Krugman, Duncan,Weingarten and Dr. Pangloss in the Best of All Possible Worlds




As a million children trek back to school we can feel confident that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds,” after all, according to the Department of Education 97% of all elementary and middle schools received grades of “A” or “B.”  Dr. Pangloss at Tweed.
The Education Equality Project folk, the guys leading the Duncan agenda sound similar to the “freshwater” economists described by Paul Krugman in his September 6th New York Times Magazine and the failure of economic analysis before the meltdown of 2007. The “freshwater” economists (from the Milton Friedman U of Chicago school), neo-Friedmanites, see the power of the marketplace as driving our recession-proof economy.
“…in the real world, economists believed that they had things under control: the ‘central problem of depression-prevention has been solved … the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.”
For Duncan, the answer to the education ills of our nation is the imposition of his market driven model on the fifty states and the 15,000 or so school districts. Rather than waiting for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) the Secretary of Education is using the billions of dollars in highly prescriptive Race to the Top  fund to change the face of education.
The Chicago-based “freshwater” economists who assured us we had entered a world without any fear of recession appear to have influenced Arne Duncan, who also is wedded to the miracles of the marketplace.
Arne’s message: You want the money, remove caps on charter schools and any restrictions on the use of student achievement data to evaluate teachers.
Create a school system based on competition (“Dewey be damned!”),
* Encourage the creation of an unlimited number of charter schools that can compete with public schools. Low achieving schools, whether public or charter will be closed.
* Collect data: input data around teachers (levels of education, number of degrees, seniority, special training, race, gender, teaching styles, levels of collaboration, etc.) and output data around students (test scores, attendance, discipline, college acceptance and success, longitudinal studies, etc.)
* Establish national standards and a uniform testing system, perhaps National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
* Base teacher recruitment, retention, tenure and remuneration on the results of an analysis of the many data sets.
Ultimately the marketplace will drive out low functioning schools and low functioning teachers and create a national school system in which success, school success and teacher success, will be data-driven. The power of states, school districts and teacher contracts will be trumped by the marketplace.
With the Congress totally enmeshed in the health care imbroglio the only critics have been the teacher unions.
In a 28-page response  to the proposed Race to the Top regs Randi Weingarten offers detailed criticisms and suggestions.
…we would use the following criteria to review the proposals in the draft notice: Do they help students? Are they fair to teachers? Are they transparent to the public? Do they require shared responsibility? … the ED proposals succeed in some areas and fall short in others.
We believe that bypassing the legislative process is inappropriate and not in keeping with the goals of ARRA.
…the promise of additional funding is a heady incentive to sign on the dotted line. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that funding alone will create good policy.
True reform require more than funding alone; it requires valid, reliable, sustainable and fair policies, thoughtful implementation and the collaborative approach necessary for success.
There is obviously a role for student achievement in teacher evaluations. However standardized assessments should not be the sole or predominant measure in a teacher’s evaluation … under the ED’s proposal, a teacher’s livelihood and career could depend upon an overreliance on an unproven idea.
…the AFT supports: develop meaningful and effective teacher evaluation systems that can measure performance and inform decisions in a way that helps students and is fair to teachers.
It is imperative that we find common ground on teacher quality and compensation, namely, how to continuously develop, fairly compensate and accurately evaluate teachers on an ongoing basis.
… we believe that these proposed regulations overstep the letter and intent of the law.
…our states and districts and unions, which rightfully will be asked for statements of support, should not be presented with a Hobson’s choice. They should, instead, be able to enthusiastically embrace a chance for real innovation, real collaboration and a real commitment to building programs that are branches on a growing, vibrant tree and not, as the adage warns, branches without a tree.
Will the ED pay mock, polite obeisance to the objections/suggestions of  Randi and move forward?
Are the unions serious about utilizing student achievement data, to some extent, in teacher evaluation and compensation? Or, simply delaying and hoping that Congress will extinguish the Duncan agenda?
In about two months the ED will release final regulations and we will see to what extent the union concerns are addressed?
In NYC the Department and the UFT have jointly embarked on a study of the many faceted impact of teachers,
Both the United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education will be collaborating with independent researchers on this project because we all recognize that the work of teachers must be measured in ways that are fair and valid. Nationally, current measures of teaching rarely take into account the full range of what teachers do (no single measure really can), or the context in which they teach. The Measures of Effective Teaching project, on the other hand, begins right in the classroom and will explore a broad array of teacher measures: video observations, surveys, and student growth. It will compare these measures to each other, and to nationally recognized standards, and it will look at their inter-relatedness. It will be informed by actual teacher practice.

In other words, the real work of real teachers in real classrooms will be central to every aspect of this project.

Have we entered a new period of collaboration in NYC, and, as some predict a 4% + 4% contract with no give backs? or, is NYC just one battlefield in a national struggle to change the face of public education?

Then again, in the world of Dr. Pangloss and Candide,

This world was meant for our content.
It was not made at random,
And all bad things are truly good
When they are rightly understood
By those who understand ’em.
Quod erat demonstradum.




2 responses to “Krugman, Duncan,Weingarten and Dr. Pangloss in the Best of All Possible Worlds

  1. Question-is this pilot program somethng you think NYC teachers should avoid?
    I would appreciate a clarification-I won’t recommend it if you think it’s a bad idea.


  2. Are there any in-service teachers involved in the DOE/UFT collaboration on developing a new teacher evaluation system? Are all levels–elementary to H.S. represented? Are peer, student and supervisory input being considered? Or is it only the results of standardized exam?


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