Potential Biden education secretary pick was a vocal critic of Obama-era policies

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the former National Education Association president and top candidate for the role of education secretary in President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet, was a vocal critic of education policies adopted under the Obama administration.

Eskelsen Garcia, who retired from the NEA’s top role, has pushed for lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle to support her candidacy. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus endorsed Eskelsen Garcia for the role in a letter to Biden, arguing that she is well-equipped to pursue the president-elect’s goal of combating racial disparities in education.

The prospective candidate was critical of the Obama administration’s approach to education reform when Biden served as vice president. Eskelsen Garcia was particularly wary of an emphasis on standardized testing as a measure of success for both students and teachers, telling NPR in 2014 that she felt it did “more harm than good.”

“The president made it very clear. He said, “I agree with you and [Education Secretary] Arne Duncan agrees with you. There’s too much testing.” And I said, “That’s not the point,” Eskelsen Garcia said at the time. “It’s not the amount of testing. It’s the high-stakes toxic punishment that’s being applied to these standardized tests that were never meant to measure whether a child gets to graduate from high school.”

Eskelsen Garcia took issue with the Obama administration’s approach to standardized testing despite serving on a White House panel on Hispanic education. Under her leadership, the NEA passed a resolution calling for Duncan to step down as education secretary.

The Biden transition team has yet to announce its pick for education secretary. Eskelsen Garcia aligns with Biden on several of his education-related proposals, including a focus on increased funding for low-income schools.


Former President Barack Obama addressed Eskelsen Garcia’s candidacy during an interview with New York magazine this week. He downplayed the possibility that a Biden administration could seek to undo some of his education reforms.

“Here’s what I know. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris also believe that every child should get a good education and that requires changes in how we teach that go beyond just money,” Obama said. ‘And I won’t prejudge both whom they’ll end up nominating as secretary of Education or the policies that they pursue until I actually see them.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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