Mike Klonsky has known Arne Duncan a long times he notes that Arne is quick to criticize people and institutions that are not accountable. Mike wonders when Arne will be held accountable.
Peter Greene explores why five percent has become the reformsters’ goal.
Not surprisingly, the originator of “the bottom five percent” is Mr. Reformster, Arne Duncan.
“It has a fine long history. All the way back in June 2009, we can find Arnie Duncan talking about the five percent in his address to the conference of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. The address, “Turning Around the Bottom Five Percent,” and it features the rhetorical sleight-of-hand that usually accompanies discussion of the five percent. Duncan leads with a description of chronically under-performing schools, noting the social and physical conditions of these schools are “horrific.” “They’re often unsafe, underfunded, poorly run, crumbling, and challenged in so many ways that the situation can feel hopeless.”
So now turning around or closing the bottom five percent is holy reformster writ.
Chris Barbic moved to the Achievement School District, took over the poorest five percent of schools and pledged to move them into the top 25%, but he failed and has resigned.
Greene gets it. There will always be a bottom five percent. Reform will never end.
“Or the other big question mark in this whole system– the state will take those bottom five percent schools and do…. what? Turn them around and fix them? Is there any indication that the states or the privateers that they invariably hire to do the work– do any of them know the secret sauce for turning schools around? If they don’t, then what is the point of this exercise? If they do, why did we decide that only the bottom five percent would get the benefit of this miraculous brew of fairy dust and unicorn pee?
Any time you see “bottom five percent” crop up, beware. It’s one more time that reformsters are just making stuff up but trusting you’ll believe them because, look, numbers!”
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s children will attend the private University of Chicago Lab School, where his wife works.
Of course, everyone is free to send their children wherever they wish. What’s interesting about Duncan choosing this school is that it does not practice any of the policies that Duncan has promulgated. It is a progressive school, founded by John Dewey. No Common Core. No evaluation of teachers by test scores. No performance pay.
Duncan attended the prestigious University of Chicago Lab School. The teachers are unionized. President Obama sent his daughters there. Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his children there.
Julie Vassilatos, a parent activist in Chicago, notes that Duncan has chosen a school that is free of any of Duncan’s influence. This is how she describes the Lab School:
Lab is an excellent, well-resourced private school with a rich arts curriculum, small classes, entire rooms devoted to holding musical instruments, a unionized teaching staff that you pretty much never hear anyone suggesting should be replaced by untrained temp workers, and not one single standardized test until students reach age 14.
In other words, Lab School has to date experienced not one ounce of influence from Arne Duncan’s Department of Ed. Not one ounce of impact from his policies.
He’s choosing to keep his kids out of the system that requires nearly continuous standardized testing each year: three iterations of the PARCC, three of the NWEA MAP, the REACH Performance Tasks; the NAEP, TRC + DIBELS, mClass Math, and IDEL specially for littles; and EXPLORE, PLAN, COMPASS, and STAR for bigs.
I know, he’s told us, like a father, it’s okay. Our kids can do this. It’s what’s best. It’s challenging. What kind of message does it send our children if we object to a challenge? He’s gotten this narrative out far and wide, so that folks who don’t have kids in school now can often be seen saying things in newspaper comments sections like, “Why can’t these whiners just shut up and take the test?” or “What a bunch of weaklings! These kids and parents don’t have any spines anymore if they don’t want to take the test!”
You’ll note, in these kinds of comments sections, that it is always the test. As if there is one.
What those commenters don’t know is that the endless stream of tests, accompanying prep, and supporting curricula are low-quality dreck, and they have very little to do with actual learning. They do, however, have a lot to do with bubbling in bubbles and guessing what adults expect.
No, those commenters may not know how bad the situation is for public schools right now in terms of testing.
But Arne Duncan does. He crafted the testing policy and now calls it a civil right.
He’s choosing to keep his kids out of a system that spends so much time and money on testing that there’s little time left, and no money, for stuff that’s not on the tests: history, science, art, music.
If only Duncan wanted America’s children to have public schools with the same rich offerings as the Lab School. Public schools that didn’t have to waste time and money on endless bubble tests. Duncan knows what is best for his children, for Rahm’s children, and for the President’s children. Why isn’t it right for other people’s children? John Dewey founded the Lab School to see what was best for public education, not just for the children of elites.
Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post has written a sympathetic article about Arne Duncan and the waning of his powers as Secretary of Education. He is a nice guy. He is a close friend of the President. He cares about individual children that he met along the way. The pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will prohibit him and future Secretaries from interfering in state decisions about standards, curriculum, and assessment. His family has already moved back to Chicago. But he will stay on the job to the very end.
When Obama was elected, many educators and parents thought that Obama would bring a new vision of the federal role in education, one that freed schools from the test-and-punish mindset of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind. But Arne Duncan and Barack Obama had a vision no different from George W. Bush and doubled down on the importance of testing, while encouraging privatization and undermining the teaching profession with a $50 million grant to Teach for America to place more novice teachers in high-needs schools. Duncan never said a bad word about charters, no matter how many scandals and frauds were revealed.
During Duncan’s tenure in office,
*He used his control of billions of dollars to promote a dual school system of privately managed charter schools operating alongside public schools;
*He has done nothing to call attention to the fraud and corruption in the charter sector or to curb charters run by non-educators for profit or to insist on charter school accountability or to require charters to enroll the neediest children;
*He pushed to require states to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students, which has caused massive demoralization among teachers, raised the stakes attached to testing, and produced no positive results;
*He used federal funds and waivers from NCLB to push the adoption of Common Core standards and to create two testing consortia, which many states have abandoned;
*The Common Core tests are so absurdly “rigorous” that most students have failed them, even in schools that send high percentages of students to four-year colleges, the failure rates have been highest among students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students of color;
*He has bemoaned rising resegregation of the schools but done nothing to reduce it;
*He has been silent as state after state has attacked collective bargaining and due process for teachers;
*He has done nothing in response to the explosion of voucher programs that transfer public funds to religious schools;
*Because of his policies, enrollments in teacher education programs, even in Teach for America, have plummeted, and many experienced teachers are taking early retirement;
*He has unleashed a mad frenzy of testing in classrooms across the country, treating standardized test scores as the goal of all education, rather than as a measure;
*His tenure has been marked by the rise of an aggressive privatization movement, which seeks to eliminate public education in urban districts, where residents have the least political power;
*He loosened the regulations on the federal student privacy act, permitting massive data mining of the data banks that federal funds created;
*He looked the other way as predatory for-profit colleges preyed on veterans and minorities, plunging students deep into debt;
*Duncan has regularly accused parents and teachers of “lying” to students. For reasons that are unclear, he wants everyone to believe that our public schools are terrible, our students are lazy, not too bright, and lacking ambition. If he were a basketball coach, he would have been encouraging the team to try harder and to reach for greater accomplishment, but instead he took every opportunity to run down the team and repeat how dreadful they are. He spoke of “respect” but he never showed it.
This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.
It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. The next President and the next Secretary of Education will have an enormous job to do to restore our nation’s public education system from the damage done by Race to the Top. We need leadership that believes in the joy of learning and in equality of educational opportunity. We have not had either for 15 years.
Arne Duncan asked for parent engagement. He got more than he bargained for.
Read the tweets. Arne should really stay far, far away from parents. They don’t like what he has done to their children.
Our blog poet, who signs as SomeDam Poet, contributed these words of wisdom:
Full of Gates
The Core is with thee
Mes-sed art thou among Reformers
And mes-sed is the fruit of thy room, RTTT
Who aren’t an educator
Hollow be they claim
Thy King-dom come,
Thy will be dumb,
In NY as it is in Washington
Spare us this Core our daily bore,
and forgive us our testpasses,
as we forgive those who testpass in charters ;
and lead us not into DAM nation,
but deliver us from Common Core.
Peter Greene has noticed that reformsters send contradictory messages about testing. First, they make it all-important, tying teachers’ careers to the scores. Then, they chide schools and teachers for putting so much importance in testing, e.g., teaching to the test, test prep, etc.
Peter Greene knows who is to blame. in this post, he reviews the remarks of Andrew Rotherham, a leader in the corporate reformster world. (Readers may note that I have been using Green’s word “reformster,” which has the virtue of rehabilitating the once admirable words “reform” and “reformer.” I expect to hear the Koch brothers lauded as reformers soon, along with Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and other hard-right free-marketeers.)
“Reformsters seem to want the following message to come from somewhere:
“Hey, public schools and public school teachers– your entire professional future and career rests on the results of these BS Tests. But please don’t put a lot of emphasis on the tests. Your entire future is riding on these results, but whatever you do– don’t do everything you can possibly think of to get test scores up.”
“I have no way of knowing whether Rotherman, Duncan, et al are disingenuous, clueless, or big fat fibbers trying to paper over the bullet wound of BS Testing with the bandaid of PR. But the answer to the question “Who caused this testing circus” is as easy to figure out as it ever was.
“Reformy policymakers and politicians and bureaucrats declared that test scores would be hugely important, and ever since, educators have weighed self-preservation against educational malpractice and tried to make choices they could both live with and which would allow them to have a career. And reformsters, who knew all along that the test would be their instrument to drive instruction, have pretended to be surprised testing has driven instruction and pep rallies and shirts. They said, “Get high test scores, or else,” and a huge number of schools said, “Yessir!” and pitched some tents and hired some acrobats and lion tamers. Oddly enough, the clowns were already in place.”
Historians and teacher John Thompson wonders whether Arne Duncan and other reformers will ever be held for the failed reforms of the past 14 years?
“To try to protect every patient, doctors order screening tests. Accountability systems exist to ensure the quality of those systems and their proper usage. It would make no sense to punish doctors and technicians for the results that their tests produce (although some healthcare reformers sound like they want to do so). Accountability systems also monitor the professionalism and practice of the healthcare providers who use them. Doctors, however, would not submit to the type of output-driven accountability regimes that are being imposed on teachers.”
When will reformers admit that test-and-punish policies have failed?
When will they be accountable?
One of Arne Duncan’s significant initiatives is the so-called “turnaround strategy,” which usually requires dramatic action, like closing the school, firing the principal, and firing all or most of the staff. This is the Shock Doctrine at work.
The strategy is disruptive and destroys careers, but Duncan continues to defend it.
The Obama administration’s favorite D.C. think tank–the Center for American Progress–reviewed the turnaround strategy and declared it a great success. CAP has regularly applauded all of Duncan’s initiatives. The president of CAP is John Podesta, who headed Obama’s transition team. He is presently chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Carmel Martin, previously an assistant secretary in the US DOE under Duncan is now executive vice-president for policy at CAP.
The National Education Policy Center, known for its reviews of think-tank reports, published a scathing analysis of CAP’s report.
“BOULDER, CO (May 11, 2015) — A recent report from the Center for American Progress claims to offer clear lessons about research-based, effective methods for turning around low-performing schools. A new review, however, concludes that these lessons are not supported by rigorous research.
Tina Trujillo of the University of California, Berkeley reviewed Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement: The Research on School Turnaround for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.
Trujillo, an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, studies the political dimensions of urban district reform and trends in urban educational leadership. The report Trujillo reviewed was written by Tiffany D. Miller and Catherine Brown and published by the Center for American Progress.
Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement argues that the body of available research determines that bold actions are necessary for schools to improve measurably. The authors advocate for the School Improvement Grant (SIG) federal program to bring about the most effective methods for turning around low-performing schools.
The SIG program’s policies have a superficial appeal, given the unsatisfactory outcomes at these schools. But those policies, like the report, are based on unwarranted claims, are unsupported by rigorous research, and are in fact contradicted by the empirical evidence, Trujillo writes.
She points, for instance, to the claim that dramatic changes in staffing and management can spur fast and sustainable improvement. Such disruptions often lead to poor school performance, but this readily available research is not mentioned or addressed in the report.
In her review, Trujillo finds the authors’ rationale “narrow, incoherent, and misleading.” The report, she asserts, fails to incorporate lessons learned from plentiful research on school improvement, high-stakes accountability, and federally funded turnarounds.
“In the end,” Trujillo states, “schools, districts, and states that follow the report’s advice stand only to reproduce the unequal conditions that have led, in part, to their need for dramatic turnaround in the first place.”
Stephen Singer, teacher and BAT leader, here endorses the bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka NCLB), as written by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.
“No more federal intervention.
“No more reducing schools to a number.
“That’s the promise of the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA).
“Sure, it’s not perfect. But this Senate proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) could do a lot of good – even if it includes some bad.
“States would be in control of their own public schools. The U.S. Department of Education and its appointed Secretary would lose much of their power to impose unfunded federal mandates.
“For example, the federal government could no longer force states to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. It could no longer force states to adopt Common Core or Common Core look-a-like standards. It could no longer label high poverty schools “Failing” and then demand they be closed.
“That’s not nothing….
“We have a divided Congress. We have a President who never met a corporate school reform scheme he didn’t like.
“But we also have a citizenry who is fed up with all the bull….. People are demanding change.
“We have a real opportunity. If we can seal the deal, a generation of children will be the better for it. If not, the current calamitous law will stay in place for at least 7 more years.
“That’s just unacceptable.
“The biggest flaw in this proposed act is that it keeps annual testing in place. If approved in its current form, public schools would still have to give standardized tests to children in grades 3-8 and once in high school.
“If you’re like me, you just threw up in your mouth a little bit.
“However, supporting ECAA doesn’t have to mean supporting testing. There is an amendment proposed by Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) that would replace annual testing with assessments only once at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
“Yes. It’s not enough. We really should have zero standardized tests in our schools. If we have to accept Grade Span Testing – as Tester’s proposal is called – it should be done by a random sample. Don’t test all kids. Just test some small group and extrapolate their scores to the whole.
“But Tester’s amendment is not nothing.
“Even if it weren’t approved – even if all schools are mandated to continue annual testing as is – the ECAA requires no minimum length for those tests.
How many questions do we need to have on our exams? How many sections? Right now, most states have three sections in both Reading and Math of around 30-40 questions each.
“If I’m reading this correctly, it’s conceivable that states that disagree with standardized testing could give assessments of only one section with only one question.
“Talk about opting out!
“That’s not nothing.
“Moreover, the proposed law does not require states to continue evaluating teachers based on student test scores. States are free to stop using the same junk science evaluations currently championed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or not. It’s totally up to the states.
“That’s not nothing.”
Singer contrasts the Senate bill to the House bill, which turns federal aid into vouchers (“portability”) and finds the Senate bill superior.
It is amazing that Arne Duncan’s lasting legacy will be the destruction of support for the federal role in education among liberals and conservatives alike.