More candidate education platforming

I have some thoughts about the K-12 policy position released by Elizabeth Warren’s campaign on Monday. The big story told in most reporting is about the quadrupling of federal aid to local schools under Title I, but I have some other observations:

  1. The plan firmly sees education policy as embedded in broader social policies. Here are some of the policy initiatives mentioned in Warren’s plan that would come from outside the U.S. Department of Education:
    • Energy efficiency building upgrades
    • Housing plan grants for communities, tied to incentives to slow/block restrictive zoning
    • Lead abatement
    • Rural broadband expansion
    • Excluding schools from immigration enforcement (by policy, not by practice as happened before the Trump administration)
    • More investigation of potential sham non-profit structures, by the IRS
    • Lobbying reforms that would also apply not just to the federal government but at any level of government receiving grants-in-aid.
    • Aggressive blocking of data mining by the Federal Trade Commission
  2. Much of the plan is regulatory and thus does not require legislative action. A substantial part of the regulatory part of the plan would reverse Office of Civil Rights actions under Betsy DeVos, but there are other regulatory actions embedded in the plan — most notably (to me), the declaration that integration would be an evidence-based intervention under ESSA.
  3. Charter schools serving poor children would probably receive more funding under this plan than currently, because of the quadrupling of Title I aid.1
  4. There appear to be three prominent targets of potential civil lawsuit and regulatory action by the Office of Civil Rights and/or the Justice Department: violations of LGBTQ rights, close attention paid to academic expectations of students with disabilities, and attempts by wealthy, predominantly white communities to advance segregation by creating breakaway local districts.
  5. The plan does not use school to prison pipeline as a term, but the evidence-based school safety paragraph is a direct result of the efforts of activists to tie disciplinary/law-enforcement actions at schools to mass incarceration. Arguably, this is a bigger activist accomplishment than anything in the plan that teachers unions like.
  6. The specific legislative items can be divided into two pieces: large spending/reallocation promises (the expansion of funding for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, most prominently); and some specific targeted legislation around public-employee collective bargaining (again, something outside the U.S. Department of Education), and expanding the right of private individuals to sue under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
  7. In the large spending proposals, there is somewhat squishy language about negotiation with schools and educators around rewriting the Title I aid formula and how $100 billion in Excellence Grants would be distributed.
  8. The biggest lightning-rod issues written about thus far, and likely in the near future, are areas where the role of a Warren administration would be most circumscribed.
    • I do not see Congress eliminating the current role of testing in ESSA/ESEA — and the rest of standardized testing use is a matter of state and local policy.
    • Almost all charter-school policy is determined at the state level.
    • ESSA and politics would make it virtually impossible for the federal executive branch to require a culturally-responsive curriculum in states.

This is the longest education proposal thus far in the 2020 campaign, and like all comments I’ve seen thus far, this is incomplete, and I’ve found it hard to address the scope of the Warren plan.2


  1. This will be a big surprise to everyone who looked primarily at the proposed zeroing out of federal aid for new charter schools and the plan’s discussion of for-profit charter schools and for-profit servicers with a cozy relationship to the schools. []
  2. I have also not made any evaluative judgments, as I didn’t when discussing Bernie Sanders’s plan. []

Yes, we can make historical analogies

Yesterday, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement whose first sentence is stunning in its historical ignorance: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary. The museum’s leadership is wrong. To put it bluntly, if we are never allowed to draw historical analogies, we remove one of the most important reasons to learn history. There are no exact parallels or repeats in history, but there are patterns, and a significant part of our job as people (let alone my job as an historian) is to learn those patterns and watch for them where we know they’re dangerous.

There is a defensible statement within the misguided claim of the museum’s leadership, but it’s restricted: there is no useful point in comparing the horribleness of genocides. The Shoah is incomparable. So was the slave trade. So was the genocide of indigenous peoples on multiple continents.

But we don’t have to rank-order the horrors of history to learn from them. One can learn from them as singular events, as you would in a seminar class — and Peter Hayes taught such a class on the Holocaust at Northwestern for years (his new book Why: Explaining the Holocaust reflects that focus). One can also learn from putting them into broader context, learning from or teaching about genocides and intolerance more broadly. You learn different things from studying an isolated event from an event in context, and both are valuable.

But you don’t go around telling people not to learn broader lessons from the Holocaust, and that’s what the museum leadership is attempting to do. And that’s just plain wrong for history and for citizenship.

Democratic politics and charter schools, brief gloss

Tl;dr version: don’t waste your energy on trying to suss out The Position on National Charter School Politics. But why it doesn’t make much difference is different from the details of charter-school debates.

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I look for new colleagues who will keep the job

This entry is a bit slice-of-academic-life and a bit perspective for doctoral students who want to be faculty at research universities. As a division director (and department chair at my last university), I have never directly hired tenure-track faculty but have always had significant advice for the deans I’ve reported to, and my experience leads me to sometimes-different perspectives from colleagues. In an era of adjunctification, it is all the more important to make hiring decisions as transparent as possible. And with the limitation that I am just one faculty member with administrative experience at only two institutions in one type of college, here goes:

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