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Why Federal Agencies With a Hand in K-12 Must Work Together

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 01, 2021 1 min read
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When Dan Gordon was an attorney in the Justice Department’s civil rights division for education during the Clinton and second Bush administrations, much of the time he felt like he was in a silo.

He didn’t feel very connected to the U.S. Department of Education, aside from the times when he and his colleagues were referred cases from the agency’s office for civil rights. But Gordon said it doesn’t have to be that way, and that it’s not necessarily how the federal government operates all the time.

When the federal government examines education policy from the perspective of different agencies, he said, the goal ultimately is to help children by thinking about the various forces that impact their lives. One test for President Joe Biden’s team on this front will be how the agencies actually implement his new executive order to prioritize racial equity in policy decisions across agencies, he said.

“When you don’t communicate and collaborate and think in systems, I think the natural result is a less- efficient government, a less-effective government,” said Gordon, who is now the senior legal and policy adviser for EducationCounsel, an education consulting firm.

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That goes for Democrats and Republicans alike, he stressed, irrespective of their different philosophies about the federal role in education.

GOP officials, he said, should think across government agencies to avoid confusion and waste. Democrats who focus on priorities such as regulations and guidance, he said, need to make sure different cabinet-level departments are in sync during that proactive process.

It’s also worth keeping in mind the size and complexity of the overall operation.

“The entire federal government is not like a speed boat,” Gordon said. “It’s a cruise ship.”

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