Archives for category: Duncan, Arne

Back in 2009, when Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top competition, he said we as a nation would literally be “racing to the top” of international competition by adopting his favored ideas: expanding charter schools, evaluating teachers to a significant degree by the test scores of their students, “turning around” low-scoring schools by radical measures such as closing them, creating state and national data storehouses to track students, and adopting “college and career-ready standards” (aka, the Common Core). Almost every state fell in line, because they had to do what Arne wanted in order to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion.


But the report cards have not been kind to these “reforms.” When the National Assessment of Education Progress issued its regular report in 2015, test scores were flat or declining in most states.


Now the latest international test scores are out, and the U.S. has made no gains. We are not racing to the top. We are standing still. Why? Because Race to the Top did not address the root causes of academic failure: poverty and racial segregation. Charter schools have produced marginal gains at best, with some far worse than public schools. Evaluating teachers by test scores has been an abject failure, criticized by the nation’s leading scholarly organizations, including the American Statistical Association, which is not an arm of reformer-dreaded teachers’ unions or the “status quo.”


Here is today’s report from


PISA RESULTS: BAD NEWS IN MATH: American 15-year-olds are getting worse at applying their math skills in the real world, when compared to their international peers. The 2015 Program for International Student Assessment results are out and they show a drop in “mathematics literacy” scores for U.S. students since 2012 and 2009. “Of particular concern is that we also have a higher percentage of students who score in the lowest performance levels … and a lower percentage of top math performers” compared to the international average, said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the results. The disappointing numbers come after results on another international study – the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – recently showed gains made by U.S. fourth and eighth graders in math since 1995.


– U.S. science and reading literacy scores weren’t much different from previous years. Boys outperformed girls in science and math, while girls outperformed boys in reading. Scores for Massachusetts, North Carolina and Puerto Rico were broken out for international benchmarking purposes, and revealed that Massachusetts students, on average, are outperforming students in the U.S. and worldwide in all three subjects. North Carolina students were comparable with U.S. average scores and Puerto Rican students fared worse. PISA measures the performance of 15-year-olds every three years in three subjects across dozens of education systems worldwide. Check out the results here .


– Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is in Massachusetts today to hail the state’s success with PISA – while noting that the nation as a whole is “losing ground.” According to prepared remarks, King will say that it’s “a troubling prospect when, in today’s knowledge-based economy, the best jobs can go anywhere in the world. Students in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Minnesota aren’t just vying for great jobs along with their neighbors or across state lines, they must be competitive with peers in Finland, Germany, and Japan.” King will say that Massachusetts embodies the importance of perseverance. “The PISA results announced today for Massachusetts didn’t happen instantly or by accident,” he’ll say. “It has taken years of people showing courage – principals, teachers, parents, students, and state and district leaders. It has taken years of overcoming challenges. It has taken years to make real and meaningful change happen. And it will take time to see the work we are continuing to do today truly pay off for students.” More on King’s visit.


– Other noteworthy highlights: U.S. students value a career in science and have high expectations of having a science career, but they’re falling short when it comes to skills. Countries like Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Japan are also seeing better student outcomes than the U.S., while investing fewer hours in actual teaching – giving teachers more time for professional development and advancing their careers.


As I have often written before, the international test scores do not predict the future of our economy or anything else. Scores on standardized tests measure family income and income inequality. If you want to know more, read my chapter in “Reign of Error” on international tests and what they mean and do not mea.

Julie Vassilatos, an activist parent of children in the Chicago public schools, writes here about Betsy DeVos.

She begins by offering a round up of some of the best posts about DeVos. We all must get up to speed on who she is.

In addition to being a fervent advocate for vouchers and charters, she has given generously to anti-gay organizations and organizations that promote creationism. I am trying to imagine what the U.S. Department of Education will do under her leadership backwards.

Julie points out that Arne Duncan paved the way for DeVos. Duncan and his Department made school choice a priority, leaving an opening for the next step, which is vouchers.

She would not have been able to accomplish what she did in Michigan without the federal government’s encouragement of privatization efforts for the past 8 years. She would not now be poised to bring full privatization to the nation if the field had not been tilled for this for the past 8 years. Duncan’s Department of Ed absolutely created the conditions for Betsy DeVos. She may be different in emphasis, but not in kind from Arne Duncan. She touts charters, choice, and competition; Duncan’s Department of Ed touted charters, choice, and competition. She likes vouchers; the Department of Ed never definitively closed the door on vouchers. She has given millions to unregulated charters; so did the Department of Ed. Federal visa policy and the New Market Tax Credit created the conditions to make charters very big–global–business.

All that was settled years ago. Now corporate ed control is poised to succeed in a totalizing way; all that was needed was a billionaire secretary of education who knows absolutely nothing about public education, is purely ideology-driven, and is well-practiced at controlling legislators with her cash.

Don’t fool yourselves–DeVos isn’t the sudden end of the world for public education, like a bomb being dropped. She’s more like the result of a slow-traveling virus or a zombie invasion. Our schools have been in peril for years. Now I think we will be able to see it more clearly. It’s time to get to work.

You can start here, by signing your name to the Network for Public Education’s letter to legislators insisting they not confirm her.

Mike Klonsky wonders whether Arne Duncan’s patronizing comments about parents and critics of high-stakes testing helped Donald Trump win the election.

When 20% of the parents in New York opted out of the state testing, he sneered at them and said they were white suburban parents who found out that their child wasn’t so bright after all. This was rank condescension.

When Duncan used Race to the Top billions to bribe states into adopting Common Core, he continued to insist that Common Core was a project of the states. He became the nation’s leading cheerleader for Common Core, and he ridiculed the critics. The critics were vociferous, especially in the Midwest.

Throughout his time in office, Duncan celebrated the successes of charter schools, wherever he could find them, and barely noticed public schools. Last month, before Massachusetts voted on Question 2, Duncan turned up in Boston to argue that expansion of charters was unquestionably a good thing. Despite his ringing endorsement, Question 2 was soundly defeated in almost every district in the state.

I don’t know whether Duncan helped Trump win by making public school parents angry, but he most certainly paved the way for the full-throated privatization that Trump is now pressing. Who would have thought that Arne Duncan and Donald Trump would be on the same team, cheering for more school choice, more charters, more privatization? Trump took it to the next level and threw in vouchers. Once you endorse school choice and launch an assault on the very principle of public education, it is hard to walk it back.

Jeff Bryant noted that President Obama has been boasting lately about the success of his education policies, pointing to a rise in high school graduation rates as proof of their efficacy. Bryant says that the President’s education policies are nothing to brag about.

The emphasis on using outcome measures has been a hallmark of the Obama years in education. That has put unusual and often harmful pressure to get results, even when the results are meaningless. Take those rising graduation rates. Some schools have increased their graduation rates by assigning low-performing students to phony credit recovery classes, where they can guess the right answer until they pass and get meaningless credits.

The focus on test scores has warped education, in some cases, causing schools to cut time for recess, the arts, history, civics, and everything else that is not tested.

He writes:

For instance, according to the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called “the nation’s report card,” academic achievement generally is declining under Obama’s watch.

As the Washington Post reported earlier this year, for the first time since the federal government began administering the exams in 1990, math scores for fourth-graders and eighth-graders declined. Reading scores weren’t much better: Eighth-grade scores dropped while fourth-grade performance was stagnant compared with 2013, the last time the test was administered. Achievement gaps between white and minority students remain large.

But the education numbers that have worsened the most are those associated with what’s being invested into the system rather than what’s coming out of it.

Drawing from a new report on government spending on children, Bruce Lesley president of First Focus finds, “Federal support for education has dropped from a high of $74 billion in 2010 to $41 billion in 2015, a decline of more than 40 percent in the last five years … Federal education spending remains 9 percent lower than in pre-recession 2008.”

Beyond the support for education at the federal level, the picture is arguably even worse.

In its most recent report on spending on education, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds, “Thirty-five states provided less overall state funding per student in the 2014 school year (the most recent year available) than in the 2008 school year.” Even in the states where local funding rose, the “increases rarely made up for cuts.”

Local funding for schools, another significant share of education support, generally fell during the same time period. “In 36 states, total state and local funding combined fell between the 2008 and 2014 school years,” the CBPP finds.

This steep decline in education funding is arguably the most significant threat to our children’s education, and thus, the country’s future.

According to a recent review of the research on the systemic correlation between education spending and school quality and student achievement, William Mathis and Kevin Welner, of the National Education Policy Center, find, “While specific results vary from place to place, in general, money does matter and it matters most for economically deprived children. Gains from investing in education are found in test scores, later earnings, and graduation rates.”

In another review of research studies on the importance of adequate and equitable school funding, Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker writes, “To be blunt, money does matter. Schools and districts with more money clearly have greater ability to provide higher quality, broader, and deeper educational opportunities to the children they serve. Furthermore, in the absence of money, or in the aftermath of deep cuts to existing funding, schools are unable to do many of the things they need to do in order to maintain quality educational opportunities.”

What Obama Never Got About Education

Emphasizing education output, while generally leaving input unaddressed, has been a feature, not a bug, of the Obama administration’s education policy all along.

This was the administration whose signature programs, Race to the Top and the waivers to No child Left Behind, demanded states rate schools and teachers based on a “learning output,” which most states took to mean student scores on standardized tests. The president’s Education Department and Secretary Arne Duncan incentivized states to lift any restrictions on the number of charter schools in the system and provided significant grant money to expand their numbers. States were encouraged to spend vast sums of money on new systems to track output data and use them to sort and rank schools, evaluate teachers, label students, and force schools into turnaround efforts that would result in being subjected to even more scrupulous data tracking.

But while the Obama administration obsessed over output numbers, its attention to the inputs in the system was ad hoc and haphazard at best.

Obama’s Education Department never showed much interest in equitable and adequate funding, nor for that matter, in desegregation. The biggest change induced by Race to the Top was more funding for privatization, and more states authorizing privatization in order to be eligible for RTTT money. Imagine if Race to the Top had awarded millions to states that created policies to promote desegregation. It is important, it is measurable. It would have changed our schools and our society. But desegregation was not a priority.

And then there are his choices for Secretary of Education. Arne Duncan was a failure as Superintendent in Chicago, where he promised that there would be a Renaissance by 2010 (the name of his program, “Renaissance 2010”). He failed. He closed schools, he opened charter schools. He failed. And then came John King, who had been an embarrassing failure in New York state. He couldn’t speak to parents, because they were so angry about his heavy-handed promotion of Common Core and high-stakes testing. Governor Cuomo wanted him gone. And now he is Secretary of Education. Based on what?

Nothing to brag about here.

An object lesson in what not to do to improve American education.

Julie Woestehoff is interim director of Parents Across America. For many years, she ran a parent group in Chicago called Parents United for Responsible Education.

In PAA’s newsletter, she recalls how parents warned Chicago Superintendent Arne Duncan that his public school-closing/charter-opening program called Renaissance 2010 would likely lead to violence. Do you remember Renaissance 2010? Arne Duncan said that Chicago schools would enjoy a dramatic renaissance by the year 2010. Julie sent me her newsletter after reading a similar post that I had written about the possible connection between school closings, neighborhood destabilization, and increased violence. Arne Duncan learned nothing from the failure of Renaissance 2010; he brought the same policies to Washington and embedded them in Race to the Top.

She writes:

It has been more than 10 years since I and many of my former colleagues began warning Chicago that massive school closings would not improve education and would most likely lead to increased violence. It gives me no pleasure to see that this prediction has come true, and to such a tragic extent.

We began to sound the alarm about school closures in 2004, as Mayor Daley and Arne Duncan touted their Renaissance 2010 program, an attempt to satisfy the business community’s call to create 100 charter schools. Some of us slept on the sidewalk outside of the Board of Education headquarters the night before the August 2004 board meeting so that we could present a steady stream of testimony the next morning against the plan’s proposed 60 closures.

While Arne Duncan dismissed parent and community concerns, affected schools and neighborhoods became increasingly dangerous. In 2006, the media reported that violence had soared at five of the nine high schools that accepted most of the students transferred out of the high schools closed under Renaissance 2010. West side activists rose in anger in 2007 when 27 children were killed within a few months of the closure of the only open enrollment high school in Austin, the city’s largest neighborhood, forcing their children to travel across several gang lines to get to school. The nation was gripped by the horrific 2009 recorded murder of Fenger High School honor student Derrion Albert by a few youth from a faction of students transferred to Fenger after their neighborhood high school was closed.

In 2012, I wrote an article for Huffington Post, “Are Charter Schools the Answer to — or One Reason for – Chicago’s Violence?” The number of shootings and homicides had taken another alarming leap, and a charter school official suggested that the solution was opening more charter schools. The studies and reports I cited made it clear that this idea was exactly the wrong approach.

Along with the warnings and protests, advocates also tirelessly developed school improvement proposals in collaboration with recognized education experts, parents, teachers, students, and neighbors. All of these community-generated proposals were dismissed and disrespected by district officials.

For many years, parents and education activists in Chicago have warned that the deliberate destruction of neighborhood public schools was causing a rise in violence. The city, first under Arne Duncan, now under Rahm Emanuel, ignored the critics, and made a virtue of closing public schools, opening charter schools, and sending kids long distances to new schools. Mayor Emanuel recognized that the critics’ complaints had some validity. He didn’t stop the school closings–in fact, he closed 50 public schools in a single day, an unprecedented action in American history. But to assuage the critics, he established “safe passages,” supposedly to assure students’ safety as they adapted to new and longer routes to their new schools. In 2013, a student was raped while walking to school on a “safe passage” route.

Nonetheless, murders and violence in Chicago are at a 20-year high this year.

Arne Duncan expressed his sorrow about the spike in violence, but still sees no connection between his policies as City Superintendent and Secretary of Education and the nasty consequences of destabilizing neighborhoods and communities.

Duncan was first to use school closings as “reform.” The first school he closed and restaffed was Dodge Elementary School. He was proud of Dodge, which was his first turnaround. When President Obama announced that he was appointing Duncan as Secretary of Education in 2008, he did the announcement at Dodge. The president said Duncan had the “courage” to close the school and start over. A few years later, Dodge was rated a failing school and closed again.

Opening schools, closing schools, breaking up neighborhoods and communities. Making children walk through unfamiliar neighborhoods and gang territory to get to school. Not a recipe for safety or success.

Arne Duncan was the best friend the charter industry ever had in the federal government. He praised them again and again, and he periodically announced that he had found a charter school that had closed the gaps and done what no public school could do. He lavished hundreds of millions of dollars on them. I can’t recall him ever praising any public school the way he praised privately managed charters. Apparently, he hasn’t changed his mind. In this article that appeared in The Atlantic, Duncan is back to his old stand, singing the virtues of charters.

But once again, as I have in the past, I have to save Albert Shanker from the bold assertion that he was the visionary who created the charter movement. It is true that Shanker was one of the first to describe a new kind of school that he called a charter school (the other was Raymond Budde at the University of Massachusetts). In 1988, he sang the praises of this experiment. He saw it as a school within a school, made up of union teachers, that would be free to try new methods to teach the disaffected, the kids that regular public schools were not doing well with. He thought these schools would seek out the toughest kids. He said that the charter would have to get the permission of the local teachers’ union before starting. It would be an autonomous teacher-run school with a five-year grant of authority. He saw it as an R&D lab that helped public schools try out and learn new ways to educate.

What people like Duncan and others who invoke Shanker’s name will never tell you is that Shanker turned against his creation only five years later, in 1993. He concluded that charters had been taken over by corporate interests and that his idea had become a vehicle for privatization of public schools. He denounced them as vociferously as he denounced vouchers.
See pp. 123-124 of my book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” (The page numbers might be different in the new edition. Just read Chapter 7.)

Twenty-three years ago, Shanker repudiated his love for charter schools. Yet people like Duncan continue to salute him as a founding father, as if that makes privatization palatable.

Peter Greene says that when Arne Duncan was Secretary of Education, he had to once in a while notice a public school, maybe even visit one.

But in his foreword to a new book praising charters, Duncan makes clear that charters have the secret sauce. No need to pretend anymore.

Apparently the only schools that ever “close the gap” or produce awesome results are charter schools.

Funny that Duncan’s piece came out just days after a charter founder in Pennsylvania admitted that he stole $8 million from the school’s accounts.

Greene writes:

Notice that he doesn’t even go as far as admitting there are come bad actors and fraudsters in the charter sector, nor does he see a role for government in protecting students, families, and taxpayers from fraudsters. Nope– just let the charter sector police itself.

There was never any doubt that Duncan was a charter fan, but this piece puts him in line with some of the most pie-eyed charter lovers. All pretense is gone, and in a way, it’s impressive that Duncan could pretend to be even semi-supportive of public education for as long as he did. But now he can stop pretending, and be the charter-loving, public school dismissing PR flack he always wanted to be.

Gary Rubinstein has begun reading the first book to be published by Campbell Brown’s The 74, the website that regularly celebrates charter schools and assails unions and tenure. The book is Richard Whitmire’s “The Founders,” about the men and women who launched the most successful charter schools. Whitmire has previously written admiring accounts of Michelle Rhee and the Rocketship charter chain. This book was underwritten by foundations that support the proliferation of privately managed schools.

When Rubinstein read the foreword by Arne Duncan, he realized that it was almost the same as the excerpt that appeared recently in The Atlantic. There were two missing paragraphs.

Duncan was again praising the all black, all male Urban Prep Charter Academy in Chicago for its 100% graduation rate, 100% college acceptance rate. And again, as in the past, Duncan didn’t mention the attrition rate nor the fact that the school has lower test scores than the average for Chicago’s public schools.

This was especially interesting, because Duncan first told this story in 2011 at the Teach for America anniversary celebration. Gary was there, and he later said that this claim turned him into a critic of the reform movement because Duncan said, “same kids, same poverty, totally different outcomes,” the implication being that a new set of teachers made all the difference. Duncan, of course, proceeded to hail “turnarounds” where the entire staff was replaced. And he hailed the public revelation of teacher ratings based on student test scores in Los Angeles. Even as the value-added measurements have failed to produce any positive results,Duncan continues to believe in firing teachers based on their students’ scores.

Gary contacted me after he heard Duncan, and with his help and that of independent researcher Noel Hammatt in Louisiana, I wrote an op-Ed for the New York Times called “Waiting For A School Miracle.” Duncan still wants to refute what I wrote then. But he and President Obama never, to my knowledge, ever went to a big-city school to praise it unless it had fired the entire staff.

I will leave it to others to explain why the Obama administration had such contempt for regular public schools and their teachers. I don’t understand it.

Perhaps you don’t know who Peter Cunningham is. I didn’t know until he went to Washington as Arne Duncan’s chief PR guy (Assistant Secretary for Communications). I met Peter a few times, and I thought he was charming. We always disagreed with a smile or a laugh. He knew he would never persuade me, and I knew I would never get him to admit that Race to the Top was all wrong.

I recall a discussion of testing. I tried to persuade him that the most important things in life can’t be measured. He replied, “You measure what you treasure.” I of course responded, “what you really treasure can never be measured.” What about your children? Your spouse? Your parents? Your pets? Come on! I love certain paintings, certain music, certain movies. How much? I don’t know. What difference?

Mike Klonsky has been arguing on Twitter with Peter.

Peter has decided that it’s too late to worry about racial segregation. Apparently he thinks that talking about poverty is a distraction from school reform. Peter has become the voice of corporate reformers. They have controlled the narrative for at least 15 years. Where are the success stories?