Georgia’s schizophrenic politics of education

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Here’s the first AJC post by Lee Raudonis, of all things the former exec for the state Republican party, and now who runs PAGE’s STAR program. Makes you want to move to another state, although a better solution may be to get to the polls this November (just beware that your vote for President may not help things much either way).


2:18 am September 26, 2012, by Maureen Downey

Lee Raudonis is a former teacher and former executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. He is a communications consultant and writer for an education publication. He coordinates the STAR program for the PAGE Foundation. (The Student Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) program honors Georgia’s outstanding high school seniors and the teachers who have been most instrumental in their academic development.)

This is his first essay for the blog. Welcome.

By Lee Raudonis

I admit it. I am confused. I do not understand the method behind what certainly appears to be the madness of Georgia education policies. O.K., maybe “madness” is too strong of a term to use, but there is no doubt that many educators—and parents— consider our state’s approach to education policy over the past decade to be both confusing and maddening. There is not much doubt that it has been schizophrenic.

Think about it. Early in the new century Georgia was one of the first states to embrace the policies of No Child Left Behind, including increasing accountability and testing. At the same time, the legislature significantly raised education spending in order to lower class size, and the governor pushed to strengthen the curriculum. And then, toward the end of the decade—even before the recession—the state imposed significant budget “austerity” reductions that have led to increased class sizes, and, in many systems, to shortened school years (some systems hold classes less than 150 days a year). [143 is the shortest – J]

With large numbers of the state’s schools forced to fire or furlough teachers, as well as cut back on education programs, including art, music, physical education and others, many legislators began to ramp up their criticism of the public schools for “teaching to the test” (but not scoring high enough on the same tests), having class sizes that were too large to provide individual attention, and having “poorly-trained” teachers who were “failing” to educate far too many students.

The real failure has been that of the elected officials who have failed to connect the dots between their legislative policies and many of the conditions that exist in the public schools. They have also failed to understand how these unacceptable conditions in the schools might be addressed.

Rather than attempt to find additional funding to lower class size and keep the doors open, the critics began to devise a myriad of plans to help students “escape’ from their neighborhood schools to private or charter schools. This has led to even more schizophrenic policies.

One that comes readily to mind is the state’s recent push to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education while simultaneously devising a clever system to provide state-funded scholarships for parents to send their children to private religious schools where theories such as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution are treated like something scientists dreamed up while taking mind-altering drugs. No doubt about it, teaching the Biblical explanation of creation over that of the scientists will go a long way to boost Georgia’s reputation in the STEM community and the nation’s top colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, as most schools continued to struggle just to keep the doors open for a full school year, the politicians jumped headlong into another federal program called Race to the Top. This latest federal “cash for cooperation” plan calls for even more testing and accountability and could eventually cost the state billions of dollars it obviously does not have. Do the politicians really plan to implement any of the Race to the Top programs, such as Pay for Performance, or did they just see a way to get their hands on federal dollars to replace some of the state funding they had cut?

Is it any wonder that so many of us are confused? How can anyone understand the seemingly schizophrenic policies pursued by our elected officials over the past decade?

Unfortunately, there are no signs of a cure in sight. Even now, legislators are attempting to “fix” our public schools by taking even more money from them to fund state charter schools against the wishes of education officials in local communities. Isn’t that a curious policy for those who claim to support “local control” in education?

If you are as confused as I am, ask your legislative candidates to explain the state’s education policies to you. Their answers should be entertaining if not enlightening.

– From Maureen Downey,for the AJC Get Schooled blog


A difference between private and public

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Just to keep things politically balanced, Jay Bookman’s print piece today, posted several days ago in electrons, is a worthy companion to David Brook’s piece posted here yesterday. I’ll leave you to make the intellectual leap to any analogies about schooling.

Jay’s piece can be found at – 600+ responses and counting – some will no doubt make for some interesting reading.

Print title: Nature of corporations laid bare by a lifeguard.

9:25 am July 9, 2012, by Jay

Why can’t you run a government like a business? Why is a corporation NOT a person?

To both questions, I would offer the same two-word answer: Tomas Lopez.

While the name may not be familiar, his story probably is. Last week, Lopez was fired from his $8.25-an-hour job as a beach lifeguard in Hallandale, Fla., because he left his guard station to help save a drowning swimmer in a nearby “unprotected” swimming area. (The rescued swimmer was later hospitalized in intensive care but is expected to make a full recovery.)

“We have liability issues and can’t go out of the protected area,” company supervisor Susan Ellis said in explaining the decision to fire Lopez. In addition, the company fired two of his fellow lifeguards who had said that they too would have rescued the struggling swimmer.

“They sat me down and told me that my answer will determine if I get to keep my job or not,” 20-year-old Travis Madrid told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “When I told him I would do the same thing, they told me I was dismissed.”

From the employer’s narrow point of view, its actions are perfectly understandable. As we are often reminded, a business has a single mission: produce profit for its shareholders. A corporation has no obligation to produce jobs, offer health insurance to its employees or provide other socially useful functions. In this specific case, the saving of a human life outside the boundaries of its protected area had no value to Jeff Ellis and Associates and could only bring negative consequences in the form of potential lawsuits. So the company was within its rights to fire the employee who had put it in that situation.

Viewed from the perspective of a human being, however, the situation looks much different. If Lopez had honored company policy, remained at his post and watched a drowning man die, it might have eaten at his conscience for the rest of his life. “It was the moral thing to do,” Lopez said later. “I would never pick a job over my morals.”

The situation also looks different when viewed from the perspective of government rather than business. Government’s essential purpose is to serve people, even the hapless swimmer who chose to venture beyond the protected swimming area. The mayor of Hallandale, Joy Cooper, said she was horrified by the actions of the company, which has had a contract to provide lifeguards to the town’s beaches since 2003.

“I know people across the country are as outraged as I am,” Cooper said. “This doesn’t reflect our culture. We are a small, caring community.” Cooper and others have promised a review of the decision to privatize its lifeguard services, noting that the city’s contract with Jeff Ellis and Associates ends this year. The incident has provided a reminder that while privatization has its uses, the highest goal of a private corporation is not the performance of public services but the provision of profits.

Toward that end, Jeff Ellis and Associates has belatedly recognized that its business interests might be threatened by its own bottom-line fixation. Last week, the company announced that it had offered to rehire Lopez and other lifeguards who had either been fired or left the company voluntarily in the wake of the incident.

Lopez has declined the offer.

Corporations or businesses are not by any means inherently evil; to the contrary, they provide absolutely essential functions in a capitalist economy, and many are run in ways that attempt to mimic good citizenship. They are, however, inherently limited in their perspective and purpose. They are single-purpose human inventions, that purpose being to produce profit, and as Tomas Lopez reminds us, profit is not the highest and best goal of the human spirit.

– Jay Bookman

On the Common Core by John Thompson via Edweek’s Living in Dialogue

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This is from Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue blog at Edweek, providing a piece by John Thompson. Links on top are interesting also.

« Open Letter to President Obama, Time to Do What’s Right for our Schools |

Designer of Value-Added Tests a Skeptic about Current Test Mania »

Common Core Is the Essence of the “Status Quo” — That’s why I Support It

Guest post by John Thompson.

Last week, attending a great conference in Oklahoma City, Vision 2020, focused largely on Common Core, I kept worrying how I could articulate my support for the effort without angering my friends who are skeptical of it, or needlessly antagonizing Common Core supporters who hold the weird belief that it will be “a game-changer.” Finally, I decided to just put my thesis on the table. I support Common Core because it embodies the essence of the educational “status quo.” I support Common Core because it is like the educational establishment and American democracy in being the worst of all systems, except for all of the rest.

Twenty years ago, when I shifted from an academic career as a historian, I loved education conferences where teachers presented a range of workshops on pedagogies that had worked for them, stimulating a cross-fertilization of ideas. Few presenters claimed that the best practices that worked for them could be scaled up as “silver bullets” for the entire nation. These conferences also offered a window into my new profession’s scholarship. In contrast to many other career-changers who became school “reformers,” I fell in love with the work of the late Gerald Bracey, Larry Cuban, David Berliner, Lynn Canady, Diane Ravitch and, later, Robert Balfanz and the Consortium of Chicago School Research. I concluded that the educational research informing these seminars was the intellectual equal of any other social science genre.

I was not confident that the emerging “Standards” movement would have an effect on inner city schools like mine but, when read as scholarly documents, the original standards of learning were outstanding, and I mourned their defeat by the scorched earth politics of the 1990s.

Rather than stay the course and work within the system for another set of higher standards, a new generation of accountability-driven “reformers” adopted the Lee Atwater/Dick Morris tactics of demonization. They set out to destroy the “status quo.” According to the “brass knuckles” school of reform, if education schools, school boards, teachers unions, and educational progressivism were wiped out, then “disruptive innovation” would produce “transformational” change.” Standards morphed into standardization. Bubble-in testing became the point of the spear in a war by newcomers to the profession against veteran educators, as well as the social science that questioned their quick fixes. Eventually, many of the leading accountability hawks described themselves as “the Fight Club,” and concentrated their efforts not on improving schools, but on destroying education systems in the righteous belief that something better would magically rise from the ashes.

Now, we have “déjà vu all over again,” as the Common Core seeks a collaborative effort to organize instruction and assessments in order to provide engaging instruction so that students can learn for mastery. The contemporary Common Core effort is like old-fashioned educational progressivism in that it is based on the current state of the art of educational research. So, of course, many of its core tenets will later be proven to be mistaken. But, Common Core is a back-to-the-future political process where all stakeholders have been consulted.

As with the educational status quo of the 1990s, testing companies and consultants have more influence than I would like. Common Core advocates continue to insist that they do not intend to intrude into the way that practitioners teach the new Standards, as they continue to try to micro-manage instruction. (I have several sources I consider credible who fear it’s actually PARRC that is intent on creating (yet again) scripted teacher-proof instruction – Jer) Teachers will need to push back as the policy-makers over-emphasize assessments and become overly proscriptive. And, probably, it will go overboard in replacing too much fiction with nonfiction. (This is in fact an expectation of several state- and national-award winning English teachers with whom I’ve chatted with the decisions being made by people who know nothing about teaching language arts – Jer) We should remember the wisdom of Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio, however, who explains that Common Core does more than cut fiction, it also “restores art, music, history, and literature to the curriculum. (Emphasis in the original)

But, has that not always been the case in our schools? Are not all of our social institutions the results of “reforms” that prompt pushback, and that thus evolve in a non-rational manner? Is that not also the history of our constitutional democracy? The difference is that the test mania of recent years is an existential threat to public education. Common Core is not.

Prospects for Common Core would be far brighter if it was 1992 and we had not just followed the dead end path of test-driven accountability. Today, we have far more resources for designing new Standards and assessments. The billions of dollars wasted on bubble-in accountability gimmicks, however, will be missed. It will be tough enough to fund the curriculum supports and to implement the professional development necessary to prepare teachers. In the short term, we will not have a fraction of the resources necessary to provide the supports that our poorest children will need in order to learn for mastery. (I am not convinced that the sponsors of Common Core have any idea how much it will cost to align high-quality interventions that are needed before it can improve the toughest schools.)

Even so, we must recognize the opportunity that Common Core represents.
After a decade where educational leaders had to twist themselves into pretzels, maintaining that it was possible to have high-stakes testing and engaging instruction, it was liberating to attend a conference where educators and politicians of all stripes agreed that the teach-to-the-basic-skills-test regime of the last decade has failed. Similarly, I did not meet a politician, vendor, administrator, or a teacher who claimed that value-added teacher evaluations and test-driven accountability can co-exist with the transition to the Common Core. After all, test scores are bound to crater in our toughest schools as the curriculum is turned on its head.

Value-added accountability is a tool for destroying the teachers’ part of the “status quo,” but Common Core seeks to build a new barn and not just kick the old one down. The consensus I see as emerging is that the most likely next step for data-driven accountability is to return to the skill that we know forwards and backwards. If we want Common Core to survive, systems will apply their practiced talents in fabricating data and creating loopholes in order to keep value-added models from driving teaching talent from the schools where it is harder to raise test scores, and where the transition to Common Core will be most difficult.

During the next couple of years, educators will receive a mixed message. We will be told to prepare for a brand new adventure in teaching for mastery. In enlightened districts, educators will get a head start and will be allowed to abandon the teach-to-the-test basic skills approach that has been driving the love of learning out of our classrooms. In other schools during the two-year transition period, educators will still be required to engage in the same educational malpractice of the last decade and, then, they will be expected to turn on a dime and teach analysis, critical thinking, and synthesis. Finally, there is no guarantee that “reformers” won’t again become impatient and turn the technology necessary to support Common Core into a more sophisticated version of an educational assembly line. Common Core could degenerate into a super-duper hi-tech version of the scripted instruction that that has come out of NCLB but, still, it could be a step toward real educational equity.

We should remember that the short-term pain of the abrupt change schooling will be tougher on our students. Kids are resilient, though. In another contrast to data-driven reform, if Common Core survives the rocky road ahead, it will be our poorest kids in our most challenged schools who will have the most to gain. It would be nice if the billions of dollars spent on computers for command and control could be redirected towards the socio-emotional supports that are necessary before low-skilled students can excel with a legitimate college-prep or career-tech curricula. The key to success, however, is rejecting the quick fix mentality that looks to Common Core, or any other single reform, as being more than a step by which our schools, and the rest of our so-called “status quo,” bend the arch of incremental change towards justice. Common Core Is the Essence of the “Status Quo”

John Thompson was an award winning historian, with a doctorate from Rutgers, and a legislative lobbyist when crack and gangs hit his neighborhood, and he became an inner city teacher. He blogs for This Week in Education, the Huffington Post and other sites. After 18 years in the classroom, he is writing his book, Getting Schooled: Battles Inside and Outside the Urban Classroom.

Tracing the test-cheating scandal back to its roots

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I thought Jay’s piece in this morning’s print version was superb. I’ve been ranting about these issues for several decades yet on deaf ears,and perhaps his nicely done words will also fail. However, I think the tide is turning, albeit slowly – even with the scandals (with inescapably more to come), we as a whole are slowly recognizing that “it’s the leadership, stupid.”

There are teachers, as I was reminded today, who were single mothers facing no other option but welfare should they lose their jobs. Their choice was to put their babies at risk or erase bubbles on answer sheets under the orders of superiors. What would you do? I already know. See my piece here of January 8 on the Milgram research.

I don’t think he’s entirely correct (the elders among us will remember our frustration with automobile quality control), as Errol Davis has noted, education is the only profession in which the blame is placed on the workers.

My favorite turn of phrase from Jay, of many: ” . . .  we place a burden on testing that it is too fragile to bear.”

Disparate thoughts, but all touched in Jays far more coherent piece below.


Tracing the test-cheating scandal back to its roots

10:20 am May 9, 2012, by Jay Bookman, Atlanta Journal Constitution

For weeks, teachers and administrators implicated in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal have been appearing one by one in front of a tribunal, telling their stories in hopes that they will be allowed to retain their jobs and careers.

The process — guaranteed to them by law — is meant to ensure that if fired and stripped of the right to teach, they will be fired and decertified for good cause and after they have had the chance to defend themselves. Frustrating as it might be to some who want a quicker, cheaper resolution of the controversy, that’s important.

However, the public nature of the process and testimony has also produced an important side benefit: Taxpayers, parents and citizens in general are getting a more complete and in many ways more human picture of the internal culture of the Atlanta school system and how that culture contributed to the scandal. It is possible in at least some cases to sympathize with the individuals involved and the pressure they experienced, even if that sympathy does not mean excusing what they did.

In fact, while each educator implicated in the controversy has had a unique story to tell, in the end they leave me circling back to the same basic question:

Where was Beverly Hall?

Whatever mistakes were made by individual educators, the atmosphere of fear and casual corruption within the school system was Hall’s creation as longtime superintendent. The absence of safeguards and indeed the total lack of concern about potential cheating was Hall’s responsibility. The institution’s reluctance and even aggressive refusal to support district employees who knew something was wrong and who tried to protest is a direct consequence of her leadership style and priorities.

Hall has retired and left the district, and so far has played no role in the tribunal proceedings. And while investigations continue, there is no indication that she will be held officially accountable in any way.

In her rare public utterances, she has portrayed herself as a victim of employees who failed to do their duty, but in the end she failed them, not the other way around. In fact, Hall bears a significant degree of responsibility for every career that is being ended and every future that is being compromised.

However, it’s important not to leave the issue there, because in some ways Hall herself is as much a symptom as a cause. As AJC investigations have established, cheating on standardized tests has become a nationwide problem, with high-profile schools all over the country producing wildly implausible claims of improvement in student performance. Confronted with that evidence, public officials in too many cases have retreated into the same pattern of denial that has become familiar to Atlanta residents.

When the same problems occur on such a large scale, in so many different communities and school systems in more than 30 states, it is no longer possible to dismiss it as the actions of an unethical few, or of a corrupted bureaucracy here or there. Something deeper is driving the phenomenon.

There is no question that standardized tests are an essential diagnostic tool. They can tell us which students, teachers and schools are performing well and which require attention. But when we take it a step farther and use those same test results to dictate fates, we place a burden on testing that it is too fragile to bear. When that happens, the tests themselves become a form of cheating, a means of producing misleadingly easy answers to what are really hard questions.

It’s also deeply confusing. In recent years, education reform has been dominated by two themes that are directly contradictory yet are often espoused by the very same people. And that contradiction is almost never acknowledged.

Here in Georgia, for example, state leaders have insisted that standardized testing be used as the educational equivalent of an industrial quality-control system. They produce a standardized model, and the tests determine how closely students conform to that model as they come off the assembly line.

Yet at the same time, we are told, the one-size-fits-all public-school industrial model must be dynamited to make way for a more experimental, let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom approach to education via charter schools and even vouchers. There’s a fundamental incoherence between those two messages that leads me to suspect that we really don’t know what we’re doing, and in fact are using schools as a battlefield in a deeper social struggle that we do not wish to acknowledge.

– Jay Bookman

What the U.S. can’t learn from Finland about ed reform

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A lesson to be learned. In Valerie’s column this morning, Pasi Sahlberg of Finland explains why – aside from the fact that most folks are saying about the Finnish ed system “Oh, that would never work here” – the Finn success would not work here. My own take is that we never actually “re-form” education; we simply bat around the edges, expecting “reform” to work like a light switch – flip it and it’s done. While there are many reasons we will fail, there are two primaries: First and foremost, our factory model of schooling will continue to have us treat teachers like dirt (The latest MetLife survey found that the percentage of teachers who say they’ll get out as mushroomed. AND, don’t forget, the best leave first). Second, we will continue to refuse to face the reality that poverty cannot be erased by test-driven “standards” that have been randomly scattered across the grades in the absence of properly developed curriculum. I rant enough for today. I DO have some hope for positive impact from the Common Core, in spite of Diane’s piece.

Here’s Pasi’s final paragraph; the full piece you’ll find on Valerie’s site at

What Finland can show to others is how equity and equal opportunity in education look like. However, school reformers in the United States need to be careful when considering equity-based reform ideas to be imported from Finland. Many elements of Finnish successful school system are interwoven in the surrounding welfare state. Simply a transfer of these solutions would add another chapter to already exhausting volume of failed education reforms.

Flunking Arne Duncan

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Recognized widely as one of the most astute of our educational historians, Diane brings her frustration at our inability to learn from our past mistakes to bear in a variety of venues. Here, today (although I am egregiously tardy with this one), she points out her disappointment with Obama’s/Duncan’s education policy. I was particularly disheartened with the reminder that the MetLife survey noted that the percentage of teachers who said that they are likely to leave the profession mushroomed from 17% to 29% during Duncan’s watch. REMEMBER: IT IS ALWAYS THE BEST WHO LEAVE FIRST. Because they can. That’s NOT to suggest I have any hope that Obama’s likely challenger will bring enlightenment to public educational policy.

As a reminder, Georgia minimum competency testing begins. For at least a month in many schools, and since August 1, 2011 in some, there has been NO teaching — only drill and kill factoid recognition to pass the state mincomp tests. Anyone really wonder why international comparisons keep showing the gap between us and the rest of the world getting wider?

Originally published on the New York Review of Books website at

Flunking Arne Duncan

Diane Ravitch

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan loves evaluation. He insists that everyone should willingly submit to public grading of the work they do. The Race to the Top program he created for the Obama Administration requires states to evaluate all teachers based in large part on the test scores of their students. When the Los Angeles Times released public rankings that the newspaper devised for thousands of teachers, Duncan applauded and asked, “What’s there to hide?” Given Duncan’s enthusiasm for grading educators, it seems high time to evaluate his own performance as Secretary of Education.

Here are his grades:

Does Duncan respect the limited role of the federal government in education, which all previous secretaries have recognized?

No. Duncan has expanded the role of the federal government in unprecedented ways. He seems not to know that education is the responsibility of state and local governments, as defined by the Tenth amendment to our Constitution. States and local school districts now look to Washington to tell them how to reform their schools and must seek permission to deviate from the regulations written by the U.S. Department of Education. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) created the template for this growing federal control of education, but Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top has made it possible for Washington to dictate education policy across the nation. Grade: F.

Has Duncan followed the law in his education policies?

No. Duncan has issued waivers to states that want to be relieved from NCLB’s impossible mandate of reaching 100 percent proficiency by 2014, but replaced that law’s demands with those of his own devising. Duncan says his waivers allow “flexibility,” but they serve simply to impose his own ideas about evaluating teachers, “transforming” low-performing schools (by firing staff or closing the schools), and adopting national standards in reading and mathematics. While very few people defend NCLB, which will write off almost every public school in the United States as a failure by 2014, it is still the law. Duncan has no authority to replace it with his own rules; cabinet members are not allowed to change the laws. Under our Constitution, Congress writes the laws, and the executive branch must enforce them, even as it seeks to change those that are onerous and misguided. Grade: F.

Has Duncan obeyed the clear prohibitions in law against federal involvement in creating a national curriculum?

No. The law that governs the U.S. Department of Education clearly states that no officer of the federal government may “exercise any direction, supervision, or control” over the curriculum or program of instruction of any school or school system. Yet Duncan has insisted that states eager for race to the top funding or for NCLB waivers must adopt “college and career-ready standards,” widely understood as the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and reading developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, funded in large part by the Gates Foundation. Prodded by Duncan, 45 states have endorsed this national curriculum—despite the fact that it has never been field-tested. No one knows whether these standards are good or bad, whether they will improve academic achievement or widen the achievement gap. A report from the Brookings Institution recently predicted that the Common Core standards would have “little to no effect on student achievement.” Grade: F.

Have the policies promulgated by Duncan been good for the children of the United States?

No. Most parents and teachers and even President Obama (and sometimes Duncan himself) agree that “teaching to the test” makes school boring and robs classrooms of time for the imaginative instruction and activities that enliven learning. The standardized tests that are now ubiquitous are inherently boring. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, teachers should teach with “creativity and passion,” but they can’t do that when tests matter so much. Spending hours preparing to take pick-the-bubble tests depresses student interest and motivation. This is not good for children. Yet Duncan’s policies—which use test scores to evaluate teachers and to decide which schools to close and which teachers to pay bonuses to—intensively promote teaching to the test. This is not good for students. Grade: F.

Do Duncan’s policies encourage teachers and inspire good teaching?

No. Duncan’s policies demean the teaching profession by treating student test scores as a proxy for teacher quality. A test that a student takes on one day of the year cannot possibly measure the quality of a teacher. (Officially, the administration suggests that test scores are supposed to be only one of multiple measures of teacher quality, but invariably the scores outweigh every other component of any evaluation program, as they did in New York City’s recent release of the teacher ratings.) Nor do most teachers want to compete with one another for merit pay.

Duncan cheered when the superintendent of the Central Falls, Rhode Island, school district threatened to fire every teacher in the town’s only high school; the Education Secretary memorably said that Hurricane Katrina—which wiped out public schools and broke the teachers’ union in New Orleans—was the best thing that ever happened to the school system in that city. Teachers are demoralized by such statements. They want to collaborate around the needs of the children they teach, but federal policy commands them instead to compete with one another for dollars and higher test scores if they want to stay employed. The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, released March 6, reports a sharp decline in teacher morale since 2009: the percentage of teachers who are “very satisfied” with their job dropped from 59 percent to 44 percent, and the percentage who said they were likely to leave the profession grew from 17 percent to 29 percent. This happened on Duncan’s watch. Grade: F.

Have Duncan’s policies strengthened public education?

No. Duncan has required states to create more privately-managed charter schools to be eligible for Race to the Top funding, putting pressure on state governments to privatize public education. In response, state legislatures are authorizing many more such schools, whose budgets are drawn from the funds of local public schools. A small proportion of these new charter schools will get high scores, and some will get those scores by skimming the top students in poor communities and by excluding children with disabilities and children who are English language learners. Such practices are harmful to public schools, which will continue to educate the overwhelming majority of students—with fewer resources than before. In some states, such as Michigan and Ohio, large numbers of charters are run for profit, which creates additional incentives for them to avoid low-performing and thus expensive to educate students. Although charters vary widely in quality, they do not produce better results on average than regular public schools. Conservative governors such as Mitch Daniels in Indiana and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana have taken Duncan’s advocacy of choice to the next level and endorsed vouchers, which further undermine public education. Despite these well-documented issues, Duncan continues to urge the expansion of the charter sector and has ignored the depredations of the for-profit charter sector. Grade: F.

Has Duncan defended public education and public school educators against attacks on them?

No. Although he is a Democrat, he has been absent when public education and public school educators were under siege. When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker decided to eliminate collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public sector workers, Duncan was silent. When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels pushed through a voucher bill that provides public funding for students to attend private and religious schools, Duncan was silent. When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal endorsed sweeping voucher and charter legislation, Duncan was silent (indeed, he described Governor Jindal’s choice for state commissioner to promote his extremely conservative education agenda as “a visionary leader”). When other governors proposed legislation to remove due process rights from teachers, to slash education spending, and to expand the privatization of public schools, Duncan was silent. Grade: F.

Will Duncan’s policies improve public education?

No. Under pressure to teach to tests—which assess only English and math skills—many districts are reducing the time available for teaching the arts, history, civics, foreign languages, physical education, and other non-tested subjects. (Other districts are spending scarce dollars to create new tests for the arts, physical education, and those other subjects so they can evaluate all their teachers, not just those who teach reading and mathematics.) Reducing the time available for the arts, history, and other subjects will not improve education. Putting more time and money into testing reduces the time and money available for instruction. None of this promotes good education. None of this supports love of learning or good character or any other ideals for education. Such a mechanistic, anti-intellectual approach would not be tolerated for President Obama’s children, who attend an excellent private school. It should not be tolerated for the nation’s children, 90 percent of whom attend public schools. Grade: F.

Overall, Secretary Duncan rates an F.

We will someday view this era as one in which the nation turned its back on its public schools, its children, and its educators. We will wonder why so many journalists and policymakers rejected the nation’s obligation to support public education as a social responsibility and accepted the unrealistic, unsustainable promises of entrepreneurs and billionaires. And we will, with sorrow and regret, think of this as an era when an obsession with testing and data obliterated any concept or definition of good education. Some perhaps may recall this as a time when the nation forgot that education has a greater purpose than preparing our children to compete in the global economy.

Secretary of Education Duncan should have fought vigorously against all these pernicious developments. He should have opposed the misuse of test scores. He should have opposed the galloping privatization of public education. He should have demanded the proper funding of public education, instead of tolerating deep budget cuts as “the new normal.” He should have spoken out against states that passed along the cost of higher education to students, putting it out of reach for many. But he has not. He should have upheld, in word and deed, the dignity of the teaching profession. Unfortunately he has not.

Even more unfortunately, it is hard to find any leader of either party who stands forthrightly today as a champion of students, teachers, public schools, and good education. This is a tragedy of our times.

Report Card: Arne Duncan
Fidelity to the Constitution F
Doing what’s right for children F
Doing what’s right for public education F
Respecting the limits of federalism F
Doing what’s right for teachers F
Doing what’s right for education F

March 7, 2012, 11:05 a.m.

Anxious Teachers, Sobbing Children

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Maureen Downey of the Atlanta Journal Constitution went to UGA to give the education faculty a workshop on writing op-ed pieces. Both Peter and Stephanie took advantage of same and the benefits go to us. Maureen published this piece today on her Monday print Atlanta Forward page. It’s pretty strong, but from my research and experience it’s not, sadly, an exaggeration.

By the way, if you have not yet seen the AJC’s work on their national analysis of test result “improbabilities”, by all means do so, at

Anxious teachers, sobbing children

Stephanie Jones

Atlanta Journal-Constitution 4/9/2012

What’s the low morale and crying about in education these days? Mandatory dehumanization and emotional policymaking — that’s what.

The first murmurs I heard about teachers in crisis came from a principal several years ago. Teachers were streaming into his office seeking counseling services. Many were taking anti-depressants. Some couldn’t sleep at night, and some were so anxious and stressed they were worried their families would suffer irreparable damage.

Teachers enter the profession to do what is best for the students in front of them and for society at large. They earn degrees, immersed in rigorous study of how and why humans learn, how to individualize instruction and how to inspire lifelong learning and engaged citizenship.

But individualization, inspiration and engagement aren’t in current policies, and neither is teachers’ professional knowledge. Instead, teachers must follow pacing guides and move on with assignments regardless of whether students are beyond or behind. Anyone can walk into a teacher’s classroom at any moment and evaluate whether the teacher is following the one-size-fits-all program with “fidelity” and “full compliance.”

The choices are soul-crushing: 1) Slow down, teach creatively and get students excited about a topic, but fall behind the pacing guide and receive a poor evaluation and possible humiliation and job loss; or 2) Move on with the pacing guide and ignore students’ pleas for help or their yearning to learn more, and evaluations might be fine, but students suffer.

Most teachers do a little of both, but their no-win situation is devastating. And when students’ needs aren’t met because teachers are following mandates, they also cry or cry out in other ways.

I’ve witnessed sobbing children in school, tears streaking cheeks. When children hold it together at school, they often fall apart at home. Yelling, slamming doors, wetting the bed, having bad dreams, begging parents not to send them back to school.

More parents than ever feel pressured to medicate their children so they can make it through school days. Others make the gut-wrenching decision to pull their children from public schools to protect their dignity, sanity and souls. Desperate parents choose routes they had never thought they’d consider: home schooling, co-op schooling, or, when they can afford it, private schooling. But most parents suffer in silence, managing constant family conflict.

Teachers, students and parents are not the only emotional players in the game of school.

Policymakers are emotional. Punitive policies forcing the impossible combination of rigidity and test-based accountability are produced out of fear, anger, distrust and arrogance. They are written in an irrational effort to control the people in schools. But policymakers don’t have to endure the physical and psychological effects of their policies — those of us in schools do.

It’s time to stand in solidarity against mandated dehumanization in one-size-fits-all schooling and against overemotional policymakers who have a reckless stranglehold on schools. Demand that humanity be returned to teachers, students and parents who know how to make schools dynamic, inspirational places where everyone can thrive.

Stephanie Jones is an associate professor and graduate coordinator in the University of Georgia

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