Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 20
Ed. Dept. Remains in Start-Up Mode
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
just weeks after taking office, trying to figure out how to help school
districts and states make the best
use of $100 billion in new money
for education amid the nation's dire
And in early 2001, Bush's Education Department was busily
laying the groundwork for what
became the No Child Left Behind
Act, which passed later that year
and gave the federal government
new authority over K-12 education,
added billions of dollars in new
grant funding, and created other
big programs for the agency to administer.
Marshall Smith, who served at
the department during the Carter,
Clinton, and Obama administrations, attributes what he sees as
the Trump education team's sluggish start to a lack of vision and
"They weren't ready for anything," said Smith, who was acting
deputy secretary under President
But Neal McCluskey, the director of the CATO Center for Education Freedom, a libertarian think
tank, said that a less muscular
department is in keeping with the
Every Student Succeeds Act, which
passed with bipartisan support in
2015 and scaled back the federal
footprint on K-12.
"For the first time in a long time,
the federal government has been
less influential in education," he
said. "I think a lot of that is what
the country was really asking for
and seemed to want."
DeVos' priorities are clear, a department official said: She wants
to return the agency to its core
mission of serving disadvantaged
students and students in special
And he referred to the secretary's
remarks last week to the Council of
the Great City Schools, in which
she said, "Too often the Department of Education has gone outside its established authority and
created roadblocks, wittingly or
unwittingly, for parents and educators alike. This isn't right, nor is it
acceptable. Under this administration, we will break this habit."
Department on a Diet?
Trump made no secret of his
plans for the department on the
campaign trail, saying he'd like to
get rid of the agency or cut it "way,
way down." And last week, his
budget director, Mick Mulvaney,
directed all federal agencies to find
ways of eliminating "unnecessary
offices" and functions.
Even before that notice, DeVos
and her team were considering
some moves to slim down the department, including getting rid
of the No. 3 position-undersecretary-and possibly eliminating
some assistant and deputy assistant secretary positions, sources
But, pulling off a massive reorganization of the kind that the White
House is asking for also means
filling some top political positions.
And for now, Trump hasn't tapped
a deputy secretary, or assistant secretaries overseeing K-12 education,
civil rights and planning, evaluation, and policy. It's not clear when,
or even if, nominees will be tapped
for some of those roles.
"Restructuring is usually a luxury," big-picture work that agency
heads can focus on when there
aren't vacant positions or fires to
put out, said Andy Smarick, who
served in the agency under President George W. Bush. "If the secretary hasn't been able to hire the
team she wants yet, it seems like
reorganization needs to be put on
the back burner."
Some Republican education policy
experts, including those who have
worked in past GOP administrations, for GOP education leaders on
Capitol Hill, or in states are wary of
jumping into jobs in President Donald Trump's Education Department.
These observers, who declined to
speak for attribution given the sensitivity of the subject, worry that
the administration has yet to find
Too often, the
Education has gone
outside its established
authority and created
roadblocks. ... This
U.S. Secretary of Education
its organizational footing, citing reports of a chaotic governing process
at the White House.
Others aren't sure they want to
put in long hours for a secretary
with a narrow area of focus who is
already facing backlash among educators. And a few fear DeVos may
not stick around.
" There's a lot of speculation
about how long DeVos is going to
last," said one Republican who had
mulled joining the administration. "Potential staff may question
whether it's worth the risk, whether
taking a job for this secretary could
cause collateral damage to reputations and future opportunities in
But a department official said
DeVos is dedicated to ensuring that
she identifies and brings aboard
talented public servants.
The 'Landing Team'
Once the White House does fill
those positions, they will have to go
through Senate confirmation. That
process may not be easy. Democrats
on the Senate education committee
have said they want to hold hear-
20 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 22, 2017 | www.edweek.org
ings on these nominees, because
DeVos herself doesn't have much
policy expertise on a host of areas
under the department's purview,
including higher education.
To be sure, there are some political appointees already at work at
the department. The list of names
on the "landing team"-the initial
group of policy staffers-that has
been circulated to civil servants is
heavy on people whose background
is primarily in politics or communications, including more than a
half-dozen Trump campaign staffers, state GOP party staffers, and
There aren't as many whose background is primarily education policy or who have deep experience at
a state education agency or school
district. But several of those with a
policy focus hail from the Foundation for Excellence in Education,
started by former Florida Gov. Jeb
Bush. DeVos sat on the organization's board before she was tapped
For now, Ebony Lee, who worked
at the department during the Bush
administration, and Jason Botel, a
senior White House aide and onetime charter school founder, are said
to be helping to lead the policy work,
including issues related to ESSA.
And aides to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., an architect of the law
and a pivotal player in shepherding
DeVos through a bruising Senate
confirmation process, are lending
her skeletal staff a hand with aspects of the law's implementation.
But, in the meantime, the temporary leadership vacuum has left
some school district officials in the
dark when it comes to questions
about how a new school choice program might work, or how the department will approach implementation of ESSA.
"We have heard recently the secretary of education stating [she]
want[s] more local control, but we're
not actually sure what that means,"
Merv Daugherty, the superintendent
of the Red Clay Consolidated School
District in Wilmington, Del., said.
ESSA, he said, may prioritize flexibility but there are still plenty of requirements for states and districts.
"Everybody is on the edge of their
seat right now waiting for some clear
direction from the feds."
Daugherty sent staff to the National Title I conference in California last month, a meeting where
federal officials typically field districts' nuts-and-bolts questions.
This year, though, district staffers heard a lot of "we'll get back to
But others say the hands-off approach isn't a problem.
"So far, we haven't needed anything particular from them, and
they haven't needed anything particular from us," said Mike Kirst,
the president of the California
State Board of Education.
The Golden State, which clashed
with the Obama administration on
everything from teacher evaluation
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has yet to fill key top policy posts at the
Education Department, including deputy secretary, and the assistant secretaries
overseeing K-12 education, higher education, and the office for civil rights. But
the Trump administration has a preliminary team in place on education at the
department, and the White House, including some with experience in education
policy. Those staffers include:
* Jason Botel: Former founder of a KIPP charter school and executive director of the
advocacy group MarylandCAN. Working as a senior White House aide on education.
* Michael Brickman: Policy adviser to Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., and staffer at the
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
* Rob Goad: A former top aide to Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., one of the biggest
champions of school choice in Congress. Goad is a White House aide on education.
* Andrew Kossack: Served as deputy chief of staff to former Indiana state chief
Tony Bennett, and as an education aide to former Indiana Gov.-turned-Vice President
* Ebony Lee: Served at the department during the Bush administration, worked
on charter policy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
* Neil Ruddock: Served as the regional advocacy director for the Foundation
for Excellence in Education, founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
* Josh Venable: Former national director of advocacy and legislation
at the Foundation for Educational Excellence.
SOURCES: ProPublica, Education Week
to state data systems, has spent the
past several years creating a new
accountability system that Kirst
said is aligned to ESSA, without
much federal direction or input.
Local education officials aren't
the only ones with questions. Some
career staff members say they don't
have a clear handle on where their
new boss wants to take the agency,
or individual offices within it.
That lack of a clear vision has
"put the career staff in a really
awkward position," said Deborah
S. Delisle, who served as the assistant secretary for elementary
and secondary education during
the Obama administration. "They
are implementing the policies of the
prior administration without knowing where the new administration
is going to be heading."
DeVos was conciliatory in her
first all-staff speech to department
employees, confessing to them that
she's the "newbie" at the agency
and would be relying on their
But she struck a different tone in
an interview with a conservative columnist for the news site Townhall.
DeVos said she would "not be surprised if there are also those that
would try to subvert the mission of
this organization and this department." She said they would be dealt
with "swiftly and surely."
That has career staffers worried
that DeVos isn't going to stick up
for them. Some staffers-especially
those still early in their federal careers-are heading for the exits, or
at least polishing their resumes, multiple career employees said. Some
had lent a hand in implementing
the Obama administration's signature competitive grants and say it
isn't as rewarding to shut down a
grant program as it is to help build
If staffers leave, they're not likely
to be replaced anytime soon. The
White House has put in place a federal hiring freeze, with exemptions
for defense, homeland security, and
public safety employees.
And a slimmer workforce at the
department could end up having
an impact on everything from
monitoring of federal grants to
fielding questions from state and
district officials. What's more, current staffers could be deployed to
help implement a new school choice
program outlined in the federal
"If you're going to reduce the
workforce by a certain percentage,
you need to adjust expectations of
the people already there," Delisle
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 22, 2017
Education Week - March 22, 2017
The Hard Work of Making School ‘For Everybody’
Parents See Benefits in Spec. Ed. Vouchers But No Silver Bullet
Trump Education Dept. Has Yet to Hit the Gas
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
News in Brief
Social Media Connects Students to Authors
Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
ESSA Rules’ Rollback Complicates States’ Planning Process
Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Chris Doyle: Fake News Isn’t New
Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 7
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 11
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 12
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 13
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 14
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 15
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 18
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 19
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 20
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 21
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 22
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 23
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Readers React
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 29
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 30
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 31
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW4