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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

New Depths of Sanctimony From Arne Duncan

Anthony Cody listens to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and discovers our Reformy Czar slathers himself in sanctimony the way a 13-year-old boy douses himself in Axe Body Spray:
Secretary Duncan:
Also inhabiting this bubble are some arm chair pundits who insist our efforts to improve public education are somehow doomed to fail, either because they believe the government is incapable of meaningfully improving education or because they think education reform can't possibly work since the real problem with schools is that so many children are born poor. In blogs, in books, in tweets, some pundits even say our schools are performing just fine and that fundamental change isn't needed or that we have to address poverty first before schools can improve student achievement.  At the opposite extreme, other commentators declare a permanent state of crisis. They discount the value of great teachers and great school leaders, and they call for the most disruptive changes possible, with little heed for their impact on our nation's children.
Too many inhabitants of this alternative universe are so supremely confident in their perspective that they have simply stopped listening to people with a different viewpoint. Instead of talking with each other, and more importantly, listening to each other, with respect and humility, and with a general interest in finding common ground, many of these people are just talking past each other, ignoring plain evidence and deliberately distorting the other's positions.
They are clearly not focusing on children and students. They are focusing, instead, on false debates. Fortunately, many people in the real world, outside the beltway and blogosphere, have tuned out this debate. They are too busy actually getting real work done. They're focusing on students, whether they're three years old, 13, or 33. All across America, states and districts are moving forward with courageous reforms. States are raising standards and expectations for students, and are piloting new and better assessments to show what students know and can do.
As Cody says:
The insulting way that Secretary Duncan chooses to characterize those who disagree with his policies really speaks for itself.  He divides the world into those who he sees "doing the work," who may have concerns - which he, of course, shares, and those who disagree. Once we actively disagree, we become part of some "blogosphere," or "bubble," which, by his definition, is engaging in idle carping that undermines those in the "real world." 
The fact that Diane Ravitch's book is among the top ten of the New York Times best seller's list must be a bit unnerving to Duncan, and that may account for this defensive rant.  His far preferred strategy, similar to that of Education Nation this coming weekend, is to ignore those who disagree. When that doesn't work, we hear attempts to marginalize, as in this speech. Gandhi once said "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." We are now being actively fought.  
We have asked for dialogue, literally for years. Perhaps when Secretary Duncan gets done attempting to belittle and marginalize those of us who disagree, we might get one.
Amen. But let me add a few things:

- No one is saying schools shouldn't be improved. Perhaps someone should draw a warm bath for the SecEd so he can rest his weary, weary arms after the toil of building so many straw men. The plain fact is that no one here in the "bubble" has ever said our schools are "just fine." What we have said is the most obvious thing on the planet:

I keep coming back to this table of Bruce Baker's because it makes plain what everyone knows, even though folks like Duncan try to downplay it:

The link between poverty and learning is the most obvious thing in the world. It is ridiculous to pretend that firing a few more teachers based on student test scores or starting a few more charter schools or giving out vouchers or implementing merit pay will overcome the challenges facing a child living in poverty.

I, and everyone else in the "bubble," do believe well-resourced schools can help ameliorate the effects of poverty -- to a degree. But the problems of chronic poverty and inequity in this country have far more to do with a regressive tax code, a capital market that is little better than a rigged casino, a lack of a living minimum wage, a monetary policy that puts full employment on the back burner, and a whole host of other public policies that have nothing to do with public schools.

Which brings me to...

- When was the last time you heard Barack Obama say anything substantive about poverty -- outside of education reform? I'm not the only one who thinks this president has been strangely unmotivated to tackle chronic poverty head-on. But when he does talk about it, you can be sure that education is framed as the key ingredient in an anti-poverty program: Obama's declaration that "the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education" is pretty much the entire rationale behind Race To The Top.

But we can never seem to get the president to commit, with the same fervor, to policies that would address economic injustice directly. His "radical" tax hikes on the wealthy were basically no more than returning to pre-Bush rates; how about pre-Reagan rates? His minimum wage hike proposal of $9 an hour isn't even close to providing a living wage. Obamacare is mandated, subsidized private insurance. His Wall Street reforms are this close to laughable. He has, in my opinion, few if any serious proposals regarding housing, job creation, childcare, public investment, or any number of other policies that would attempt to raise people out of poverty right now.

The charitable explanation for this is that Obama is an incrementalist, and realizes he can only get small things done in a nation where nut-jobs are running the Republican Party. A more cynical view is that Obama is a neo-liberal and happy to scrub away any remnants of the Great Society. But, no matter the reason, it's unquestionably useful for Obama to keep pointing to education as the crux of his anti-poverty program. Race To The Top allows him to posture that he is taking action on poverty while, in truth, spending little in either actual revenues or his own political capital on the issue. 

Keep that in mind the next time the SecEd criticizes these non-existent pundits who think "that we have to address poverty first before schools can improve student achievement." That statement is a convenient dodge away from the obvious question: what else is the Obama administration doing to "address poverty" aside from Duncan's reformy agenda?

From where I sit: not a whole hell of a lot.

- Am I the only one who is getting really bloody tired of hearing corporate reformers brag about their work ethic? Look at this ridiculous paragraph:
There is so much good work underway, and thankfully, the people doing the work are not distracted by all the noise and manufactured drama inside the bubble. In the real world, outside the Washington bubble, the vast majority of people aren't debating IF college and career ready standards are actually needed.  They're not advancing false narratives about a federal takeover of schools by mind-controlling robots. They're just doing the hard work of putting high standards into practice. They're not questioning if a thoughtful system of evaluation and support is needed for both principals and teachers. They know that evaluation historically was generally meaningless, not developmental, and broken, and they're working together to help educators strengthen their craft, and build real career ladders that recognize and reward excellence. Even in my home town of Chicago, less than a year after a bitter strike, a recent study shows that teachers actually LIKE the new evaluation system, and want to make it work, even if they have lingering concerns about how test scores are being used.* [emphasis mine]
Oh, Arne Duncan hammered on the mountain,
He hammered 'til half past three...

Of course, you-know-who is the best at work ethic self-coungratualtion:

"Working tirelessly" - yes, Michelle Rhee actually put that on her Twitter feed. It's the same attitude of moral superiority that allows billionaire-funded, reformy, think-tanky types to compare themselves to Holocaust survivors. That makes them think that their motives are more pure than others' because "we don't have anything to gain from the success of the agenda other than that kids get better educational opportunities."

Duncan seems to think my side is "talking past" these "tireless" defenders of God, apple pie, and charter school expansion. But I don't see how we can't help but do that: these people are so convinced of the rightness of their cause that they don't do any more than pay lip service to the objections of people like me who are actually working in the schools.

Oh, am I being unfair to the SecEd? Is he really pushing all this nonsense because he has an evidence base? Check out my compendium of Arne Duncan's most incoherent hits and judge for yourself. He has no coherent thoughts about the unreliability and invalidity of test-based teacher evaluation. He has no coherent thoughts about the nexus of poverty and education outcomes. He has no coherent thoughts about his legacy or the legacies of Michelle Rhee in Washington and Joel Klein in New York.

Arne Duncan tut-tuts at the rest of the world because he is incapable of answering his critics. He is a lot of talk and very little shot. You ought to come out on the court, Mr. Secretary, and actually try engaging those of us living in "the bubble"; let's see if you've got game.

Arne Duncan debates his critics (artist's rendering)

* Hey, guess what? You know how Arne said Chicago's teachers LIKE their new evaluation system? Yeah, that's a load of crap:
Karen Lewis, the president of the CTU, was much less positive about the first-year results. She focused on a separate analysis released today by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, in which more than half of teachers surveyed said tests were weighted too heavily in the reviews.
"This is what we've been saying all along—the evaluation system is deeply flawed. Teachers don't like testing being part of their evaluations, not because we think that student outcomes are unimportant, but because these tests do not indicate how teachers are contributing to learning," Lewis said in a statement. "The test is just a snapshot; classroom observation is still the best way to measure teacher performance." [emphasis mine]
Well, I'm sure they'll come around, as long as they don't listen to all the scholars who say the system is junk...


PRRHale said...


PRRHale said...

Used your excellent analysis an i abrief form as my sig at Daily Kos. Hope you're OK with that.