Who’s Whispering in Biden’s Ear? (And who is he listening to …?)

The late 1920’s saw seemingly everlasting increases in stock prices, the Hoover Boom Market; in September and October of 1929 the market stumbled and on October 29th, Black Tuesday the market tumbled and the nation fell into the Great Depression. President Hoover saw the “crash” as a “correction,” the “invisible hand” would intervene; the market and the economy would revive as it always had in the past; by November 1932 the nation was in a deep depression, unparalleled unemployment, and the economy continued to tumble,

On March 4th, 1933, Inauguration Day, FDR delivered his “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” speech – listen to excerpts here.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

In the inaugural address FDR also threatened Congress,

 “I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. …

And while he “hoped” Congress would work with him he made it clear,

It is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.

“I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.”

In his First Hundred Days FDR passed an incredible number of major laws and, the “First Hundred Days” as become a yardstick measuring the intentions and success of presidents.

On January 20th the incoming president, Joe Biden, will take the oath of office, the nation will be facing a fear, FDR called it a nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror; today a disease, a pandemic brushed aside by the current administration threatens our very survival.

Over ten million Americans infected and approaching a quarter of a million deaths; infection rates spiking (See national numbers here) New York, after a catastrophic spring, has adjusted, only three states have lower infection rates than New York City and only nine states have rates lower than New York State, North and South Dakota have rates many times higher than New York City the Second Wave may be a tsunami.

In spite of President Trump’s stubborn refusal to accept defeat President-elect Biden is moving forward, appointing a Chief of Staff and Transition Teams, including a twenty-member Education Team (See members here)

The education community, from the “reformers” to the “progressives,” from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) to the Network for Public Education (NPE), across the spectrum everyone is whispering in the president elects ear. Pss-, Joe, so and so will make a wonderful Secretary of Education ….

I published my list; Julia Rafal-Baer has her list (“A Woman of Color”), Education Week speculates; the twenty member education transition team includes three American Federation of Teachers and one National Education Association staffers and a number of others Biden worked with in the Obama administration, could Randi Weingarten (AFT) or Lily Eckelson Garcia (NEA) be at the top of the list?

The Secretary of Education heads a department with thousands of employees, several hundred are political appointees. I would want a Secretary in tune with the president’s education agenda, politically astute and a superb communicator.

Arne Duncan, a close friend of Obama had carte blanche, for seven years he dominated the education agenda, threatened and coerced states (“Dear Colleague Letters”) and used the Race to the Top dollars (“thirty pieces of silver”) to bribe states.

Biden spelled out his education platform early in the campaign; however, many of his proposals would require Congressional approval.

Which direction will Biden take?

Mike McGee the head of Chiefs for Change, a Jeb Bush spinoff, in a letter to Biden spells out his agenda,

Deliver emergency relief aid to schools commensurate with the challenges they face

Provide universal broadband to close the digital divide once and for all”

“Build reliable and affordable postsecondary pathways”

Give all students access to excellent schools,” unfortunately “excellent schools” means expanding the federal Charter and Magnet Programs, effectively segregating schools by race, class, language and disability. (See their “school choice” paper here)

“Advance practical, principled, and innovative approaches to verify student learning,” defined as testing in the era of remote instruction (See position paper here).

Chiefs for Change mixes Biden, Obama/Duncan and DeVos/Trump, a toxic beverage.

The Network for Public Education (Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris) has been consistent critics of Duncan/Obama and DeVos/Trump and lay out their agenda .

First and foremost, the new secretary must support the rebuilding of our nation’s public schools, which have been battered by the pandemic, two decades of failed federal policy and years of financial neglect.”

Second, our new secretary of education must recognize that neighborhood public schools governed by their communities … We need a champion of public education in the Department of Education who rejects efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via vouchers or charter schools.”

Third, the new secretary must end the era of high-stakes standardized testing — in both the immediate future and beyond. All federal tax dollars must be directed to helping our nation’s public schools recover — not wasted on the creation of new assessments as some have imprudently suggested.”

Fourth, the department’s new leader should promote diversity and desegregation (both among and within schools), and commit to eliminating institutional racism in school policy and practices.”

“Finally, our new secretary must believe in a philosophy of education that is child-centered, inquiry-based, intellectually challenging, culturally responsive and respectful of all students’ innate capacities and potential to thrive.”

Needless to say I’m in Diane’s camp, almost twenty years of No Child Left Behind-driven education policy has been a failure, and, sadly is a zombie program, in spite of its consistent failure it rises from the grave again and again.

I am hopeful that President-elect Biden can replicate FDR and lead the nation out of today’s pandemic and lead our schools on a path that benefits children, families and teachers.

Let’s end on a hopeful note – listen to Marion Anderson sing America the Beautiful at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday in 1939

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