Researchers Balk at Trump’s Last-Minute Picks for Ed. Science Board

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 14, 2020 4 min read
Image of President Donald Trump in the oval office.

The U.S. Department of Education’s research advisory panel hasn’t met since 2016, as the Trump administration left expiring and vacant seats unfilled. Now, in the waning days of his term, President Donald Trump has named eight new members to four-year terms on the National Board for Education Sciences—several of whom have little to no connection to K-12 education.

The choices, dribbled out over the course of the last week, are drawing criticism from education research groups, even though they fill a long-standing void for the field. Critics argue some of the nominees have too close of ties to the Trump administration.

Under law, the NBES must have 15 voting members appointed by the president. It has struggled through the years replacing outgoing members quickly enough to keep its quorum during the Obama administration as well and had to delay one meeting and hold another via conference call during federal shutdowns over budget negotiations in 2016.

The board’s work basically ground to a halt under the current administration. Institute for Education Sciences Director Mark Schneider was at one point even called on the carpet by Congress because the lack of the board significantly delayed setting new research priorities.

While the board still has four open seats, the new members would allow the board to restart advisory work required by Congress, along with three other members approved last year. According to the IES, they still must complete financial and ethics clearance, and no board meeting has been scheduled. Moreover, Congress has still not updated the Education Sciences Reform Act, which governs IES and the advisory board.

Education experts immediately protested the nominees’ lack of significant education research experience. By contrast, Trump’s final two nominations to the National Science Board, a separate research advisory board that helps shape the budget for the National Science foundation, included an astronomer and a mechanical engineer.

Nominees have limited education experience, ties to Trump

Felice Levine, the executive director of the American Educational Research Association, the nation’s largest education research group, said: “Serving on the IES’ board is about giving scientific advice in a nonbiased way on where priorities for research and investments should be. The capacity of those members to provide independent and expert advice is very, very central to that.”

The new members are:

  • Dale Ahlquist, the only nominee with a position in K-12 education and co-founder of the private Chesterton Academy in Minnesota, and head of the Chesterton Schools Network of more than 30 Catholic high schools that which use a curriculum he developed.
  • Michael Anton, a lecturer and research fellow focusing on political science at Hillsdale College, a senior fellow at the conservative Claremont Institute, and a former senior national security official in the Trump administration.
  • Lisa Cutone of California (Further information was not available from the research agency at press time.)
  • Marina A. DeWit, a representative for the federal Small Business Administration’s office of advocacy for Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Guam.
  • Michael Faulkender, an associate dean of master’s programs and a finance professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.
  • Steve H. Hanke, a professor of applied economics and founder and co‐director of the Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University
  • Larry Schweikart, a retired history professor from the University of Dayton in Ohio.
  • John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Critics have also questioned nominees’ connections to the president. Marina DeWitt’s husband Jeff served as chief operating officer of Trump’s re-election campaign, and Schweikart wrote “How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution,” and “48 Liberal Lies About American History.” Several of the nominees, including Yoo and Anton, have been vocal Trump supporters on social media. Yoo, as part of President George W. Bush’s Justice Department, also authored the controversial so-called “torture memos,” which laid out justification for enhanced interrogations.

Ahlquist recently favored a move to “defund public education” in favor of universal vouchers. “I expect this new position is going to be a true challenge,” Ahlquist said in a statement on his nomination. “I will be given a unique perspective of the state of education in this country, and I doubt I’m going to see a very good report card. I welcome the opportunity to work with other education leaders who want to improve all of our schools.”

Michele McLaughlin, the president of the Knowledge Alliance, which represents research groups, was among those with sharp criticism of the nominations.

“Since its founding, IES has prided itself on being nonpartisan, as any federal research agency or department should be,” she said. “This most recent round of appointments to the National Board of Education Sciences, which advises IES, is beyond disappointing and highly partisan.”

Levine and McLaughlin both noted that while the Senate no longer needs to confirm board members’ nominations, the law still allows the president to remove them. That would mean President-Elect Joe Biden could take the board members out before the end of their terms, but prior presidents have not done this, and it would require finding new nominees for a dozen board members, a heavy lift.

Related Tags:


Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal What's at Stake in a Review of Federal Sex Discrimination Protections for Students
The Biden administration's review of Title IX may prompt new guidance on how schools deal with sexual harassment and protect LGBTQ students.
10 min read
Image of gender symbols drawn in chalk.
Federal Opinion Education Outlets Owe Readers More Than the Narratives They Want to Hear
It's vital that serious news organizations challenge runaway narratives and help readers avoid going down ideological rabbit holes.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal As GOP Leaves K-12 Out of Its Infrastructure Plan, Advocates Look For Alternatives
The GOP is proposing $1 trillion in federal dollars for the nation's infrastructure, but school buildings aren't part of their proposal.
6 min read
A trash can and pink kiddie pool are used to collect water that leaks from the roof into the media center at Green County High School in Snow Hill, N.C..
A trash can and pink kiddie pool are used to collect water that leaks from the roof into the media center at Green County High School in Snow Hill, N.C.
Alex Boerner for Education Week
Federal Biden Pick for Education Civil Rights Office Has History With Racial Equity, LGBTQ Issues
Biden selected Catherine Lhamon to lead the Education Department's civil rights work, a role she also held in the Obama administration.
2 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP