Whispering in Arne’s Ear: Is He Joel/Michelle in Drag, or, Will He Listen to the Folks in Classrooms?


Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education
Washington, DC
Dear Arne
It was nice to see you in New York: but praising Mike, and Joel and Randi  is a little hollow, like a Chicagoan saying he roots for the White Sox and the Cubs.
Your agenda, as reported by the media is troubling.
Data systems are the reform du jour, don’t get me wrong, collecting and analyzing data is important to evaluate progress. However, we worry that accountability-based systems and the resultant data sets and will lead to the use of regression analysis and neural networks, which will, in time, enable schools systems to incorporate this data into the hiring, promotion, tenure and discharge discussions.
If you can get Joel and Randi to agree upon the use of this data I have an assignment for you in the Middle East.
At the school level the key question is whether technology and the use of data to drive instruction improves outcomes. If the $85 million ARIS system is an example, I have my doubts. My experience has been that ARIS data is no surprise to teachers, and after exploring the data they use the system less and less.
Teaching is as much art as science, perhaps you can use those stimulus dollars to search for that elusive “teaching” gene?
Arne, incentive plans do not make for better teachers. I fear your enthusiasm presages the use of bonus plans to remunerate teachers. Yes, teacher quality is the path to student achievement, the keys are the pool of prospective teachers. The Great Depression and the GI Bill created such pools, maybe an upside of the current recession/depression will also create such a pool.
I know you feel Joel is a “good, good friend,” but, according to NAEP New York City data has been flat for the entire term of Joel’s stewartship.
Rather than leaning on Joel, or heaven forbid, Michelle, a few suggestions:
* Labor-Management Thin Contract Experiments: Do teacher union labor agreements interfere with schools/school district ability to improve student achievement? A January, 2009 Study  says not really. The charter school movement appears to be based upon averting union and school district regulations. A “thin contract” in New York City is not a reality because teachers don’t trust Joel Klein; perhaps, just perhaps, you could use your discretionary dollars, and your office to encourage such experiments.
* Social Service-School Collaborations: You have created/supported Community Schools in Chicago, the Child’s Aid Society supports some schools in New York, and the AFT supports Community Schools on the national scene. Do Community Schools impact student achievement? In New York the data has not been encouraging, but, why? Anecdotally, hospital affiliated school health clinics are more effective than CBO-based clinics, do we have examples of a wide range of city social service agencies working closely with schools and families? Corridors of collaboration …Once again, a worthwhile effort.
* Teacher Generated Action Research: I know your “good, good” friend Joel lauds the imposition of Inquiry Teams, mandated Action Research teams in each and every school. Action Research can drive programs in schools, however, when driven by the folks at the top they are rarely “sticky.”  How do you encourage states to establish goals and encourage parents/teachers. principals at the district and school level to craft programs, perhaps Action Research projects, to achieve those goals?
Quick, can you name five Secretaries if Education? With each passing month the Secretary of Education more and more resembles a cheer leader who is less and less relevant to the lives of teachers and their students.
Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee have created Montagues and Caplets,, Jets and Sharks, armed camps, distrustful and willing to fight to the bitter end. (You should pick your friends more carefully)
Your boss has reached across political, racial and ethnic divides, he has gained the trust of most Americans. Teachers look at their class on day one with hope … don’t disappoint us.

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