Skip to content

Open Letter to Joe Biden: Ed Sec “That Has Been in Public Schools” is Not Enough

September 3, 2020

Dear Candidate Biden:

On September 01, 2020, I saw part of the interview your wife, Jill, did with CNN contributor, Biana Goldryga, on the topic of K12 education. In that interview, Jill said that you plan to replace Betsy DeVos as US secretary of education “with somebody that has been in the public schools.”

On the surface, that sounds fantastic. On the surface.

The problem is that the education reform movement specializes in its members having temp time “in the public schools” as a resume-padding device designed to catapult them into leadership positions in K12 education, such as district and state superintendents. So, technically, one of these classroom-exiting, sleight-of-experience resume padders could slide right on in as the next secretary of education, without spending but a moment’s time as a classroom teacher, and you, sir, might not know the difference because the person is *technically* able to declare having been “in the public schools.”

In fact, hearing Jill Biden say that you plan to appoint as next ed sec “someone who has been in the public schools” makes me realize that being “in” the public schools doesn’t really commit to having as ed sec someone who has spent time in the classroom at all, much less years enough in the classroom to see a wave of ed trends come and go. I’ll pursue the classroom longevity issue in more detail shortly; for now, I will assume that Jill Biden’s use of “in the public schools” means having been a classroom teacher “in the public schools.”

Let’s return to the education reform movement’s penchant for churning out token teachers who really desire speedy procurement of positions of power and influence over the K12 classroom, not an actual classroom teaching career.

The principal vehicle for this career catapult is ed-reform teacher-temp agency, Teach for America (TFA). When Jill Biden says that you want a US education secretary “that has been in the public schools,” my first thought is that you will be heavily lobbied by TFA to appoint one of their “alumni” as the next US ed sec. TFA alumni are recruited to be in the K12 classroom for two years. They might stay for three or four, but they usually don’t remain long enough for a classroom teaching career; if they stay “in education,” it is to fly up the ed-admin ladder or to influence education policy. (Elizabeth Warren had a former TFAer with two years of classroom teaching experience “advising” her “on all matters pertaining to early, elementary, secondary, and higher education.”)

As a career teacher, I have been subjected to years of federal- and state-levied, test-centric, punitive education reform, including eight years with a state superintendent who hailed from TFA, John White, and who became a state superintendent having had only three years of K12 classroom teaching experience and never having been an assistant principal or principal.

White was a TFA executive director in Chicago, which connects him to the Obama-Biden administration via former US ed sec Arne Duncan, who called Louisiana state boards members in 2011 to help convince them to approve White as Louisiana’s next state superintendent, even though at the time, White had only six months’ experience as a local superintendent in New Orleans.

John White became Louisiana state superintendent because Arne Duncan– of the Obama-Biden administration– help put him there.

Here is my chief concern: I do not want the likes of John White to be the next US secretary of education, and I do not want John White himself because of his having been promoted in his top-heavy, light-on-classroom-teaching administrative career by the Obama-Biden administration. But I see the writing on the wall since he already has connections to you via Obama ed sec and longtime Chicago friend, Arne Duncan– and since the likes of White technically fits the Biden campaign criteria as someone “that has been in the public schools.”

A three-year stint “in the public schools” is insufficient, and career teachers like me are tired of token teachers being positioned as the power brokers of K12 public education.

In order to convince career K12 teachers that you mean business in supporting us, let me suggest that you expand your criteria for US secretary of education to include firsthand classroom teaching experience under the oppression that has come our way from the federal government beginning with George W. Bush’s punitive, test-score-fixated No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), extending through the oppressive Obama-Biden appointment of Arne Duncan and his push to rope states into Common Core and to measuring teachers using student test scores via NCLB waivers, and, now, under public school-despising, billionaire Betsy DeVos and her tunnel-vision adulation for and relentless promotion of private school choice.

Public school teachers have spent decades being knocked about by federal mandates involving tying their careers to standardized-test-dependent legislative concoctions despite the fact that measuring teachers and schools is not a valid use of student standardized testing, period. (If it were, testing companies would use such measurement potential as a selling point, but they don’t because using a test taken by one person to measure another is idiocy on its face.)

Mr. Biden, it is about time for the US secretary of education to be a career teacher who has weathered the K12 brutality that the G.W. Bush, Obama-Biden, and Trump administrations have levied against American public education. A career teacher whose career extends at least a decade and includes classroom time under NCLB, Common Core, and DeVos’ public school contempt.

No more Duncans, no more DeVoses, and certainly no room for a TFA-leveraged White to slide into Washington as next federal education chief. American public education needs a genuine, career teacher in that top spot, not just “somebody that has been in the public schools.”

Thank you for your time, and God bless America.


Mercedes Schneider

Career teacher, beginning under the George H. W. Bush administration



No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

  1. Christine Langhoff permalink

    Another person with “time in the public schools” who would be unacceptable, at least to me, is
    Randi Weingarten. She is a labor leader and a lawyer, who spent about 12 heartbeats “in public schools”, maybe less than a TFA.

    You’ve written about this yourself, Mercedes, in 2013:

    • I thought of Weingarten as I was writing. She would not qualify based upon my criteria that the next ed sec be a teacher who was teaching during NCLB, Common Core, and DeVos’ privatizing push. Weingarten taught full time only one semester and cannot fudge enough to meet such criteria.

      • Christine Langhoff permalink

        No, she cannot.

  2. Mercedes,

    List 5-10 people you think might make a good Sec. of Ed. See if there is a way for Jill Biden to provide a list.

  3. ira shor permalink

    Excellent letter, beautifully written and clear about what is needed. Perhaps you will consider sending this letter directly to Joe Biden and if you like, solicit co-signers who agree with your message. I would be honored to co-sign this with you.

    • Thanks, Ira. I have actually tweeted a request to Biden to speak with him directly. We’ll see what happens. Turning the letter into a petition for others to sign is also a possibility.

      • ira shor permalink

        Sounds good; many of us would be happy to co-sign. Most likely, Biden’s DOE pick will be someone to continue past policies when a dramatic turn is needed.

  4. Really great letter.

  5. Linda Berz permalink

    I appreciate you and have always agreed with your opinions –
    Including this one
    I am asking that in addition to these requests we concentrate on getting leaders into position who will acknowledge these goals
    At this point criticizing events that haven’t even occurred seems like a waste of energy
    Let’s focus on getting everyone out to vote and then we can pick our cabinet

  6. Laura H.Chapman permalink

    This is an excellent letter. I note that DeVos is planning to hold schools accountable for testing, per their pre-pandemic ESSA plans. I think Jill Biden and Elizabeth Warren have no firm grasp of education in public schools pre-k-12, or why charter schools are not public, or the how TFA recruits are encouraged to migrate out of the classroom and into positions where they can perpetuate myths about TFAs and charter schools. I think Linda should look at the Democratic Platform and who is advising the Biden campaign on education. For certain we must vote, but we have no choice on cabinet members.

  7. Well-said, Mercedes. On point.

  8. Melissa Mangino permalink

    Amen! I hope they listen.

  9. mercat45 permalink

    I hope you are really sending this to Biden – or better yet, try the NYTimes! Seriously!

    Keep on keeping on!

    Mary Ellen


    • Hi, Mary Ellen. Thank you for the encouragement. I may send a piece to the NYT, but it needs to be an original not published elsewhere.

  10. S. Hovland permalink

    It should also be someone that understands and has spent time fighting against corporate and pseudo-philanthropes privatizers and their various disguises and knows how to follow the money.

  11. Threatened Out West permalink

    And public schools should mean PUBLIC, not “public charter schools.” Real, actual, we have to take everyone public schools. Lily Eskelsen Garcia taught for years in Utah public schools, although I don’t know as I’d recommend her, but at least she taught for like 15 years.

  12. Patti permalink

    Great letter!
    We truly need a candidate who has spent their career in public schools from teaching, being a principal and a superintendent- so that they fully understand the current system and where changes must occur!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: No, Mr. Biden, Being “In the Classroom” Is Not Enough | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Who Should Be the Next Education Secretary at This Critical Juncture in History?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s