A Hand Across the Aisle: Does Arnie Believe Teachers and Unions Part of the Problem or the Solution?

 

Vice President Biden, current Ed Secty Duncan, former Ed Secty Spelling, Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Fenty from DC, Joel Klein join hands at an education conference in New York City, at the same time as a few thousand teachers gather at the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) convention  … in Buffalo.
 
The distance is cruelly representative of the distance between teachers and the Obama-Biden-Duncan educational initiatives and trust.
 
I would have thought that Arne would make an unexpected appearance at UFT Delegate Assembly and charm the thousand delegates, or fly off to Buffalo to greet the two thousand New York State teachers … is he tone deaf? insensitive? disrespectful? or, just showing all of us who he thinks are really important …?
 
In Buffalo AFT/UFT President Weingarten, told teachers,
 
Don’t reject reform ideas out of hand, she said, but instead “take a fresh look at some of the more divisive issues in education. … Let’s be the ones who advance the smart approach – the way that is good for kids and fair to teachers.”
 
In New York City Duncan delivered his stock speech … you should take a look/listen  … a few highpoints,
 
* With fifty different sets of State Standards, responding to NCLB, we are in a “race to the bottom.”
* Even our high school graduates are barely prepared for college
* Keeping track of data is essential, too many places don’t know what is happening in their own schools.
* How do we recruit and retain the best and the brightest and match them to the toughest assignments?
* Investing in the status quo is not the way to go.
* We have to challenge the status quo and think and behave differently.
* Strongly supportive of mayoral control in large urban centers.
* Urges NYC to apply for the “Race to the Top” Fund, innovative practices.
* Points to Randi and praises “great union leaders.”
* And, concludes by urging parents to “step up” and become “full and equal partners.”
 
For me, it was a shallow speech, the answers are not in “data systems,” yes, it is important to track student work, however, these systems are not especially useful to teachers. Data allows us to track student poverty-influenced failure and absentee rates back to early childhood grades. Data tells us that we can also track discipline issues to early grades. For Duncan “great schools” can overcome the burden of poverty. For teachers, chronic absenteeism, foreclosures, unemployment, crime, the pathologies of poverty, do impact children in classrooms. They are not excuses, they are realities. Putting your head in the proverbial sand is foolish.  “Closing the Gap” does not refer only to literacy and numeracy, it must also refer to the economic gap.
 
The turnover rate among principals and teachers in Klein created small high schools is disturbing. Great principals and wonderful teachers in extremely poor schools struggle, you can point to some successes, and many failures. It is hard, oftentimes debilitating work.
 
Rumor has it that ARIS has a low usage rate among classroom teachers, after a look or two, you have to face the realities of the kids sitting in front of you. ARIS does not offer solutions.
 
Our standardized tests are narrow measurements of limited skills. The punitive aspects of NCLB have turned too many schools into “test prep” mills, and have made schools too dependent on entrepreneurial “packages,” i.e., books, workbooks, teacher guides, etc., that make the teacher the conduit rather than the creator of lessons.
 
Arne, take a look at the work of Robert Sternberg, in his long career he has written about intelligence, creativity, testing, and, currently is introducing a more nuanced method of evaluating college applicants.
 
You abhor the status quo yet advocate for that same status quo: a world of test prep.
 
When you challenge the “status quo” are you criticizing the work of teachers? or, the organization of schools and school districts, or State Ed Departments? 
 
Charter Schools, merit pay, easier dismissal procedures are not “innovations,” why not reach across the table and begin speaking with teachers and their unions … they will still be there long after you have moved on to that foundation presidency.
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