Archives for category: Duncan, Arne

New Secretary of Education John King must have thought he could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Arne Duncan and tell the states and districts what to do. Congress made it clear in the Every Student Succeeds Act that it was curtailing the Secretary’s power. King is now overseeing the drafting of new regulations to implement ESSA, and Senator Lamar Alexander–who led the effort to write ESSA–didn’t like what he saw. He gave King a strong reprimand at Senate hearings yesterday.

 

Here is a report from a Knoxville newspaper on some of their exchanges:

 

“U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander angrily accused the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday of blatantly ignoring part of the new school reform law that Congress passed last year with overwhelming bipartisan support.

 

“In an unusual public scolding, Alexander told Education Secretary John B. King Jr. the department is not adhering to a key section of the law that relates to funding for low-income schools.

 

“Not only is what you’re doing against the law,” Alexander said during a Senate committee hearing, “the way you’re trying to do it is against another provision in the law.”
“King tried to assure Alexander the Education Department is not circumventing the law, but is merely proposing regulations to give guidance to states and local school districts. But Alexander was not convinced.

 

“I can read,” he said bluntly…..”

 

“At Tuesday’s hearing, Alexander accused the Department of Education of overstepping its authority and trying to work around a provision that says federal funding must be used to supplement state and local spending on education.

 

“Another section of the law requires comparable spending between Title I schools — those with large numbers of disadvantaged students — and schools that are not Title I.

 

The “comparability” provision has been in federal law since 1970, and Congress did not change it when the new school reform law passed last year.

 

“But Alexander charged the department is trying to implement new regulations that would require equal, not comparable, spending per pupil. He also accused the department of trying to dictate the methodology that local school districts must use when calculating whether funding between schools is comparable — a move he said is not allowed under the law.

 

“King disputed that. The department is not requiring any particular methodology, he said, but is simply trying to give schools the flexibility to measure the goal of comparable funding.
“How can you sit there and say that?” Alexander asked, arguing that the proposed regulations clearly dictate how states must go about measuring comparability.

 

“Alexander warned he would use “every power of Congress” to make sure the law is implemented the way it was written, even if it meant using the appropriations process to block the regulations or overturning them once they are final.

 

“If the department tries to force states to follow regulations that violate the law, “I’ll tell them to take you to court,” he said.”

 

As Peter Greene wrote, Senator Alexander took John King to the woodshed. Greene writes that Senator Alexander noted “that a December Politico story quoted Duncan saying that USED lawyers are smarter than the lawmakers. But “we in Congress are smart enough to anticipate your lawyers’ attempts to rewrite the law.””

 

 

Rick Hess writes about a new study of teacher evaluation systems in 19 states by Matthew Kraft and Allison Gilmour. It shows that the new systems have made little difference. Instead of 99% of trachers rated effective, 97% are rated effective.

 

This was Arne Duncan’s Big Idea. It was an essential element of Race to the Top. The assumption behind it was that if kids got low test scores, their teachers must be ineffective.

 

It failed, despite the hundreds of millions–perhaps billions– devoted to creating these new systems to grade teachers. Think of how that money might have been used to help children and schools directly!

 

Hess writes:

 

“Emboldened by a remarkable confidence in noble intentions and technocratic expertise, advocates have tended to act as if these policies would be self-fulfilling. They can protest this characterization all they want, but one reason we’ve heard so much about pre-K in the past few years is that, as far as many reformers were concerned, the big and interesting fights on teacher evaluation had already been won. They had moved on.

 

“There’s a telling irony here. Back in the 1990s, there was a sense that reforms failed when advocates got bogged down in efforts to change “professional practice” while ignoring the role of policy. Reformers learned the lesson, but they may have learned it too well. While past reformers tried to change educational culture without changing policy, today’s frequently seem intent on changing policy without changing culture. The resulting policies are overmatched by the incentives embedded in professional and political culture, and the fact that most school leaders and district officials are neither inclined nor equipped to translate these policy dictates into practice.

 

“And it’s not like policymakers have helped with any of this by reducing the paper burden associated with harsh evaluations or giving principals tools for dealing with now-embittered teachers. If anything, these evaluation systems have ramped up the paperwork and procedural burdens on school leaders—ultimately encouraging them to go through the motions and undercut the whole point of these systems.”

 

 

 

 

If you want to see our Acting Secretary of Education John King deflecting any responsibility or accountability for the ethical lapses of senior officials in the Department, here is a link to the full hearing. 

 
King finds a variety of ways to shift responsibility. He insists he is not accountable. Not me. Someone else said it was okay to have outside income and not report it to the IRS. Does the ED still give ethics briefings to political appointees? Apparently not.

 

To be fair to King, he has only worked at the Department for a year, understudying the role of Secretary. Who appointed Danny Harris as chief information officer? Who supervised him? Who reviewed his disclosure forms? Call them to testify too.

 
Who is accountable in this Department that has made “accountability” its watchword?

John Thompson, historian and teachers, wrote a guest column on Anthony Cody’s blog in which he calls out the “reformers” for their arrogance and reckless disregard for collateral damage: children, teachers, and public schools. Thompson said that from the outset of Obama’s first term, he hoped that Arne Duncan and his team of advisers from the Gates Foundation “would not create a mess.” He recognized that every element of their Race to the Top program ignored a large body of social science and the professional judgments of teachers. But he kept hoping. He hoped that Duncan would be willing to obtain objective evaluations of his experiments. “At the time, I couldn’t have known that Arne Duncan and his team of former Gates Foundation administrators would be so allergic to facing up to facts.”

 

He lays much of the blame for the administration’s failed education policies not only on Duncan but at Joanne Weiss (former CEO of the charter-promoting NewSchools Venture Fund), who directed the Race to the Top, then became Duncan’s chief of staff. Duncan saw his job not as someone seeking unbiased evaluations of his initiatives, but as a cheerleader for his programs, regardless of their results. Intent on claiming victory after victory, he never listened. Since Duncan was unwilling to obtain objective evaluations or listen to professional educators, it was left to others to appraise his prized RTTT and SIG (School Improvement Grants).

 

Thompson writes:

 

Now, we are getting the next best thing as conservative reformers, as well as educators, are calling them to task. One of the most recent examples of the pushback is conservative reformer Andy Smarick’s challenge to Joanne Weiss’s defense of the RttT. Weiss personified the administration’s overreach. As director of the RttT, she set out to impose corporate school reform on states and localities across the nation.

 

Weiss ignored the need for checks and balances of authority, and then she seemed to blame states and localities for the failures of her federal micromanaging of school policies. Smarick concludes, “even when federal education officials are pure of heart, their plans reliably underperform, as in the case of SIG, the backlash to NCLB and Common Core, the disappointing results of educator evaluation reform, and the disintegration of the federally funded testing consortia.” (I don’t agree that federal policies always under-perform, but it is a safe bet that grandiose federal social engineering always will.)

 

Some of the best critiques of Weiss’s spin can be found in the comments prompted by her article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Almost all of the fifty-plus comments were negative, and many were especially eloquent in criticizing Weiss and her innovations. My favorite commenters were Leonie Haimson and Christopher Chase. Chase fact-checked Weiss and in doing so he cited the pro-Obama spin by the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). DFER displayed an openness that contrasted sharply with Weiss’s current claims. It bragged, “President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan added the role of ‘venture philanthropist’ to the federal education policy wheelhouse.” The RttT and SIG, as well as Duncan’s NCLB Waivers were said to be transformative because previously:

 

[DFER wrote:] There was a confederacy of education reform-focused groups and most were narrowly focused (often with frustrating discipline) in their own directions. President Obama, primarily through the launch of the Race to the Top competition, got this crazy constellation of reform groups united and pointed in the same direction for the first time.
DFER not only gloated about the way that value-added added teacher evaluations were imposed through the process, but it also cheered the rise of the charter management organizations that facilitated the mass closures of schools. According to DFER, it “wasn’t accidental” that “charter schools flourished more under three years of Obama than under eight years of George W. Bush.”

 

Thompson wondered how smart people could make so many miscalculations and errors:

 

As conservatives and liberals finally come together to hold the Duncan/Obama/Gates reign of error accountable, we will often be able to grin at the language with which the administration’s social engineering is described. Rick Hess, as usual, is especially quotable; he describes their overreach as a “product of executive branch whimsy.” A commenter referred to Joanne Weiss as “a dilettante.” But, the policy wonk in me seeks a narrower explanation. How did the smart people – who imposed the full corporate reform agenda – do so while mandating policies that were so different than the principles they espoused?

 

Weiss’s micromanaging, for instance, imposed the full laundry list of the corporate reformers’ simplistic “silver bullets.” Her answer for the complex and interconnected problems in our low-income schools was an impossibly long and contradictory list of quick fixes: test-driven teacher evaluations, the undermining of teachers’ due process, Common Core, mass closures of urban schools, the mass dismissal of teachers, and subsidies for charter management systems.

 

In the context of mass closures, Weiss should have known, the abrogation of seniority rights would encourage districts to dump the salaries and benefits of veteran teachers, replacing them with often-ineffective novices. Her value-added mandates and need to meet extreme and immediate test score targets would incentivize bubble-in malpractice. One would think she would understand that her RttT would treat teachers as disposable, and thus kill the chances to build trusting and collaborative relationships. But, did Weiss not also realize that she was inviting a mass pushout of struggling students? It seems inconceivable that she wouldn’t recognize the opportunity costs of her RttT, undermining the capacity to build the student supports that readiness-to-learn requires in high-challenge schools.

 

Weiss later claimed that her RTTT wanted to get education out of “discrete silos.” But, she did so because the administration “wanted to mold entire systems.” It supposedly sought to help states implement “interconnected policies and work streams” and make them “move forward in tandem.”

 

And, that suggests an answer. Duncan staffed the USDOE with smart people who knew little or nothing about the inner city or high-challenge schools. What they knew was theories about incentives and disincentives. They were experts at the big “C,” control. They understood paperwork. They understood profits and privatization. Duncan, Weiss, et. al may have been clueless about real world schools, but they understood grant-making, rule-making, drafting criteria, subcriteria, memorandums of understanding, and regulations. They did what they knew how to do – creating work streams of interconnected policies that were disconnected from actual reality.

 

Thompson’s charitable explanation of how smart people do dumb things is that they were “disconnected from actual reality.” Meaning, they knew so little about schools and teaching that they created programs that were doomed to fail.

 

And now, as their failure becomes obvious to the world, they shift the blame to others, or in the case of Duncan, advise the nation to keep doing the same things over and over for at least another decade, when we will finally see the “results” he promised and never achieved. The question is whether the parents of millions of children want them to be subjected to Duncan’s failed policies for the next ten years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Farley, principal of an elementary/middle school in upstate New York and founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education, writes here that the new Obama testing policy might increase the time spent testing students.

Andrew Cuomo, governor of Néw York, was quick to applaud the Ibama plan and to note with pride that New York had already enacted a 2% cap on testing time.

Farley writes:

“In New York, as Cuomo has reminded us, we already have a 2% cap on time spent on standardized testing. What does that actually mean? In New York we have 180 school days and an average school day runs about 6.5 hours. If one does the math that’s 180 x 6.5 x 2% = 23.4 hours of testing. So, by law, we cannot exceed 23.4 hours of standardized testing in grades 3–8.

“This begs the question — How much time do kids in grades 3–8 spend on the state tests in English Language Arts and math? If you are a general education student, you will spend roughly nine hours in a testing room for both the ELA and math tests. If you are a student with a learning disability (SWD), and you have a testing accommodation of “double time,” you get to sit in a testing location for eighteen hours. As insane as that seems, it is still 5.4 hours short of the time allowed by law. A 2% cap isn’t a step forward, it’s a giant leap backward.

“How much testing is too much? I don’t know the magic number that will give the state education departments and the U.S. Department of Education the data they supposedly need in order to determine the effectiveness of the schools, but I do know that nine hours of testing is too much for a nine-year-old, eighteen hours is abusive for nine-year-olds with a learning disability, and 23.4 hours of testing for a child at any age is criminal.”

Peter Greene carefully reviewed the Obama administration’s “Testing Action Plan” and concluded it is phony, a duplicitous confirmation of the status quo.

Did you think the administration realizes that the billions of dollars spent on 13 years of standardized testing was a waste? Think again.

Did you think the administration really wants to reduce time spent on testing? Think again.

Did you think the administration understands that it is not fair to give exactly the same test to children who can’t read English, children with disabilities, and others of their age? Think again.

Have they lost faith in standardized testing? Not a bit.

Here is what they see as the problem that needs fixing, Greene writes:

“Before you get excited about the administration taking “some” blame for the testing mess, please notice what they think their mistake was– not telling states specifically enough what they were supposed to do. They provided states with flexibility when they should have provided hard and fast crystal clear commands directions for what they were supposed to do.

“Because yes– the problem with education reform has been not enough federal control of state education departments.”

Peter Greene warns us not to be taken in by Secretary Duncan’s latest pretense of disavowing testing. We have heard this song before. So he wants to limit testing to “only” 2% of class time? That’s more testing, not less. Will he cancel his ironclad demand to evaluate teachers by student test scores? Is VAM dead and finished? He didn’t say that.

Peter writes:

“Remember that theoretical problem where someone keeps moving half the distance to a point, and how that means they’ll never actually get there? Well, today Arne Duncan once again moved half the distance to the point at which he will someday theoretically accept responsibility for the administrations failed education policies and then actually do something about them.

“Duncan issued a statement about testing, and I’d like to be excited that he almost admitted culpability in the Great Testing Circus while stating some actual policy changes to address the problem. But he didn’t get there, and I’ve seen the Duncan “I’ll Kind of Say the Right Thing Almost and Then Go On Acting As If I Haven’t Said Anything At All” show far too many times.”

No, says Peter, it is not a problem of implementation. The problem is the policy itself. And Duncan did not renounce the policy. What did he offer? An apology for ruining American education for seven years? No. A policy to free teachers, principals and schools from the tyranny of testing? No. A promise to stop punishments based on test scores? No.

What did he offer?

False hope.

The Badass Teachers association responded to Arne Duncan’s mea culpa on testing with this statement:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 24, 2015
More information contact:
Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director BATs or Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. Executive Director BATs
Contact.BATmanager@gmail.com

Today the Obama Administration released a statement calling for “a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to ‘reduce over-testing’ as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/us/obama-administration-calls-for-limits-on-testing-in-schools.html?_r=0)

The Badass Teachers Association, an education activist organization with over 70,000 supporters nationwide, are reluctantly pleased with this announcement. Our vision statement has always been to refuse to accept assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for authentic teaching and learning. Our goals have always been to reduce or eliminate the use of high stakes testing, increase teacher autonomy in the classroom, and include teacher and family voices in legislative decision-making processes that affect students.

Since No Child Left Behind and Race to The Top we have seen our children and communities of color bear the brunt of the test obsession that has come in with the wave of Corporate Education Reform. When resources should have been used for funding and programming, politicians and policy makers were focusing on making children take more tests in hopes that equity in education would occur. It didn’t work, and it will not work. We know as educators you cannot test your way out of the education and opportunity gap. The blame and punish test agenda has not closed either the education or opportunity gap . We are reluctantly pleased that the President and his administration are finally taking a stand, but sadly the devastation has already been done. We are confident that if the President and his administration make a commitment to work with educators, parents, and students we can fix it and make it right.

“Although this is a step in the right direction I feel we need to see what the policy is before we count this as a win. Given his actions in New York, I have no reason to trust John King, and I’m concerned that this is a ploy to get teachers on the side of Democrats aka Hillary Clinton.” – BAT Board of Director Member Dr. Denisha Jones

“The policy that stems from this statement needs to be mindful that important discussions about exactly what kind of testing is most beneficial to our students. BATS advocates for teacher-driven tests with immediate and relevant feedback that can be used to drive current instructional practices.” – BAT Assistant Executive Director Melissa Tomlinson

“The policies of Sec. Duncan and the USDOE have caused an immense amount of damage to our educational system, student morale, and teacher morale. I am very reluctant to be happy about this announcement and will watch closely as to what the President plans to do to fix the damage that has been done. Will he stand up to Corporate Education Reform? Will he end the test, blame, punish system for schools, students, and teachers? Will he return the elected school board? Will he end mass school closings?” – BAT Executive Director Marla Kilfoyle

The Badass Teachers Association would like to extend its voice and expertise to help get public education on the right track. Together we can work towards the real solutions that will make great schools for all children. We will be watching closely as this unfolds.

Mercedes Schneider reports on speculation that Arne Duncan is returning to Illinois so he can meet the residency requirement to run for governor. It would be interesting to see Duncan debate Bruce Rauner on who loves charter schools the most.

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