Obama’s USDOE: Appointed to Privatize. Period.

The Obama administration’s choice of people to work in the US Department of Education (USDOE) showed what it really thought about American education. Their pasts show what kind of people they are, and it’s not a good story for public school students.

President Barack Obama acts like he cares about public schools, but that’s not true. If you look closely, you can see that the Obama administration thinks education (and, by extension, educated people) should serve the economy; that “higher standards and better assessments” and “turning around our lowest achieving schools” are leftovers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB); and that “keeping teachers in the classroom” can only make those of us who know better stare for a long time.

Even with all of these facts about how the Obama administration is against public education, the real story about what it thinks about American education is in who it chose to lead the US Department of Education (USDOE). Their pasts tell the story, and it’s not a good one for the public school student, the community school student, or the K12 teacher who has been teaching for a long time.

In this post, I look at the pasts and top priorities of eight important US Department of Education appointees. (Here is the full list of top officials at the USDOE, and here is the full list of appointments at the USDOE.

Of course, Obama chose Arne Duncan to be the US secretary of education. He got his big break as an education reformer in 2001, when Paul Vallas, then the CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and Richard Daley, then the mayor, had a fight. Duncan played pro basketball in Australia until 1991, when he decided to move back to his hometown of Chicago. John W. Rogers, Jr., a friend from childhood, gave Duncan the job of “director” of the Ariel Education Initiative (AEI) and an investment curriculum based on the stock market. It’s not clear what Duncan did in his “director” role at AEI. But in 2001, when CPS was under the control of the mayor, Mayor Daley put Duncan in charge of CPS. Duncan held this job until 2008. This is written about in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes.

If you read Duncan’s bio on the USDOE website, you might think that his focus on standardised test scores and his decision to close traditional public schools and open charters led to a market-driven Utopian CPS. But if that were true, Rahm Emanuel, a friend of Obama’s and former chief of staff in his administration, would not have had a reason to kill CPS in the name of “reform.”

Duncan’s willingness to do what the President wants seems to be the thing that Obama liked most about him.

Emma Vadhera, Duncan’s chief of staff, used to work for Uncommon Schools as a charter school manager. Before that, she worked for the USDOE as the deputy assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development under Common Core State Standards (CCSS) promoter Carmel Martin, who “debated” in favour of CCSS in New York in September 2014 but didn’t even know CCSS was copyrighted.

Massie Ritsch is the acting assistant secretary for communications and outreach, but she is leaving USDOE to help Teach for America (TFA) with “vital work” like “communications, marketing, research, and strategic partnerships,” as Ritsch wrote in an email. TFA is trying to get full control of its public image, which is hurting because its fake success is becoming known. Ritsch used to be the USDOE’s deputy assistant secretary for external affairs and outreach. In this role, he was in charge of “reaching out to stakeholders, such as education trade groups and the business community.” That’s what America needs: more “stakeholders” in the classroom from the business world.

Ritsch will be replaced by Jonathan Schorr, who is the US Department of Education’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications Development. Schorr has been a “partner” in the NewSchools Venture Fund in San Francisco and the “director of new initiatives” for KIPP charter schools (KIPP was founded by TFA alums.)

The Gates Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund (whose current CEO, Stacey Childress, also worked for the Gates Foundation), and McKinsey and Company have all worked with Jim Shelton in the past. Obama chose him to be the deputy secretary of education. (Many people who work on education reform came from McKinsey and Company, like the “lead architect” of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), David Coleman, as well as many people at the online education site Khan Academy and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Click here to learn more about how McKinsey has affected public education.)

Tyra Mariani is the chief of staff in the office of the deputy secretary. She is one of Eli Broad’s “graduates” who supports education reform and went to an academy to learn about it. She ended up working for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 2003, when Duncan was CEO of CPS and Grow Network, which was owned by David Coleman, was doing business with CPS. Before she was hired by USDOE, Mariani was the executive director of New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) in New Orleans, which focused on test scores. (The NLNS board of directors has ties to both McKinsey and TFA.) When Mariani was put in charge of USDOE in 2001, the K12 Search Group, Inc., a PR firm that promotes corporate reform, gave her a big hand.

Nadya Chinoy Dabby, who works in the Office of Innovation and Improvement as an assistant deputy secretary, used to be an investment advisor for the Broad Foundation.

Ted Mitchell is the undersecretary of education, a job that Obama gave him. He used to be the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund. In an article called “Ted Mitchell, a nominee for the Education Department, has close ties to Pearson and the privatisation movement,” Lee Fang of The Nation writes:

Mitchell’s ethics disclosure form shows that the non-profit organisation NewSchools paid him $735,300 for his work there. In recent years, he has worked as a director for New Leaders, Khan Academy, California Education Partners, Teach Channel, ConnectED, Hameetman Foundation, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Silicon Schools, Children Now, Bellwether Partners, Pivot Learning Partners, EnCorps Teacher Training Program, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Green DOT Public Schools.

Mitchell is also a consultant for Salmon River Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in companies in the education industry. Mitchell is on the board of Parchment, a start-up that makes academic transcripts and is owned by Salmon River Capital.

Capella University, one of the best-known names in for-profit secondary education, was made possible with help from Salmon River Capital.

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