Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ed Secretary Duncan Gets Head Stuck

For Immediate Release
Washington, D.C.

According to unnamed officials at the Department of Education, Ed Secretary Arne Duncan got his head trapped inside the two metal bars of the extendable handle on his rolling attache case. He was able to insert his head fully through the handle without it getting stuck but was subsequently unable to pull his head back out.

Leading ed reform spokesmen Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich discovered the Secretary in his office muttering expletives and feverishly trying to pull his head out. The pair had arrived on schedule to meet with Duncan to brainstorm stratagems for dealing with an absence of any credible evidence to support the administration's education reform proposals.

Once freed from the device by Sharpton and Gingrich, Duncan brushed the mishap off as a teachable moment about not sticking your head in places where it doesn't belong.

Department employees have graciously refrained from asking Duncan why he stuck his head through the bars in the first place.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Diane Ravitch Comments on Race to the Top (And A Teacher's Proposal for Obama and Duncan to Submit to Nationally Televised Debates)

Great comments from Diane Ravitch:

Dear DOE,

I wish to register a strong objection to these regulations. As a former
federal official (I was Assistant Secretary of Education in 1991-92), I
object to the coercive nature in which the federal government is dictating
education policy to the states. But of great importance, the policies you are
dictating are not based on evidence.

You want states to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, but you present
no evidence that doing so improves achievement; instead you rely on economists
who project that it might do so. To achieve this goal, you tell states that they
must roll back laws they have passed. This oversteps the bounds of federal
authority in education.

Similarly your pressure to open charter schools goes beyond any evidence
that charter schools are superior to regular public schools. The recent Stanford
study by Margaret Raymond found that only 17% of charter schools were better
than nearby public schools. Why then should schools eliminate their caps on

I think the DOE should respect the requirements of federalism and look to
states to offer their best ideas rather than mandating policies that the current
administration likes, even though there is no evidence to support them.

Humility is sometimes the best policy, especially when you are not on firm
ground with your remedies.

Diane Ravitch

Thank you, Diane.

On a related note, I believe we should be joining forces and publicly challenging Obama and Duncan to submit to nationally televised debates about the merits of their recipe for education reform. Since it is highly unlikely that they would concede to participating in debates where they could not control and frame the debate, I think we should present the challenge to them under the condition that they submit to fair and DEMOCRATIC debates in which neither side is allowed to control or frame the debate. If they refuse, that alone would say a lot.

I proposed this challenge on a listserv to which I belong (arn-the assessment reform network). Jerry Bracey responded that to "publicly" challenge Obama/Duncan would present a daunting challenge, mainly getting the media's attention and "getting it in a big way." He's right, but he offered that he's open to ideas.

So I submitted another idea. As some of you already know, the Standing Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures recently issued statements about its position on lifting charter school caps and the imposition of national standards. It seems they oppose both. Here's the link (if you visit the link you have to scroll down a bit to get to the statements about lifting state charter school caps and national standards):,22,634#Public_Charter

I suggested that perhaps we try appealing to and through the NCSL to call for national debates. I notice that Jerry then sent our discourse on the matter to Arne Duncan and other officials at, as well as to various journalists, including Sam Dillon of the NY Times and Jay Mathews of the Washington Post.

Don't know if this idea will go anywhere but would appreciate any ideas out there to add to the discussion.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Road Most Traveled by the Ed Reformers

With deep apologies to Robert Frost for the liberties taken, I'm posting this again (revised from my original post) to reflect how I feel and what I believe about the education reform business. And it has indeed become big business and a corrupt one at that. It seems to me it is disaster capitalism, the hijacking of a public good for corporate interest in a nation that remains number one among wealthy nations in childhood poverty. And the staggering inequalities are only growing.

Two roads diverged in the urban wood,

One to crush and the other to help.

The first lush with profit, long I stood

Pressing schools down as hard as I could

With truth kept hidden in the undergrowth.

I took the first road as just and fair,

And having no doubt a believable claim.

Posing for poor children wanted no wear,

They'd yield data for market repair,

And for this scheme I felt no ounce of shame.

Throughout the journey well hidden lay

The leaves that I had trodden black.

Oh, I kept that knowledge for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever turn back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one most traveled by,

And for poor kids it made little difference.