Archives for category: Duncan, Arne

The next time you hear boastful claims about “reform,” think Chicago.

 

Poor Chicago! Arne Duncan launched his version of reform there in 2001, with Gates funding. School closings, test scores above all, new schools, charter schools. And what is left now: a public school system struggling to survive. The results of Arne’s reforms: zilch.

 

Then Obama named his basketball buddy as Secretary of Education and the reforms that failed in Chicago were imposed on the nation by the ill-fated Race to the Too, where everyone is a loser.

 

So, Mike Klonsky tells us, reform is business as usual. The Chicago way. Those that have, get more. Those that have not, get ignored.

 

Fifteen years of reform. Think Chicago. Where Democratic leaders pander to billionaires and strangle the public schools.

John Thompson, historian and teacher, lives and writes in Oklahoma, where he has a first-hand view of the assault on the public sector.

 

Most of my professional friends are focused on What’s the Matter with Oklahoma? Our state followed the rightwing playbook described by Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, and we face a series of worse case scenarios as the legislature and the governor avoid dealing with the $1.3 billion budget hole that was created by the Kansas playbook.

 

 
Being an educator, I worry just as much about the neo-liberal and liberal school reforms that have been imposed from above; these corporate school reformers are taking advantage of the potential catastrophe produced by the rightwing, and are kicking teachers, unions, and public schools while we are down. So, I was commiserating with a veteran progressive about a seemingly arcane quandary about how to communicate with professionals and philanthropists who should be on our side. My friend turned me on to Frank’s new Listen, Liberal or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?.
http://www.listenliberal.com/

 
I can say enthusiastically that my friend was right about Listen, Liberal. But, I have to say reluctantly that Frank has nailed the reasons why so many neo-liberal Democrats have become some of public education’s worst enemies. I wish it weren’t true, but Frank pulls together the various strands of the story of how so many liberals have abandoned poor students of color, leaving them to the mercies of those who would shrink government to a size where it could be “strangled in the bathtub.”

 

Tragically, technocrats in the Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, and other “venture philanthropists,” doubled down on the teacher-bashing and union-bashing while coercing states into adopting most or all of the corporate reform agenda.

 
Franks doesn’t deny that the Republicans, who represent the “One Percent,” are worse. Democrats, however, have abandoned “the People,” as we became the party of the “Ten Percent.” Frank explains how the Democrats have become devoted to elite professionals, and how they have created a “second hierarchy” based on “credentialed expertise.” He borrows the words of David Brooks, the conservative whose initial support of President Obama was described as a “bromance.” Brooks praised Obama for the way he staffed his administration with like-minded professionals and creating a “valedictocracy.” In doing so, Franks explained why it is so hard for educators to get the Ten Percent to listen to why they should stop supporting corporate reformers and edu-philanthropists who are treat our students like lab rats in ill-conceived and risky top-down experiments.

 
The specific problem which baffled me was the question of why can’t we persuade more philanthropists who support early education and other humane, science-based pedagogies to distance themselves from “brass-knuckled” philanthropists who fund its opposite – the test, sort, reward, and punish school of reform. Perhaps today’s advocates for pre-kindergarten and wraparound services don’t know that neo-liberal, output-driven reformers used to ridicule those policies as “Excuses!” and “Low Expectations.” The idea that poverty, not “bad” teachers, is the enemy has long been derided by those test-driven, competition-driven reformers. Why is it that supporters of early education and/or full-service community schools, which are based on the idea that teaching in the inner city must become a team effort, will often go along with mandates for soul-killing, bubble-in accountability and attacks on unions?

 
The Obama administration, as well as so many other Democrats seeking a “Third Way,” have convinced themselves that “college can conquer unemployment as well as racism, … urban decay as well as inequality.” Had these professional elites shared on-the-job experiences with working people, or even listened to fellow professionals who study economic history, perhaps they would have subjected their assumptions to an evidence-based cross examination. But, without a basis in fact, they bought the reform spin and the claim, “If we just launch more charter schools, give everyone a fair shot at the SAT, and crank out the student loans” that education “will dissolve our doubts about globalization.” The person who may have drank the biggest dose of their Kool Aid, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said it worst, “What I believe – and what the president believes, is that the only way to end poverty is through education.”

 
Perhaps because I have been such an Obama loyalist, I’ve ducked the hard realities which Frank lays out. “To the liberal class,” he observes, “every big economic problem is really an education problem.” Obama’s education policy may have increased segregation, undermined the teaching profession, broken the morale of many educators, and benefitted rightwing union-haters, as it drove down student performance, but it can’t face up to these facts because, “To the liberal class this is a fixed idea, as open to evidence-based refutation as creationism is to fundamentalists.”

 
Frank explains why my efforts to reach out to our erstwhile allies (who may still ally themselves with unions and educators on progressive social issues while attacking the teaching profession) haven’t gained traction. The seemingly weird idea that education reform can defeat poverty is “a moral judgment handed down by the successful from the vantage of their own success.” Frank then concludes with a bluntness that I wouldn’t dare express on my own. The Ten Percent’s prescription for better teaching as the cure for poverty is “less a strategy for mitigating inequality than it is a way of rationalizing it.”

 
Arne Duncan’s and the Obama administration’s reign of education policy error is the culmination of more than a generation of Democratic fidelity to the “learning class.” Under the names of neo-liberalism, futurism, the Democratic Leadership Council, and New Democrats, they have assumed that “wired workers” were destined to dominate the 21st century and both parties had to “compete single-mindedly for their votes.” President Clinton propelled the party down a path which ignores working people and less-respected professionals by assembling an administration with a “tight little group of credentialed professionals who dominated his administration.” It was a political monoculture where “almost everyone agreed” with their technocratic, meritocratic mentality.

 
Then, the Obama administration put this “professional correctness” on steroids. It forgot that “the vast majority of Americans are unprofessional: they are managed, not managers.” So, “Team Obama joined the fight against teachers unions from day one.” This became nearly inevitable as his administration was staffed by people “whose faith lies in ‘cream rising to the top’ (to repeat [Jonathan] Alter’s take on Obama’s credo)” and “tend to disdain those at the bottom.”

 
Sadly, Frank doesn’t have concise solutions. He provides little hope that accountability-driven school reformers will hold themselves accountable for either the education debacle they choreographed or for abandoning the overall fight against economic inequality. Frank mostly urges us to speak truth to our party’s power. He also makes a great case that the Democrats rejection of populism is “a failure for both the nation and for their own partisan health.”

 
Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I also find hope in listening to President Obama who re-found his voice after the 2014 election. And, in the short term, we must support Hillary Clinton, and hope she takes heed of the message delivered by Bernie Sanders and Listen, Liberal.

We have observed frequently that reformers almost always have a soft landing in a cushy job, even when their previous endeavor was a dud.

 

Thus Chris Barbic led the Achievement School District in Tennessee, promising to raise the schools in the bottom 5% to the top 25% in five years; it didn’t happen (five of the six schools in the first cohort are still in the bottom 5%, and the sixth is in the bottom 10%). No matter. Barbic now works for the John Arnold Foundation in what must be a less stressful job.

 

John King was a disaster as state commissioner in New York. Now he is Secretary of Education.

 

The eight years of Obama’s education policies were a nightmare for the teaching profession and public schools, with everyone struggling for survival.

 

Arne Duncan now works for Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow. And one of his top deputies, James Shelton, was just hired as advisor to Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. Shelton previously worked for the Gates Foundation. Life is good if you are a reformer.

 

 

Emma Brown, writing in the Washington Post, reports the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress: High school seniors showed a slippage in their test scores in math and no improvement in reading.

 

Throughout the entire period of “reform” that started with No Child Left Behind, scores of high school students have been stagnant. Brown writes:

 

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, also show a longer-term stagnation in 12th-grade performance in U.S. public and private schools: Scores on the 2015 reading test have dropped five points since 1992, the earliest year with comparable scores, and are unchanged in math during the past decade.

 

 

The NAEP report says:

 

In comparison to the first year of the current trendline, 2005, the average mathematics score in 2015 did not significantly differ. In comparison to the initial reading assessment year, 1992, the 2015 average reading score was lower.

 

In short, NCLB (signed into law in 2002) and Race to the Top (launched in 2009) have been failures. They have been disastrous failures. How many billions of dollars were wasted no testing and test prep? How many teachers and principals were fired? How many schools were closed? How many public schools were turned over to entrepreneurs?

 

As a nation, we have endured fourteen years of failed federal policies. Will we ever learn that testing doesn’t produce higher achievement? Will we ever learn that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than threats and rewards?

 

Heckuva job, President Obama and former Secretary Arne Duncan!

 

 

Mercedes Schneider enjoyed the exchange between Jennifer Berkshire and Peter Cunningham. But she wondered who was funding Cunningham’s “Education Post.”

 

Read how she investigated the money flow.  It is a model of research and creative digging. She knew that money was coming from Walton, Broad, and Bloomberg. But guess who else funds Peter and his $12 million blog?

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.