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Obama’s Education Policy Failures

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Diane Ravitch rips Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in the New York Review of Books, grading him an F on every front:

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.

I am personally less concerned with the federal role in education policy than Ravitch. After all, it’s not like leaving education of Texas children to the good people of Texas has worked out so well. But on the other fronts–have these policies been good for U.S. children? Do these policies inspire good teaching? Have Duncan’s policies strengthened public education?–I totally agree with Ravitch.

She mostly holds her criticisms to Duncan, but given the long-term relationship between Obama and Duncan, my criticism goes all the way to the top. This isn’t a department like Interior, where I don’t really think Obama cares that much about BLM regulations. Obama has always talked a big game on education. Unfortunately, the policies of his Education Secretary have driven good teachers out of jobs and dropped teacher morale dramatically.

I know if I want good teachers at tremendously low pay, as Americans do, the way to keep them is to tie their employment to improved test scores and not allow them to teach.

Of course, state defunding of education is not helping the matter.

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  • “I know if I want good teachers at tremendously low pay…”

    It seems to me that we can basically stop here, no? This is essentially the central issue (namely that it’s really not possible to get “good teachers” spread broadly across the spectrum without paying at a commensurate level), and anything past this is sort of like arguing which 1.5 WARP player the Astros should add to their roster this year.

  • Joshua

    I always find it strange that the people who insist we need to keep shoveling more money into the bottomless maws of executive compensation in order to “get top talent” insist that this does not apply to teaching (or, I guess, every other non-executive job in America).

    • c u n d gulag

      When will you Liberals ever learn:
      Teachers aren’t “Job Creators.”

      “Job Creators,” are job creators!

    • Kurzleg

      Exactly. Of course, it’s always implied that the market vets executive compensation somehow, which proves how amazing it has been to have so many over-achieving execs working over the past 25 years. They just keep getting better!

  • joe from Lowell

    That column is just bloody awful.

    The bit about extending waivers earning him an F for “obeying the law” is particularly special. Clearly, this is someone whose in-depth understanding of the provisions of NCLB is surpassed only by her commitment to fairness and accuracy unsullied by hyperbole or spin.

    There must have been something written about the use of standardized testing in the past week that would help advance the argument better than this.

    • Don’t forget that testing is “inherently boring.” We certainly mustn’t forget that bedrock principle of policy design.

      • joe from Lowell

        It’s not just that testing is inherently boring, but that the type of teaching that focuses solely on executing discreet skills to get the right answer in a canned exercise is inherently boring.

        If school is too boring, kids tune out and drop out and end up learning even less.

        • Perhaps, but this seems like sort of a micro problem to me. Math is inherently boring to me, as was biology, but I don’t really think anyone would have taken me seriously if I hard tried to argue that should exempt me from those classes because being bored during some segments of my schedule was bad for me (and indeed, there’s certainly value in it, both in terms of being forced to learn things you aren’t inherently strong at or interested in and in teaching you that you can’t just say “I’m not going to do that because it bores me.”)

          • joe from Lowell

            You don’t know that math and biology are inherently boring to you.

            You know that they were taught to you in a boring manner, and that you now find them boring.

            It’s sad what some people have learned about math and biology.

            • Perhaps, but I’m skeptical. You could maybe say that, in the more formative years, that could have a big impact on developing interests, but at some point interests do start to become more firm, and I gravitated away from subjects with concrete answers (while my best friend in college, a math major, would complain to no end about how much he hated the “bullshitting” involved in his freshman philosophy course).

    • bobbyp

      Has Duncan “floutied (go, Doug!) the law” by granting waivers of his own making or not? I’d appreciate a bit more detail before indulging in SI fact free interent dismissal.

      Thanks.

      • joe from Lowell

        The law explicitly allows waivers based on the Secretary of Education’s findings that doing so helps to advance the purposes of the law. Duncan issued the waivers along with conditions, finding that issuing such waivers is consistent with the law’s requirements when x, y, and z are done (where x, y, and z are the conditions of the waivers).

        The claim that the issuance of the waivers become illegal when they are issued conditionally is plainly false.

      • joe from Lowell

        Has Duncan “floutied (go, Doug!) the law”

        Oh, yeah. He’s totally scrambling around back there.

    • joe from Lowell

      Ugh.

      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.

      Actually, the Common Core Standards are largely based on the Massachusetts frameworks, which have been in place for years here in the top-performing public school system in the United States. They seem to be working pretty well, actually.

      which assess only English and math skills

      Actually, the Common Core Standards for Science and History have now been adopted, and will be tested.

      I don’t think Ravitch even understands the difference between having a common curriculum and “teaching to the test.”

      • joe from Lowell

        I take it back; Ravitch’s background clearly demonstrates that she is someone who knows better that this.

        • Not to advocate judging a book by the cover, but the mere fact that she gives Duncan an “F” in every category is really the first tip-off that you’re reading a hatchet job.

          • Anderson

            So it’s not even *possible* that Duncan just really, really sucks?

            • DocAmazing

              Not when your whole schtick is that Obama never had a chance, it isn’t.

            • joe from Lowell

              An F in every single category is not “really, really sucks.”

              Arne Duncan has not been taken out in handcuffs. He has not been forced to resign. There isn’t a whiff of scandal about his office. There has been no collapse, or even any noticeable reduction, in educational outcomes since he came to office, despite there being large reductions in state and local funding to education.

              And yet, there is not a single category in which his performance rises even to the level of a D minus.

              This is hackery.

              • Right. Assuming we’re going on a standard A-to-F scale, the notion that you can’t even find a category in which he merits at least a “D” is pretty much beyond belief, especially when you ostensibly share a political party with the person in question.

                • Unless you’ve been following Duncan closely, in which case you say, “Fs across the board? Why does this report card not call for Duncan’s summary execution?” Because, you know, I’d be on board with that.

                  (And yes, I’m being a mite hyperbolic; I think the Fs across the board were too. But Duncan has been a singularly awful Secy of Ed, especially given the fact that he’s a Democrat.)

                • Well given that Ravitch is apparently of the mind that the Dept. of Education shouldn’t even exist, I guess we also have to wonder if any Secretary could earn a non-failing grade.

    • John

      Her point isn’t that he’s issuing waivers, but that he’s creating conditions for those waivers based on personal whims, rather than the law.

      • I can’t cite the relevant code or anything, but as a simple intuitive matter, wouldn’t there pretty much have to be at least implicit conditions attached to waivers? Otherwise you would have to have a policy of either granting no waivers or granting every waiver, lest the decision become completely arbitrary altogether?

        • bobbyp

          Well, to start at the beginning, does NCLB have provisions for granting waivers?

          • joe from Lowell
            • bobbyp

              Thanks. I did not note that the Secretary was empowered to grant “conditional waivers”. Mostly the entity requesting the waiver had to justify that the waiver would be furthering the goals of the Act….a neat trick if you ask me!

              • joe from Lowell

                Showing that you will implement a certain set of policies if a waiver is granted, policies that the Secretary has determined will further the goals of the Act, is how those requesting the waivers justify them.

      • joe from Lowell

        but that he’s creating conditions for those waivers based on personal whims

        Setting aside the absence of content in the phrase “personal whims,” yes, this is somebody who believes that having the legal authority to issue waivers does not include the legal authority to decide when it’s a good idea to issue those waivers.

        • John

          I suppose. But I guess the basic idea is that the NCLB requirements are so absurd that basically everyone should be granted waivers, and that it’s unfair to only grant waivers on condition of further test-based reforms that Ravitch thinks are unwarranted.

          The whole article is a bit of a cheap shot, though. I’ve read much better by Ravitch.

          • joe from Lowell

            I think the “basic idea” you bring up would be better presented in a context other than Has Duncan followed the law in his education policies? or Has Duncan obeyed the clear prohibitions in law against federal involvement in creating a national curriculum?

            Why can’t anything ever just be a bad idea anymore? Why does everything someone doesn’t like in the political arena have to violate the law, the constitution, international law? Why can’t people just advocate for their policy as being the best one, instead of trying to cram it into an argument about how you have to do everything their way or you’re a criminal?

            • bobbyp

              Fair enough. Duncan is not breaking the law. Ravin should have graded on the curve.

              I would argue that the admin’s policies are wrongheaded insofar as they have bought into ‘reform’ ideas propounded by rich dabblers like Gates (and others) that essentially blame teachers and their unions for the poor results we see(or maybe not so poor, see Bob Somerby).

              • bobbyp

                “Ravitch” Deduct 1 grade for poor spelling.

              • joe from Lowell

                I would argue that the admin’s policies are wrongheaded insofar as they have bought into ‘reform’ ideas propounded by rich dabblers like Gates

                I agree to a certain extent, but that’s a very blunt description about an awfully broad palate of reforms. Common Core Standards are a flat-out good idea that should have been done years ago, for instance. Think about all of the kids who change school systems, all of the kids who find themselves in a class that requires them to have mastered something that wasn’t covered in the previous semester at their old school, and all of the time devoted to reteaching material that 90% of the class has already done, to make sure that the 10% of the class that moved over the summer has done it. That alone will have a significant effect on overall achievement, and on shrinking the achievement gap between rich and poor. I wish the conversation was a little more fine-grained.

                • John

                  I agree. Things like a common curriculum are good if you have a good common curriculum (or even, perhaps, a merely adequate one, for the streamlining reasons you suggest). I’m also not terribly comfortable with Ravitch’s states rights talk and the like. The problem with Duncan isn’t so much that he’s increasing federal power over education. It’s that he’s mostly using that power to do bad things.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Things like a common curriculum are good if you have a good common curriculum

                  The common curriculum that has been adopted by (most of) the state is basically the Massachusetts curriculum. Massachusetts has the best public schools in the country. It’s a good curriculum.

                • joe from Lowell

                  In fact, because Massachusetts has such a good reputation for the quality of its public schools, it was able to guarantee that the common curriculum would be a good one.

                  Massachusetts threatened to refuse to adopt the Common Core if it watered down the standards from what Massachusetts was using, and having Massachusetts refuse to adopt the Common Core on the grounds that it was not good enough would have been a crushing blow.

          • Hogan

            It’s a little odd to criticize Duncan both for imposing federal control on state and local education agencies and for granting too many waivers from federal requirements to state and local education agencies.

            • Or to go on to criticize him for not saying mean things about the way Scott Walker and teabagging state legislatures saw fit to conduct education policy in their states.

          • bobbyp

            See her first article on the Finnish schools. Much better.

            http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/mar/08/schools-we-can-envy/

            • It’s better, but she again creates some problems for herself with her inconsistencies. The big one that jumps out at me is her inability to square the desirability of having little variance in quality between schools (a laudable goal) with her elision of the difference in size between Finland and the U.S. by comparing Finland to the size of individual states. The obvious problem here is that, if you continue to insist on basing core administration at the individual state level, you aren’t necessarily likely to get that lack of differentiation across a nation of 50 different states, are you?

            • And, of course, this:

              “Finland’s highly developed teacher preparation program is the centerpiece of its school reform strategy. Only eight universities are permitted to prepare teachers, and admission to these elite teacher education programs is highly competitive: only one of every ten applicants is accepted.”

              is a very strange thing to praise if you think the biggest problem with education is putting too much effort into evaluating teachers or too much emphasis on having good teachers as opposed to promoting anti-poverty measures.

  • TT

    Ravitch was on Fresh Air last year she spent most of her time talking about the historical underpinnings of teachers’ unions (why they were necessary way back when and why they remain necessary now), the need to make education policy part of a much larger social policy framework focused on everything from poverty to nutrition to health care, and how just focusing on standardized test scores and some phantom, arbitrary notion of “accountability” dreamed up by Gates, Walton, and Broad would doom education “reform” in the long run. Sensible stuff.

    The second half of the program featured some education consultant (can’t remember his name) who apparently walked in straight out of a McKinsey brochure. All he talked about were things like “metrics”, “buy-in”, “education consumers”, “stakeholders”. All I could think about by the end of his segment was that if this is how the reform/accountability crowd thinks, then we really are screwed.

  • Also, just a somewhat casual observation: using 2009 as your starting point to measure fluctuations in teacher morale and then deriving some meaningful conclusion about the effect the Secretary of Education has had in that without any sort of control the effects of the worsening economic downturn, state funding cuts, attacks by wingnut governors, legislators, and big time conservative media personalities have had on the numbers strikes me as pretty brazen hackery.

  • c u n d gulag

    Has anyone taken a look back over the last 30-65 years, when we had one of the top Public education systems in the world (yes, except, of course, in poor/poorer areas), and studied what we did, how we did it, how big the class sizes were, and how much we spent per student?
    And maybe tried to make a case from that?

    Or do we not want to know?

    Privatizing everything that once worked in the public sphere, which had been underfunded for that purpose, seems to be the solution everyone is selling – so the answer is, we probably don’t want to know.

    Public education was one of the foundations of this country.
    We seem to have lost our way – or were led astray by those who want to privatize every single function of American life.

    Privatizing is the greatest scam of all time.

    Corporations and political cronies get to use the same tax dollars that were once used publicly, and move that money from the tax payers wallets, to their own. WITH LITTLE OR NO ACCOUNTABILITY!

    • “Has anyone taken a look back over the last 30-65 years, when we had one of the top Public education systems in the world (yes, except, of course, in poor/poorer areas), and studied what we did…”

      Marginalized the non-white/really poor students and didn’t count them?

      • Hogan

        Pretty much. If you can tolerate a national dropout rate of 15-20%, concentrated among poor and minority students, you might even be able to get by with current levels of funding.

        • c u n d gulag

          Brien,
          Of course it counts!

          My point was why didn’t we take what we did well, and extend it throughout the nation, into ALL districts?
          Besides racism, of course.
          I’m old enough to remember the idiotic “busing” fights, and how that was used as a racial wedge issue.

          • What’s that big blue thing up there? Besides sky, I mean.

          • Clintonesque

            Besides racism, of course.

            Yes…YES…it’s racism.

            All problems are tied to the rampant racism in the US. Ya’ know like the lilly white presiden…..err…the Supreme Court….Mmmmmm….AG…Damn!

            • Right: there are black people in positions of power; therefore, racism is dead! It’s all so simple[-minded] when you put it like that!

          • Well, my point was more that we didn’t really do so much better 30-65 years ago, and that the idyllic notion of this peak of American education is really a story about the education of white, middle class+, male kids. By and large education is quite a bit better today for poor/working class, non-white, and female kids.

            (You could also note that, like a lot of other American peaks, you can’t really ignore the impact of the fact that the rest of the world was either struggling with the consequences of Maoism or rebuilding society after World War Two while we got off basically untouched and got to drive Western recovery, but that’s a whole other story entirely.)

  • David Kaib

    The question of who you criticize – Obama or the cabinet secretary, is always complicated. Obviously one reason to avoid pointing to Obama himself is that plenty of people will be more willing to listen to criticism of someone who works for him rather than him. On the other hand, when a policy approach is shared by pretty much the entire Democratic establishment, focusing on the president is in some ways misleading. That said, focusing on these things can be misleading too, since ultimately the responsibility with the person at the top. I’m not sure there is a right answer.

    It’s worth remembering that when there are no Republicans to speak of – like in DC government, neoliberal assaults on education with requisite union busting is what we get. (I think you made this point with RI not long ago). There are many areas where they will not do the right thing unless they are forced to.

    It does strike me that at the national level, forcing rank and file Democrats to answer for Arne Duncun may be the best strategy for opening up the agenda.

    • SpectCon

      How about the unions try to defeat every Dem that goes along with either restrictions to collective bargaining or who supports “reform” of pension and/or health insurance for public employees?

      Dems seem always on board for insuring that bond holders get their promised money, but these days a contractual obligation for “mere” 30+ years of labor seem open to reassessment. Funny that.

      • joe from Lowell

        Dems seem always on board for insuring that bond holders get their promised money

        You mean like GM?

  • Ed

    Ravitch is always worth a read and a listen. As for Arne, it’s been obvious for some time where he stands, or sits:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/27/education/duncan-and-rhee-on-panel-amid-dc-schools-inquiry.html?scp=2&sq=arne%20duncan%20michelle%20rhee&st=cse

    You would think Mr. Duncan would want to keep Ms. Rhee at arm’s length during the investigation. And yet there they were, sitting side by side last month, two of four featured panelists at a conference in Washington about the use of education data.

    • rea

      Taking part in a conference panel discussion with someone you don’t approve of isn’t exactly damning . . .

      • joe from Lowell

        What if it’s Bill Ayers?

        • bobbyp

          I’d be OK with that, but I’m an outlier.

      • John

        Is there any evidence that Duncan doesn’t approve of Rhee? Your point would better be formulated as “Taking part in a conference panis discussion with someone isn’t exactly demanding.”

      • Ed

        Duncan’s (considerable) areas of agreement with Rhee are well known. It is not a matter of guilt by association. The reasons why it was inappropriate for him to be on the panel with her, with which you may of course disagree, are laid out in the full article.

    • SpectCon

      I doubt he has much disagreement with Rhee.

      Obama and Duncan know the Chicago schools pretty well, and they are not a good model for the nation. Middle class sends their kids to private (almost always Catholic) schools or the magnet schools if their kids can test in. That leaves the public schools to deal with lower SES kids, making them far worse than they ought to be.

      The Duncan/Obama thinking seems to be that poor teachers are to blame. Dumb, but predictable mistake given their biographies. Duncan’s parents ran a private after school program, while Arne went to a UC Lab school. Obama, except for a minor stint in elementary school was completely privately educated.

      • John

        My general sense is that a highly disproportionate number of school reform advocates attended private schools and send their kids to private schools.

        • joe from Lowell

          A disproportionate number of school reform opponents did so, too.

          You’re noting that politically-involved people attended private schools at higher rates. Yup. You will find that, on just about every singly measure of socio-economic status (which is what private school attendance is), people involved in politics score higher, in the aggregate, than politically-uninvolved people.

  • joe from Lowell

    Reread the first three items in Ravitch’s bill of good.

    Then read this press release from the Heritage Foundation.

    • bobbyp

      Based on their states’ rights/small central government obsessions, this is not damning in the slightest…cf Ron Paul ad nausem arguments on this very blog.

      If you’r going to criticize others for their criticism of Duncan palling around with “reformers” as invalid then the reverse would seem to hold.

      • Well, perhaps, though as rea notes appearing on the same panel as someone isn’t necessarily palling around with them, while Ravitch’s apparently genuine belief that education policy will be made best if it is made at the state level is a genuine error in judgment that makes it hard for me to take any derivative view she holds seriously.

        • bobbyp

          Ravitch is strongly against charter schools, vouchers, etc. Arguing against the absurdities of NCLB (which I understand she initially supported) and an administration that apparently has bought into “reform” lock, stock, and barrel is not the same thing as an “apparently” (heh–a word doing a lot of work here) “genuine belief that policy will be made best… at the state level”, an argument she does not make in this particular article.

          • Really?

            “E-mail Share Print Comments
            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?

            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. ”

            I mean, she’s explicitly speaking tentherism here. What the hell else would you call that?

            • Shit, only meant to highlight this:

              “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.”

              That’s not the sort of thing I’d expect to hear a progressive say in any sort of non-ironic way.

              • John

                Yeah, that was a red flag for me, too. I’ve generally been sympathetic to Ravitch’s arguments and I think it might be reasonable to argue that, in the current policy climate, it would be better if the federal government wasn’t interfering as much in education, since much of its interference appears to be in the direction of a testing regime that I think is seriously misguided. But that’s not at all the same thing as saying that state and local control of schools is, in general, a good thing.

                I will say, though, that there’s a fairly long-standing tradition of left-wing support for community schooling, and other ideas for control of each school by the community that uses it. So it’s not completely a right wing idea.

                • No, but language and arguments do matter, and invoking the tenth amendment, an argument that, if we actually grant that Ravitch is serious about it, pretty much requires a belief that the federal government has no authority to regulate or spend money on education at all, basically precludes any non-right wing rationale.

      • joe from Lowell

        If you’r going to criticize others for their criticism of Duncan palling around with “reformers” as invalid then the reverse would seem to hold.

        This isn’t about “palling around.” It’s about advocating for the same set of ideas.

        The “palling around” charge is bogus because people “pal around” with those with whom they disagree all the time, and it’s wrong to assert that they share ideas just because they live or work in proximity, or support the same charities.

        It’s not invalid at all to point out that Ravitch actually shares ideas on education with the Heritage Foundation.

        • bobbyp

          You and Brien dismiss criticism of Duncan’s policies that point out, coincidentally, that are shared by people who hold similar views that he holds. he most certainly does not “disagree with them all the time”. You call these coincidences “bogus”. I can live with that.

          Then you turn around and do the same thing.
          I object to that.

          • joe from Lowell

            You and Brien dismiss criticism of Duncan’s policies that point out, coincidentally, that are shared by people who hold similar views that he holds.

            I recognize all of these words, but I have no idea what this sentence was supposed to mean.

            And, sadly, your reading is no better than your writing.

            People pal around, all the time, with people with whom they disagree. Did you get it this time? Not “disagree all the time.” Pal around all the time.

            Then you turn around and do the same thing.

            I did not do the same thing. I just explained why “palling around” isn’t the same thing as “sharing ideas.”

            And as for “coincidence,” I dare you to look at the explicit Tenther language Brien quoted above and tell me that Diane Ravitch came up with that argument all on her own, from her liberal political beliefs.

            • bobbyp

              They you do not rebut the idea that Duncan shares the ideas of these folks he is ‘palling around’ with?

              Does he share those ideas or does he not?

              • bobbyp

                I don’t even know if she is a liberal. She is an opponent of charter schools, vouchers, etc. She strongly supports teachers.

              • bobbyp

                “Then”, not “They”. More demerits. :(

              • joe from Lowell

                I didn’t even know you had expressed the thought that Duncan shared ideas with “the people he’s palling around with.”

                So, no, I didn’t rebut it. Or agree with it. Heck, I didn’t even ignore it.

                Does he share those ideas or does he not?

                What ideas? You haven’t described any.

    • SpectCon

      I think I agree with you that making this a federal vs. state issue isn’t the central problem. The problem is that the DOE is has taken a rather radical approach backed by conservative think tanks. This has been true since Dubya took office.

  • Kurzleg

    It’s somewhat amusing to read this post and thread in light of the Khan Academy piece that 60 Minutes ran last night highlighted a very promising means by which to evaluate a critical component in education: the method used to teach something. If I were Duncan, I’d try to leverage the potential knowledge that the Khan Academy is gaining to identify successful teaching methods. There are many motivated, willing teachers who would LOVE to get this type of useful, implementable knowledge. But instead, it appears Duncan wants to evaluate teachers and “judge” them as opposed to arming them with the most advanced information that will help them do their jobs better.

    • SpectCon

      Focusing on teachers is the problem. Bad teachers still turn out scholars if you put them in Suburbia with high SES population. Every second people waste pretending it isn’t a class/wealth issue is wasted.

      • joe from Lowell

        Bad teachers still turn out scholars if you put them in Suburbia with high SES population.

        Suburbia isn’t the issue. Teacher quality may not matter very much there, but it does in poor/immigrant-heavy/urban schools.

    • joe from Lowell

      it appears Duncan wants to evaluate teachers and “judge” them as opposed to arming them with the most advanced information that will help them do their jobs better

      To this teacher, it appears that he wants to do both. Duncan’s DoE puts a lot of emphasis on arming teachers. I think that people assume the second part of your sentence, based on the first part.

  • jeer9

    As BHO’s Secretary of Education, Arne is a very good basketball player. He’s a team guy, always backs the coach’s decisions, no matter how ill-advised, and can be relied upon to do the inside the paint dirty job of “reform” that others might shy away from. He doesn’t have much court sense nor does he understand the subtleties of the game very well, but he’s a dependable exponent of ineffective strategies that might work if his ideal world existed. In other words, the perfect point guy for Race To The Bottom. Observers say he has a mean fadeaway and that Holder’s no match for him down low.

  • Ohio Mom

    Just out of curiousity, has anyone who has commented here so far have a kid in a public school, or some other current, ongoing connection to a public school?

    Cause I do have a kid in junior high, and I can tell you that Ravitch’s complaints are completely on-target. Last year, my kid spent EVERY Friday in LArts on test-taking skills. If you don’t think that makes for boring lessons, if you think that’s worth the opportunity cost of foregoing things like actually reading literature or writing a poem, well then I don’t know what to say.

    If Ravitch is shrill, it’s for the same reason Krugman is shrill. Panic and despair.

    • Yes, and yes. And, IIRC, Joe is a teacher himself.

      But it was a good attempt, anyway.

    • Also too, has “that’s so boring” really become a genuine argument against the validity of education policy because, if so, it would have been awfully damn nice if someone had informed me of that during high school math or in any number of god awful college lectures I had to endure.

      • bobbyp

        Nobody here is making that argument.

        • You have a real knack for asserting “no one is saying” things that they rather explicitly said, huh?

          • bobbyp

            You have a real knack for distorting your opponent’s position. Makes you feel good, eh?

            Who explicitly said what you claim they said, and in what context?

            Pay attention, please.

            • It seems like you ought to at least make an attempt to rectify Ravitch’s overt tenther language with your contention that she said nothing that could be construed as a belief that it’s preferable to have education policy be made primarily at the state level before you go around making even more demands of people. It’s only polite, after all.

              • bobbyp

                Nope. The onus is on you and your contention about “that’s so boring” that was totally lifted out of context.

                • Well, no, if you’re going to claim I took something out of context, it’s on you to first explain how I did so Mr. Hannity.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Dude, RTFA. It’s Ravitch’s own words, in the link.

                  Did you even read the link before you started going on this tear?

              • bobbyp

                with your (bobbyp’s) contention that she said nothing that could be construed as a belief that it’s preferable to have education policy be made primarily at the state level

                Since you have now stooped to dishonest lying, it’s time to sign off.

                • joe from Lowell

                  bobbyp says:
                  March 12, 2012 at 8:36 pm
                  Ravitch is strongly against charter schools, vouchers, etc. Arguing against the absurdities of NCLB (which I understand she initially supported) and an administration that apparently has bought into “reform” lock, stock, and barrel is not the same thing as an “apparently” (heh–a word doing a lot of work here) “genuine belief that policy will be made best… at the state level”, an argument she does not make in this particular article.

              • DocAmazing

                Let’s put this “tenther” shit to bed, shall we? Education has traditionally been a state-by-state, district-by-district thing, with the establishment of basic requirements.

                Those of us in places like California have reaaon to be suspicious of an excess of federalism: it often screws us over, as with medical pot, immigration–and education. We export money to the feds and our schools take the hit. We are forced to teach to the test despite having put together creative academic approaches that work.

                Not everyone is convinced that Washington DC is the font of all wisdom, and not because we’re trying to maintain our plantations. We’ve had to get feds out of our hair many, many times in the past.

                • Well that’s…nice, but it’s really neither here nor there with respect to Ravitch invoking straight up wingnut views about the tenth amendment (and thus, necessarily, about the scope of things like the equal protection, general welfare, etc. clauses) that, taken seriously, would preclude federal involvement in education at all.

                  And, of course, the fact that you’re in California makes it easy to say “yay federalism” because it’s one of the big states that isn’t affected so much by what other states do. If you’re in, say, Rhode Island, you’re pretty much stuck buying textbooks that cater to the curricula of California, Texas, and New York.

                  (All of which you’d sort of expect any self-styled progressive to understand, but I guess once you start opportunistically embracing federalist language and employing the “keep your undeserving hands off mah tax dollars” line of thought we’ve gone way past that point.)

                • DocAmazing

                  with respect to Ravitch invoking straight up wingnut views about the tenth amendment (and thus, necessarily, about the scope of things like the equal protection, general welfare, etc. clauses) that, taken seriously, would preclude federal involvement in education at all

                  And here we have you putting words in Ravitch’s mouth. She mentioned the Tenth, you salivated. Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

                  the fact that you’re in California makes it easy to say “yay federalism” because it’s one of the big states that isn’t affected so much by what other states do

                  Your reading skills need work. Our problem is that we are very affected by what other states do. We pass our own laws and are overridden (de jure or de facto) by the feds; our elections are poisoned by out-of-state money by the truckload (Prop 8 was just the one that got media attention); and we don’t get to keep our own funds. Rhode Island school districts are free to purchase whatever textbooks they desire; I recommend using the ones that the provincial government of British Columbia uses, just to see if Arne Duncan is paying attention.

                  I realize that your definition of “progressive” is pretty limited, but using the feds to undermine locally- and state-established progressive policy in education (as well as immigration, pollution control, drug enforcement, and taxation) is really not helpful to the cause, nor useful to people in, say, Rhode Island.

                • “And here we have you putting words in Ravitch’s mouth. She mentioned the Tenth, you salivated.”

                  Um…no. This is what you call “critical thinking,” in this case recognizing the essential premises that must be made in order for an argument to exist in a way that makes any sort of internal sense. Invoking the tenth amendment as proof that some area of policy is legally placed primarily at the state/local level requires a belief that nothing in the rest of the document gives the federal government authority to regulate/spend money on education because, if you did think that, say, the commerce clause covered federal interest in guaranteeing an educated populace, the tenth amendment would be neither here nor there. I’m merely assuming coherence on Ravitch’s part, but if you want to argue that I’m wrong and that, in fact, she merely has no idea what the hell she’s talking about by invoking the tenth, more power to you I suppose.

                  “Our problem is that we are very affected by what other states do. We pass our own laws and are overridden (de jure or de facto) by the feds; our elections are poisoned by out-of-state money by the truckload (Prop 8 was just the one that got media attention); and we don’t get to keep our own funds. Rhode Island school districts are free to purchase whatever textbooks they desire”

                  Well I guess the biggest difference between you and me, then, is that I fundamentally reject the notion that largely arbitrary lines drawn on a piece of paper should serve as yet another form of tribalism in our national politics and, thus, don’t view people who live on the other side of those lines from me as some sort of other mooching off of money that rightly belongs to me and my tribe (note how it’s basically impossible to defend federalism in this sense without devolving to common conservative tropes?)

                  And your statement about textbook purchasing, aside from being another fine example of borrowing from the conservative view of the world, is comically inaccurate on the merits, because textbooks are written to comport with the standards of big states so that they can maximize sales. This means that, by and large, the largest states exercise de facto control over the content of textbooks as they’re actually written.

                • DocAmazing

                  Invoking the tenth amendment as proof that some area of policy is legally placed primarily at the state/local level requires a belief that nothing in the rest of the document gives the federal government authority to regulate/spend money on education because, if you did think that, say, the commerce clause covered federal interest in guaranteeing an educated populace, the tenth amendment would be neither here nor there.

                  This is the kind of nuance-free, all-or-nothing thinking that we laugh at in wingnuts. Federalism is not an absolute proposition, and the amandment itself is pretty standard in that.

                  (note how it’s basically impossible to defend federalism in this sense without devolving to common conservative tropes?)

                  Only if it’s your intention to trot out conservative tropes. Otherwise, it;s pretty easy to say “We have made gains in our community that we don’t want to sacrifice just to make ourselves acceptable to people in Alabama, so we aren’t as keenly interested in DC’s opinion of how we do things.” Clumsy attempt at rhetoric, but points for trying.

                  This means that, by and large, the largest states exercise de facto control over the content of textbooks as they’re actually written.

                  Yeah, ‘cuz there’s just no way to do things other than free-market capitalism. States, for example, couldn’t collectively negotiate for textbooks, so that, say, Rhode Island and Michigan and Massachusetts and Illinois and Connecticut could form a group with purchasing power equal to Texas, and it would really cause a frenzy if states just printed their own materials (most states did, and many still do own presses and binderies).

                • “This is the kind of nuance-free, all-or-nothing thinking that we laugh at in wingnuts. Federalism is not an absolute proposition, and the amandment itself is pretty standard in that.”

                  Well, no…it’s very much an all or nothing proposition. Either the rest of Constitution includes at least one provision that allows for federal involvement in education or it includes zero such provisions. It is completely impossible for both of those statements to be simultaneously true.

                  From there, if the Constitution does give the federal government authority to be involved in public education of the citizenry, then the tenth amendment has no bearing on the discussion whatsoever. If the tenth amendment is to be invoked, then the Constitution must necessarily not allow for federal involvement in education policy. Again, there simply can’t be any other way about it, given the construction of the amendment and the “yes/no” nature of the question “does the Constitution empower the federal government to provide public education for the populace?”

                  The more intircate question of how much power to split between each level of governance might not be an all or nothing proposition, but that’s not what invoking the tenth amendment is arguing for. Such an invocation is necessarily an argument that the federal government has NO authority in the matter under the Constitution, which is why it’s exclusively wingnuts that view the amendment that narrowly (or more accurately, read the rest of the Constitution that narrowly).

                  “Only if it’s your intention to trot out conservative tropes. Otherwise, it;s pretty easy to say “We have made gains in our community that we don’t want to sacrifice just to make ourselves acceptable to people in Alabama, so we aren’t as keenly interested in DC’s opinion of how we do things.”’

                  Well no, what you really mean is “we don’t want to sacrifice those gains and I don’t care if it’s in the service of an obviously good thing for kids in other states because fuck them for living in a red state anyway.”

                  “Yeah, ‘cuz there’s just no way to do things other than free-market capitalism. States, for example, couldn’t collectively negotiate for textbooks, so that, say, Rhode Island and Michigan and Massachusetts and Illinois and Connecticut could form a group with purchasing power equal to Texas, and it would really cause a frenzy if states just printed their own materials (most states did, and many still do own presses and binderies).”

                  Oh, my bad. I thought we were speaking in terms of things that might actually happen in the real world.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Otherwise, it;s pretty easy to say “We have made gains in our community that we don’t want to sacrifice just to make ourselves acceptable to people in Alabama, so we aren’t as keenly interested in DC’s opinion of how we do things.”

                  If you had a stronger knowledge base about this subject, you’d know that the Common Core represents an upgrade for California, as it does for every state…except Massachusetts.

                  But, then, you’d also know that they weren’t written by Jim DeMint.

          • bobbyp

            You conveniently left out the “teaching to the test” part. How come?

        • joe from Lowell

          Ohio Mom says:
          March 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm
          Just out of curiousity, has anyone who has commented here so far have a kid in a public school, or some other current, ongoing connection to a public school?

          Cause I do have a kid in junior high, and I can tell you that Ravitch’s complaints are completely on-target. Last year, my kid spent EVERY Friday in LArts on test-taking skills. If you don’t think that makes for boring lessons, if you think that’s worth the opportunity cost of foregoing things like actually reading literature or writing a poem, well then I don’t know what to say.

    • joe from Lowell

      I agree 100% about the problem with “teaching to the test,” and the problems with making test scores too high-stakes, for both teachers and students.

      But it’s a mistake to swallow her entire spiel based on agreement on that one narrow point.

      The problem isn’t that her tone is shrill – you might notice that no one has written anything about her tone – but that her arguments are mostly crap. Are you agreeing with her 10th amendment nonsense? Do you actually have a problem with the Common Core Standards? Do you know anything about the Common Core Standards other than that someone who complained about high-stakes testing complained about them, too?

      • I kind of don’t even get what the “teaching to the test” meme is supposed to be about, really (leaving aside the point of high stakes testing, which is valid). I guess it depends on the subject. I could see where it might be less than ideal in literature (though even then, lessons in what basically amounts to learning to pull the important material out of a selection you don’t have a lot of time to read and work on certainly has its value if you intend to major in a subject like philosophy that entails a lot of reading and then responding to those readings in relatively quick order), but in, say, math, I really don’t even understand what it means. That too much time is spent making sure students understand how to do the sorts of problems you want them to learn in that year? What am I missing?

        (And, fwiw, I don’t think the conflation of testing and common curriculum is necessarily accidental. When I was in high school the state was pushing for a more standardized core curriculum, and there were no shortage of teachers who absolutely hated the idea of the state BOE “telling them how to manage their classroom. I’d imagine that’s the sort of thing that always meets resistance among incumbents at least until it becomes the new normal.)

        • bobbyp

          You really don’t know? You must be kidding, or you are simply willfully not paying attention.

          • DocAmazing

            Not for the first time.

            • joe from Lowell

              Oh, look, Heathers.

              Brien, UR so ghey.

          • I appreciate a good snarky retort as much as anyone, but at this point your dogged insistence to refuse to make any sort of point is speaking volumes.

            • bobbyp

              The point is, you are mounting a savage attack on Ravitch without addressing the point: Are the administrations educational policies good ones or not so good?

              Joe stated that we should discuss policy, not “criminality”. OK fine. Try doing so. Defend Duncan’s policies.

              • This is a silly question, in so much as “education policies” is a ridiculously broad range of things that makes a simple yes or no answer absurd on its face. By and large, there are things I agree with and things I don’t agree with.

                Anyway, the OP is built around Ravitch’s piece, so it’s rather disingenuous to complain that people are pointing out that the article in question is a giant pile of shit rather than “dealing with the real issues.” That is reminiscent of, dare I even say it, the tactic Paul curious lefties have used to complain that people are too caught up in everything that’s bad about Ron Paul to “deal with the real issues.” You lie down with dogs and all that.

                • bobbyp

                  Ah. Yes. Guilt by association. Nice. So liberal.

                  But I see you have chosen not to defend the administration’s policies or its alignment with the “reform” movement.

                • Well, no, but if you want to keep going on this line of reasoning, so be it I suppose. (And if I wanted to be really snarky, I would point out that commenting on a blog post about a specific article before you even read the linked article isn’t exactly a great example of intellectual integrity. What’s that? I just did? Shucks.)

                • joe from Lowell

                  Ah. Yes. Guilt by association. Nice. So liberal.

                  But I see you have chosen not to defend the administration’s policies or its alignment with the “reform” movement.

                  Two points here:

                  1. You are a hypocrite.

                  2. The little forced-eye-rolling shtick you did instead of answering Brien’s question is an incredibly transparent admission that you don’t know dick about education policy, and can’t even discuss it. It’s all just tribalism to you.

        • mattH

          I kind of don’t even get what the “teaching to the test” meme is supposed to be about, really (leaving aside the point of high stakes testing, which is valid).

          They go hand in hand, and every school reform program we’ve seen implemented at the federal level has done it. Teaching to the Test is a symptom of any high-stakes testing regimen, not often an independent occurrence in and of itself.

          Second, if you “teach to the test”, who gets to decide what goes on the test? Then imagine how that pans out; Senator DeMint: “Evolution violates the religious liberties of my constituents, so we can’t require that they be tested on it.” Since it’s not on the test, it gets left behind, because in fact, it doesn’t matter.

          • Your first paragraph really goes in circles, I think. No, testing shouldn’t account for nearly so much of performance evaluation, but to the extent you want to use it as a benchmark for student learning, at least in some disciplines, I don’t understand it as an insult. I mean, if we weren’t talking about standardized testing but, say, a math midterm, and the teacher walked in one Monday and said “okay guys, the stuff we’re covering today is really important stuff for you to learn going forward and there’s going to be a lot of it on your midterm in three weeks so we’re going to spend extra time this week getting it down,” we wouldn’t very well deride him for “teaching to the test,” would we.

            As to the second paragraph, this is one of those concerns that can only be answered with “what are you you going to do?” If you’re primarily worried that nutters might get to set a curriculum, the only answer would be to do away with collective education altogether, since nutters can make policy at any level. I’m certainly less concerned that the federal Department of Education is going to become dominated with wingnut views on evolution, history, etc. than local school boards, state boards of educations, or even individual classrooms

            • DocAmazing

              if we weren’t talking about standardized testing

              …but we are.

              but, say, a math midterm

              …but we’re not.

              I’m certainly less concerned that the federal Department of Education is going to become dominated with wingnut views on evolution, history, etc. than local school boards, state boards of educations, or even individual classrooms

              Someone’s forgotten the second Bush administration, and doesn’t know about the things that many school districts got called on the carpet for teaching.

              • “f we weren’t talking about standardized testing

                …but we are.

                but, say, a math midterm

                …but we’re not.”

                I’m sort of curious: when was the last time you took either? Because from my recollection there wasn’t much difference between them at all. At the end of the day you were working out math problems involving skills you should have learned by then. Hell, the state math test even included problems that were to be worked out in long form and were graded by hand with partial credit available.

                All of which is to say, a lot of snark has been deployed here to avoid explaining what this huge and awful difference is supposed to be.

              • joe from Lowell

                Someone’s forgotten the second Bush administration

                Someone doesn’t actually know anything about the standards that have been adopted.

                God fucking dammit, this isn’t a proxy war for your partisanship!

                • Also, I continue not to understand what arguments that amount to “well what if my side loses elections?!?!?!” are supposed to prove. Yes, if Republicans win elections and get to set policy that will suck, but it’s also life. What exactly is supposed to be done about it short of running for the caves to live off the land for the rest of eternity I don’t begin to fathom.

        • joe from Lowell

          I kind of don’t even get what the “teaching to the test” meme is supposed to be about, really…That too much time is spent making sure students understand how to do the sorts of problems you want them to learn in that year? What am I missing?

          Your missing the difference between an exercise and a problem, and between a genuine understanding and the ability to recall a checklist of discreet actions to execute.

          Standardized tests, the way they are structured, can only evaluate students’ ability to execute a set of directions to go through an exercise. It’s the difference between asking a basketball player to shoot ten unguarded layups, shoot ten free throws, and perform a passing drill versus putting him in a game. You don’t really know what skills the guy has by giving him a set of isolated tasks and some directions.

          Er…I mean… that is…OMG u r so ghey, eyeroll, that’s why.

          • Okay, that’s fair enough, but that also seems like a reasonably fair description of every teacher-written math test I’ve ever taken as well.

            • joe from Lowell

              Things, thankfully, are changing.

              Imagine a class a project to design a park, including producing a list of needed materials and amounts, to evaluate them on area measurement.

              • joe from Lowell

                The clock on this blog hasn’t been changed for Daylight Savings time. It’s just after noon.

              • Well that’s quite another thing then, but I don’t exactly get the impression that the people most outraged by standardized testing are nearly as concerned about basically similar testing methods being employed in individual classes.

                • joe from Lowell

                  There’s a quantitative difference. Any time spend preparing for standardized tests is boring time. The more time spend so preparing, the greater the percent of the school year spent on boring activities. It’s unavoidable.

      • bobbyp

        She criticized the fact that they had not been field tested. Is that a crime?

        • joe from Lowell

          She’s flat-out wrong on the facts. They’ve been “field tested” through years of serving as the curriculum standards in Massachusetts which, I think I might have mentioned, has the best public schools in the country.

          I wouldn’t call that a crime, so much as a sin.

          • joe from Lowell

            Well, it’s not a sin for Ohio Mom. She’s not a policy expert, and has no real reason to be expected to know this.

            But Ravitch is, or is supposed to be.

            • Ohio Mom

              We can all agree that this article was not Ravitich’s best work. Personally, I have a certain fondness for federal involvement in education because the only reason my special needs kid is able to receive an education is federal law; prior to the late 1970’s, he would have been spending his complete childhood at home. But I am willing to overlook this one article because Ravitch has written other, much more cogent pieces on what’s happening to public education, as well as speaking wherever she can on this topic. She has a unique standing in education and she is using it to fight the good fight.

              Whatever you want to say about her arguments here, the facts remain that public education is being imperiled by a privatization movement, that high-stakes testing is distorting what happens in the classroom, and that there is a relationship between these two things.

      • bobbyp

        I agree with your opening statement.

        The point argued beyond that is not a narrow one.

        Why should student standardized test scores be the sole or most important criteria for judging your professional competence?

        And how can we so easily dismiss or blurr over the major determinate of educational success–family income?

        Are we not, in some very important respects, putting the cart before the horse?

        • joe from Lowell

          1. They shouldn’t. I don’t think that Duncan believes they should. I think that a lot of people confuse (or conflate, two different things) the use of test scores as a factor, and the use of test scores as the sole factor.

          2. We cannot. On the other hand, we have to go forward. We have to figure out a work-around, on the off chance that we don’t end up solving the problem of poverty in the United States by the beginning of the next school year.

          3. What’s this “we” business, white man? There are a lot of different voices, and a lot of different policies. I think it’s far too common for people to lump a wide variety of positions on numerous different issues under a single, team-based heading.

          • Linnaeus

            3. What’s this “we” business, white man? There are a lot of different voices, and a lot of different policies. I think it’s far too common for people to lump a wide variety of positions on numerous different issues under a single, team-based heading.

            Maybe so, but I would argue that a particular brand of “reform” has tended to dominate the recent public discourse on education policy and that could be one reason why such lumping happens.

            • joe from Lowell

              I agree; arguing in terms of “a particular brand of reform” is a big reason why this lumping is happening. ;-)

              Curriculum standardization is not standardized testing is not the use of standardized testing to judge individual students is not the use of standardized testing to judge individuals teachers is not the use of standardized testing to judge schools or districts is not the steering of resources to reinforce demonstrated success is not merit pay is not “every teacher a writing teacher” is not thematic continuity across different subjects. These are all different policy proposals, each of which may have numerous varieties, but they all get judged in terms of what “brand” is being stuck on them.

              The union-led reforms in the Brockton, Massachusetts public schools involved a number of the types of reforms that some choose to “brand” as anti-teacher, teaching-to-the-test reforms, but I doubt they were actually seeking to undermine the unions and crush tenure.

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