Archives for category: Duncan, Arne

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?

Vermont is the smartest state in the nation. Not because of test scores, but because the officials in charge of education actually care about children and about education. When they look at the state’s children, they see children with names and faces, not just data. When they think about their schools, they see them as places where children should experience the excitement and joy of learning.

Vermont did not apply for a Race to the Top grant, meaning that it never was compelled to adopt Arne Duncan’s ideas about how to reform schools (which he failed to do when he was superintendent in Chicago).

Vermont never enacted charter school legislation. Vermont has its own kind of school choice program. If a district or town does not offer a public elementary or high school, students may receive a voucher to attend a private (non-religious) school. Such vouchers (called “town tuitioning”) are available only when there are no public schools available.

Vermont education officials think for themselves. Read their brilliant letter to Secretary of Education John King, advocate of high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools, about the inadequacies of ESSA and his proposed regulations.

They say:

The logic of ESSA is the same as NCLB. It is to identify “low performing schools.” Its operating theory is pressuring schools in the belief that the fear of punishment will improve student learning. It assumes poor achievement is a function of poor will. If we learned anything from NCLB, it is that that system does not work. It did not narrow gaps and did not lead to meaningful improvements in learning. If ESSA is similarly restrictive, we can expect no better.

This thinking perpetuates a disabling narrative about public schools. We ask for leadership from Washington that celebrates the glories of what we can accomplish rather than unrelenting dirges.

We are dismayed that the federal government continues to commoditize education and support charter and private schools which segregate children and show no particular learning advantage. We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools. We are disappointed that the federal government could not embrace and promote a more expansive understanding of the purpose and value of public schools in creating a strong citizenry.

We take note of the $1.3 billion budget cut approved by the House Appropriations Committee. While you have recently called for a broader “well-rounded” education, you suggest that these initiatives be paid for out of the funds that were just slashed. The federal government is ill- credentialed to call on more from states while providing less.

The Vermont State Board of Education feels it is time we commit to attacking the underlying challenges of poverty, despair, addiction and inequity that undermine school performance, rather than blaming the schools that strive to overcome the very manifestations of our greater social troubles. In the rules and the implementation of ESSA, we urge the federal government to both step-back from over-reach and narrowness; and step-up to a new re-framing, broadening and advancing of the promises of what we can achieve for the children and for the nation.

The letter can be found here.

In an interview published in The Hechinger Report, Randi Weingarten expresses her belief that Hillary Clinton will change course from the Obama education policies. She expects that a President Clinton would select a new Secretary of Education, one who shares her expressed belief in strengthening public schools and supporting teachers.

Emmanuel Felton, who conducted the interview, writes:

While teachers unions have long been a key pillar in Democratic Party, they’ve been on the outs with President Barack Obama’s education department. The administration doubled down on Republican President George W. Bush’s educational agenda of holding schools accountable for students’ test scores. Under the administration’s $3 billion School Improvement Grant program, for example, struggling schools had options to implement new accountability systems for teachers, remove staff, be closed or converted into charter schools, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

These policies devastated some local teachers unions, including Philadelphia’s, which lost 10,000 members during the Obama and Bush administrations. Weingarten expects Clinton to totally upend this agenda, and hopes she won’t reappoint Education Secretary John King, who was just confirmed by the senate in March.

From the day he was elected, President Obama decided to maintain the punitive policies of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and made standardized testing even more consequential. He and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pressed for higher standards, tougher accountability, and more choices, especially charter schools. They used Race to the Top to promote the evaluation of teachers by their students’ test scores, a policy that cost hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

Let’s all hope that Hillary Clinton, if elected, will recognize the damage done by the Bush-Obama education agenda and push the “reset” button for a federal policy that helps children, educators, and public schools.

Arne Duncan left his post last winter, after serving for seven years as Secretary of Education. In this post, Zoe Carpenter reviews his legacy.

The short version is that he opened doors for the booming education business. The longer version is that he did nothing to reverse the resegregation of American schools, but his efforts have been a boon to the testing industry and the charter industry.

Thanks to Arne, many entrepreneurs were encouraged to sell stuff to schools. The U.S. Department of Education is a marketing machine for the tech industry. Wanna buy a new ap? Check with ED. How else to explain the transition of almost every public school in the nation to online testing, even though studies show that students test better when they use paper and pen/pencil? Did anyone ask for that?

Other changes that Arne was responsible for: an explosion of publicly funded private schools (charter schools); Common Core; closing thousands of public schools in black and brown communities; massive collection of personally identifiable student data; data mining.

How many billions were wasted on ed tech and Common Core that might have been spent to reduce class sizes and improve teachers’ salaries or to encourage desegregation?

Carpenter credits Duncan with cracking down on the for-profit higher education industry, but this is an exaggerated claim. Corinthian Colleges collapsed, not because Duncan forced it to, but because it lost market share. Other for-profit colleges continue to lure veterans, minorities, and poor people with promises that will never be kept and to send them off with high debts and a worthless degree. The for-profit higher education industry is still making profits and ripping off veterans and poor people with false promises and worthless degrees.

Arne may have left us with a time-limited parlor game: what was the dumbest thing Arne said?

“Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that happened to the public schools of Néw Orleans.”

“I want to be able to look into a second graders’ eyes and tell whether he is headed for a good college.”

“Teachers have to stop lying to their students and dummying down the standards.”

“The opt out movement consists of white suburban moms who are disappointed to discover that their child is not as brilliant as they thought he was.”

Can we ever forget Arne and his campaign to open public education to the needs of edu-business?

Joseph Ricciotti, veteran educator in Connecticut, wonders if Hillary Clinton will forge a different path from that of the Obama administration. He points out that Race to the Top and Common Core were both major disasters. Race to the Top was built on the assumptions of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and proved even more harmful to public education and to children.

He notes that she benefited in her campaign by the early endorsements of the two teachers’ unions, the NEA and AFT.

He writes:

She can be thankful in no small part to the major role that the teacher organizations in the nation such as the National Educational Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) played in their early endorsement of her presidency. Public school teachers and parents are fighting the battle of their lives in attempting to hold off the forces of privatization along with the onslaught of charter schools in the nation.

Sadly, theses forces of privatization received major support from Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education appointed by President Barack Obama. No other Education Secretary, especially Democratic, has done more to privatize and weaken public education than Arne Duncan who was also obsessed with standardized testing. Under his regime, public schools across the nation experienced two failed programs with Race to the Top (RTTT) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). His so-called “testocracy” grossly neglected the impact of childhood poverty on learning for children from impoverished homes.

Likewise, under Duncan’s time in office, we have witnessed the demise of the neighborhood school and the growth of charter schools, all with corporate sponsors. Hence, it was obvious that former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was not a public school advocate but rather a paid shill who was in the pockets of the corporate reformers and the testing industry.

If Clinton is elected as president in 2016, it will not take very long for both the NEA and the AFT to know whether their early presidential endorsement has been wasted, as was the case following Barack Obama’s nomination eight years ago in his selection of Duncan as Secretary of Education. Whether Clinton chooses someone to serve as Secretary of Education who will undo the disastrous harm that Duncan has inflicted on public education in his eight years remains to be seen. Will she choose another corporate reformer or will she surprise everyone with an appointment of someone who will be a true advocate of public education and who is widely respected by the supporters of public education in the nation?

I can’t bring myself to tell you whom he recommends to lead the Department of Education.