"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Arne Duncan and His "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad " Interview

The title for this blog is adapted from the Judy Blume book about Alexander's awful day. I've adapted it to illustrate Arne Duncan's astonishing terrible, horrible, etc, interview about education reform. Here is the NPR transcript of Arne Duncan talking about his ideas for education.

What are the topics covered in the interview?

Host Michel Martin and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discuss No Child Left Behind, the plan aimed to improve failing public schools; as well as the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for some undocumented youth.

Duncan's thoughts on NCLB?

DUNCAN: Well, the law is fundamentally broken. And the law is far too punitive, far to prescriptive, it's led to a dumbing down of standards. It's led to a narrowing of the curriculum. And what I'm so angry about, Michel, is if whatever the number, 75, 80 percent of schools are labeled as failures with the current law, that's dishonest. It's not true.

We absolutely have schools that are struggling. We absolutely have schools that we don't challenge the status quo, but many, many schools are doing an amazing job. And as we talked at the start of the conversation doing a great, great job in very tough economic times.

And so to label schools that are getting better each year as failures, that's demoralizing to hardworking teachers and principals. It's confusing to parents. It's confusing to the community. And so, we've challenged Congress to fix the law. And we want to fix it together in a bipartisan way, and we want to fix it with a real sense of urgency.

I absolutely hope that happens. But if it doesn't happen, I'm prepared to use our waiver authority to provide some relief now to states and to districts that are doing this hard work.

What he doesn't tell the listeners is the way he wants to fix the law is make it even more assessment and mandate heavy and punish schools financially if they don't follow the new restrictions. He hasn't "challenged" Congress to fix the law, he's taken a dictatorial and bullying stance to the states and threatened to withhold federal funding. His waiver authority is currently being challenged by the House Education Committee. As Representative John Kline has stated, "he's not the nation's superintendent".

What are his plans to improve the nation's schools?

DUNCAN: Well, there's no upside to when state and local governments are cutting back and these are tough economic times, as you know, Michel, at every level state and local and federal. And what the president is trying to do is lead by example and walk the walk. And in these very tough economic times, when he basically flat-lined the rest of domestic spending, he asked for a $4 billion increase in our budget, in education's budget.

What he fundamentally sees is that education is an investment not an expense. And that where folks cut back, that's penny-wise and pound-foolish. This is the best investment we can make. So, I've challenged all 50 governors. I've challenged local political leaders that, you know, when you cut back in early childhood education and when you go from five-day weeks to four-day weeks, when you eliminate extra curriculars and art and P.E. and music, you absolutely hurt your children and ultimately you hurt your state.

And so, budget, Michel, reflect our priorities. They reflect our values. And we either care about children and we're going to continue to invest in them or we're not.

It seems the answer is to challenge the nation's governors to spend more money their states don't have into a system that doesn't work. A 190% increase in federal spending in four decades of the DOE has resulted in flat lined scores. You can couch it as an "investment" instead of an "expense", but the truth is more money thrown at a broken educational organization is going to give you the same results at even greater expense.

How does the DREAM Act affect education?

MARTIN: In Congressional testimony last week, you talked in support of the DREAM Act. How do you see this as an educational issue?

DUNCAN: I'm a passionate, passionate supporter of the DREAM Act. And quite frankly, Michel, I think as a country we have our priorities absolutely backwards on this. To deny young children who have, you know, come to this country, their parents brought them sometimes when they were infants. They've worked hard. They've gone to school. They've gotten good grades. They've been community leaders. To deny them the chance to go to college is absolutely crazy. And we need their talents. We need their expertise. We need their creativity. We need their ingenuity. We need them to create the jobs of the future.

And so, it's two things. One, this is an issue of fairness to not give them a chance to go to college is simply un-American. It's not fair. And secondly, as a country, we have, I think, a selfish interest that we need their talents and we don't want them to be the next generation of teachers and entrepreneurs and engineers and innovators or they're going to be stuck doing, you know, under-the-table, you know, small-time jobs the rest of their life, you know, for cash.

If it's not the children's fault their parents brought them to the United States illegally, then why not direct these individuals to apply for citizenship when they turn 18 years old? Why grant them automatic citizenship because of the parents' actions? Do you see any parallel to the DREAM Act position taken by Duncan and the Atlanta cheating scandal as it pertains to the culture argument? It seems to be nobody's fault that anyone is breaking the law in immigration matters or educational cheating.

MARTIN: I wanted to talk about an education story that's making headlines now. A Georgia state investigation revealed on Tuesday that 178 teachers and principals in the Atlanta public school system cheated on standardized tests. And they're saying that part of it is that there's just too much writing on test scores now and it creates an environment where people are desperate, and desperate people cheat. Well, what do you make of that?

DUNCAN: Yeah. Well, you always want a balance. But the other day, Michel, was so disturbing. There - this was clearly part of the culture. This is endemic. And I think approximately 80 percent of schools had cheating in it. So, this isn't - wasn't an isolated incident.

If our culture bends immigration laws, why not bend the methods for reporting educational progress? If the educational mandates are so onerous and jobs and funding depend on the results, what do you think will happen? Here is Duncan's response:

MARTIN: But why do you think this happened, though? I mean, are you saying that - why did this culture exists? Do you think these are just bad people or they're lacking in morality or...

DUNCAN: I don't think - no, I have no idea on the details there. But at the end of the day, what I care about is, you know, are we helping children fulfill their tremendous academic and social potential? Are they getting the support they need? And clearly, there was a culture here that at some levels was rotten.

Is he serious? Does he really not know the details? Does he understand the Federal Government is a huge part of this problem? When the government has designed educational and immigration reform systems that can't possibly succeed, what result can it expect? I guess it means more money, more mandates and ignorance of existing laws will need to be put in motion.

But don't worry, note the NPR's title for its piece: "How Dream Act Can Cut Deficit". This is absurd and aptly illustrates Arne Duncan's "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" in this NPR interview.

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