming. With school districts nearing the end of their stimulus windfall, they once again face having to cut some of their copious fat. But Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has put forth the $23 billion, “Keep Our Educators Working Act” to keep that from happening, and yesterday the administration — suprise, surprise — threw its support behind the bill.  

Even the Washington Post has come out against the legislation, which if nothing else would add another $23 billion to our absolutely collosal federal deficit. Moreover, to borrow a favorite phrase of the President’s, let me be clear:  an honest accounting of even the biggest potential staffing cuts shows that those losses would constitute a relatively small cut from a system that has for decades added staff at a furious pace without producing any better outcomes.

Unfortunately, neither the shamefully irresponsible mortgaging of our future, nor the clear need to eliminate costly public-schooling jobs, seems to matter to this administration. As long as people keep letting them get away with nothing but reform-y talk, it appears they’ll willingly bankrupt the country to keep the status quo fat and happy.

While You Were Watching the Economy, Health Care, Wars…

…the federal government was taking over education. At least, it was moving a lot further in that direction, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wielding billions of “stimulus” dollars to coerce states to do Washington’s bidding. And that’s not just my take. It’s also the New York Times’:

Mr. Duncan is a man in a hurry. He has far more money to dole out than any previous secretary of education, and he is using it in ways that extend the federal government’s reach into virtually every area of education, from pre-kindergarten to college.

Race to the Top. SAFRA. National standards. For well over a year, we at the Center for Educational Freedom have issued warnings about all of these escalations of utterly unconstitutional federal power in education, but it has been nearly impossible to cut through all of the huge, non-education stories to get much notice.

Unfortunately, the hits just keep on coming. While the nation is fixated on oil in the Gulf of Mexico and the supposed evils of Wall Street, the administration continues to change the constantly moving target that is the Race to the Top program, now essentially offering individual districts in California a chance to compete in RTTT round two. This despite states explicitly being identified as THE competitors in the current RTTT. It almost makes you conclude that you just can’t trust anything you’re told about RTTT by the administration, and that there is no good reason for any state to expect a fair race.

Thankfully, there is some good news to report. According to the Times, the ever-expansive Department of Education is now about as popular as the tax man – but not quite:

A new survey by the Pew Research Center found distrust of government at its highest level in 30 years. Of all federal agencies, the department of education’s approval rating had fallen most sharply, to 40 percent from 61 percent in 1998. In fact, the department got the lowest rating of any federal agency, including the Internal Revenue Service.

And that is with ED operating largely under the radar. Imagine if people actually knew what Duncan and company were doing!

More and More Caution Flags in Race to the Top

With the first round of the so-called “Race to the Top” having produced just two winning states – and those states appearing to have won primarily because they were able to get teachers’ unions to sign onto their reform proposals – there seems to be a growing backlash against RTTT.

For one thing, several states are not applying for the second round of RTTT grants. Apparently, many just don’t think jumping through all the RTTT hoops is worth it, especially when, as a welcome new Economic Policy Institute briefing paper illustrates, who wins and who loses is pretty arbitrary.

Perhaps the more interesting new ojection to RTTT, though, is that it is, frankly, illegal. So writes the Brookings Institutions’ Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, who asserts that nowhere in the “stimulus” legislation authorizing RTTT does it say that the U.S. Secretary of Education can award money based on states doing things he prescribes. No, the authorizing legislation, according to Whitehurst, says that the money must go to states that have already made significant reform progress.

None of this, importantly,  gets at the main problem with RTTT (in addition to its unconstitutionality): That there is just no good reason to believe that it will lead to any meaningful, lasting reform. Still, the crescendoing drumbeat against what so far has been the crown jewel of the Obama administration’s education policy is a good sign. More people, it seems, are realizing that the administration talks a great game about reform, but delivers quite the opposite.

Of course, hope still springs eternal for some folks.

The Race to Declare Victory

There are some who might say that the New York Times is an unofficial press office for the Obama administration. I’m not going to say that, but a new Times editorial about the federal ”Race to the Top” education contest would certainly support such a characterization.

Today, it just so happens, I have piece on the Daily Caller pointing out how Secretary of Education Arne Duncan seems to think that just saying, constantly and unreservedly, that RTTT has worked will forestall any debate about whether that is actually the case. The Times’ editorial uses exactly the same tactic.

First, here’s the big pronouncement that, no matter what actually ends up happening with RTTT, it is already a major success:

[E]ven if the program ended today, it already has had a huge, beneficial effect on the education reform effort, especially at the state and local levels.

Really?

To support it’s coronation of the program, the only statistic the Times offers of even slight heft is that “more than a dozen states adopted new laws intended to comply with the rules of the program.”

That is hardly impressive.

For one thing, there are fifty states – thirteen or so isn’t that many.

More importantly, as I point out in the Daily Caller and have noted previously, it appears that most of these legal changes that have been made will have scant practical impact beyond making states more competitive in the RTTT. And there is little reason to believe that even if the changes are potentially meaningful, states will enforce the changes once the states have gotten – or been turned down for – RTTT funds. After all, evasion of any real accountability has been the name of the game for decades.

But you don’t even need to find the changes that states have actually made to see what a Plastic Man-like reach the Times is making. Just look at the other evidence it cites to support its pronouncement:

To apply for grants, state political leaders and education officials had to confer with the leaders of local school districts in ways that were often new to them. Even for states that don’t get grants, the new contacts and conversations will be helpful as education reform moves forward.

Now, if this $4.35 billion program were called Network to the Top, or Chat to the Top, this might make me feel like a well-rewarded taxpayer (though I’d sure like to see some concrete evidence that it opened up myriad new channels of communication). But this is supposed to be drastically raising standards and achievement, not email volume.

Here’s the other major RTTT accomplishment:

It clearly has broadened interest in the rigorous new national standards proposed last month by the National Governors Association and a group representing state school superintendents. That atmosphere could give the new standards, which reflect what students must know to succeed at college and to find good jobs in the 21st century, a real chance of gaining broad acceptance.

Without even getting into the dubious assumption that the draft Common Core State Standards are of high quality, or the very weak empirical case that national standards are beneficial, this point is actually very damning of Race to the Top.

The only reason that RTTT has “broadened interest” in national standards, as the Times so euphemistically put it, is that states essentially had to sign onto the common standards effort to compete for RTTT dough. If they hadn’t had to, many states probably would not have suddenly developed an ”interest” in the national standards push.

This gives the lie to the logically challenged – but oft-repeated – assertion that adopting national standards is “voluntary” for states: It is voluntary only if they want to give up millions of taxpayer dollars. It also suggests that states are in RTTT for the money, which Secretary Duncan has warned they had better not be.

So has RTTT been a huge success? Absolutely not, and it seems the more its defenders insist that it has, the more clear it becomes that they are wrong.

Does Duncan Have Any Clue What a Free Market Is?

On the heels of exploiting the name of perhaps the world’s all-time greatest free-marketeer, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has decided to cut right to the chase and abuse the term “free market” itself. Writing in the Washington Post as part of his ongoing effort to demonize banks and push the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act over the finish line, Duncan offers the following:

The president’s plan actually creates jobs and draws on free-market principles by selecting private companies through a competitive process to service student loans issued directly by the Education Department. These private companies, including Sallie Mae, compete for our business and are evaluated on the quality of their customer service and their default rates.

Got it? When the federal government decides which companies get to service loans that it completely controls, those are “free-market principles” at work.

Right. And the legislation Duncan is trying to sell us really is fiscally “responsible.”

Arne Duncan Embraces False Friedman

In a shocking development, U.S. Secretary of Arne Duncan embraced the ideas of Milton Friedman today, championing the funding of students instead of schools! Unfortunately, it was in the context of higher education – Duncan and his boss have done all they can to destroy school choice elsewhere – and he completely misrepresented what Friedman said about higher ed, suggesting that the Nobel Laureate somehow endorsed the federal Direct Loan Program:

We will end the loans under the Federal Family Education Program and make them directly to students – just as economist Milton Friedman proposed 50 years ago, and just as the Department of Education has been doing since 1993 through the Direct Loan Program.

Were Milton Friedman still with us, I think he would be pretty miffed with Duncan. For one thing, 50 years ago there was no Federal Family Education Loan Program. Moreover, assuming Duncan is referring to Friedman’s “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman was clearly stating that if there is going to be any higher education aid it should go to students, not schools. And then there’s this:

The resulting system would follow in its broad outlines the arrangements adopted in the United States after World War II for financing the education of veterans, except that the funds would presumably come from the States rather than the Federal government [italics added].

It’s bad enough that Duncan and his boss reject Friedman’s very wise and proven counsel when it comes to elementary and secondary education. It’s even worse that Duncan then has the gall to blatantly lie about what Friedman wrote in an effort to sell a rotten and costly piece of federal legislation, the laughably titled Student Aid and Fiscal Repsonsibility Act.

Dr. Frankenstein on His Creation: It’s All The Monster’s Fault

As I have explained on numerous occasions, supporters of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) – which would end federal guaranteed student loans, turn everything into lending direct from Uncle Sam, and spend the resulting savings and way much more – have often shamelessly promoted the bill as a boon to taxpayers when it will almost certainly cost them tens-of-billions.  Where they have generally been right is in rebutting criticisms that SAFRA would be a federal takeover of a private industry. With lender profits all but assured under federal guaranteed lending, the vast majority of student loans haven’t been truly private for decades.

Unfortunately, SAFRA advocates are just as clueless – or, more likely, rhetorically unbridled – about what constitutes a private entity as are status-quo supporters. Case in point, an article in today’s Huffington Post that, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, attempts to portray the suddenly rocky road ahead for SAFRA as a result of evil lender lobbyists dropping boulders in the selfless legislation’s way:

Taking aim at Sallie Mae, the largest student lender in the country and a driving force behind the lobbying effort, Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday accused the company of using taxpayer funds to lobby and advertise, and cast its executives as white-collar millionaires uninterested in serious education reform.

“Sallie Mae executives have paid themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade while teachers, nurses, and scientists – the backbone of the new economy – face crushing debt because of runaway college tuition costs,” Duncan said.

Here Sallie Mae is painted in the same ugly hues as Lehman Brothers, AIG, and all the other supposedly rapacious, unscrupulous companies whose unchecked greed, we’re told, brought the American economy to its knees. (We also get the baseless but obligatory pronouncement about “crushing debt” for teachers and other toilers for the “public good.”)

But wait! Doesn’t  “Sallie Mae” sound a lot like”Fannie Mae” and “Freddie Mac”? Of course! That’s because just like Fannie and Freddie, Sallie was created by the federal government,  only with Sallie’s job being to furnish lots of cheap college loans. And guess what? Just like Fannie and Freddie, Sallie became by far the biggest kid on her block because her huge federal creator fed her and protected her for decades, not setting her off on her own until 1996. But that part of her story doesn’t fit anywhere into the evil corporation narrative, so it’s just not mentioned.  All we need to know is Sallie is private, her owners and employees make a lot of money, and that is why she is evil and dangerous.

And so the politics of demonization and denial, a staple of the recession blame game, continues. Private institutions are portrayed as malevolent predators and government as a warm, pure, protective father-figure. But there is much more accurate imagery possible when it comes to Sallie Mae: Egomaniacal Dr. Frankenstein furiously blaming the monster he created for doing exactly what he built it to do.

And some wonder why there’s such widespread outrage – the real reason SAFRA is in trouble – about ever-expanding federal power?