Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education

When the list was initially floated around, names like Duncan, Rhee, Vallas, Klein, and Darling-Hammond were present, as were those of a number of governors. On the one hand, I was shocked at the number of pro-privatization, anti-union, pro-business front-runners. On the other hand, it didn't, given the US's love-affair with most things market-driven (only now are we beginning to see how misplaced that love was). Nor was I surprised, then or now, at the union-bashing that occurred. It never ceases to amaze me how quick the US public is to blame teachers' unions (and there are TWO prominent ones at the national level-- the NEA and the AFT). The public seems to forget that when administrators do their jobs regarding ineffective teachers, tenure is no protection. It's easier to blame teachers and unions than understand the complex ways in which schools function. In fact, it's easier to blame unions for anything, especially if it turns attention away from poor management.

I was dismayed at how the NYT jumped to characterize Darling-Hammond as anti-reform. She does not agree with the punitive measures of NCLB, nor does she view standardized tests and attendance rates as appropriate ways of assessing student learning. That does not mean she is anti-assessment, however. Her research into teacher preparation and student achievement indicates that many factors connect the two, and yet, the focus has remained on her criticisms of Teach For America. To present Darling-Hammond as anti-reform because she is critical of business market-applied models of accountability implies that only those who believe in testing and accountability (as it is narrowly defined in NCLB) have the cache to cal the shots. That is a very narrow understanding how what successful reform entails.

The reality is that schools and teachers cannot do what they are charged without support from society. It's easy to blame teachers and schools because it absolves the community of its responsibility. Yes, schools need to be held accountable for student learning, growth, and development. But, they also need adequate support to be able to do that. Part of that support is understanding how challenging teaching can be, even in the most ideal of settings. It's no surprise to me that people would choose not to teach when teachers get so much of the blame for what is wrong with the US and so little credit or thanks for what is right.

Ultimately, NCLB needs to be altered, and the new Secretary of Education needs to work with all stake-holders, not just those with the most power. I will withhold judgment on Arne Duncan until I learn more about him. But, I hope he is more effective than what this nation has endured for the last eight years.


Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with this statement.
NCLB is one size fits all. I want to see who supports NCLB's
re-authorization, if that happens, and then see a list of the private
schools that their kids attend.
I wonder how many private schools
worry about AYP or NCLB?

Edubabbler said...

Private schools are exempt from AYP under NCLB. The question is whether private schools will have to meet AYP if they start accepting voucher money.

Dr. Mad Scientist said...

Here's one article I found:

I think I'll also wait to form an opinion, but I didn't start off hating the choice, so that beats some of the other names bandied about...