Monday, December 29, 2008

Excellent CounterPunch Article on Arne Duncan Appointment

Cheers for Kenneth Libby, teacher-in-training in Portland, Oregon. Please take the time to visit CounterPunch where his excellent piece on the appointment of Arne Duncan as Ed Secretary has been published.

I've been slammin' Duncan quite a lot on this blog but I believe Kenneth is right on target when he points out that Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same worn-out coin. He rightly speaks of "the collusion of government officials and corporate interests" and has some important things to say about our nation's spending priorities.

Some excerpts from Libby's article:

The policies touted as educational "reform" by the New Democrats apply the same neoliberal theories responsible for NAFTA, the WTO, and GATT with the same results: the inequalities become greater while those in positions of power receive even greater rewards. A two-tired education system lurks in the distance, the result of neoliberal efforts to create equality. The gradual privatization and outsourcing of public schools represents a shift towards the voucher system, the ideal school system envisioned by Milton Friedman and present-day neoconservatives.

The dull, "research based" education models explicitly required by sanctions in NCLB, inflicted on America's poorest children, and peddled by private, for-profit companies are designed explicitly to raise test scores. The marginal gains accomplished in the so-called "turnaround" schools are the result of data manipulation and drilling students with the question-answer format used in high-stakes testing. This is far from genuine education and contributes to a curriculum void of civics, history, social studies, physical education, health education, and active community building. Most importantly, this kind of education treats our children as either young factory workers or future executives based almost exclusively on their access to quality education. The educational inequality helps ensure poor children learn to read simple instructions and compute basic math, skills suited for minimum-wage employment, while middle- and upper-class students learn the "21st Century Skills" desired by corporate America in private schools, the affluent suburbs, and exclusive charters operating within impoverished districts.

Letters to Obama from Top National Experts

Let us pray he listens. Carefully. You will find a link to the letters with accompanying research base below. A big thank you to the scholars who put this outreach to Obama together.

From Education and the Public Interest (EPIC) in Boulder, Colorado, and the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at Arizona State University:

Fifteen educational scholars have produced a collection of letters to President-elect Obama. Each letter briefly sets forth an idea or proposal to help create a more productive and equitable educational system. The letters cover the gamut of key policyissues facing the next administration, including reading instruction, No Child Left Behind, the expansion of preschool availability, charter schools, special education, the effects of poverty, and the teaching of English learners. These proposals should be thought of as the tips of empirical icebergs –beneath the letters lies a research base to guide policymaking throughout Obama's time in office.

collection is edited by Peter Cookson of Yale University and Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado at Boulder and is jointly published by the Education and the Public Interest Center at CU-Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University. Contributors include top national experts in their respective areas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

DC Schools Chancellor Rolls a Perfect 300. Or Did She?

We really don't know. We may never know. During a rare respite from their relentless efforts to raise the standardized test scores of poor children in urban schools, Chancellor Rhee and ed reform colleagues Joel Klein, Paul Vallas, and Arne Duncan met at the Imperial Lanes in Miami, Florida for what was expected to be a simple evening of recreation. However, where Rhee goes, sweeping legends seem to grow.

The group was in Miami with Jeb Bush and other edu-biz reformers for an Education Leadership Conference under the theme "Levers for Reform". Teachers and the general public were not invited, as is typical of the many corporate-led education summits that have driven 'public' education reform for the past 25 years.

Less than an hour after the group had bowled three games and left the premises, reports began surfacing that the diminuative former Teach for America superstar had bowled a perfect 300, putting her male colleagues (including former pro-basketball player Arne Duncan) to shame. However, at press time news sources were unable to obtain scoring sheets from the Imperial Lanes documenting the game in question. Some witnesses had downsized the miracle to a score of 152 with accommodations, including inflatable bumper pads in the gutters.

Teach for Awhile, Bowl for Awhile.

Rhee has been nominated for election into the USBC (United States Bowling Congress) Hall of Fame, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon contributors to the sport. She will appear on the cover of Time magazine in January with a broom in one hand and a bowling ball in the other.

news spoof brought to you by staff at This Little Blog

Friday, December 19, 2008

Does it ever hit you like a brick

or make you stop in your tracks when you consider what a giant travesty this all is? The whole pretense of public education reform as it is being framed. God help us. We must stop allowing the ruling elite to call what is taking place reform and call it what it is, the continuing war on public education. Corporatism. Deception cloaked in the language of civil rights. This is a war.

From Henry Al Giroux and Kenneth Saltman:

It is difficult to understand how Barack Obama can
reconcile his vision of change with Duncan's history of supporting a corporate
vision for school reform and a penchant for extreme zero-tolerance polices -
both of which are much closer to the retrograde policies hatched in conservative
think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institution, Fordham Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, than to the values of the many
millions who voted for the democratic change he promised. As is well known,
these think tanks share an agenda not for strengthening public schooling, but
for dismantling it and replacing it with a private market in consumable
educational services.

I urge you to read their entire piece at truthout.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama Congratulated by Business Roundtable for Ed Secretary Pick

But of course. After all, who are the beneficiarie$ of the current standards and accountability movement? Yes, a "sweet choice" for the Business Roundtable given that Linda Darling-Hammond, who is eminently more qualified than Duncan, would have worked to strengthen, support, and improve public schools rather than undermine and destroy them. Same for Doug Christensen.

From coach and non-educator Rod Paige and the Houston Fraud to Margaret-All-Children-On-Grade-Level Spellings, to CEO and basketball player Arne Duncan and his Chicago Miracle. Non-educators all.

Thanks Obama for the slap in the face insult to our nation's teachers.

Mr. Duncan has a strong record of working with the business
community to improve schools in Chicago.
John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable

How fitting it is that Duncan is called the CEO of Chicago "public" schools! An oxymoron in my book, this big-biz title now being used in so many urban schools being "rescued" by business opportunists. Does the arrogance of big business know no bounds?

Remember the word "superintendent" back in the days when public schools were public? Even the language of public education is being hijacked.

Arne Duncan may be a nice guy. He seems like it. But he is not an educator and it is quite possible that he is merely an unwitting tool of the disaster capitalists. In his ignorance he may be a true believer that high-stakes testing improves the quality of teaching and learning. Test scores go up a little under immense pressure and he sees those scores as evidence that learning has improved. He doesn't see the big picture and the disaster that is unfolding.

The greatest hindrance to reforms that would really make a difference in the lives of poor children? The ruling elite.

A national uprising. Let's work to improve the quality of teaching and learning and keep public schools public.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Appointment of Arne Duncan Incites Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

Silly me. All I want for Christmas is a national uprising of teachers, a nationwide walkout. While I am not anti-union, I think it would send a powerful message if the movement took place independent of the teachers' unions.

Please deliver Santa.

Naively yours,

P.S. I do hope I'm wrong about Duncan. I can imagine worse...Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein. Still, I'm mighty uneasy Santa. That nationwide movement of teachers is needed regardless of who the Secretary of Education is.

It is needed to respond to a nation that does not take care of its children but simply dumps them into the public schools, places wildly unrealistic demands upon those schools, then hypocritically wags a finger of blame. It is high time the relentless "failing public schools" mantra received critical scrutiny.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Alfie Kohn in The Nation

In view of the blatantly skewed flurry of recent high-class commentary villifying teachers and presenting false dichotomies in the debate over who should be the next Secretary of Education (for example comments by Jonathan Alter of Newsweek and David Brooks of the New York Times), the following Alfie Kohn commentary published in the December 29 issue of The Nation is most welcome.

Note: Happily, most of the readers' comments spurred by the Brooks column linked above were quite negative. It seems people are figuring out that the "real reform" these guys are advancing - and boy should they be embarrassed - actually IS the archaic and destructive status quo.

By Alfie Kohn

If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorize lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet. -- Linda Darling-Hammond

Progressives are in short supply on the president-elect's list of cabinet nominees. When he turns his attention to the Education Department, what are the chances he'll choose someone who is educationally progressive?

In fact, just such a person is said to be in the running and, perhaps for that very reason, has been singled out for scorn in Washington Post and Chicago Tribune editorials, a New York Times column by David Brooks and a New Republic article, all published almost simultaneously this month. The thrust of the articles, using eerily similar language, is that we must reject the "forces of the status quo" which are "allied with the teachers' unions" and choose someone who represents "serious education reform."

To decode how that last word is being used here, recall its meaning in the context of welfare (under Clinton) or environmental laws (under Reagan and Bush). For Republicans education "reform" typically includes support for vouchers and other forms of privatization. But groups with names like Democrats for Education Reform--along with many mainstream publications--are disconcertingly allied with conservatives in just about every other respect. To be a school "reformer" is to support:

§ A heavy reliance on fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests to evaluate students and schools, generally in place of more authentic forms of assessment;

§ The imposition of prescriptive, top-down teaching stand-ards and curriculum mandates;

§ A disproportionate emphasis on rote learning--memorizing facts and practicing skills--particularly for poor kids;

§ A behaviorist model of motivation in which rewards (notably money) and punishments are used on teachers and students to compel compliance or raise test scores;

§ A corporate sensibility and an economic rationale for schooling, the point being to prepare children to "compete" as future employees; and

§ Charter schools, many run by for-profit companies. Notice that these features are already pervasive, which means "reform" actually signals more of the same--or, perhaps, intensification of the status quo with variations like one-size-fits-all national curriculum standards or longer school days (or years). Almost never questioned, meanwhile, are the core elements of traditional schooling, such as lectures, worksheets, quizzes, grades, homework, punitive discipline and competition. That would require real reform, which of course is off the table.

Sadly, all but one of the people reportedly being considered for Education secretary are reformers only in this Orwellian sense of the word. The exception is Linda Darling-Hammond, a former teacher, expert on teacher quality and professor of education at Stanford. The favored contenders include assorted governors and two corporate-style school chiefs: Arne Duncan, whose all-too-apt title is "chief executive officer" of Chicago Public Schools, and his counterpart in New York City, former CEO and high-powered lawyer Joel Klein.

Duncan, a basketball buddy of Obama's, has been called a "budding hero in the education business" by Bush's former Education secretary, Rod Paige. Just as the test-crazy nightmare of Paige's Houston served as a national model (when it should have been a cautionary tale) in 2001, so Duncan would bring to Washington an agenda based on Renaissance 2010, which Chicago education activist Michael Klonsky describes as a blend of "more standardized testing, closing neighborhood schools, militarization, and the privatization of school management."

Duncan's philosophy is shared by Klein, who is despised by educators and parents in his district perhaps more than any superintendent in the nation [see Lynnell Hancock, "School's Out," July 9, 2007]. In a survey of 62,000 New York City teachers this past summer, roughly 80 percent disapproved of his approach. Indeed, talk of his candidacy has prompted three separate anti-Klein petitions that rapidly collected thousands of signatures. One, at, describes his administration as "a public relations exercise camouflaging the systematic elimination of parental involvement; an obsessively test-driven culture; a growing atmosphere of fear, disillusionment, and intimidation experienced by professionals; and a flagrant manipulation of school data." (The only petition I know of to promote an Education secretary candidate is one for Darling-Hammond, at

Duncan and Klein pride themselves on new programs that pay students for higher grades or scores. Both champion the practice of forcing low-scoring students to repeat a grade--a strategy that research overwhelmingly finds counterproductive. Coincidentally, Darling-Hammond wrote in 2001 about just such campaigns against "social promotion" in New York and Chicago, pointing out that politicians keep trotting out the same failed get-tough strategies "with no sense of irony or institutional memory." In that same essay, she also showed how earlier experiments with high-stakes testing have mostly served to increase the dropout rate.

Duncan and Klein, along with virulently antiprogressive DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, are celebrated by politicians and pundits. Darling-Hammond, meanwhile, tends to be the choice of people who understand how children learn. Consider her wry comment that introduces this article: it's impossible to imagine a comparable insight coming from any of the spreadsheet-oriented, pump-up-the-scores "reformers" (or, for that matter, from any previous Education secretary). Darling-Hammond knows how all the talk of "rigor" and "raising the bar" has produced sterile, scripted curriculums that have been imposed disproportionately on children of color. Her viewpoint is that of an educator, not a corporate manager.

Imagine--an educator running the Education Department.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ohio Charter School Report Found False and Deceitful

This from The Think Tank Review Project of the ASU Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) and CU-Boulder's Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC), which provides the public, policy makers, and the press with sound reviews of selected think tank publications:

Miron demonstrates in his review that all of the report's main contentions
are wrong or misleading, but one claim drew particular criticism. The Buckeye
report contends that the state's largest school districts receive a net gain in
revenue on average for each student attending a charter school--and that
returning those charter students to the regular schools would actually cost the
districts in revenue per pupil. This contention, Miron says, is "ridiculously
false, deceitful, and patently misrepresent[s] how the funding of public schools

Go here for more information. The Think Tank Review Project is a valuable resource, demonstrating that many of the studies and reports disseminated to the public by think tanks (with the aid of an uncritical media) are simply ideology masquerading as educational research.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What is Education?

It has been largely reduced to a maniacal, fear-driven focus on test scores. Let there be no doubt that the misuse of standardized testing serves the elites in control of the global economy very well. Test scores may go up a little here and there but the joy and quality and depth of learning do not. Potential is curtailed by standardization. Every child is different though all are of equal human worth.

Those in charge don't really see children. They see test scores. Data. Opportunity. We are in the Dark Ages of Education in the United States.

The rhetoric and framing of the 'failing schools' testing and accountability movement has been brilliantly deceptive garnish with no substance. A favorite quote by W.B. Yeats comes to mind. You know it already but I think it bears repeating in these difficult times:

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.