The Failure of Arne Duncan: How President Obama Placed Friendship Above Sound Education Policy and Stained His Legacy.

Presidents and Congresses look for sweeping solutions for the issues/problems confronting America; after World War 1 Europe spiraled into a depression and rampant inflation that slowly inched across the Atlantic. In October, 1929 the stock market crashed and our economy disintegrated. President Hoover, following the conservative economic views of the day, was aloof, the government did not intervene in the economy, the “invisible hand” would correct the economy, direct government intervention was both unnecessary and the wrong path.

… the nation was deep in the throes of the Depression. Confidence in the old institutions was shaken. Social changes that started with the Industrial Revolution had long ago passed the point of no return. The traditional sources of economic security: assets; labor; family; and charity, had all failed in one degree or another. Radical proposals for action were springing like weeds from the soil of the nation’s discontent. President Franklin Roosevelt would choose the social insurance approach as the “cornerstone” of his attempts to deal with the problem of economic security.

In 1935 the Social Security Law established a safety net for all Americans, upon passage of the law FDR opined,

“We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”
President Roosevelt upon signing Social Security Act.

Thirty years later President Lyndon Johnson, as an amendment to the Social Security Law passed the Medicare and Medicaid programs. “The Medicare program, providing hospital and medical insurance for Americans age 65 or older and Medicaid, a state and federally funded program that offers health coverage for certain low-income people.”

In the same year, Johnson, a former teacher, a mere three months after the bill was introduced passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law states,

“In recognition of the special educational needs of low-income families and the impact that concentrations of low-income families have on the ability of local educational agencies to support adequate educational programs, the Congress hereby declares it to be the policy of the United States to provide financial assistance… to local educational agencies serving areas with concentrations of children from low-income families to expand and improve their educational programs by various means (including preschool programs) which contribute to meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children”

The “financial assistance,” provides billions of dollars to school districts with high percentages of low-income families; the dense law attempts to prevent school districts from supplanting tax levy funding, and, the actual impact of the law has from time to time been subject to question.

In 2002 President Bush, in partnership with Senator Edward Kennedy passed a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and renamed the law No Child Left Behind.

Under the NCLB law, states must test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. And they must report the results, for both the student population as a whole and for particular “subgroups” of students, including English-learners and students in special education, racial minorities, and children from low-income families.

States were required to bring all students to the “proficient level” on state tests by the 2013-14 school year, although each state got to decide, individually, just what “proficiency” should look like, and which tests to use.

Under the law, schools are kept on track toward their goals through a mechanism known as “adequate yearly progress” or AYP. If a school misses its state’s annual achievement targets for two years or more, either for all students or for a particular subgroup, it is identified as not “making AYP” and is subject to a cascade of increasingly serious sanctions:

Although the effectiveness of ESEA/NCLB is open to question it has strong support, billions of dollars are driven to schools and school districts across the nation. Every representative and senator will support legislation that provides dollars to his/her district.

The reauthorization both continued Title 1, thereby assuring the support of both sides of the aisle and imposed the testing/sanction sections.

Ted Kennedy, the iconic liberal democrat from Massachusetts was the prime sponsor of the bill. While the opposition mounted the bill garnered retained support, from the testing industry and a strange coalition of civil rights organizations that saw the subgroup data as essential to keeping the spotlight on the subgroups and reformers who supported using testing data for teacher accountability.

Arne Duncan was in a unique position, he had the total support of the President and a legislative path to sweeping education reforms did not appear to be possible.

Roosevelt passed legislation that protects seniors both on the income side and the healthcare side; while the far right might trash Social Security and Medicare the legislation is firmly in place. Lyndon Johnson took the next step: Title 1 of ESEA is also firmly embedded in school districts across the nation.

Duncan’s plan was brilliant and devious, and, he didn’t need Congress.

David Coleman, the prime author of the Common Core State Standards, using what is called New Criticism and Literary Textual Analysis wrote new standards under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association. The governors in 46 states adopted the standards and the testing industry created new CCSS tests. The very core of education was changed without the involvement of any legislative body.

Duncan dangled 4.4 billion dollars in a competitive grants, “Race to the Top,” the competitive grants required the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the adoption of a teacher evaluation plan based on the growth scores on student tests scores and choice, aka, charter schools.

Teachers and parents pushed back, anger grew and President Obama steadfastly supported Duncan.

If you listen to Duncan, see three minute U-Tube, his policies on testing seem to be reasonable.

Duncan’s ideas can be reduced to creating competition among schools, a perverse educational Gresham’s Law, “good school will drive out bad schools.” Highly successful schools, charter or public will drive out, will close ineffective schools. Of course, online for-profit charter schools are fine, tossing out low performing or discipline problems ignored (“backfill”), and the large charter networks with deep philanthropy were praised.

In order to survive high poverty, low performing schools, will get better with the threat of charter schools. There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Milton Friedman approach to education would actually improve schools.

Link student test scores on the new Common Core tests to teacher performance; put the fear of the gods into teachers.

Arne Duncan will not go into history books as the FDR of education nor will he inherit the mantle of LBJ, state after state is backing away from the Common Core; the revolt against testing grows across the nation.

The lesson: no matter how close the friendship, no matter how loyal the friend: beware. Arne Duncan, your basketball buddy, an elite upbringing, jumped onboard the worst of the education reform ideas. As Linda Darling Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera, renowned researcher after researcher questioned the Duncan agenda, Obama never strayed from supporting his friend.

John King, a Duncan acolyte will follow the Duncan agenda for the remaining year.

The failure of Arne Duncan will make a fascinating dissertation topic.

Advertisements

3 responses to “The Failure of Arne Duncan: How President Obama Placed Friendship Above Sound Education Policy and Stained His Legacy.

  1. Pingback: 2015 Medley #32 – Arne Duncan | Live Long and Prosper

  2. I’m not sure that King is an upgrade to what preceded him. Im also not sure that anyone in Wash has ever had a direct impact on the upgrading of the teaching:learning realationships here in NYC. So to me, I hope that Comm. King looks west when he begins to make whatever imprint he deigns to make.

    Like

  3. Unfortunately Randi was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Duncan appointment and was rather late in joining (rather than leading) the criticisms of his policies. I assume we’ve learned from this and other bad endorsements.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s