U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and at least one other Education Department official urged New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and his team not to choose Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr as the city’s next schools chancellor, according to several people knowledgable about the selection process. It was an unusual move by the nation’s top education official and came in the wake of Starr’s vocal criticism of some of the Obama administration’s school reform policies. [emphasis mine]Yes, folks, it's true: the SecEd, who has done everything he possibly could to overstep his bounds and dictate state and local education policy, apparently thinks is OK to sabotage the careers of people who dare to disagree with him:
"Continued progress"?! You mean under Bloomberg, whose takeover of the NYC schools has been a disaster? Whose policies New Yorkers rejected in droves?Some high-profile educators — including Starr, a Democrat — have criticized the Obama administration’s signature education program, Race to the Top, in which states and districts could win funding if they enacted Duncan-approved school reforms, including the expansion of charter schools and the evaluation of teachers by using student standardized test scores to determine a teacher’s “value” in the classroom.Starr, who runs Maryland’s largest school district, just miles from the White House, became nationally known last year when he made a call for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes standardized testing, a central component of Duncan’s school reform policies. Starr said the country should “stop the insanity” of evaluating teachers according to student test scores, calling it a flawed method.Duncan spoke negatively about Starr to de Blasio in a discussion about a number of candidates, people familiar with the discussions said. Duncan did not return phone calls seeking comment. Duncan spokesman Massie Ritsch, asked about Duncan’s conversations about the chancellorship and his objections to Starr, said he “declined to comment on private conversations between the mayor and secretary.”“Secretary Duncan looks forward to working with Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Farina and their team,” Ritsch said in a statement. “He wants to do whatever he can to support continued progress for students in New York City.”
What's amazing to me about all this is that Barak Obama has explicitly said he is against the expansion of standardized testing, even as his SecEd pushes Race To The Top, which ties teacher evaluation to that testing. A guy like Joshua Starr comes along and points out the contradiction... and Duncan goes out of his way to squash the man's career. If that isn't petty and vindictive, I don't know what it.
Of course, unlike Arne Duncan, Joshua Starr has some actual experience, training, and credibility:
As Carol Burris, America's Principal™, pointed out, Starr has been the object of some gratuitous attacks by the reformyists, including Checker Finn. What seems to bother them the most, however, is that the man actually walks the talk:
In 1976, the Connecticut Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights initiated a review of the status of Stamford’s progress with desegregation and expressed concern that middle- and high-school ability grouping was re-segregating classrooms, with high-track students being predominantly White, and low-track students being predominantly Black or Latino. When Dr. Starr arrived in 2005 as Superintendent, nearly 30 years after the report, no progress on improvement recommendations had been made. There were up to five tracks in the middle schools. Although only 40% of all students in the district were White, nearly 79% of the honors track was White. Conversely, although 53% of the district’s students were Black or Latino, only 11% of the honors track was Black or Latino. In the three lowest tracks, however, about 73% of the students were Black or Latino. It was as if two separate school systems existed.Now let's compare this to the record of Arne Duncan - a man who was never a teacher, has no degrees in education, never did any serious work in education policy design or research - when he was chief of Chicago's schools:
Josh Starr characterizes the Stamford schools as being like “the wild west” when he arrived—no curricular structures, with everyone doing their own thing. When I spoke with him he jokingly remarked that there were 20 schools with 80 different ways of doing business.
Josh Starr took all of that on. He led a middle school transformation committee to review data and grouping practices and to create a curriculum for all students that would be based on rigorous standards. The committee was charged with reviewing the organizational structure of the middle school and, based on research, recommend the strategies and structures that would achieve the goal of challenging learning opportunities for all of Stamford’s children. To help fund the transformation initiative, Starr secured a $27 million dollar grant from The General Electric Foundation. He created a relationship and alliance with the local NAACP and the Latino community and began to talk openly about race, encouraging difficult conversations within the boundaries of respect and community norms.
The Middle School Transformation Committee attracted serious and committed school and community members, and recommendations including changes to the rigid tracking system that was responsible for de-facto segregation. State test scores went up for all subgroups, with accelerated growth for Black and Latino students. A survey of parents, students, and teachers showed positive reactions to the reform. The percentage of Black or Latino students in the honors math track increased from 11% to 30%—a dramatic shift in the proportion of student groups in the highest track.
And that was when fierce opposition arose. Integrated classes were not universally welcomed.
Joshua Starr held his ground despite the opposition. In an opinion piece on the topic he stated, “Some may think we have a choice about eliminating tracking. I do not. If we want to live up to the ideals of social justice and equity long espoused by our community, we must ensure that each and every one of our children has access to a curriculum based on high standards that prepares them to graduate ready for higher education and success in the 21st century.” In Starr’s words, the reduction in tracking became “the hill that he was willing to die on.” Stamford Schools are better, more equitable places for the six years that Josh Starr spent there. [emphasis mine]
I won't lay this all at Duncan's feet; Chicago has a history of school segregation. But it's clear the SecEd did little to address the problem; in fact, his policies of closing "failing" schools and charter expansion likely made things worse (it certainly didn't help Chicago's mediocre test score gains under his reign). That's hardly surprising: as Richard Rothstein points out, Arne Duncan has done little more than pay lip service to the problems of desegregation throughout his term.
Maybe this is what bothers Duncan the most about Starr: unlike the SecEd, Starr has displayed courage on the thorny issues of tracking, race, and desegregation. Unlike Duncan, Starr has stood behind teachers, working with them to continue using a model teacher evaluation system, and fighting to keep it even as Duncan pushes his test-based evaluation madness. Unlike Duncan, Starr appears to have the respect of his parents, teachers, and students; even the reformies give him back-handed compliments. And, unlike Duncan, Starr is thoughtful and articulate.
In the end, it looks like New York's schools are going to be fine. Carmen Fariña, like Joshua Starr, is everything Arne Duncan is not: credential, respected, experienced, and successful. But this incident speaks volumes about Duncan: he went out of his way to keep Starr from taking over NYC's schools because the man doesn't want to rush to implement Duncan's failing policies.
Reformies will tell you they are interested in having a dialog. They will tell you they are willing to listen to the other side. They will tell you they want to work with educators, not against them, and find common ground.
Arne Duncan's petty actions, however, tell the truth: the last thing reformy types want are real educators standing up to their nonsense.
Mr. Secretary, stick with what you're good at, OK?
ADDING MORE: Arne Duncan has never dealt well with his critics.