Grading Biden’s First 100 Days on Education

Joe Biden’s election prompted spasms of joy in education circles. Before he was sworn in, a story in Inside Higher Education gushed over his “transformative” victory, cheered that he “believes in research,” and judged that community colleges are “likely ecstatic.” The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss promised that Biden would fix “the inequity that has long existed in the education system.” Ken Wong, Brookings scholar and Brown University’s Annenberg chair in education policy, proclaimed that Biden’s education agenda represented “a return to responsible governance.” 

Now, 100 days into Biden’s term, his education agenda is taking shape—and it’s anything but a model of responsible governance. His administration has exacerbated educational culture wars despite his promises to be a uniter. He’s done little to persuade recalcitrant teacher unions to lead on school reopening (other than perhaps threaten to smother them with bales of cash). And he’s pushed for stupefying levels of new school spending with no obvious interest in whether the funds are spent wisely or well. 

When it comes to education, President Biden’s first 100 days have been nothing to write home about. Let’s take a closer look at the four subjects that have absorbed the lion’s share of the administration’s energy and that constitute his 100-day report card.

School reopening: A majority of school districts remain at least partly closed over a year into the pandemic, despite the widespread availability of vaccines, the vast majority of educators having been fully vaccinated for well over a month, data making clear that schools are not a significant source of COVID spread, and the copious evidence demonstrating that children learn better and have better mental and emotional health when they’re in school.  

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  • The dispatch is usually very fair on all issues this article is very disappointing

  • I think it is simple minded to assume that all money earmarked for schools is not pandemic related unless it is spent now. Schools need to be able to future budget and know what aid dollars will be there for projects to improve the delivery of education. Given the nature of the past year, schools need to be forward thinking to not just deal with the current pandemic but address the issues that arose during the pandemic.

    I'm not sure that I think the schools need so much money promised to them over the next several years but it is certainly valid if they are deemed to need the money to ensure those dollars are allocated now so that schools can make immediate changes to their delivery of learning. Successful corporations try and ensure certainty in budgeting not just for the next few weeks or months but for several years down the line and then adjust accordingly. Our schools need to do the same to ensure even the possibility of long term gains.

  • "Biden eventually clarified that he expected schools open five days a week—but rejected proposals to reserve federal aid for schools that actually did so."

    I'm not sure what the purpose would be to reserve federal aid for schools that are open. The whole purpose of that aid was to help schools open safely. A policy that only gave aid to open schools would primarily benefit wealthy school districts while leaving poor school districts struggling with reopening safely. I can understand wanting to attach strings to federal aid in order to encourage the opening of schools, but this would be a self-defeating approach.

    "He abolished the Trump-established “1776 Commission,” which—in response to the New York Times’ 1619 Project and its kin—was charged with “enabl[ing] a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States.”

    This description of the 1776 commission is a white-wash, since it was clearly aimed a propagandizing a rising generation in naive Nationalism.

    1. Then why wouldn't most of the money be immediately available? A lot of the funding isn't projected to be provided for 5+ years.

  • Mr. Hess, please know that I and many of my colleagues have been teaching all year, in person, with at least some students. It would seem that some writers on this topic are either unaware of this fact or choose to leave it out of their analysis. I got vaccinated in February/March since my district worked with our county to set up a clinic for us, which we greatly appreciated. We limped through two short periods of remote instruction in the fall when we could not keep enough adults out of quarantine or healthy enough to keep hybrid learning, but other than that, kids at least came every other week. Our ELL and special needs kids came back full time (if they chose to do so) in January, even though we were fighting really bad numbers. We asked for (and received) relaxed quarantine rules from the state so we could keep remote learning at bay.

    Around the time of our second shot, we brought all (willing) students back for full time in-person instruction. Our elementary schools had full time in-person instruction all year. I think at this point, all schools should be open. But please stop throwing us under the bus collectively and tell a complete story. Andy Smarick talked about this with Jonah on his podcast recently, and it was nice to feel seen and heard for the first time in about a year. There isn't one story here - and part of the reason some parents and teachers in the communities who persist with remote instruction is because basically NO ONE is reporting on the schools that are successfully in-person, but MANY PEOPLE are writing stories about the ones that are still remote. Is that helping? It does not seem so.

    Also, can you find a better word than closed/open? Remote/in-person is more accurate. Teachers and students who are remote are still working, imperfectly. We will spend years cleaning up the mess. And, if you think that inviting everyone back full time waves a magic wand and they are all happy and ready to learn, think again.

    Okay rant over. Sorry everyone.

  • Let me give you a story about government spending in education.

    In my young and crusading days, I tried my hand at teaching in an inner city school, and failed miserably at it. Teaching is terrifically hard, and I was not good at it. But I didn't know that when I started out, the third teacher to take up that particular position that year (my predecessor had apparently lasted exactly one day, I eventually learned).`

    What I did know, being a bit of a gaming fanatic, was that the twenty new smart boards ordered for the school probably cost $3000+ each. They were essentially massive white touch screen computers, on which the students could write on exactly like a whiteboard, but also they be able to interact directly with the lesson that drew itself on the board. I was super excited.

    But then I learned that these smartboards had been ordered without much in the way of content. Teachers were expected to program them themselves. I was the only person in the whole school who had the comp sci training to do so, and as a new and immediately drowning teacher, I absolutely did not have time.

    So, do you know what we did with probably $100,000 worth of taxpayer money? We used them as white boards. They worked slightly less well than a $5 piece of white linoleum you could get at home depot. But at least they had wheels.

    1. Software is more expensive than hardware, and developer time for custom development is more expensive than buying software. Organizations unaware of this will have problems.

    2. Yep, welcome to the wonderful world of IT budgets. Figure out what the hardware costs and then add two zeros to the end of that and that's what you'll spend on software and support.

  • Our secondary schools have been open since at least April. In that time, Youngest has been quarantined 2 times for COVID exposure at school (Darn you Leo and Myles). First time the kid was centrally located enough in the classroom that the teachers just went back to hybrid. In the past 2 weeks 19 STUDENTS in the Middle School (can't be vaccinated) have tested positive for COVID. Youngest's best friend's developed pneumonia.

    1. Also goddaughter's school went from open back to hybrid due to high covid numbers there.

  • Good piece. Thanks. The promotion of Critical Race Theory is the most dangerous long-term threat. Biden didn’t start this, since some Democrat controlled states and localities (such as California and Illinois) are far ahead. But he has now given the Federal government’s stamp of approval to an awful, quasi-Marxist, stew of discrimination and crude stereotyping which will poison race relations and divide us all into “oppressors and the oppressed”.

    Downplaying equality in favor of “equity” throughout the federal government and promoting CRT in schools will worsen the national hysteria which has led to firings, bannings, gross distortions of (real) issues with policing, and attempts to use language changes to smuggle in ideological programs while shaming or threatening dissenters. Corporations, NGOs, government agencies, much of the media, universities, and public and private schools either genuinely support the hysteria or are scared to speak up and be called racist.

    Even some on the let have awoken to this threat in recent months, but setting CRT as the default throughout the government and schools will indoctrinate many and frighten others into submission if more of us don’t speak out. Once “racism”, “biological sex”, “whiteness” and other terms lose their real meanings across the public sphere, dissenters will be disarmed.

    Commentary magazine was right months ago to warn this a cultural revolution. While many of good will continue to snicker about “Dr. Seuss and the culture war”, real damage is being done. Once corporations, government and schools have a few years pushing this ideological revolution, with those who know better scared to object, how will we save ourselves? Many Hope the revolutionaries will “eat their own” and they are beginning to do so, but the racialization of everything and fringe theories gaining respect (policing was invented to support slavery) continues.

    I hope those saying “this will burn out” are right. But I fear that millions indoctrinated on the heels of national tragedy will do incredible damage to our society. Those of us who remember the real meaning of equality, fairness, and justice will be overwhelmed by Orwell’s children.

    1. This may make you feel better and worse at the same time. I've been in a classroom for 28 years. If the entire department of education was abducted by aliens tonight, it would have essentially zero impact on what I do day to day. Even though I found Betsy DeVos to be a tremendous nuisance because she treated most educators with utter disdain for four years, her tenure had no impact on me. Teachers are (for better and worse) very good at tuning out messaging they think is worthless or ridiculous and doing things their own way. Again, this is a blessing and a curse. While some teachers (some people I know and care about, who I think are genuinely in it for kids) are way further left than I am, they aren't the only ones making decisions. But some of them are very online and vocal. There are also folks I know who are way further right. Teachers aren't the monolithic liberals we are sometimes painted as. We reflect the communities in which we live.

      1. Thanks much for your work with kids for so many years. My niece and God daughter and her husband have both been unionized middle school teachers and coaches for years. They are great people, as I know many teachers are. I’m concerned about a hysteria that goes beyond, but acutely affects, education. It’s great to know good people on the ground continue to do their best, whatever the ideological pressures. I still think we need to be careful about the pressures building up. Those of us who voted for the moderate “anti-Trump” need to make our voices heard, I think, or the administration will be moved by extremists, as I think is already happening. Hope I’m wrong. Thanks for your views and experience!

    2. I know *nothing* about Critical Race Theory. Can you summarize what it teaches (with references?)? What is so odious about it? Is there a non-partisan explanation of it somewhere?

      Forcing everybody to say, "latinx" is bullshit, but making so you don't have to fear for your life in a traffic stop if you are black isn't.

      1. Start off by reading "Cynical Theories"

        1. Yeah, I was sorta hoping to get the cliff notes. Mr. Johnson clearly has some informed opinions about it so I'd like to hear why.

          1. Hard to have a good conversation based on cliff notes.

  • "And he’s pushed for stupefying levels of new school spending with no obvious interest in whether the funds are spent wisely or well." As an educator, this is one of the biggest issues I see. There is money in education, but it usually isn't spent very wisely at all. Then, when it is spent so frivolously there is a complaint that more money is needed so things can "get better."

  • Fantastic analysis. And very necessary. Education has been a primary concern of mine for the past year during the pandemic. I've not been happy about how my progressive brethren and sistren have suddenly dropped all of their concerns about education (especially those children who are at risk). We will regret the decisions that we have made. And I'm disappointed with the president for not taking the opportunity to lead on this issue

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