Four years ago two competing education advocacy groups were created and dueled, Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee on one side and Pedro Noguera and Randi Weingarten on the other; the charter schools, testing, teacher evaluation groupies lined up with Klein and many scholars, parents and grassroots types lined up with Pedro and Randi. Only Arne Duncan joined both groups.
In the 19th century you would have called him a “mugwump,” his face on one side of the fence, his wump on the other. (“They belonged to or identified with the emerging business and professional elite, and were often members of the most exclusive clubs.”)
Duncan, the President’s basketball bud, has driven an education agenda fueled with billions of federal dollars: an emphasis on testing leading to “picking” successful/unsuccessful schools (mostly defined by zip codes), choice meaning charter schools and the Common Core meaning an even more rigorous emphasis on testing and a proscribed method of instruction. There is no scientific basis for any of the Duncan “reforms.”
The vast majority of teachers and many parents are pushing back, although states seem more than happy to compete for the federal dollars and jump on board the Duncan-Obama bandwagon.
In Debate 1 President Obama referenced the “46 states” who committed to the Common Core as a “new” reform – the Common Core PARCC assessments will result in an enormously accelerated testing regimen.
Eric Nadelstern, in a Schoolbook New York Times op ed muses over who he would vote for if education was the only criteria.
Eric congratulates Romney over his unabashed support for the extreme end of choice – vouchers. I disagree with Eric, Charter Schools and the vast proliferation of new small schools has created a competition for more able kids, not more innovative or effective instructional practices.
Eric chides the Department for wasting federal dollars,
The central office squandered this windfall on two initiatives: trying to mandate top down innovation and imposing the Common Core in all schools. The last place in the school system capable of innovation is the central office, and when 70,000 teachers close their classroom doors each morning to begin the school day, the last thing they’re thinking about are central office mandates. These badly needed resources would have been better spent by the schools in support of students and teachers in their classrooms.
I totally agree with Eric.
Scattered around the city are highly effective schools teaching at risk youngsters, some new and some schools created before the Bloomberg-Klein years.
City As School, for over forty years, has provided an external internship model for countless kids who floundered in traditional settings.
Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night High School, created by Howard Freedman, a teacher and union activist at City As School, is a day-night-weekend school serving kids who work or have other responsibilities which make attending a normal school impossible. Also, the school provides total wraparound services and has done so for more than twenty years.
The International High School at LaGuardia College grew into a cluster of a dozen schools serving high school age kids who have been in the country four or fewer years. Kids with appalling statistics around the state prosper and flourish in the International High Schools.
The innovative practices grew from within the schools. Teachers and school leaders, through extensive trial and error created rich, alive communities that continue to learn and reinvent. The School-Based Option staffing proposal originated from the International High School at La Guardia, was accepted, with some trepidation by the union and grew across the city. A few International High Schools even have teacher peer review programs.
The “Big Ideas” launched from Tweed or Albany rarely impact classroom instruction. Ideas that sprout from teachers and school leaders are nurtured and become part of a school culture. Too often they are thwarted by the “powers that be” and wilt.
For a number of years at my school we elected the department chairman, with an elected steering committee ran our 30-teacher Social Studies department. Decisions were collaboratively made within the department; an alternative peer observation system was approved. The Supervisor’s Union (CSA) complained, the superintendent assigned a permanent assistant principal and the level of teacher involvement waned and in time disappeared.
Other schools require close supervision, schools that simply do not have the capacity to function without close external scrutiny. The Chancellor’s District provided a model in which top down mentoring both imposed a model and forced teachers and supervisors to reflect, and, hopefully to learn.
The two years of the Autonomy Zone allowed schools (25 the first year, about 50 the second) to grow and learn as a community, somewhat free from the intrusive oversight that stifles, not supports, ideas and practices.
The current system of networks gives the illusion of independence, the heavy hand of Progress Reports/Quality Reviews forces schools to concentrate on test prep and credit accumulation – instruction, the core of teaching, is relegated to platitudes.
Abusive Credit Recovery practices were commonplace – and ignored by Tweed – more than ignored – approved with a sly wink.
The Instructional Practices document becomes the Holy Grail, a one size fits all ukase that might make sense in a climate of collaboration, not in the unforgiving world of scheming to game the Progress Report system.
Last Wednesday over 100 parents gathered at Garfield Temple in Park Slope to listen to a panel trash the current ‘testing at any cost” system.
I would guess the audience was overwhelmingly pro-Obama, and, overwhelmingly opposed the current Duncan policies.
The audience could have been ringing doorbells in Ohio or manning phone banks calling into key battleground states.
Three million teachers across the nation, countless parents, Diane Ravitch, academics, all are pushing back, pushing back against what they perceive as enemies of public education.
In a really close election historians might point to Arne as the primary reason why the President failed to generate the passion of 2008.
Sometimes well- meaning trusted friends turn out to be your worst enemies.