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Arne Duncan’s “Principal Ambassadors”: Federally Monitored “Local Control”??

May 14, 2014

A notable corporate reform ploy is to starve school districts of funding and then turn around and offer some “assistance”– which amounts to little more than a district’s selling its autonomy to the corporate reform machine.

Corporate reform is flush with cash, and it wants to leverage its cash in order to trap school systems (both local and state) into the corner of inevitable privatization.

Arne Duncan: Federal Control on Behalf of Privatization

For all of his claims to the contrary, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is leveraging federal enforcement of the spectrum of reforms promoted by Race to the Top (RTTT).

Note that Duncan’s coercive efforts benefit mega-companies like Pearson. This happens to be the same goal billionaire Bill Gates holds in his obscenely-financed efforts to cement a future for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Duncan wants to back states and districts further into the federal-control-ending-in-privatization corner by threatening to discontinue federal funding by way of his “withdrawing” No Child Left Behind (NCLB) “waivers,” often tied to states’ agreeing to tenets that are also part of RTTT, such as tying teacher effectiveness ratings to student test scores. (Note that the entire “waiver” concept is suspect; NCLB was not reauthorized by its 2007 deadline, and the original NCLB includes no language in regard to the “waivers” initiated by President Obama in 2012.)

However, rather than withdraw his democratic-process-dodging NCLB “waiver,” Duncan would much rather insert individuals trained to enforce state and district compliance to his RTTT– as concerns those teacher evaluations based upon student test scores (his reason for nixing Washington state’s NCLB waiver) and the hardly-“state led” CCSS (his reason for threatening Indiana’s NCLB waiver).

Employees Who Bring Their Own Funding?

In order to insert federal enforcement into state and local education operations, Duncan has apparently taken a lesson from corporate reform-purchasing “philanthropist” Eli Broad. Broad is a major supporter of teaching temp agency Teach for America (TFA). Moreover, his support enables TFA to fulfill its goal of supplanting career school administration with its TFA alums. To this end, Eli Broad offers former TFAers (and others willing to privatize public education) “training” in corporate-reform-friendly “leadership” via his unaccredited Superintendents Academy.

Here is the lure to districts: Broad agrees to subsidize its superintendents’ salaries during a two-year “residency and enlists long-term career support for its grads. Below is an excerpt from the Broad website. It is an appeal to potential “partners,” including state departments of education:

Partner Organizations receive a multitude of benefits from The Broad Residency. These include added capacity from a highly capable individual with a strong interest in public urban education, funding (The Broad Residency subsidizes salaries and pays for 100% of the costs of recruitment, selection, and travel for professional development), retention of talent and much more. As Residents cultivate their leadership and management capacity through the program curriculum, we expect Partner Organizations to be active participants in the Resident’s development and long-term transition into the education sector.

State Departments of Education must:

  • Have the authority and funding to support a significant reform agenda intended to increase student achievement in urban school systems in their state. 
  • Have the ability to hire a Resident into a politically appointed, career staff or equivalent position during the two-year program. [Emphasis added.]

Thus, Eli Broad makes his superintendents more attractive to fiscally-strapped districts and states by offering cash to accompany the superintendent, all the while securing an agreement for future employment of this corporate-reform-bent “graduate.”

Duncan’s “Principal Ambassadors”

Want to make a privatizer look attractive as a leader in a system that would be destroyed by privatization?

Offer to supplement that privatizer’s salary.

It seems that Duncan has taken the salary-supplementing hint.

Introducing the US Department of Education’s (USDOE) Principal Ambassador Leadership Program (PAF).

In the following two-minute video announcement of the program, Arne Duncan advertises the potential applicant “leaders” as having “a track record of success”– which, to Duncan, means high student standardized test scores– the corporate reform end-all.

Here are some excerpts of USDOE-declared PAF purpose. Let us have a moment of USDOE-text dissection:

The PAF program is meant to recognize the important impact that a principal has on instructional leadership, the school environment, and talent management.


In other words, the school principal is the site-based individual who needs to buy into federally-promoted reforms.

In order to implement needed reforms, all stakeholders, and most importantly teachers and principals, must understand the intent of policy and be engaged in the outcomes.

This is the true goal of PAF: to convince site-based stakeholders to comply with a set of “reforms” that did not originate with them and that are designed to undermine the sense of community inherent in the non-profit-centered ethics of the career education practitioner.

Over time, it is possible that like Teaching Ambassador Fellows, all PAFs will spend time gaining greater knowledge of the content of key federal programs and policies, in addition to the context and process by which they are designed and implemented. They will be asked to share their expertise with federal staff members; provide outreach and communication about federal initiatives to other educators on behalf of the Department; and facilitate the involvement and understanding of educators in developing and implementing these efforts at the federal, state and local levels, to improve the likelihood of their success. [Emphasis added.]

The “context and process” of “design” of  “federal programs and policies” reads like a re-education effort to convince practitioners that “federal programs” like CCSS (let’s just admit it openly) really did originate with education practitioners such as classroom teachers even though the CCSS creation process outlined in the CCSS MOU (memorandum of understanding) does not mention current classroom teachers as being members of the CCSS work groups.

Thus, it appears that Duncan’s “ambassadors” might be equipped to reshape the CCSS development narrative into a clearly-false-yet-feel-good fluff designed to convince teachers that they must buy into CCSS because they really did write it.

Drill a lie–> create a “new truth.”

And be sure to offer that signature-Broad, district-benefiting financial incentive:

The “outreach to other educators” is the component in which the USDOE is able to model Eli Broad’s technique of supplying privatization-minded converts (in this case, “ambassadors”) to school districts in order to “assist” a district without that district’s having to pay a full salary:

…The Campus Principal Ambassador Fellowship is a paid part-time position that enables principals to work with the Department on a more limited basis in addition to their regular school responsibilities. In the first year, this is anticipated to be approximately 20 hours a month, though may vary from month to month. [Emphasis added.]

Having a principal bring “part” of his/her salary to a job interview can prove quite the lure to districts experiencing financial peril.  Quite the lure.

Once these “ambassadors” are inserted into districts, Duncan has established an on-site connection for monitoring district (and state) compliance with NCLB waiver- and RTTT requirements.

The beauty for Duncan is that a district’s hiring his on-site, USDOE-enforcer liaisons will have done so “voluntarily.”

Advice to Tempted Districts

To those districts enticed to employ one of those USDOE-salary-supplemented “ambassador” principals, hear Nancy Reagan:

Just say no.

For those who believe I am making too great an issue out of PAF as a potential federal overreach into local education affairs, allow me to note that in 2004-07 when I taught my tests and measurements course at Ball State, I first read that some states were using student standardized test scores to measure teachers. At that time, I thought that such a twisted application of test results could not become common practice for its obviousness as testing misuse.

Yet look where we are now. Both the NCLB waivers and RTTT place undeniable, heavy emphasis on using student standardized test scores to “grade” teacher and administrator “effectiveness.”

Given Duncan’s intent to enforce his “reforms” by requiring state departments of education to answer to USDOE under threat of NCLB waiver withdrawal, and given his publicly bashing even “suburban moms” for expressing objections to CCSS, it would be naive to think that Duncan would not try to use this federal-to-local “connection,” PAF, as a means of inserting federal monitoring and control into local education affairs.

Especially beware if a PAF notes that his/her salary would be supplemented via federal money.

It might seem like a break to not have to pay a full salary to that Duncan ambassador principal. However, in hiring such an individual, you open the door to allow Duncan to closely monitor your school (or district, or state) and advance his now-unmistakable intent to devour local control and enable education corporation gluttony.

For additional info, read this sequel:




  1. Thanks as always for your writing.

    Just wanted to clarify a few facts in the last piece.
    1. The TAFs and PAFs are not “bringing half their salary” to the district. There is an hourly stipend that is in addition to the normal salary.
    2. They are not screened to alignment with the administration’s policies. Anyone can apply and a committee selects. They are subject to training, and naturally some of the training is given by DoEd staffers. However, I gave a training last year about maintaining one’s own voice and authentic perspective as an educators. There are quite a number of former TAFs who are in direct oppositions to the policies of the administration.

    There are certainly those in the administration who see these programs as a way to indoctrinate educators. There are others who see this as an opportunity to change the direction of the department by listening to classroom experts on education.

    I was a 2009-2010 TAF, selected immediately after a year in which my students went to 4 Chicago Public School meetings of the unelected board of education. At those meetings, my students directly criticized Arne’s Chicago policies, testifying on their disparate impact on high-need schools with students of color.

    My students continued to do the same during and after the fellowship.

    • You were a TAF from 2009, not a PAF from 2013.

    • ColoMom permalink

      ….and you see no problem with this Federally Funded PAF whose job is to “facilitate the involvement and understanding of educators in developing and implementing these efforts at the federal, state and local levels, to improve the likelihood of their success.” ? I myself see the Federal Common Core enforcers in our schools as a HUGE over reach who just might have a problem with bias towards CC since they are receiving both training and a paycheck from our Fed Ed.

  2. Reblogged this on Science Magic Parties and commented:
    Arne Duncan is a blight on public education. There is no evidence that Charter Schools do anything other than fill the pockets of politically connected friends of public officials. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk both support Charter Schools ever since “unfettered political contributions” were declared constitutional. Interestingly, the same individual who is hosting a fundraiser for Bruce Rauner, a Republican Candidate for Governor, is hosting a fundraiser for Dick Durbin (supposedly a liberal Democrat).

  3. Harlan Underhill permalink

    Of course, as we all know I suppose, Mrs. Reagan was talking about drugs, literally. Granted, the subsidized principalships and superintendentships are certainly as tempting to school districts and boards as drugs are to individuals: once on them, hard to get off them.

    It still puzzles me, though, how privatization can be the goal of national standards. That would seem to be self defeating of the aim of providing a single target (the standards) for educational publishers because the private schools would automatically be exempt from the national standards and the national testing, unless they wanted to advertise that they were a Common Core school.

    Can anyone explain to me how national standards for public school systems produces privatization of public school systems?

    • Scott Baker permalink


      Let me take a stab at this one. I have taught in Michigan for the past 20 years and have followed the ed. reform movement for quite some time.

      There are currently two ways you can end up on the state’s “naughty list” – academically and financially. The state controls budgets and testing. They can set policies (cut scores/education budgets) that ensure your district will end up on one or both lists. Once you meet the criteria of a “failing” school district, your district is handed over to a private entity. This happened at Muskegon Heights and in Detroit. Google “Muskegon Heights” and “Mosaica” to see how that little fiasco played out.

      National standards as they are currently used, are meant to create more “failing” schools to turn over to educational hucksters.


      • Harlan Underhill permalink

        Thank you, Scott for beginning the elucidation. If your analysis is right, then the CCSS would seem to be but a temporary method of failing all schools, which when the privatization agenda is complete, would simply be discarded because there would be no public schools left on which to force them. Is that your understanding?

  4. How can everyone not see that the blackmail money he is promising is corrupt crony capitalist dollars that they have stolen from landowners in those districts. We should boycott all corporations that make a dime from these corporate bribes or get tax breaks or stand to profit or have profited in connection with these companies. This is just more proof that this administration is a greedy pro-scandal succubus that will not stop with it’s agenda for control and money. D. Hammond and Fattah of PA are complicit in continuing to entice cash strapped states and school districts to come on board to pad the pockets of their cronies and themselves. When the money runs out these people will care just as much about education as they do now. The empty pockets, empty promises and problems will still be there when these vampires have moved on. We do not need these types of people educating our children. They will never succeed because it is not their intention. And they certainly won’t do it without morals and values.

  5. I’m neither supporting the program, nor saying I’m part of the program; merely correcting factual inaccuracies in the article.

    I don’t understand how it serves anyone to read inaccuracies into the liner notes. There are plenty of factual reasons to critique the department. I raise them often–lack of input of educators, ineffective policies, strong partnerships with institutions that intentionally put out flawed research.

    It’s a similar dynamic on the common core–we have many strong, accurate critiques of it (much of it your own). There are folks who make up false attacks on it, and the other side adeptly focuses on the false aspects to marginalize thoughtful critique.

    • Xian, I changed the word “half” to “part” of the salary. I have secondhand knowledge of a PAF telling a district that half of his salary would be federally subsidized, but I do not have the direct source to cite.

      I also added some clarification of my position to the end of the post.

  6. I think most educators would agree with you that the “cementing” of CCSS by Bill Gates, et al, is supported by the great “public (read: a heavily lobbied Fed) -private” move to privatize not only public education, but everything within the public domain as well.

    On a somewhat connected “theme,” I find it perplexing that heads of large, national teachers’ unions, who continually affirm their support for public education’s interests, simultaneously advance promotion for CCSS.

    Clearly, your research and investigative writings are condiciones sine quibus non. I’m sure many would appreciate your voice regarding this seeming paradoxical, if not disturbing conflict. Perhaps an in-depth piece of this apparent ambiguity and Randi Weingarten’s unceasing assurances that she is fighting for public schools and public school teachers while she continues to cling to the tenets of CCSS would cast a greater light upon the questionable disposition of teacher union leadership.


  7. We need to get all over this. And BTW by law they can only withhold a portion of Title 1 funds. It amounts to a very small amount. EX: A state that gets $200 million can only be penalized $2000. So come on Duncan MAKE MY DAY.

  8. Ullr permalink

    I am reminded of the role of “custodians” in smart growth comprehensive land use plans. Communities that set up such plans to be in the good graces of their state governments receives some carrots for doing so. The position of custodian is required of local governments adopting such plans to keep the local plan up to date with all the latest mandates and interpretations of land use laws. Their role is to be an agent of the state at the local government level. I am reminded of the Communist Party political officer aboard the Red October. Although the captain was nominally in charge of the Red October, the captain had to be careful of contradicting the political officer. I think that is what educational “ambassadors” are; political officers and agents of the federal government.

  9. George Buzzetti permalink

    Arne Duncan does not know how to do anything but lie like his boss O’Bummer who is Not Change We Can Believe In. Duncan and Senator Feinstein lied to the California Legislature for mayoral control. They both told the Calif. Legislature that those before Daley took over Chicago in 1995 had put the Chicago Public Schools into a $1.8 billion debt which Daley and crew had to clean up. I have the financials for Chicago from the 1994 budget and gee there was a surplus. Both O’Bummer and his wife made their money in Chicago from privatization of Chicago Schools. Fully Documented. This is why they say Community Organizers as they do not want you to really know who they are and what their real history is. As if who he is really now is not apparent by his actions. Never believe words, only watch what they do. Duncan and O’Bummer are destroyers of “Real Public Education.”

    Mercedes Schneider is one of the only people blogging who really knows what she is talking about as her work is full documented and factual. Can’t say that for many out there. That is why I have been cut off. Who cares. Doesn’t stop me from what I am doing or revealing who is who. The game is on. Who wants to use facts and really stop the billionaires from totally implementing Fascist Amerika any more than they already have?

    Today, was the first real training on the joke called in California LCFF. I have video of Deasy at LAUSD top gun on LCFF stating he is the “Top Gun” and when I ask him if he has read the original legislation it turns out that in that room with 62 of the LAUSD top brass for 58 parents only Yolande Beckles and myself in the room had read, and more importantly understood, that legislation. I ask this logical question “If you have not read the original legislation how do you know if the bullet points and power points you use have anything at all to do with the original legislation. The answer is “You cannot know.” As Mercedes does, “We do our homework.”

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Arne Duncan’s “Principal Ambassadors”: Federally Monitored “Local Control”?? #stopcommoncore | Stop Common Core Illinois
  2. Injecting Federal Control and Influence in Local School Administration | Truth in American Education
  3. Pigs, Wolves, and Principals–Or Is It Principles? | readingdoc
  4. National Council on Teacher Quality Gets Caught in a Data Collecting Lie - Dr. Rich Swier

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