Sunday, April 18, 2021

This week in Washington (Trump, Sessions, DeVos)


President Donald Trump sharply criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a White House dinner Monday night, citing his cabinet member’s decision to recuse himself from an investigation into the president’s connection to Russia, while Betsy DeVos, the US secretary of education, got into a Twitter shouting match with the American Federation of Teachers, a large teachers’ union.

US Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, underwent surgery to remove a blood clot, during which it was discovered that he has brain cancer.

It’s somewhat difficult to decide which is the bigger story, since one involves the world’s most famous tweeter and the other involves US students mentioned in a tweet. But anyway, this is the kind of thing that happens in our beloved capital these days.

To sum it up briefly, Mr Sessions, who has been credited with eroding many recent police reforms and pushing for-profit prisons, despite evidence that the former were working to reduce the crime rate and the latter wouldn’t produce more effective law enforcement, made the honorable decision to recuse himself from an investigation into his boss’s affiliation with Russia. He made this decision after it was reported that he had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, not as a senator but as a Trump surrogate.

But Mr Trump didn’t criticize his attorney general for any of the negative reform efforts instituted by Mr Sessions. No, he criticized him for one of the things he did right.

Meanwhile, at the US Department of Education, Ms DeVos responded to a statement from the AFT, led by Randi Weingarten, which tweeted: “@BetsyDeVos says public $ should invest in indiv students. NO we should invest in a system of great public schools for all kids.”

Not the nicest thing the union could have said, it was still an acknowledgment that students are served when schools focus on building strong systems to support them, not by breaking up the funds to give to individual students, leaving others high and dry.

But based on her tweets, that message was lost on Ms DeVos:

The union responded appropriately, I think:

Things aren’t much better in state school board rooms. “Leaders” on the Maryland board, for instance, discovered a “loophole” in Gov Larry Hogan’s recent executive order that public schools start after Labor Day each year. This is hot news in Maryland, believe me!

The Maryland State Board of Education spent a few minutes in playful banter after it was revealed that the state has no technical definition for “at-risk” schools, which could receive a waiver from the governor’s order. “There’s a clear definition for low-performing. There’s a clear definition for a charter. But we don’t have a state definition for an at-risk school,” Tiara Booker-Dwyer, director of leadership development and school improvement, told the board, as quoted in the Baltimore Sun. “Depending on how broadly we decide to define that will determine how many schools can be included for the waiver request.”

Board President Andrew Smarick said, “Our jaws dropped.” Like Mr Trump, Mr Smarick finds all the wrong reasons to get all excited over something. As it is on Ms DeVos, the true meaning of important movement in schools has been lost entirely on Mr Smarick.

And it’s all coming to us via Twitter. I wish some of these people—at least a few—could get us back to a position of actual leadership, rather than debating and criticizing others who are trying to do the right thing for students, for schools, and for our country. Although Mr Sessions serves at the pleasure of Mr Trump, the attorney general answers to the people. It wouldn’t hurt me if he decided to resign, just as I wouldn’t feel too bad if more schools were granted waivers from the Labor Day executive order, but it seems like we’re dealing a lot with non-news while the party going on in the other ballroom dances and deals our rights away.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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