John Thompson raises a provocative and important question: who is inflicting more damage on teachers and students? Tea Party extremists like North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory or Secretary of Education Arne Duncan?

Thompson, a teacher and historian, describes the assault on teachers in North Carolina, whose governor and Legislature seem determined to destroy public education by expanding vouchers and charters and to dismantle the teaching profession by eliminating tenure, laying off teacher aides, and keeping salaries stagnant.

Thompson writes:

“Which sets of school reforms are inflicting the most damage on teachers and students? Has the right wing Tea Party’s most extreme assaults on public education hurt schools the most? Or, has the Duncan administration’s ill-conceived corporate reforms done the most harm?

“North Carolina was once touted as an exemplar of standards based reforms, and Wake County was praised for its socio-economic integration. Tea Party Governor Pat McCrory and Republicans are phasing out tenure and gutting salaries. As a result, mid-year teacher resignations in Wake schools have increased by an “alarming” 41% this school year. The number of resigning teachers who said they are moving to other North Carolina schools dropped, as there was an increase in teachers leaving for other states. Early retirements have tripled.

“The problem is so extreme that Doug Thilman, Wake’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said at a press conference, “Good teachers are having to make hard decisions to leave our classrooms for a better future somewhere else or in another line of work, in another profession – not in our public schools and not in our state.”

But then there is Arne Duncan’s mad idea that the way to “fix” schools is to fire half or all the staff.

Thompson writes:

“The mirror image of Wakes’ crisis is found in Chicago “turnaround schools.” Chicago’s Catalyst quotes Michael Hansen, senior researcher for the American Institutes for Research, who explains that the Duncan administration’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) are “under-researched.” High attrition following a turnaround has the potential to produce “more harm than help.” (emphasis by the Catalyst)

Ignoring educational research, these expensive turnaround campaigns begin with the mass dismissal of teachers. This immediately reduces the number of African-American teachers serving African-American communities, as well as reducing the experience levels of teachers. Catalyst reports, however, that “large chunks of the new staff–teachers who were hand-picked and spent weeks over the summer getting to know each other, becoming a team and learning how to spark improvement when the school reopened–leave within a few years.”

Catalyst reports “At 16 of the 17 schools that underwent a turnaround between 2007 and 2011, more than half of teachers hired in the first year of the turnaround left by the third year.” Moreover, “Among all turnarounds, an average of two-thirds of new teachers left by year three.” (emphasis in the original)

As the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) explains, such high levels of attrition is problematic because, “It can produce a range of organizational problems at schools, such as discontinuity in professional development, shortages in key subjects and loss of teacher leadership.”

I say that the answer to Thompson’s question is clear. McCrory is gutting public education in his state, and only in his state. Duncan’s idiotic idea of “turnaround” is harming schools and communities across the nation, laying off veteran teachers, reducing the number of African-American teachers, and generating harmful turmoil.

Let’s face it. Duncan has inflicted incalculable harm on public education, especially in urban districts. He became Secretary of Education after eight unsuccessful years as superintendent of schools in Chicago, which was and remains a low-performing district. He was unqualified to be Secretary of Education. In the past, we have had governors with no education credentials, but they at least had the good sense to recognize the reality of federalism, the limitations on their powers, and fact that control of education is a state and local function. Duncan has recognized none of these factors and has used federal funding to impose his will and his bad ideas on districts across the nation. It seems he won’t be satisfied until every teacher is inexperienced (preferably certified by Teach for America), every public school has been turned over to private management, every decision is tightly tied to test scores, and every teacher education institution is run by charter school teachers who grant advanced degrees to one another.

Duncan is a terrific basketball payer but a disastrous Secretary of Education. The real test of public education is whether it can survive two more years of his failed and harmful policies.