THE BLOG
11/24/2014 02:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Obama's USDOE: Appointed to Privatize. Period.

President Barack Obama pretends to be a friend of public education, but it just is not so. Sure, the White House offers a decorative promotional on K12 education; however, if one reads it closely, one sees that the Obama administration believes education (and, by extension, those educated) should serve the economy; that "higher standards and better assessments" and "turning around our lowest achieving schools" is No Child Left Behind (NCLB) leftover casserole, and that "keeping teachers in the classroom" can only elicit prolonged stares from those of us who know better.

All of these anti-public-education truths noted, the deeper story in what the Obama administration values regarding American education lay in its selection of US Department of Education (USDOE) appointees. Their backgrounds tell the story, and it isn't a good one for the public school student, the community school and the career K12 teacher.

In this post, I examine the backgrounds and priorities of eight key USDOE appointees. (Here is the complete USDOE list of senior officials, and here is the complete USDOE list of appointments.)

I just wanted a closer look. It's what I do.

Of course, there is Obama appointee Arne Duncan, US secretary of education, who had his big education reformer break in 2001 when then-CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Paul Vallas had a falling out with then-Mayor Richard Daley. Duncan had been playing professional basketball in Australia until 1991 then decided to return home to Chicago. A childhood friend, John W. Rogers, Jr., gave Duncan the job of "director" of the Ariel Education Initiative (AEI) and education based upon an "investment curriculum" modeled after the stock market. What Duncan actually did in his AEI "director" role is a mystery. However, in 2001, CPS being under mayoral control, Mayor Daley appointed Duncan as CPS CEO, a role in which Duncan served until 2008. (Documented in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes.)

To read Duncan's USDOE bio, one would think that Duncan's focus on standardized test scores and on closing traditional public schools and opening charters created a Utopian, market-driven CPS. However, if such were true, there would have been no reason for another Obama pal and former Obama admin chief of staff, current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to slaughter CPS in the name of "reform."

It seems that what Duncan had to most recommend him to Obama is Duncan's willingness to do what the President requires.

Emma Vadhera, Duncan's chief of staff, was formerly in charter management for Uncommon Schools. Prior to that, she was in USDOE as deputy assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development under Common Core State Standards (CCSS) clueless promoter, Carmel Martin, former assistant secretary at the U.S Department of Education in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development who "debated" in favor of CCSS in New York in September 2014 but did not even know CCSS was copyrighted.

Massie Ritsch, acting assistant secretary for communications and outreach, but who is leaving USDOE to help the glorified teacher temp agency, Teach for America (TFA) with (as Ritsch tweeted) the "vital work" of (in a Ritsch email) "communications, marketing, research and strategic partnerships." TFA is trying to get complete control over its public image, which is suffering from exposure of its illusive success. Ritsch was previously USDOE's deputy assistant secretary for external affairs and outreach, a position in which he directed "outreach to stakeholders, including education trade associations and the business community." That's what America needs: More business "stakeholder" involvement driving the American classroom.

Ritsch is to be replaced by USDOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications Development Jonathan Schorr, whose background includes being a NewSchools Venture Fund "partner" in San Francisco and "director of new initiatives" for KIPP charter schools (KIPP was founded by TFA alums.)

Obama appointee Jim Shelton, deputy secretary of education, has previous connections to the Gates Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund (whose current CEO, Stacey Childress, was also with the Gates Foundation), and McKinsey and Company. (Lots of ed reform folks originate with McKinsey and Company, including CCSS "lead architect" David Coleman, numerous individuals at the online education site, Khan Academy, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Read here for more info on McKinsey's influence on public education.)

Tyra Mariani, chief of staff, office of the deputy secretary, is one of Eli Broad's "academy trained" education reform-promoting "graduates." She ended up in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 2003, the time that Duncan was CPS CEO (and the same time that CPS happened to be doing business with David Coleman's assessment company, Grow Network). Prior to her appointment at USDOE, Mariani was executive director of test-score-focused New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) in New Orleans. (The NLNS executive board has both McKinsey and TFA connections.) When Mariani was appointed to USDOE in 2001, she was congratulated by the corporate-reform-promoting PR group, the K12 Search Group, Inc.

Nadya Chinoy Dabby, assistant deputy secretary, Office of Innovation and Improvement, is a former Broad Foundation investment advisor.

One more.

Obama appointee Ted Mitchell, under secretary of education, is the former CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund. In an article entitled, Ted Mitchell, Education Department Nominee, Has Strong Ties to Pearson, Privatization Movement, The Nation writer Lee Fang notes:

[Mitchell's] ethics disclosure form shows that he was paid $735,300 for his role at NewSchools, which is organized as a non-profit. In recent years, he has served or is currently serving as a director to 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.

In addition, Mitchell serves as an adviser to Salmon River Capital, a venture capital firm that specializes in education companies. Mitchell sits on the board of Parchment, an academic transcript start-up that is among Salmon River Capital's portfolio.

Salmon River Capital helped create one of the biggest names in for-profit secondary education, Capella University. ...

Update: After publication of this blog post, Mitchell e-mailed a statement noting that he could not comment on gainful employment regulations because he is in the "midst of a confirmation process." He added that he is on "an informal advisory Board for Salmon" and that Pearson sponsored a summit for his organization in May.

Well, there we have it. Eight fine Obama-serving individuals in key USDOE positions whose priorities (and professional experience) lay far and away from the traditional American classroom but who have been appointed to carry out the work of condemning and supplanting the traditional K12 American classroom with profitable "ventures" and disposable teachers by relentlessly testing the traditional classroom, collecting unprecedented amounts of data on it, labeling it a failure, replacing it with under-regulated, philanthropic-padded, market-driven "reform" that is also supposed to channel students to serve the market, and all the while adding the USDOE padding to their corporate-favoring resumes and advancing their own careers in the process.

Have I missed anything?

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Originally posted 11-23-14 at deutsch29.wordpress.com

Schneider is the author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who's Who in the Implosion of American Public Education