Mike Petrilli leads the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which advocates for the Common Core and for privatization of public education. Although I was a founding board member of TBF, I left the team because I no longer agree with the rightwing agenda.


But on one thing we can agree: Arne Duncan has overstepped his bounds as Secretary of Education. Mike is exercised because Duncan’s Office of Civil Rights believes that all children as a matter of right should have equal access to Advanced Placement courses. Mike writes:


Another obsession of Duncan’s OCR has been getting more poor and minority students into advanced courses, such as the College Board’s AP classes. On its face this is a laudable goal, and reform-minded districts (and charter schools) have made much progress in preparing disadvantaged students for the rigors of challenging coursework. But is this an appropriate realm for civil-rights enforcement?


If schools are forced by an OCR investigation to expand access to AP classes for poor and minority kids, what are the chances that they will also do all the complex work it takes (from kindergarten through 11th grade) to make sure those students are ready? To implement solid curricula, hire stronger teachers, provide extra help for struggling children? Isn’t it much more likely that bureaucrats will simply flood AP courses with unprepared students? We can all guess what the impact will be on the students who are ready for AP coursework, whose classes will be inundated by peers who haven’t mastered the prerequisite material.


From one perspective, Duncan is shoveling more money towards the College Board to pay for AP courses. This is very profitable for the College Board, run by Arne’s buddy David Coleman, architect of the Common Core. Taking an AP course does not guarantee that one will pass it, although OCR might require that too.


But that is the least of Arne’s meddling. He used Race to the Top to force states to adopt the Common Core standards before the ink was dry on them; the former Commissioner of Education in Texas, Robert Scott, said he was asked to endorse them before they were finished. He used Race to the Top to force states to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students, which has failed wherever it has been tried. He used Race to the Top to demand greater privatization of public schools. He has rewarded schools that close public schools and replace them with privately managed charters. Now, he is punishing states that refuse to bow to his edicts about teacher evaluation by canceling their waivers from the onerous and absurd sanctions of No Child Left Behind.


This is a man who never taught, but thinks he knows better than any teacher what should happen in the classroom and how teachers should be judged. I have not decided whether he suffers from a surfeit of arrogance or a lack of judgment or something else.


Whatever it is, Arne Duncan will be remembered as a man who was a destructive force in public education, a man who blithely closed schools and fired staffs, a man who disrupted the public education system of the most successful nation in the world.

I admit that I have lost all respect for Duncan. I believe he disregards federalism. His funding of Common Core tests, in my view, directly breaks federal laws that prohibit any officer of the government from trying to influence, control or direct instruction and curriculum. To cling to the transparent fiction that testing does not influence curriculum or instruction fools no one.

When I worked for Lamar Alexander in the U.S. Department of Education, one thing I admired about Lamar was that he did not think his ideas were better than those of everyone else in the nation. Arne does not have that sense of humility. In fact, he has no humility at all. He tramples on the lives of children, teachers, and educators as though they were insects under his feet, awaiting his all-powerful judgement. Where he got the idea that he knows more about education than people who have actually taught children for many years is a mystery.

My experience working at the Department of Education taught me an important lesson: there are very few people who work there who are educators. There are many program administrators, contract managers, and clerks. They should not tell schools how to educate children because they have not done it. Arne should not do it either. It is against the law.