But on one important issue that proved to be a flashpoint — education policy — he doesn’t have much to say. The memoir’s index shows references to education policies on only four of 701 narrative pages — and none are more than a few sentences. What he doesn’t address says at least as much as what he does.
Meanwhile, his vice president, Joe Biden, will become president of the United States on Jan. 20, and the Biden education agenda will be compared not only to that of Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos did but also to Obama’s.
Biden has so far laid out an education reform agenda that does not resemble Trump’s or Obama’s, and he has promised to be a friend to public educators — but many are waiting to see what he actually does after being disappointed by Obama.
Obama’s education agenda surprised many of his supporters, who had expected him to address inequity in public schools and to deemphasize high-stakes standardized testing, which had become the key metric to hold schools accountable under the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind law.
But Obama did not. Instead, he allowed Education Secretary Arne Duncan to push a strident education reform program that made standardized testing even more important than NCLB had, and that became highly controversial across the political spectrum for different reasons. Critics called it “corporate reform” because it used methods more common in business than in civic institutions, such as using big data, closing schools that under-performed, and eliminating or weakening of teacher tenure and seniority rights.
Duncan’s reforms came primarily through the $4.3 billion competitive grant program called Race to the Top. It essentially coerced states to open new charter schools, evaluate teachers by students’ standardized test scores and adopt common standards in math and English language-arts standards.
Some of the policies had no chance of working to improve schools. For example, the effort to use student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers was slammed repeatedly by assessment experts as being neither reliable nor valid. It led to a continued narrowing of the curriculum, which had started under No Child Left Behind, and to some cockamamie teacher evaluation schemes where some educators were evaluated by students they didn’t have and subjects they didn’t teach. (Really. You can read about that here.)
The Common Core State Standards initiative, which started out with bipartisan support, was intended make sure students in every state taught and assessed on the same standards — and most states did adopt them. Initially the Core was implemented so quickly places that teachers had no time for serious professional development or to devise new curriculums and lessons that met the standards.
The initiative was blasted by some who said its creation — funded by Bill Gates — involved too little research, public dialogue, or input from educators. Early education experts said some of the standards for the earliest grades were developmentally inappropriate — and they were later modified. And then there was preposterous