Monday, December 26, 2016

Carl Paladino: Worst School Board Member of the Year

December started well for Carl Paladino. A member of the Buffalo, New York school board, co-chair of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in the state, Paladino met with the president-elect and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, just before Christmas. He told reporters afterward that the question of “whether he would be interested and/or willing to serve in the administration in some capacity did come up. By December 21 the presents at the Paladino home were all nicely wrapped and snug under the tree. 

We might even guess there was a “Make America Great Again” hat for Mrs. P. and “Jail Hillary” t-shirts for all the grand kids.

That same day the Buffalo News reported on Paladino’s formal request, during a school board meeting, that once President Trump took office his picture might be placed prominently in every city school.

“Other board members responded to Paladino’s request,” the News continued, “by noting it is at the discretion of principals to decide what they display in their schools. ‘I think this is problematic,’ said board member Theresa Harris-Tigg. ‘Now we are going to mandate, and force something, when it has been their prerogative.’”

“‘Why do we care?’ Paladino responded. ‘Why do we care what their prerogative is?’”

In the end, a compromise was reached, with board members agreeing to put up posters of all former and current U. S. presidents in the schools. Sadly, there was no mention whether or not Paladino would have liked to see Mr. Obama’s picture crossed out.

We don’t know if he was satisfied with the decision. We do know, two days later, he was up to his knees in feces of his own creation. Trouble began brewing when Artvoice, a local weekly, asked city leaders to answer four questions. 

For current purposes only the first two matter:


1. What would you most like to happen in 2017?

2. What would you like to see go away in 2017?

Most city leaders responded in predictable fashion. Sue Marfino, a businesswoman, answered #1: “A return to shopping in communities and at brick & mortar stores.”

Jeff Mucciarelli, co-owner of 31 Club, offered up a wish with which almost everyone in the world might agree: “ISIS removed from this earth.”


Mr. Paladino went for what he later insisted was a humorous approach:

#1: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.

#2: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.

Well, what could be funnier, especially in a school district which serves a majority minority population, than wishing the current First Lady might spend the rest of her days in a cave with a gorilla?

And what kindergartner or fifth grader or high school senior wouldn’t be bent double laughing at images of President Obama having sex with a cow and dying as a result?

(Hey, kids, don’t worry! If Carl Paladino has his way, you might have a chance to salute a portrait of President Trump as you goosestep down the hall on the way to your next social studies class.)

Several local leaders called on Paladino to resign his seat. “These comments harken back to the darkest days of racism in our nation’s history,” said one. By afternoon on December 26 more than 11,000 people had signed an online petition calling for this Trump fan to be removed from office.

Paladino tried but failed to clean the feces off his shoes in a series of bumbling interviews. At one point he explained to the New York Times that he was “not politically correct.” A reporter asked why he wanted to see the first lady live with a gorilla. Paladino paused a long time and then said, “What’s wrong with that?”

Sadly, the clueless Paladino has traveled the racist road before. During an abortive campaign for New York governor in 2009, a trove of his emails came to light. They included a photo of President Obama dressed like a pimp, Michelle Obama as a whore:

Paladino claims to have many black friends.
No doubt they would "appreciate" his sharp sense of humor.

Another email in July 2009 showed a photograph of an airplane landing directly behind a group of black men. The caption read: “Holy Sh*t. run ni**ers, run!”

Oh, what scintillating humor!

As a bonus, in September 2009, Paladino forwarded an email entitled: “Easy Steady Big Fella.... XXXX,” including a graphic photograph of a horse and a woman having sex.

(If you’d like to see other examples of Mr. Paladino’s emails, and you have a strong enough stomach, you can click here.)

Paladino, later claimed in a radio interview that he had done nothing wrong, but only managed to step in his own poop again. “It’s only these retarded liberal people that’ll find it necessary to come out and call me names and not really listen to the issues,” he whined. He couldn’t possibly be racist. He had “many, many friends in the black community” and we might guess even a few horses who were good and loyal friends.

He went on to air a string of grievances against President Obama and claimed his answers and emails were all in good fun. “And yes,” he told the interviewer, “it’s about a little deprecating humor which America lost for a long time. Merry Christmas and tough luck if you don’t like my answer.”

Tough luck, indeed.

In honor of both his racism and his clueless stupidity we nominate Carl Paladino “Worst School Member of the Year.”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

School Reform: Fifteen Years of "Diet Plans" That Couldn't Fail

IMAGINE YOU WANTED to lose a few pounds. Most of us do. So this might not be hard to imagine. Now picture some svelte fitness guru. He promises: “Follow my plan and you cannot go wrong. You will lose all the pounds you want.”

You excitedly try the plan for six months and gain seven pounds. You waste $1500 dollars on diet supplements too.

A second weight-loss guru comes your way. “Follow my plan and you cannot go wrong,” she insists. “You will lose all the pounds you want.”

You do as told again, and put on ten pounds. Even your “fat pants” no longer fit. (Not that I would know from bitter experience.) You wasted $1200 on diet shakes and motivational videos.

Eventually, you try a third, fourth and fifth diet plan. Every time, the gurus promise you cannot go wrong.

Not one plan works as promised. 

Not even close.

WELL, AFTER FIFTEEN YEARS of school reform that’s where we find ourselves, as a nation, today.

You may not recall, but the push to “fix” U.S. education began in earnest in 2001, in large part due to test results from countries round the world. These results came from a test that had not existed before 2000: the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. In the spring of that year, 15-year-olds from 32 nations, mostly first-world countries, took the test for the first time. U.S. students finished fifteenth in reading, with an average score of 504. In math we finished eighteenth with an average score of 493. In science, America’s teens were fourteenth with a score of 499.

Reporters took a quick glance at results and wrote fevered stories about how the United States was doomed! Talking heads on cable news saw the scores and decided it might make compelling viewing to blame teachers for everything that had gone wrong. School reformers, safely ensconced in think tanks far from the educational front lines, studied and analyzed and promised—if we would only listen to them—that they knew exactly how to get those PISA scores up! Finally, politicians decided they had to be involved. Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.

So keep those first PISA scores in mind:

Reading: 504
Math: 493
Science: 499

IN 2003 THE TEST WAS administered again. This time, students from 41 countries were involved. In reading, U.S. scores fell to 495. America’s teens dipped in math to 483. Science scores were down, with the average 15-year-old scoring 491. After two years of reform scores were down twenty-seven points.

The politicians and reformers were puzzled. But they never doubted their great plans. They were absolutely going to work in the end. Just keep listening to us, they reassured millions of real educators, who were starting to wonder. In 2006 PISA was given again. U.S. reading scores were thrown out. In math, however, our kids scored 498; in science they averaged 489. In other words, reform was working! Math scores were up five points! Oh, wait, science scores were down ten.

Overall: down five!

In a vain effort to improve standardized scores of all kinds, schools across the nation cut back time spent on “non-essential” learning, like music, art and physical education. School reformers (again: people who never actually teach) promised all these sacrifices would be worth it in the end.

Like the seventeen-year locusts, only appearing far more often, PISA returned in 2009. Reading results for U.S. teens: 500; math: 487; science: 502. Scores were still down a total of seven points.

Scores for U. S. students still looked bad in 2009!
They would look even worse in years ahead.

With the years flying by—and scores refusing to rise—more and more changes were forced upon administrators, teachers and students. Charter schools spread like kudzu because charter schools couldn’t fail! Teach for America was going to work because everyone knew smarter teachers would be a thousand times more effective than the nincompoops in the classrooms we had. Tens of thousands of teachers and administrators were axed under state laws when test scores didn’t rise,. Others earned fat bonuses when scores did. (See: Atlanta cheating scandal.By 2012 testing was costing states and the federal government $1.7 billion per year. Surely, by then, reform had to have worked!

Or not.

On the PISA test administered in 2012, U.S. students averaged 498 in reading, 481 in math and 497 in science.

Our teens were twenty points down.

Twelve years of abject failure didn’t faze arrogant reformers and pompous politicians. Sure, SAT scores were down too. Sure ACT scores remained flat (that was good news compared to the rest). And, yes, reading and math scores for seniors on the National Assessment for Education Progress hardly budged or fell.

The gurus kept telling everyone how great their plans were. By 2015 No Child Left Behind had morphed into “Race to the Top.” Common Core had come along. After dithering for years, Congress phased out NCLB and replaced it with the Every Child Succeeds Act. Soon we were sure to see all the great results of a decade-and-a-half of top-down school reform.

For a sixth time the PISA test was administered in 2015.

Now, 15-year-olds from seventy countries and educational systems took the test. How did U.S. students fare?


In reading our students scored 497. After fifteen years of reform and tens of billions wasted, scores were down seven points.

Fifteen years of listening to blowhard politicians—and students averaged 470 in math, a depressing 23-point skid.

Science scores averaged 496, still down three points.

The idea of raising PISA scores had been the foundation on which reform was built and after fifteen years America’s teens were scoring 33 points worse.

Teachers were left to ponder several questions. First, and foremost, had real harm been done to students, all in the name of reform? Second, did the reformers really know what they were doing? Third, had all the changes, particularly the insane focus on data collection, even to the point of curtailing actual time-on-task working with students, made the job so much more frustrating and so much less rewarding that perhaps they might not want to remain in the field much longer?

THE ANSWERS, from this retired educator’s perspective being, yesno, and yes for too many young teachers, should send a chill through the education community.


If you agree with my position you might like my book: Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching, in which I lay out the best case I can in condemning the current insane focus on standardized testing.

I theme of the book is about the one variable in education I found, during my 33 years in the classroom, mattered most.

Available on

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Air Raid, Pearl Harbor...This is no Drill!"

President Franklin D. Roosevelt would call the attack on Pearl Harbor,
"a day that shall live in infamy."

IT WAS JUST BEFORE EIGHT IN THE MORNING; but bright sunlight sparkled across the surface of Pearl Harbor. Slowly, Sunday, December 7, 1941, the United States Pacific Fleet came to life. Leslie Short was up addressing Christmas cards. Aboard battleship USS Maryland, Felder Crawford lay in his bunk reading the funny papers. Joe Whitt, a crew member on the cruiser San Francisco, was sitting down for his first guitar lesson, having paid a shipmate $5 for lessons. The band on Nevada was gathering to play the National Anthem and raise the flag. YG-17, a ship that sailors jokingly labeled a “honey barge,” was moving across the harbor, preparing to pick up garbage and siphon waste from the great warships moored along “Battleship Row.” 

Here and there, soldiers awoke with splitting heads, reminder of one too many drinks the previous evening. At her nearby home in Honolulu, Geneva Willey laid abed with husband Jim, a young Army officer. Neither felt like getting up on a lazy Sunday morning. Jerry Morton, 13, and brother Don, 11, were already up and dangling fishing lines in the harbor. Mary Ann Ramsey, 16, finished curling her hair and headed out the door for church. A pair of Army pilots was “up” early, too. Or to put it plainly, George Welch and Kenneth Taylor had never been to bed at all. After an all-night poker game they were discussing whether to go for a swim or hit the sack.

Coming in fast from the north, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida of the Japanese Imperial Navy was wide awake. At that moment, had any American looked, Fuchida’s wave of 183 planes, a mix of bombers, fighters and torpedo planes, would have been clearly visible as tiny specks on the horizon.  


EVEN NOW, WITH ENEMY PLANES STREAKING THEIR WAY, it was not too late for defenders to awake. Bad luck, mistakes, and poor communication all morning would allow the Japanese to achieve complete surprise.  

In fact, long before dawn, five Japanese midget submarines had tried to sneak into Pearl Harbor. Once inside they had orders to lie low and join the attack only after the first wave of aircraft arrived overhead. At 3:57 a.m., an American mine sweeper spotted a mysterious craft prowling near the harbor mouth. The destroyer Ward came looking, found nothing, and failed to pass on warning to higher command. A report did come in from a patrol plane claiming to have attacked and sunk an unidentified sub. This time there was much calling back and forth and discussion about what it meant.  

Sadly, no one took the report seriously. 

At 6:40 a.m. Ward was on the move again. Spotting what looked like a conning tower poking from the water, gun crews opened fire. Their second shot drilled the enemy sub and she disappeared from view. At 6:53 Ward reported this strange encounter. The message began working its way up the U. S. chain of command. Just after seven the destroyer picked up another sub, moved in, and dropped depth charges. Lookouts spotted a large oil bubble rising to the surface. Once again Ward radioed report. By 7:40 a.m. U. S. commander Admiral Husband E. Kimmel had been alerted. 

“I’ll be right down,” he told worried officers, and began dressing for the drive to headquarters.

Meanwhile, American forces had a second wake-up call. Again they ignored it. Two young radar operators, George Elliott, Jr. and Joseph Lockard, sounded an alert. Radar was new in 1941 and the two had risen early to practice with their sets. At 7:02 they began tracking something they described as “completely out of the ordinary.” A large blip, approaching from the north, seemed to indicate fifty planes or more headed their way.
Concerned, they telephoned their commander at Fort Shafter. The officer on duty told them not to worry. A flight of U. S. bombers was scheduled in from California that morning. Still unsure what it meant, Elliot and Lockard followed the blip till 7:39 a.m. when it vanished behind nearby mountains.

By 7:53 it no longer mattered.  


COMING IN FAST AT THAT MOMENT, Commander Fuchida scanned the harbor for signs the Americans were ready. The blue sky was clear and he could see battleships of the U. S. Pacific Fleet riding quietly at anchor. He felt a moment of stinging disappointment. None of the U. S. aircraft carriers, main target of the Japanese, were in port that morning. Fuchida shook off his disappointment. Then he radioed back to waiting commanders with the Japanese fleet the signal: “Tora! Tora! Tora!” This was the phrase which would indicate that total surprise had been achieved.

Even now, those who did see planes coming assumed it was a drill. Frank Handler, standing on the deck of destroyer Helm, watched aircraft roar past. An enemy pilot glanced his way and waved. Handler waved back. Other defenders noticed red “meatball” symbols on wings and fuselages but the truth dawned slowly. On Ford Island, Commander Logan Ramsey saw a dive bomber coming fast. Thinking it must be a U. S. pilot showboating, he told another officer to get the fool’s number. Seconds later bombs exploded close by. 

“Never mind,” Commander Ramsey screamed“it’s a Jap.” 

All across the island, defenders were caught unprepared. At one hospital Nurse Monica Conter dove for “cover,” holding a garbage can lid over her head. Ensign John Beardall was seen working an anti-aircraft gun in red pajamas. Others fought back with whatever came to hand. A Marine fired a shotgun. Another dueled enemy planes with a .45 pistol. Thomas Donahue was so angry he hurled wrenches at low-flying enemy aircraft as they whizzed past.  

Dale Augerson and wife. Augerson served on the USS West Virginia and survived the attack.

Clare Hetrick, served on the USS Arizona; he also survived the fight.

Dozens of attacking planes swarmed the skies, flattening aircraft hangers, blasting vehicles and machine-gunning men. At Hickam Air Field a 500-pound bomb tore through the roof of a dining hall. The explosion killed thirty-five men sitting at breakfast. Dozens more were injured, including a cook wounded by a flying mayonnaise jar. Corporal Duane W. Shaw watched a line of parked planes burst into flame and jumped in his fire truck to save them. A Japanese fighter roared low and shot out his back tires, putting an end to his run.  At Bellows Air Field, attackers killed a U. S. pilot as he scrambled into his cockpit. Two other planes were knocked down as soon as they left the ground. Sgt. Wilbur Hunt put a machine gun into action, firing from a handy bomb crater. Another blast tore a corner off the guard house. Prisoners came running to help. A third bomb destroyed an ice cream truck. Soldiers dashed from hiding to pick up free treats.  

Caught completely by surprise, the Americans were unable to put up much of a defense. “It was,” said one Japanese pilot later, “more like a practice run than actual combat.”  

Except in practice no one is killed.


“BATTLESHIP ROW” WAS SOON A SCENE OF HORROR. R. L. Hooton was lying in his bunk on West Virginia, looking at pictures of his new baby, when the ship rocked from a bomb hit. Ed Jacoby’s personal battle lasted moments. Then a blast sent a metal locker crashing over on his head, knocking him cold. The captain of the ship was mortally wounded when a shell splinter sliced his abdomen.  

Dorie Miller, a hard-nosed black mess steward, helped carry him to cover. The Navy still treated black sailors poorly in those days and most found themselves trapped in lowly, unskilled jobs. Now Miller had a chance to do something besides clean dishes and cook. Without hesitation he grabbed hold of one of the ship’s anti-aircraft guns and opened fire. A white sailor later said it was only the second time he had seen Miller smile, the first being the day he won the ship’s boxing championship. Despite the crew’s best efforts, however, West Virginia was struck again and again. Wrapped in sheets of burning oil, the mighty battleship sank slowly, settling into the muddy harbor bottom.

Dorie Miller was eventually awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic actions.

Not far away, Oklahoma took an awful beating. Hiejro Abe, a Japanese pilot, let loose his 1,760-pound bomb and saw it tear into the ship. Excitement overwhelmed him and tears came to his eyes. Four torpedoes slammed into the vessel, ripping open her hull. Oklahoma took on water and began to roll over. Below decks a sailor saw two men in the pharmacy hit by a cascade of falling medicine bottles. Slipping and sliding, they fell amid the broken glass. Then they jumped up and ran off. Inside the main gun turrets there were scenes of horror. Huge shells, some weighing more than a ton, broke loose and rolled down the slanting deck, crushing anyone in their path. Other crewmen were more fortunate. A marine managed to walk up the side of the vessel as it rolled over. Then he stepped into a waiting lifeboat, without wetting his feet. Three brothers, Tom, Pat and Terry Armstrong, reached safety without a scratch among them. Three other crewmen, brothers Leroy, Malcolm and Randolph Barber, were not so lucky. 

All three went down with the ship. 

Eight minutes after the first bomb hit, Oklahoma rolled over, her hull sticking out of the water like a giant turtle. Trapped inside, George DeLong and seven others found temporary safety from the water by closing hatches to one room and plugging leaking air vents with mattresses. Still, the sea continued to pour in till it reached their waists. Terrified and unable to understand what had happened, they began pounding out an “S. O. S.” with a wrench. Splashing down a flooded passage, George Murphy entered a room with a strange tile “ceiling.”  Neither he nor any of the sailors gathered there could grasp what had happened. Hundreds were trapped inside a topsy-turvy steel prison.  

USS Oklahoma lies on its side; hundreds of men were trapped inside.

FOR THE JAPANESE, THE ATTACK was indeed “a dream come true.” Lt. Jinichi Goto came in low, released his torpedo, and heard his observer shout, “Atarimashita!” It hit! Juzo Mori zoomed down, fifteen feet above the harbor waters. Black puffs of smoke from American guns filled the sky. His torpedo went streaking for the side of California and exploded in a fountain of water and black smoke. As he pulled up, Mori just missed ramming another attacking plane. A string of American bullets ripped his craft like angry wasps. Yet his luck held.

 He survived.

At almost that same moment bombs slammed into the USS Arizona. One ripped through the battleship’s armored deck, touching off a fire near the ammunition room. Suddenly, a million pounds of explosives blew up like a volcano. Fuchida saw the vessel explode far beneath him. The blast rocked his plane like a toy. A pillar of dark red smoke rose a thousand feet in the air. Other witnesses watched the ship jump fifteen feet out of the water and split in two

Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh and 1,176 members of the crew died almost instantly. 


SHOCKED, STUNNED, COMPLETELY ENRAGED, defenders did what they could. One sailor came running from a hanger, firing a Browning automatic rifle at a low flying Zero. The pilot, Lt. Fusata Iida, returned fire and the American ducked a stream of bullets. Witnesses saw the enemy plane climb and come round again, leaking gas as Lt. Iida zoomed in for the kill. Both men fired once more. Then to the astonishment of all who witnessed the duel the crippled plane plowed into the ground and disintegrated.  

John Finn grabbed a machinegun from a parked plane, propped it on a pile of lumber, and blazed away. Shrapnel from an exploding bomb tore into his stomach, chest, arms and foot. Ignoring his wounds, Finn kept firing as long as any attackers were in sight. 

As soon as the first bombs hit, pilots Welch and Taylor forgot their discussion about going for a swim or heading for bed. Jumping into their car they raced to a nearby airstrip. Then they roared into the sky. Soon they found themselves engaged in a high-speed battle. One enemy fighter got on Taylor’s tail. Welch shot him loose. Taylor knocked down a Japanese plane and watched it clip the top off a eucalyptus tree before exploding in a ball of flame. Looking for trouble, they found plenty of targets over Ewa Air Field. It was “a picnic,” and they shot down four more Japanese. Taylor was wounded and forced to land. Welch finished the day by downing a seventh Japanese aircraft on his own.

Even heroic effort could not halt the incredible destruction. A second Japanese wave—this time 168 planes—struck hard at the fleet, adding to the horrible toll. Nevada was hit hard and avoided sinking only by running aground. Battleship Pennsylvania, in dry-dock, was badly damaged. George Walters, a civilian worker, did his best to protect the ship, running a tall repair crane back and forth along a rail to block low-flying aircraft. The destroyer Shaw was hit at 9:30 a.m. A huge orange fireball marked the spot where the vessel had been. Bodies, mattresses, and pieces of ship flew high in the air and came crashing back to earth.  

By 10:00 a.m. the skies had cleared. The last Japanese aircraft vanished to the north. The damage they left was vast. Eighteen ships had been sunk or reduced to mangled junk, including most of the U. S. Navy’s powerful battleships. A total of 188 American planes were destroyed, another 159 damaged. Most had been caught on the ground.

Worst was the human toll. All day and into the night Nurse Dorothy Young watched trucks deliver bloody cargo to her hospital. Again and again, she gave injured soldiers and Marines shots of morphine, marking each man’s forehead with an “M.” Burt Amgwert, a pharmacist’s mate at the Naval Hospital, would never forget the aftermath of the attack. That night, in a facility meant to hold 300, he helped care for nearly a thousand men. Bodies piled up in stacks. Mary Ann Ramsey, the teen who had been headed for church, volunteered to help. The sight of burned and mangled sailors filled her with horror. But she swallowed her fear and held cigarettes to the lips of men too badly injured to hold them themselves. The final count showed 2,403 Americans dead. Another 1,178 were wounded.            


AT 3:00 P.m. (EASTERN STANDARD TIME) RADIO STATIONS across the United States broadcast the news. Fans attending pro football games and players on the fields fell silent. Families eating Sunday dinners put down forks and stared at loved ones. Little children at play stopped to wonder what it meant. Tens of millions of adults understood all too well. The U. S. was now part of what would be the bloodiest war in human history.


JAPANESE LOSSES ON DECEMBER 7 WERE LIGHT. All five midget submarines were sunk, as well as one large sub. 

Twenty-nine planes were downed and 129 men killed.

A survivor visits Pearl Harbor.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Heroes Who Never Fight: U. S. Secretaries of Education (Betsy DeVos Edition)

Back in 2011, when I first started this blog, I complained about school reformers who talked and talked about leading a battle to fix the nation’s schools but didn’t ever seem to do any of the actual fighting.

Now, with Betsy DeVos the latest choice to lead the U. S. Department of Education I can almost recycle the article whole.

(I have also blogged about bicycling across the United States to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.)

It's a beautiful country. Get out there and see it.
(Grand Teton National Park.)

Anyway, here’s what I said six years ago. Almost every syllable still applies:

I TAUGHT FOR 33 YEARS, SO I INTEND TO USE MY BLOG to defend good public school teachers whenever possible. 

Still, you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know there are bad teachers. We used to joke of a colleague at my school that you could replace him with a cardboard cutout and students wouldn’t notice a difference. 

So, yeah, we need to do more to weed the dandelions in the classroom. 

When I started researching a book about education, however, I was stunned to find how little time our nation’s “leading” school reformers have devoted to the classroom. On November 30, 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Shirley Hufstedler first United States Secretary of Education. It was the start of a bizarre trend.  

Hufstedler was charged with saving U.S. education. But in 1979, starting my fifth year in a classroom, I had more experience than the Secretary of Education. I had her beat by four years, two months. Hufstedler never taught a minute. She probably knew as much about teaching as I did about driving a car at the Indianapolis Speedway or playing concert piano with the London Symphony. 

Mr. Carter plucked her from the federal bench. 

Terrel Bell, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, came next. Bell was actually tasked with dismantling the Department of Education, an idea most teachers might support today. Bell, at least, had tried his hand at teaching. He later became a principal and a superintendent in the Idaho and Utah public schools. 

William Bennett, Reagan’s second appointee and third to hold the position of Education Czar was another teaching virgin. Big Bill didn’t come out of any classroom. He came striding out of a think tank and started lecturing teachers about their failings. Later he wrote a thick book about “virtue” for adults.

Then he wrote a thinner volume: The Children’s Book of Virtues.  

Last but not least, he admitted a serious gambling addiction and blowing eight million dollars in Las Vegas. 

Lauro Cavazos Jr. was fourth in line, coming to the Department of Education straight from the university level, having never spent a day in his life working with K-12 students. He didn’t last long either. Cavazos was forced to resign after an investigation into misuse of frequent flier miles. 

Lamar Alexander was fifth. His first taste of Washington, D. C. life had not come working in a public school—of course not—but as legislative assistant to Senator Howard Baker. Alexander did meet his wife during a softball game for Senate staffers. So that was kind of cool. Later, as governor of Tennessee, he won fame and got his face on a Time magazine cover for “reforming” that state’s schools.

Naturally, none of the reforming was done by his hand. Lamar was just another virgin. Based on “his” success in Tennessee, however, Alexander was elevated to the cabinet post by President George H. W. Bush.  

President Clinton had the next crack at the problem and reached deep down into the classroom …no, no, no, we’re joking! He chose Governor Richard Riley of South Carolina as his U. S. Secretary of Education. Riley’s time in a classroom: 0 years, 0 months, 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes. 


George W. Bush had two chances to get it right and blew them both, turning first to Rod Paige and later Margaret Spellings. Paige, at least, taught and coached at the college level; but his real claim to fame was the “Houston Miracle” which supposedly occurred while he was in charge of that city’s public schools...In no time at all, Paige had inner-city high schools whipped into shape and principals were reporting zero dropouts. Mr. Paige was a genius and President Bush tapped him to work his magic as Secretary of Education. 

Unfortunately, real teachers know that in real classrooms miracles are in short supply; and the “Houston Miracle” turned out to be completely bogus. Reporters discovered that one Houston high school had reduced dropouts to zero by classifying all 462 students who left school during the year as “transfers.” 

Where they might have “transferred” to, whether another high school, or a nunnery, or another planet, was a mystery. 

Meanwhile, Secretary Paige huffed and puffed and couldn’t make No Child Left Behind work. True: states initially reported stunning test-score gains. On closer examination almost all the gains proved to have been achieved through sleight of hand. Most states simply made their standardized tests easier to insure higher passing rates and avoid penalties under new federal regulations. 

Paige eventually gave way to Margaret Spellings, who came to understand the processes of education not by working in a classroom but by serving on an education reform commission down in Texas. 

Spellings did her fighting for children from the safe distance of the rear. She fought for kids in spirit, you could say. 

By 2009, if you were a real teacher—and by that, I mean a good one—it seemed hard to believe education policy could get worse. When President Obama took office you could hope wisdom might prevail. 

Instead, we found ourselves saddled with Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Duncan was the hero who “reformed” the Chicago Public Schools, a man who once, ha, ha, just joking again…who got his start in education in administration and kept clambering up the bureaucratic ladder.

So you figure he learned everything there was to know about the challenges faced by real teachers.

Back in 2011, I made fun of several other “leaders” in the field of school reform. 
I will skip that part.

This will bring us up to date:

President Obama had a second chance to get it right, selecting John B. King Jr. to serve as tenth Secretary of Education. Mr. King did teach three years, two in a charter school, and did serve as charter school administrator for five more. So he wasn’t devoid of firsthand knowledge. Sadly, as New York State Education Commissioner, he pushed several misguided policies and was politely asked to leave. King wanted to link teacher pay to standardized test scores—ironically, on tests that later proved so badly flawed they were discontinued. He also pushed hard for Common Core despite the fact New York parents by the tens of thousands started opting out of all the tests.

In the meantime, Congress was supposed to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but failed to do so for eight long years, also failing to remedy flaws in the legislation. Duncan pushed a Race to the Top  initiative but his plan seemed to lead the children nowhere. Front line educators rightly came to suspect that  neither Mr. Duncan nor their representatives in Congress knew what they were doing.

Eventually, No Child Left Behind was replaced by the Every Child Succeeds Act, which, for all we know, may be replaced by the Make Every Child Great Again Act under President Donald J. Trump.

If Betsy DeVos passes Senate muster, we will be adding a woman with zero teaching experience—with zero experience as a school administrator—who never went to public schools—who never sent her children to public schools—appointed by a man who went to private schools—a man who sent his children to private schools—and Mrs. DeVos will “lead” us to battle. I suspect she knows what most men and women who have held the post of Secretary of Education have known about working with America’s children. 

Next to nothing.

What she does understand perfectly is how to collect great wads of cash and then donate same to wily politicians. DeVos knows how to block laws she and her husband don’t want passed by skillful lobbying. She’s rich because her father-in-law founded Amway and her husband runs the company. 

In other words, everything in education is going to be great!! 

And, if the next set of “school reforms” proves as misguided as the last, or the last before that, or before that, or even before that, maybe this time schools can at least stock up on Amway soaps and cleaning products.

Because DeVos might not know kids; but she really, really knows her Amway.