Trump Appointments to NBES Raise Serious Concerns on Appropriate Expertise on Education Research
Trump Appointments to NBES Raise Serious Concerns on Appropriate Expertise on Education Research

December  2020

In a surprise move, the Trump administration this month announced its intent to appoint 14 members to the National Board for Education Sciences (NBES), which is the advisory board for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Most of the 14 appointees have no expertise in education research and have close political ties to President Donald Trump.

“Many of the president’s recent NBES appointments are dismissive of the purposes of the board and the qualifications outlined for its members in the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) of 2002,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “This board has not met throughout this administration. The president’s handing out thank-you notes now to persons who simply do not have the required scientific, research, or educational expertise is particularly harmful. It undermines the significant role and functions of the NBES and, worse yet, the students whom sound education science aims to serve.”

Levine and other research advocates have forcefully denounced the administration’s appointments in media interviews, including with Science and Education Week.

Congress specified several roles and functions of the 15-member board in establishing IES under ESRA. These activities include approving agency priorities proposed by the IES director; reviewing and approving technical and scientific peer-review procedures; and working with the IES director to ensure that the agency’s activities are “objective, secular, neutral, and nonideological and are free of partisan political influence and racial, cultural, gender, or regional bias.”

The announced appointments to NBES are:

  • Dale Ahlquist, president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society
  • Michael Anton, lecturer and research fellow at Hillsdale College, and former deputy assistant to the President for strategic communications on the United States National Security Council
  • Adam Candeub, most recently acting director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration
  • Jeremy Carl, deputy assistant secretary  of fish, wildlife and parks at the Interior Department and former senior fellow at the Claremont Institute
  • Lisa Cutone, a television producer
  • Marina A. DeWit, regional advocate with the Small Business Administration
  • Michael Faulkender, currently assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department and associate dean of master’s programs and professor of finance at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland
  • Stephanie Ann Grisham, chief of staff to the First Lady and former White House press secretary
  • Steve H. Hanke, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University and senior fellow with the Cato Institute
  • Kristan King Nevins, most recently assistant to President Trump and White House Cabinet secretary
  • James O’Neill, former commissioner of the New York Police Department
  • Larry Schweikart, retired professor of history at the University of Dayton
  • Siri Terjesen, professor and associate dean for research and external relations at the Florida Atlantic University College of Business
  • John Yoo, Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley

The language in ESRA states that appointed members “shall be highly qualified to appraise education research, statistics, evaluations, or development.” While a few of the appointees have been involved in education through their faculty positions or, in the case of Ahlquist, as a founder of private schools, nearly all of the appointees have either served in the Trump administration or served as key political surrogates for Trump.

The original language in ESRA required presidential appointment and Senate confirmation of NBES members, but the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 removed Senate confirmation from the process.

NBES has been unable to meet since 2016 because it lacked a quorum of members. AERA included language in comments in response IES Director Mark Schneider’s proposed priorities last year, highlighting the need for appointments to recommend new members, needed to review and approve the priorities. The Trump administration made three appointments with significant expertise in education research in November 2019—Chester Finn, David Francis, and Joe May—to replace the three remaining members of NBES at that time.

It is unclear at this point whether the appointments will carry over into the Biden administration. Shortly before President Obama left office, his administration appointed several members to serve on NBES, but, with the exception of Francis, due to his reappointment, they ultimately did not serve on the board. ESRA also contains language allowing for the removal of appointed NBES members.

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