ed sec spec

What a Michelle Rhee appointment would tell us about Donald Trump’s education plans

Donald Trump’s rounds in search of an education secretary include a meeting this weekend with Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chief and StudentsFirst founder.

If she is offered and accepts the position, here are five reasonable conclusions we can draw:

1. Trump’s cabinet will contain some diversity of opinion when it comes to undocumented immigrants.

Trump campaigned on promises of ridding the country of people who came here illegally. That includes, he has said, children and young adults who immigrated illegally with their families — people who would be protected by a federal DREAM Act that fell short multiple times in recent years. Rhee came out in favor of the DREAM Act in 2011, citing her direct experience with families who would be protected by it.

“Immigration is not my area of expertise, but I know that the current policy has implications for our education system and isn’t working for kids,” she wrote in a blog post announcing her position. “No child should be forced to live in the shadows and hide their identity, nor should any teacher or mentor have to cover up the truth.”

Many educators have been hoping that the Trump administration will adjust its hard-line position to include amnesty for children brought here by their parents. If Rhee is nominated, she could open the door for the idea to at least get a hearing.

2. Trump meant it when he said he’d champion school choice.

How much is Trump planning to follow through on his campaign promises? In education, one big vow he made was to use federal funds to encourage states to make school choice available to all poor students, including through publicly operated charter schools and vouchers that allow families to take public funding to private schools.

Rhee famously broke with Democratic party dogma three years ago after announcing support for vouchers, so she’s a true believer. If she comes out of her meeting with Trump wanting to serve in his administration, we can assume he convinced her that he plans to move forward with his promises to embrace charter schools and vouchers.

That said, among voucher supporters, Rhee is relatively mild. In a 2012 interview with Education Week, she said she only favors vouchers for low-income students with no high-quality public school options. “This is not about choice for choice’s sake,” she said. Trump’s proposal would offer vouchers to poor families only, but his vice president, Mike Pence, has supported publicly funded private school vouchers for both low- and middle-income families.

3. As for ending Common Core — not so much.

The conservative movement that helped elect Trump cheered when he claimed on the campaign trail that he would end the Common Core standards. The standards are also opposed from the left, by teachers and parents fed up with the tests that standards bring and the test companies that publish them.

Rhee, though, falls with the Obama education reform mainline on this issue: She has strongly supported the Common Core as a path to improving schools for poor children and a way to prepare students for the global economy.

Avoiding the issue in a Trump administration would be relatively easy, complaints from a conservative base aside: Trump did promise to “end” Common Core on the campaign trail. But you can’t repeal something the federal government never actually passed.

4. Urban will still dominate rural — at least when it comes to the education secretary’s most direct experience.

Trump’s support came largely from rural voters, some of whom said the Obama administration hadn’t been attentive to their needs. Indeed, on education, the administration’s leaders did come almost entirely from cities — from Obama’s first education secretary, Arne Duncan, who had led the Chicago public schools, to the current education secretary, John King, who led charter schools in Boston and New York City.

Rhee also grew up in the education world serving big cities. She started in Baltimore, as a Teach For America corps member, then went on to work on urban teacher contract issues by founding The New Teacher Project (now called TNTP), and finally made her national reputation reshaping the public school district in Washington, D.C.

But Rhee has a long relationship with red states, too. StudentsFirst, the advocacy group she founded after leaving D.C., lobbied for laws curtailing seniority protections for teachers. Before it merged with another advocacy group last year, StudentsFirst gained the most traction in states such as Tennessee and Indiana where elected officials were less sympathetic to the concerns of teachers unions.

5. The education reform community Rhee helped to shape will face a new division: how to deal with Trump.

The education reform world as we currently know it arguably settled into place in 2009, when Barack Obama took office and eventually picked one side over the other in a heated debate over the future of public education.

Michelle Rhee was then the fierce chancellor of the D.C. public schools who spent her time firing principals and appearing on national magazine covers with a symbolic broom. In other words, she was the extreme edge of the side Obama picked when he chose Arne Duncan of Chicago as his education secretary and Duncan chose to go all out, if in a friendlier-than-Rhee way, for teacher evaluations and charter schools.

If Trump picks Rhee as his education secretary and she accepts, it could reshape the landscape of the education world again, shifting former allies to opposite sides. Already, we know that some hardcore reformers have come out strongly against any of their own accepting a role in a Trump administration. If Rhee joins the administration, her old friends will have to decide whether to follow that line of thinking and oppose her — or work with her.



call for more

Almost half of Detroit district schools don’t have a gym teacher. Next year, that may change.

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Since 10-year-old Hezekiah Haynesworth moved to his new school in the Detroit district, he’s always up out of his seat, talking to classmates and getting into trouble.

His mother, Victoria, says he wasn’t always like this. She believes he has nowhere to burn off excess energy because Bagley Elementary doesn’t offer students enough time for gym class or recess.

Bagley Elementary is one of 49 schools in the district without a gym teacher. Out of the 106 schools in the district, only 57 have at least one certified, full-time physical education teacher, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat.

The district employs 68 certified full-time physical education teachers for its student population of 50,875. More than 15,000 Detroit schoolchildren attend a school without a full time physical education teacher.

In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified, which means some kids, like Hezekiah, might only go once a month or less.

“He’s had behavior issues, but if he had the gym time there’s different activities he would do to burn off energy,” she said. “They would get that anxiety and fidgetiness out of them.”

Haynesworth might get her wish. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced earlier this month that there’s money in the budget to put gym teachers back in schools, along with art and music teachers and guidance counselors next school year, though the budget plan has not yet been approved.

“Not every student is provided an opportunity for physical education or gym” right now, Vitti said at a meeting earlier this month.

The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one.

But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works, like more recruiting trips and better hiring practices, to address the difficulties of finding and bringing in new employees.

Detroit is not the only district that has cut back on physical education teachers in recent years. At a time when schools are heavily judged by how well students perform on math and reading exams, some schools have focused their resources on core subjects, cutting back on the arts and gym and cutting recess to make more time for instruction and test prep. But experts say that approach is short-sighted.

Research on the importance of physical activity in schools has reached a consensus — physical education improves children’s focus and makes them better students.

“Available evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the academic topics that are most influenced by physical activity,” according to a 2013 federal report.

The link between physical education and improved reading is especially important for the Detroit district. Educators are working in high gear, in part pushed by Vitti, to prepare for the state’s tough new law that will go into effect in 2020, requiring third-graders who don’t read at grade level to be held back.

This year, the Michigan Department of Education has started to include data on physical education in schools into its school scoring system, which allows parents to compare schools. A separate score for physical education might push schools to hire physical education teachers.

Whether the state’s new emphasis on gym class or Vitti’s proposal to place a gym teacher in each district school is enough to put physical activity back in the schools is unclear, but Hezekiah’s mom Victoria desperately hopes it happens.

Hezekiah is given 45 minutes to each lunch, and if he finishes early, he’s allowed to run with the other children who finished early. If he doesn’t eat quickly enough to play, Victoria says she can expect a call about his disruptive behavior.

“I used to think that my son was just a problem — that it was just my problem,” she said. “But it’s a system problem. They don’t have the components they should have in the school.”

See which schools have gym teachers below.

Out of the game

The businessman who went to bat for apprenticeships is out of Colorado’s governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Noel Ginsburg, an advocate for apprenticeships and a critic of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, has withdrawn from the Democratic race for governor.

Ginsburg, a businessman who had never run for office before, always faced a tough road to the nomination. He announced Tuesday that he would not continue with the petition-gathering or assembly process after his last place finish in the caucus, where he got 2 percent of the vote.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Ginsburg said, “I don’t believe I have the resources to be fully competitive.”

Just last month, Ginsburg released an education platform that called for the repeal of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, the signature legislative achievement of former state Sen. Mike Johnston, also a candidate for governor.

Ginsburg runs CareerWise, an apprenticeship initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper that allows students to earn money and college credit while getting on-the-job experience starting in high school. His platform called for expanding apprenticeship programs and getting businesses more involved in education.

He also promised to lead a statewide effort to change the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow the state to retain more revenue and send much of it to schools. He said that schools, not roads, should be the top priority of Colorado’s next governor.

Ginsburg will continue at the head of CareerWise, as well as Intertech Plastics, the company he founded.

Johnston, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne have all turned in signatures to place their names on the ballot. Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the endorsement of two teachers unions, is not gathering signatures and will need at least 30 percent of the vote at the assembly to appear on the ballot. Kennedy finished in first place at the caucus earlier this month.