I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Incoherent World of Arne Duncan, Part I

Today, the Star-Ledger publishes an interview Tom Moran did with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It's an astonishing piece - because the mind of Arne Duncan is an astonishing place, full of self-contradiction, personal faith masquerading as deductive reasoning, and just sheer nonsense.

I think this entire exchange deserves a close look, so I'm planning to divide this up into several shorter posts. One thing before we get started: given all my previous problems with Moran's work on education, I was pleasantly surprised to find he does a good job asking Duncan questions. Like this one:
Q. The evidence on the effectiveness of the reforms you are pushing seems mixed and weak. Why?
A. A lot of these things have never been done before. There isn’t a 50-year track record. But it’s hard to argue with the idea that great teachers and principals matter. It’s hard to argue that children, particularly in poor communities, need more time. Or that kids should have access to great content 24/7 with technology. All these things make a lot of sense. There is no magic bullet, but I’m convinced these things can change children’s lives.
Moran is absolutely right here. Race To The Top (RTTT), Duncan's signature program, emphasizes:

  • Standardized testing,
  • Data collection based on that testing, 
  • The application of that data to teacher evaluation, 
  • Changing teacher compensation based on those evaluations, 
  • "Turning around failing schools," to the point of firing the faculties or closing them outright, and
  • Expanding charter schools.
But the evidence is clear:
And yet Duncan is still going ahead with these "reforms." Is he seriously suggesting we need to give then a good 50-year try before we decide whether or not they've worked? That's the thinking of an ideologue, and not a serious policy maker.

And the rest of his answer is, frankly, ridiculous. No one is saying teachers don't matter. No one is saying we shouldn't look seriously at lengthening the school day or year (although the amount of instructional time United States students receive compares favorably to the rest of the world). Everyone likes good uses of technology in schools (but is 24/7 really necessary?). Yes, these things can change children's lives; that's not the issue.

The issue is whether Duncan and President Obama are pushing a series of policies that have evidence to show that they are effective. As Moran correctly points out, the evidence is quite weak, no matter how much Duncan has convinced himself to the contrary.

More on this interview to come.

5 comments:

Deb said...

And even if we consider the notion that the current administration may be well intentioned, the question is whether Duncan/Obama recognize and/or are active participants in turning education into a market commodity. Even if we attribute them the best of intentions, they are actively allowing this or negligently blind to it, thereby supporting a corporate agenda that is leading down a path of the destruction of public education.

Susan said...

They don't have the "best intentions." They are both neoliberals, and, for that matter, not real Democrats.

Everything they peddle is straight out of the neoliberal "Democrats" for Education Reform.

No Republican would get away with what these two are pulling. That's why it was important for neoliberals to have infiltrated the Democratic Party to the point it is unrecognizable from the party I grew up knowing.

Duke said...

FWIW Susan - the thing about Obama for me is that he is right on so many other subjects: environment (could be better), taxes (ditto), Supreme Court justices, marriage equity, right to choose, etc.

I'm bothered that he is so, so, very wrong on education. I, like many other libs, am getting tired of having to give up so much on some things to get the right stuff on others.

It's frustrating. I know I'll never have the perfect candidate, but I'd like someone who gets all the social stuff right and more of the other domestic policy better.

Hillary, should it have been you? Or would I be saying the same thing right now?

As always, thx Deb and Susan for stopping by!

giuseppe said...

Obama is horrible on education and he seems willing to make cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That is unacceptable to me, that a Democrat would be willing to make sacrifices to the social safety net to appease the GOP, the oligarchs and the corporatists in his administration. There is no other choice, Romney is worse and there is no viable third party. So I will vote for the lesser of the 2 evils. When do we get a real choice in this country? Someone like Bernie Sanders.

Dave said...

My jaw dropped when I read the first question. Arne's replies are predictable, but maybe, just maybe, our president is starting to ask him some tougher questions also.