Posts Tagged ‘Arne Duncan’

Putting Out Fires

Friday, September 4th, 2009

I was going to write a post that imagined what would happen if Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took over the nation’s wildfire fighting efforts, how he’d fire all of the fighters because they didn’t bring the Station Fire under control faster, replace them with firefighting charters that would only fight certain types of fires. that's like two shots at winning with every deal.

Good thing I didn’t. Two brave men died in that fire. It’s nothing to joke about.

As I pointed out in a recent post, though, fighting wildfires isn’t the only way courageous people risk their lives. Alfredo Perez was helping his fifth graders in the school library when a bullet crashed through the window and hit his head. His school, Figueroa Street Elementary,  now faces charter takeover because its teachers are supposedly failing. If he were still teaching there he’d likely be fired.

So no, its no time to be flip or clever. It’s time to reflect.

People risk their lives for our children everyday. And they should be honored for their bravery, not punished.

Optimistic Saturday

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

This is an interesting article on the response in California to Obama’s Race to the Top.  In it State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell states that though he favors the  promise of reform,

I would never, ever support any evaluation of our educators based solely on the California Standards Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program.  Our state assessments were not designed nor developed for that purpose, and using this single test would not provide an accurate evaluation of the work being done in our classrooms.

That’s nice to know. I hope he means it. It’s also good to hear that there are politicians out there who aren’t jumping on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s bandwagon.

Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara)  and Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) both raised a pointed question about linking teacher evaluation to student data.  Alquist asked, “Why would a really good teacher want to be a teacher in a really tough, low-performing school if the model for assessing that teacher and child doesn’t take into consideration all the factors that make for a difficult situation?”

Mitchell said “It would be foolish to have a one-size-fits-all system (for evaluation). No one at this table is talking about a ham-handed teacher evaluation system that says ‘Your students scored X on the STAR tests, so this is your salary.”

Thank you, Senators.  In a recent exchange about a post in nyc educator I was advised that “Politicians are not the answer – until you show up at their door with thousands of people.” This may be true but it’s still heartening to know that there are politicians out there who seem to have a clue.  Unfortunately, their websites don’t except the comments of non-constituents.  So if you’re out there, Senators: keep it up!

Cash for Clunkers

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

And now to add support to Arne Duncan’s Cash for Teacher Clunker plan new studies  prove that size doesn’t matter:

Class-size reduction, which receives another large chunk of Title II funds, is popular with teachers and parents. But its extremely high cost raises questions about whether there are more cost-effective ways to boost student achievement. And research shows that giving students a highly effective teacher will have a much greater impact on their achievement than reducing class size.

Does it matter that the  Center For American Progress has Obama connections that bias its views? Dude, don’t harsh my mellow. Of course it does. But we’re all liberal, think-tanky here. Who cares that in matters educational we out-W W (thank you, Michael)? That we have no evidence to back up our claims? What if the scant evidence supporting small class effectiveness ain’t so scant.  ”Just Come on down!” as Cal Worthington used to say. Get ready for the new low-tenure, overcrowding-resistant teacher at your dealership today. Bring in that beat-up salary-guzzling union member and make a trade.

It’s incentive time, baby.  Dealer Days!


Monday, July 27th, 2009


This excellent AP piece by Libby Quaid about classroom overcrowding points out that though states are getting stimulus money for education it’s “not enough to cover state and local budget shortfalls.”

The stimulus boosted federal spending and helped restore cuts in state budgets, sources that together provide about 56 percent of school dollars. It did not make up for local tax revenues, which give schools the rest of their money.

Local revenues have been socked by the recession and may dip even lower because property assessments tend to lag behind a recession.

Makes you wonder why Education Secretary Duncan and company are spending so much money “reforming” education when the entire school system is going belly up. His rhetoric seems to align with Stanford’s Eric Hanushek:

“All the research suggests the number of kids is much less important than who is teaching the class… In the face of budget problems, allowing class size to move a little bit makes all the sense in the world.”

“In fact, to the extent you put ineffective teachers into classrooms, you’re much better off by keeping larger classes with effective teachers,” he said.

Mr. Hanushek belongs to the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank named ironically for the man who brought us the Great Depression. Anyway, his thing is the ineffectiveness of class size reduction and that better teaching will lead us down the road to educational happiness even though, as he also maintains, neither salary, education, nor experience necessarily a good teacher make. Good teaching, he tells us, equals “value-added,” the teacher’s contribution to the student’s learning, and that’s what Obama/Duncan want to measure by linking  teachers to student test results. Trouble is, as Edweek’s Douglas N. Harris states,

that student outcomes are affected by parents and communities as well as schools. It is common sense that educators should be held responsible for what they can control—no more, no less. Therefore, any valid measure of teacher performance has to isolate the role of the teacher from these other factors.

And if you really want a headache try to understand this, also in Edweek, by Debra Diadero. Basically, it’s about a Princeton Professor who has found a value-added link between 5th grade teachers and the performance of their students in the 2nd and 3rd grade. In other words (and you can bring in the Escher graphic organizer here) according to the value-added model, 5th grade teachers can be said to have an impact on their students’ previous learning:

To explain the findings, he (Jesse Rothstein) suggested that students may well not have been randomly assigned to classrooms. Instead, they may have been sorted into classes based in some way on their prior achievement. A principal might, for example, assign students with behavior problems to teachers known to have a way with problem students or reward more senior teachers with high achievers.

“Anybody who’s had a kid in elementary school has tried to exert some influence over that kind of nonrandom assignment,” said Mr. Rothstein. Yet, he added, value-added calculations are based on the assumption that students’ classroom assignments are random, overlooking the day-to-day reality of what happens in schools.

The day-to-day reality of what is happening in our schools? What a concept. Maybe our president should check it out!

Walter Cronkite Died For Your Sins

Monday, July 27th, 2009

When you read the emails by Gregory, King, Stephanopoulos and others, you start to understand why most major network interviews with politicians tend to be a lot less hard hitting than they need to be to really hold their subjects accountable. The politicians themselves have the power to make or break the networks, by granting or withholding access. That ends up meaning that, consciously or not, the networks soften their approaches — both in their pitches, and in their actual interviews — in exchange for that access.

That’s how the world works, and it’s hard to know what to do about it.

This from TPMMuckraker via Frank Rich’s excellent piece about Walter Cronkite on how the mainstream media (e.g., Meet The Press) sucks up to politicians (e.g., South Carolina governor Mark Sanford).  No wonder the LA Times takes as Gospel everything Secretary of Education Duncan shells out. But is access all it wants or is driving policy the prize? Don’t expect any answers in this once great paper. It’s too busy beating its own drum.

California Here He Comes

Sunday, July 26th, 2009


“You cannot ignore facts,” Obama said. “That is why any state that makes it unlawful to link student progress to teacher evaluations will have to change its ways.”

When I first saw the above photo composite, it sickened me.  I had supported Obama because I thought he would bring positive change to education, but with his choice of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and the ratcheting up of anti-teacher/union rhetoric, I can only conclude that not only is he similar to George W. Bush in his response to the ills that plague our schools; he’s worse. At least with President Bush there were certain checks (for example, the liberal media) on what he dared or dared not do. There’s no one reeling in Obama, least of all newspapers like the New York Times, which was pro-NCLB from the gitgo. No one apart from the pro-charter, union smashing entrepreneurs have his ear. Again: kids need smaller classes and more teacher attention. They need to see in there families and communities that an education is worth striving for, and not just something they get clubbed over the head with, by teachers already overtaxed by the pressures of high-stakes testing. Charters, mayoral control, merit pay–the whole Arne Duncan package is unproven and won’t work. I am so disappointed that our president, this beacon of hope for so many children, doesn’t understand that he is putting them at risk.

Pulling Teeth

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009


Okay, indulge me on this.

There’s this thing called Title I. Has to do with funding schools that have disadvantaged students. Under No Child Left Behind, these funds are supposed to provide tutoring to these kids if their schools “underperform.” They’re also supposed to provide money to bus them to higher performing schools. I think NCLB stinks. I think schools underperform because their students are impoverished. I also know through countless meetings with parents who sign up for free tutoring that many of the district funded agencies that provide it do shoddy, fly-by-night work. But I digress. Because even if free tutoring and busing aren’t the answer, at least they give the parent a little power. And who knows?  Maybe sometimes these programs do benefit kids. So why does Secretary Duncan now want to get rid of them? As Edweek’s Christina A. Samuels writes:

The U.S. Department of Education has released draft guidance to states and school districts on how to apply for waivers that would give them more flexibility in spending economic-stimulus money tied to Title I, the federal program for schools with high numbers of students in poverty.
The guidance also includes proposed waivers that follow up on an earlier promise made by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to revisit some Title I regulations that were passed last October by the Bush administration.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is providing a $10 billion infusion of Title I money to the states. By allowing waivers, the department is saying that states, districts, and schools don’t have to follow all of the same rules when spending the stimulus Title I money as they would have to when using their regular Title I federal appropriation.
For example, schools that are in “in need of improvement” status based on their test scores under the No Child Left Behind Act must now spend 10 percent of their Title I funds on professional development. The Education Department will allow schools to apply for waivers of that requirement for their stimulus Title I funds.
Also, districts are required to set aside up to 20 percent of their Title I dollars to pay for students in low-performing schools to receive tutoring outside the regular school day, referred to as “supplemental educational services,” or transportation to higher-performing schools if students choose to transfer. Under the guidance released last week by the department, districts can apply for a waiver from that requirement for their stimulus dollars.

You remember Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer? My wife makes me watch it every year. Well, in it there’s a wanabe dentist named Hermey. His claim to fame? Defanging the stupid, vaguely malevolent Abominable Snowman. See where I’m going with this? Arne Duncan is the oddball dentist. No Child Left Behind is the big guy with the gums. His teeth? Those would be tutoring, busing, class size reduction–anything that might actually work. Why does Secretary Duncan want to nix them?  To save for merit pay and charters is my guess. Of course, he will tell you that his waiver only applies to stimulus money. But as he must know, getting the school districts to see that distinction will be like pulling teeth.

Dear Mr. Duncan

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

I had dinner with my sister’s family and she was telling me about the private school she and her orthopedic surgeon husband send their three girls to, how they group by ability in her second grader’s class (small groups, seven kids max), how they they match kids up with teachers who will be good for them and generally follow best-practices at every turn. And I was thinking, if you really want to make things better in the public schools, why not look at what these private schools are doing? Are they overcrowding their classrooms? No. Do they throw kids into any classroom that can fit them? No. Are they overwhelming teachers and administrators so that following best-practices is impossible? No. Well, there you have it. Look no further. Want to make public schools better? Make them more like the private school the President’s girls attend (or top-flight public schools like the one in Arlington where you send your own daughter.) Can’t get there right now? Budgetary problems? That’s cool. But don’t tell us that by overcrowding classes and firing all the “bad teachers” you’re going to make things better, because that isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s a lie.

Yours truly…

Monkey Bars

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Arne Duncan before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee

Okay. He’s not Godzilla. He’s more like that brother in-law who makes much more than you. He’s the guy you go on beer runs with at half time or join for holiday games of Skipbo when your mother in-law insists. You don’t hate the guy. You would just never voluntarily hang out with him, and he would never voluntarily hang out with you.

Is his heart in the right place? Who knows? He seems cordial enough in this video clip, earnest, smart. And he knows how to work a subcommittee. That’s for darn sure. But does he really mean (as he says around 1:20 deep) that education should mean more than just standardized tests? Was he the kid climbing the monkey bars or the bully throwing the weaker kids off?

Got Underperformance?

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Read this post from the Windy City. It contains an interesting take on Duncan-speak, how the Secretary of Education borrows the parlance of Wall Street to cast judgement on our public schools.

STOP: As Chicagoans know, and the rest of the USA is about to learn, when a Chicago politicians talks about “underperforming” schools, he is slipping into that weasel wording that Chicago came to know from Arne Duncan. Just as he did in Chicago, Duncan talked about “underperforming” schools — not “failing” ones. Why? Because Duncan wanted to obfuscate, not illuminate, the complex issues arising from the use of biased so-called “standardized” tests to rank and sort schools and children. By using terms out of the corporate world — “underperforming” stocks, for example, should probably be dumped from your “portfoliio” — Duncan evades reality, rather than illuminates it.