There is a test and punish fixation in public education today that is an outgrowth of the education policies of the present U.S. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan.

His poorly planned, so-called education initiatives such as Race to the Top (RTTT) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) ushered in a plethora of stifling high-stakes testing which has resulted in what the corporate education reformers like to address as “school failures.” What followed was the closing of public schools because of low test scores, many in urban school districts, which were then replaced with charter schools. The corporate reformers are notorious for their use of standardized tests to label the school districts of the poor and the minority as “failures” while systematically underfunding their schools. This was also the beginning of the privatization movement by the corporate education reformers who envisioned public education as the last “honeypot” in the United States.

Needless to say, public education in the country cannot continue to survive another four to eight years of these crippling education policies. Moreover, what is critically needed is the appointment of an education secretary with
some knowledge of public education and preferably a former educator who will help to reverse these initiatives as well as to help to restore the morale and well being of public school teachers.

Hence, one of the most important decisions the newly elected president of the United States will have to make in 2016 will be the appointment of the next Secretary of Education. Listed below are some possible choices of candidates for this position who will help to make the changes that will restore public education in the nation.

1. Diane Ravitch — Perhaps the individual the corporate reformers fear the most, and with good reason, is Diane Ravitch. She is the author of the best selling book, Reign of Error, and also publishes one of the most widely read education blogs,, that reportedly has received millions of visits. Hence, there is possibly no one more qualified to be the next Education Secretary than Diane Ravitch, who previously served as Assistant Secretary of Education from 1991 to 1993. She is currently a Research Professor of Education at NYU and a historian of education with a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Without doubt, Dr. Ravitch would be the much-needed educator catalyst to turn around and undo the harm that has been done to public education by the present and past administrations.

2. Lily Eskelsen Garcia — Currently serving as the President of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest labor union, Ms. Garcia would be an excellent choice for Secretary of Education. She is the first Latina to lead the NEA and, needless to say, would provide a much-needed fresh perspective of the education problems facing the nation if appointed to this cabinet position. Most importantly, she is an educator with many years of teaching experience who was named Utah “teacher of the year,” unlike the current Education Secretary whose credentials include being a former basketball player. Lily Garcia is an opponent of the standardized testing movement that she believes is serving to oppress public schools and is a weapon used against teachers. Ms. Garcia would be a “breath of fresh air” as education cabinet secretary.

3. Dr. Carol C. Burris — Perhaps no individual educator has been a more fierce an opponent to Common Core State Standards (CCSS) than Dr. Burris, a principal in Rockville Center on Long Island who is retiring this year in order to devote more time to combat the corporate education reform movement. Since her retirement, she has been appointed Executive Director of the Network for Public Education (NPE). She was a teacher and then a principal who received her doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, and also received the NASSP Dissertation of the Year Award. In 2010, she was named Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013 she was named SAANYS “New York High School Principal of the Year.” An author of numerous professional articles, Carol Burris possesses the educational background and credentials that have been lacking in former education secretaries, as well as the present one.

4. Jonathan Pelto — Pelto has been actively involved in Connecticut public policy advocacy and electoral politics for nearly 40 years. In 1984, he was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives as a senior at the University of Connecticut and, over five terms, rose to the level of Deputy Majority Leader. He also was a long-time member of the Appropriations and Education Committee. Most recently, he was a candidate for governor in Connecticut as the nominee of the newly created Education and Democratic Party. His “What? Wait?” blog is widely read by many, especially educators, who consider him an articulate, experienced and well-informed opponent of the corporate education reform movement as well as a staunch opponent of charter schools. Pelto’s vast political experience and understanding of the inner workings of politics would make him an ideal candidate for education secretary.

In summary, it should be noted that none of the Republican candidates currently campaigning for the 2016 presidency would under any circumstances nominate any of the above individuals for education secretary, which leaves only the Democrats — including current frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

However, Anthony Cody who writes for Living in Dialogue, believes Hillary Clinton is too closely aligned with the Gates Foundation, which has been a major donor to the Clinton Foundation, and may also not be willing to buck the very powerful trends confronting public education. Moreover, according to Cody, Clinton has made it clear that she is a “solid supporter of the Common Core and believes that such a testing system helps you organize your whole education system.” Hence, Cody has written off Clinton as a change agent for the nation’s current trajectory in education and is looking more favorably at Bernie Sanders.

Joseph A. Ricciotti, Ed.D, is a retired educator having served as an elementary school principal for 31 years with the Fairfield Public Schools.

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