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John Merrow: Who Is Running the Show at the U.S. Department of Education?

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John Merrow hears that the Department of Education in a state of confusion.

“From one perspective, these are the worst of times for American public education. In his inaugural address, President Trump told the nation that we have an “education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” His proposed budget acts on his words, cutting federal education dollars by 13.55, or nearly $9 billion. His Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has called public education a disgrace and a disaster. Openly hostile to traditional public schools (which serve 90% of children) she plans to use the levers of power available to her to support vouchers, home schooling, on-line for-profit charter schools, and other alternatives.

“Basically, it’s open warfare against public education in Washington.

“However, it’s also chaotic, because Trump’s White House does not trust any of the Cabinet departments and has installed ‘spies’ in all of them, including Education. These Trump loyalists, often called ‘Special Assistants to the Secretary,’ report to the White House, not to the Secretary of the department they’re assigned to. So, things have to be beyond weird at 400 Maryland Avenue SW, the home of the Department of Education. One can imagine these ‘Special Assistants’ going from office to office, looking over shoulders and grilling confused bureaucrats. “What do you do?” Why does what you do matter?” And so on… I hear that morale is plummeting at the Department.

“I just came from Washington, where some Republicans and Democrats told me that “Lamar Alexander is really in charge.” Mr. Alexander is the Republic Senator from Tennessee and a former Secretary of Education who, as Chair of the Committee that approved DeVos, pushed through her nomination even though her statements revealed her lack of qualifications and understanding. They seemed to be expressing the hope that Senator Alexander could and would rein in DeVos if she really got crazy.

“So, it’s bad, but it would be worse if Trump’s anti-public school people had their act together, which they do not.”

The only solace he sees in the current situation is that Hillary would have stayed on the same Republican-designed test-and-punishe regime so beloved by Teach for America and DFER.

So, it was a Hobson’s choice, between more of the same (Hillary) and a willful, ignorant billionaire intent on destroying public schools.

Where do we go from here? We have to fight back, resist, ptotest, or watch the privatization movement steal a democratic institution.

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