U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Lies About Texas Schools

by Christopher Paslay

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was recently caught telling politically motivated lies about Texas education.     

Last week on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” Secretary Duncan criticized Gov. Rick Perry’s education record and attacked the performance of Texas schools by saying that “Texas has really struggled.  I feel very badly for the children there.”  Duncan went on to say that Texas had the lowest high school graduation rate in the country, and that there have been massive increases in class size and cutbacks in funding. 

Duncan later reiterated his attacks on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program, insisting Texas public schools had low standards and a high dropout rate. 

The only problem with Duncan’s facts, however, is that they weren’t facts at all.

Texas’ graduation rate has actually increased since Rick Perry took office.  In 2009, Texas ranked 7th in a 26 state comparison of the only states reporting four-year on-time graduation rates. That year Texas’ on-time graduation rate was 80.6%. The Texas on-time graduation rate for 2010 is now 84.3%; the national average is 71.6%.         

The idea that Texas class sizes have ballooned is false.  In fact, class sizes have dropped since 2000-01, the year Gov. Perry took over office; the state ranks 37th out of the 50 states in education funding.   

Texas schools also have very respectable standards.  According to Education Week’s Quality Counts report, Texas is ranked 13th out of 50 states.  Quality Counts also gave Texas an “A” in “Standards, Assessment and Accountability,” and an “A” in college and career readiness.

Rodger Jones, an Editorial Writer for the Dallas Morning News, blasted Secretary Duncan for his dishonesty.  “We shouldn’t hear lies come out of the mouth of the nation’s top education official when he discusses the record of millions of students and dedicated educators. . . . Duncan should be ashamed for letting a political grudge interfere with the serious business of educating kids.  He apparently can’t get over the fact that Perry didn’t want to play his Race to the Top game.”

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott challenged Secretary Duncan’s statements as well.  In a letter to Duncan, Scott wrote:

“I have read your recent comments criticizing Texas public education, and I am disappointed that you have never raised your concerns during any of our personal conversations. . . . Your pity is misplaced and demeans the hard work that is taking place in schools across Texas. Texas students are doing very well and in many cases outperforming their national peers. . . .” 

Duncan’s off-the-mark statements even confused Andrew Rotherham, Time Magazine’s education columnist.  Rotherham couldn’t understand how Duncan could criticize Texas schools when they not only perform at the national average, but fair far better than Chicago’s public schools—the city where Duncan was the former superintendent.  Rotherham questioned Duncan about this issue, but Secretary Duncan was at a loss for answers.

“I would have to look at the details,” Duncan told Rotherham. 

It’s quite concerning that the US Secretary of Education doesn’t know the basic facts about his own former school district.  Even more troubling is how he mangled the information on Texas’ public schools.  Whether this was politically motivated or done through sheer ignorance, Duncan’s ability to lead America’s children into the 21st century has clearly come into question.

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Huffington Post Links Chalk & Talk Article on Education Page

by Christopher Paslay

On August 8th, The Huffington Post linked my Chalk & Talk article, “Secretary Duncan Uses NCLB Waivers to Push School Reform Agenda,” on its education page.  It was listed on the Huff Post’s “Around the Web” section, and accompanied Joy Resmovits’s article “Obama Education Waiver Plan Could Result In Individual State Accountability Systems.”  (Click here to visit the page.) 

Resmovtis opened by stating, “As students head back to school, the Obama administration is using executive power in an unprecedented move to circumvent a congressional standstill on No Child Left Behind, arguing that the federal education law thwarts states’ distinct policymaking abilities.”

I wrote something similar in the piece the Huff Post linked, although I provided a stronger criticism of Secretary Duncan, bringing to light the fact that the Obama administration is manipulating the regulations behind NCLB to push its own questionable reform agenda.   

Thanks to The Huffington Post for listening.

Historically, U.S. Education Secretaries Have Been Disconnected From The Classroom

by Christopher Paslay

Most will agree that No Child Left Behind is a flawed education reform policy.  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Congress this spring that the “law is fundamentally broken, and we need to fix it this year.” 

President Obama believes this to be the case, which is why he is has directed the U.S. Department of Education to grant waivers to districts that fail to meet annual benchmark standards. 

When President Bush enacted NCLB, he insisted it was a sound policy that would improve education in America.  The reality of the situation, of course, is that good policy doesn’t always translate into good practice.  Those writing policy—scholars, researchers and politicians—are not always plugged-in on the ground floor; few have substantial experience teaching at the K-12 level. 

A top-to-bottom review of those responsible for writing much of America’s education policy reveals interesting results.  Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary, has no experience teaching in a K-12 public school classroom and holds no license to teach in one.  Although Duncan was the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, and was involved in a number of education foundations, his experience working directly with children stems from his time helping his mother run a tutoring program in Chicago, which he spoke about in a speech called “A Call to Teaching” at the Rotunda at the University of Virginia in October of 2009:

“My mother ran an inner-city afterschool program in a church basement on the South Side of Chicago, and raised my sister, brother, and me as part of her program. Every student in her afterschool program was African-American and came from a low-income family. Many of the students had to overcome tremendous adversity every day just to be in that program. When I was little, the older students tutored me. When I got older, I tutored the younger students. That is her philosophy—the 15 year-olds tutor the 10 year-olds, the 10 year-olds tutor the 5 year-olds, and the 5 year-olds help to clean the tables. I saw in that program, day after day and year after year, that a well-run tutoring program is a good thing. But I learned that a good tutoring program run by a caring adult was a great thing. The students my mother tutored felt that she understood them, and they knew that she cared deeply about what happened to them. The sense of connection that great teachers create is second only to a parent’s love in its power to transform lives.”  

Secretary Duncan’s stint helping his mother tutor a small group of urban children in a church basement was no doubt inspiring, but this experience hardly mirrors the challenges facing fulltime teachers in inner-city classrooms.      

Margaret Spellings, George W. Bush’s second-term education secretary, also had no experience teaching in a K-12 public school classroom.  Spellings graduated from the University of Houston with a bachelor’s in political science.  Her experience prior to working for the White House involved writing educational policy at the university and state level.  According to her bio on the U.S. Department of Education’s website, Spellings was the first mother of school-aged children to serve as Education Secretary, so she had a “special appreciation for the hopes and concerns of American families.”

Rod Paige, Bush’s first Education Secretary who received a doctorate in physical education from Indiana University, worked with students as a teacher and a coach, although not at the K-12 level.  Richard Riley, who served as Clinton’s Secretary of Education for both terms, was a lawyer and politician and never taught in a K-12 classroom.  Lamar Alexander, Bush Sr.’s secretary, was a politician and professor and also lacked any K-12 teaching credential.  In fact, the only Education Secretary who ever taught fulltime in a K-12 school was Terrel Bell, Ronald Regan’s first Education Secretary, who taught at the high school level in 1946-1947    

Much of the same holds true at the local level.  Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief education officer, Lori Shorr, has no K-12 teaching experience or licenses.  Although Dr. Arlene Ackerman, superintendent of Philadelphia public schools, has experience as both a K-12 classroom teacher and principal, only one of five members of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission has any experience teaching in a K-12 school.               

In order for education policy to be sound in theory and practice, the realities of everyday K-12 classrooms—and the voices of those teachers working in them—must be accounted for.  When policy is not balanced with feedback from instructors it can in some cases do more harm than good.

Secretary Duncan Uses NCLB Waivers to Push School Reform Agenda

by Christopher Paslay

In 2001, when George Bush unveiled No Child Left Behind, he was promising America the impossible.  The idea of 100 percent of all children being proficient in math and reading by the year 2014 was more than pie-in-the-sky—it was educational propaganda. 

The reality of the matter is, there are many, many children who, no matter how much time and money are invested in their educations, will never be able to analyze and interpret complex pieces of literature, nor will they be able to work though advanced algebraic and geometric equations; these are the skills required to score “proficient” in math and reading at the high school level on current standardized tests under NCLB.

Not all children are born with the requisite mathematical and linguistic abilities to perform such tasks (imagine if all students in America were required to dunk a basketball to be considered “on grade level” in athletics).  When you factor in poverty, the break-down of the nuclear family, poor nutrition, and the devastating impact television, cell phones, video games, and the internet are having on attention spans, the idea that 100 percent of American children will be “proficient” in math and reading by 2014 is ridiculous. 

But in 2001, when Bush proposed NCLB, the bill wasn’t necessarily about feasibility or even realistic goal setting.  It was mostly about control

As those familiar with both politics and public schools know, when you control education, you control large amounts of money (billions of tax dollars), jobs, votes, etc.  This is the very reason why education must stay “broken”; so the teachers, parents, principals, etc. will continue to be stripped of any real control, and the politicians can stay in the driver’s seat.

But with new politicians come new sets of rules—structured to fit specific agendas.  Which is why President Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, is now declaring (surprise, surprise!) that Bush’s NCLB law is broken and needs to be fixed. 

Estimates on standardized test scores predict that this year, as much as 80 percent of America’s public schools will be labeled “failing.”  Some educators, such as noted education scholar and New York University Professor Diane Ravitch, believe nearly 95 percent of schools will be designated “failing” under NCLB by 2014.    

“This law is fundamentally broken, and we need to fix it this year,” Arne Duncan recently told the House education committee.  Interestingly, Duncan’s way of “fixing” the law is to force states to do things his way, and his way alone; schools in danger of being labeled failing must forfeit all control to Duncan and adopt the Obama Administration’s National Reform Model (charterizing schools; replacing principals; overhauling staff by arbitrarily firing teachers, etc.).

According to a recent story in Education Week:

“States seeking relief from the requirements of the 9-year-old No Child Left Behind Act are taking a wait-and-see approach to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s plan to offer those that embrace his reform priorities wiggle room when it comes to the law’s mandates.

But the idea of waivers is already facing hurdles on Capitol Hill—drawing criticism even from the administration allies. And while the department points to waiver powers that Congress included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, some naysayers are wondering whether Mr. Duncan has the legal authority to offer states broad leeway on the law’s accountability requirements.

Details on the waiver proposal remained sketchy last week, but it’s clear that states will have to embrace an all-or-nothing package of reforms from the department in exchange for relief under the ESEA, the current version of which is the NCLB law.

‘This is not an a la carte menu,’ Secretary Duncan said during a June 13 call with reporters.”

Indeed it’s not a la carte.  It’s become quite clear that Secretary Duncan does not want individual parents, communities, or teachers having a say when it comes to educating their children; a more appropriate term from his educational menu would be prix fixe

This, interestingly, is a tactic local school district leaders are currently employing in Philadelphia. 

Whether their dictatorial decisions will pay off in the future remains to be seen.

Are School District Leaders Protected by Powers in Washington?

by Christopher Paslay

“The school superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, is here and doing a great job.”

            –President Barack Obama’s remarks from his speech at Julia R. Masterman High School, Philadelphia, PA, September 14, 2010. 

There is one thing noteworthy about the way administrators have run the Philadelphia School District over the past three years: their education agenda and initiatives are right from President Obama’s playbook in Washington. 

Early in 2009, when the President chose former Chicago schools superintendent Arne Duncan as his Education Secretary, there emerged a new plan for public education in America.  Known as the “National Reform Model,” Obama and Duncan set in motion a movement that has radically changed traditional public schools as we know them (tragically, as test scores and graduation rates continue to show, not for the better).

There are four school intervention models included in Obama’s national reform plan.  They are titled “Turnaround,” “Restart,” “School Closure,” and “Transformation.”

As explained by PSEA.org:

“The Turnaround model requires schools to implement nine broad strategies, including replacement of the principals, high-quality professional development, adoption of new governance, and replacement of at least 50 percent of staff.

The Transformation model includes a new evaluation system for teachers and principals, high-quality professional development and design and development of curriculum with teacher and principal involvement.

The Restart model enables a district to re-open a school as a charter school or elect to have an education management organization run the school.

School Closure enables districts to transfer students to other, higher-achieving schools within the district’s boundaries, within a reasonable proximity.”

Do these reform plans sound a lot like those interventions contained in Dr. Ackerman’s Imagine 2014?  The Philadelphia Inquirer thinks they do.  In an editorial published in September of 2010, the newspaper wrote, “much of [Dr. Ackerman’s] five-year strategic plan almost mirrors Obama’s proposals.”   

In some places the Ackerman and Obama agenda are indeed identical.  In fact, in 2010, in order to receive stimulus money from the federal government’s SIG program (School Improvement Grant), the Philadelphia School District literally had to sign an agreement with the government stating that they agreed to commit to the four intervention models.       

And sign they did.  The District sold its soul to Washington and dove headfirst into a reform plan that took control away from the citizens of Philadelphia and placed it—along with millions of tax dollars—in the hands of charter schools and education management organizations and all manner of untested, experimental reform programs.   

The fact that District officials so eagerly embraced the National Reform Model and are pushing an agenda direct from Washington might explain why they are able to get away with so many missteps (think past the current $629 million deficit to the 2010 controversy over security contracts and even past that to the 2009 debacle with Asian students at South Philly High School), any of which would have normally cost a top administrator his or her job.     

In 2007, when former Philadelphia School District Superintendent Paul Vallas discovered a “surprise” $73 million deficit, he resigned.  Granted, he had another job waiting for him in New Orleans, but there was real pressure coming from Mayor Street to hold him accountable.  Likewise, there was pressure to hold James Nevels, the Chairman of the School Reform Commission, accountable; Nevels also resigned and was replaced with new leadership. 

It seems clear, however, that current District leaders have no plans of going anywhere.  Perhaps the powers that be in Washington have too much invested in the Philadelphia School District and the current direction it’s heading.  This just might explain why Mayor Nutter, as well as the rest of the City, continues to stand down to School District officials.       

Of course, Mayor Nutter will claim differently.  He will tell the public that he has things in control, that he just made the District sign an “Accountability Agreement,” but what is this, really?  Is it anything more than smoke and mirrors?  (Is the pending audit by the IRS, which is now in limbo, much of the same?) 

This isn’t to take away from the recent efforts of a few brave local leaders—such as Philadelphia City Councilmen Bill Green and PA State Reps Angel Cruz and Mike McGeehan—to try to bring an end to the District’s troubled leadership.

McGeehan continues to call for Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s resignation in order to bring some financial credibility back to the District in the eyes of Harrisburg. 

In a letter to PA Governor Tom Corbett, McGeehan stated the following: “I am requesting that you, on behalf of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth and the school children of Philadelphia, compel the School Reform Commission to remove Superintendent Ackerman. The continuing controversy surrounding Ms. Ackerman does not serve the best interest of the taxpayers or children of Philadelphia. I ask you to use your authority to request the SRC to immediately end her tumultuous tenure.”  

State Rep. Angel Cruz has also called for laws to regulate the power of the District superintendent.  “The SRC clearly is not properly managing the superintendent or the district,” Cruz told his colleagues in Harrisburg. “My bill would give voters the option to choose the people who are running our school district.”

Philadelphia City Councilman Bill Green, in addition, blasted District leadership in a recent Inquire article headlined, “School District has a management deficit.”  In it Green stated, “Recent events have shown that the crisis at the Philadelphia School District is more about oversight and stewardship than it is about dollars and cents.”

Even the local press seems to be questioning the District’s leadership.  In a recent poll philly.com asked readers, “Does the Philadelphia School District need new management?”  The results were quite telling:  371 folks said YES (97.4%); 3 answered No (.8%); and 7 responded Not Sure (1.8%).

Not that the District seems to care about what anybody thinks about their ability to do their job; they continue to operate as if it were business as usual.  And all the while Philadelphia’s children—as well as the tax payers—continue to pick up the tab. 

Tragically, perhaps because of a blessing from Washington, it appears as if this pattern of reckless management has no foreseeable end.

Noted Scholar Diane Ravitch Calls for ‘Reality-Based’ Education Reform

 

Parents Across America, a new nationwide organization of parents opposing education “deform,” held its inaugural event in New York City on February 7, 2011 with Diane Ravitch as the keynote speaker. Here, Diane covers the entire range of education “deforms” and makes a mockery of it all:     

 “Corporate reformers close schools and open schools, they move children around like checkers on a checker board . . . and they confuse testing with education.  To them, your child is a data point.”

 

“This testing and accountability obsession is not producing better education.  This mindless pursuit of test scores . . . has cheapened education.” 

 

“This corporate reform movement seeks to turn public funding over to private corporations, and seeks to replace professional educators with eager amateurs.”

 

“And added to these circumstances come the Obama administration’s ‘Race to the Top,’ which supplies billions of federal dollars to persuade states to adopt unproven and even failed reforms.”       

 

No other country in the world is as radically overhauling education as is America.  Please spread the word by forwarding this video to anyone interested in reality-based—not corporate based—education reform.         

 

 

School reform’s alphabet

“Two words, both 14 letters long and beginning with the letter A, have become quite trendy in the world of public education. The first is accountability, and the second is accommodations.”

 

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “School reform’s alphabet”.  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

–Christopher Paslay

 

Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality

According to The 41st Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 75% of parents gave their local school an A or a B.  But when it came to the nation’s schools as a whole, less than 20% gave a similar high grade. 

 

Why is there such a difference in perception between “your school” and “the nation’s schools”?  Gerald W. Bracey, a longtime Kappan columnist, explains the reason for the disconnect: 

 

Americans never hear anything positive about the nation’s schools and haven’t since the years just before Sputnik in 1957, Bracey writes in a commentary in the September 2009 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.  Negative information flows almost daily from media, politicians, and ideologues. During the 2008 presidential campaign, a $50 million project, Ed in 08, inundated Americans with negativity through its web site, TV ads, and YouTube clips.

 

Our leaders don’t help matters much. “The fact is that we are not just in an economic crisis; we are in an educational crisis,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in February. He’s said it repeatedly.

 

The President repeats the mantra. “In 8th-grade math, we’ve fallen to ninth place,” Obama said in March. That’s factually true, but those students were still ahead of 36 other nations. More important, when the test was first given in 1995, American 8th graders were in 28th place. They’ve been busy falling up.

 

On the other hand, parents use other sources and resources for information about their local schools: teachers, administrators, friends, neighbors, newsletters, PTAs, and their kids themselves; and they’re in a much better position to observe what’s actually happening in American schools.

 

Bracey expands this idea in his new book, Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality (Educational Research Service, 2009).  Here is the description of the book:

 

Are America‘s schools broken? Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality seeks to address misconceptions about America‘s schools by taking on the credo ‘what can be measured matters.’ To the contrary, Dr. Bracey makes a persuasive case that much of what matters cannot be assessed on a multiple choice test. The challenge for educators is to deal effectively with an incomplete accountability system—while creating a broader understanding of successful schools and teachers. School leaders must work to define, maintain, and increase essential skills that may not be measured in today’s accountability plans.

 

Is Dr. Bracey saying the glass is half full?  Marvelous!  It’s refreshing to see educators giving the public an objective looking glass from which to view America’s school system.        

 

The Arne Duncan reform train: when ‘all’ really means ‘some’

The Secretary of Education calls on teachers and their unions to reform their ways.  He asks others to commit to education only superficially.  

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

In recent weeks, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has outlined his plans for reforming America’s public schools in a series of high profile speeches. 

 

Although many of the proposals contained in these speeches make sense, Duncan still seems to oversimplify the problems facing our public school system.   

 

Education is much broader than teachers and schools.  Granted, a good teacher and a successful school are necessary for a child to learn, but by no means does education stop there.  There are numerous components to the education equation, relevant factors that have a significant impact on a child’s overall ability to learn (and on a teacher’s and school’s ability to be successful).

 

You have education policy writers, and their ability to develop practical and effective teaching strategies; you have colleges and universities, and their ability to properly prepare and train quality teachers; you have parents, and their responsibility to nurture their child’s thirst for knowledge by helping with homework and getting involved in their school; you have social service organizations, and their ability to provide the basics—such as asthma medicine and eyeglasses—to children without health care; you have the community, and its responsibility to instill in youth the values needed to be a good citizen.                  

 

Unfortunately, Secretary Duncan’s speeches have for the most part ignored the complexities of the factors mentioned above, and focused on one piece of the pie—teachers and schools—as if teachers and schools exist in a vacuum and are not interconnected to the whole.  He equates education reform to a moving train, and calls for everyoneall people—to get on board. 

 

“The education reform movement is not a table where we all sit around and talk,” Duncan told the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Conference on June 22 in Washington D.C.  “It’s a train that is leaving the station, gaining speed, momentum and direction. It is time for everyone—everywhere—to get on board.”    

 

But it doesn’t appear that Duncan’s definition of “everyone” really means everyone.    

 

A quick recap of all four of Duncan’s recent speeches might reveal this truth.     

 

On June 8th, Duncan addressed the Institute of Education Sciences research conference in Washington, D.C.  He focused on the need for a comprehensive data system to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.   

 

“But to somehow suggest that we should not link student achievement and teacher effectiveness, it’s like suggesting we judge a sports team without looking at the box score,” Duncan told the audience. 

 

This makes sense, to a certain extent; there are many factors that affect test data other than teacher performance, of course.

 

But if we’re going to introduce a comprehensive data system into our public schools, why should this data solely measure student achievement and teacher effectiveness?  Why not extend this data system to track parental involvement?  To measure the effectiveness and practicality of educational policy and those who write it?  To measure the performance of superintendents and school board members?        

 

On June 14th, Duncan spoke to the 2009 Governors Education Symposium in North Carolina.  He talked about raising the bar in terms of assessment, and urged all states to adopt a set of international benchmarked standards that prepare students for success in the workforce and college.

 

“The standards must be tied to the endpoint of making sure students are ready to succeed in college or in the workplace,” Duncan said. “You must resist the temptation to make these standards too easy. Our children deserve to graduate from high school prepared for college and the jobs of the future.”

 

Again, why should these “higher” standards stop with students and teachers?  Why not raise the standards when it comes to the credentials needed to hold the office of Secretary of Education?  Shouldn’t candidates need at least some experience teaching in a public school classroom (yes, I’m referring to you, Mr. Duncan).  How about superintendents?  Education professors and writers of curriculum? 

 

On June 22, Duncan addressed the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Conference in Washington D.C.  He talked about ways to turn around failing schools. 

 

He had four basic models in mind.

 

The first involved stripping teachers of seniority, and giving principals full autonomy to pick their own teaching staffs.    

 

“Under this model, the children stay and the staff leaves,” Duncan said.  “Teachers can reapply for their jobs and some get rehired, but most go elsewhere. A few leave the profession, which is not all bad. Not everyone is cut out for teaching. Like every profession, people burn out.”

 

Duncan’s second option also involved replacing the teachers and principals.  The plan called for turning schools into charters, or handing them over to for-profit management organizations. 

 

Apparently, Secretary Duncan hasn’t been paying much attention to the for-profit management experiment in the Philadelphia School District.  Numerous studies have shown that these private managers do not raise academic performance. 

 

In fact, 16 out of the 20 elementary and middle schools currently being run by outside managers in Philadelphia performed lower than the city’s traditional public schools (this of course didn’t stop their contracts from being renewed this year at the cost of $9 million).      

 

As for charters:  How is it that some charters fail to raise academic achievement, embezzle millions of taxpayer dollars and still remain in operation? 

 

Duncan said his third turnaround model for failing schools keeps most of the existing staff but they must establish a rigorous performance evaluation system.  The school must also increase learning time for kids during afternoons, weekends, and in the summer, among other things.

 

Duncan’s last turnaround model: Close under-performing schools and reenroll students in better ones.

 

On July 2nd, Duncan addressed the National Education Association at their annual convention in San Diego.  His focus this time was on improving the quality of the education workforce—teachers, principals and education support personnel.

 

In this speech he immediately put the role of unions in the spotlight.

 

“I came here today to challenge you to think differently about the role of unions in public education,” Duncan said.  “When thousands of schools are chronically failing and millions of children are dropping out each year—we all must think differently.”

 

He urged “dramatic change” in education and insinuated that unions and their policies were standing in the way of that change. 

 

“We created seniority rules that protect teachers from arbitrary and capricious management,” he said, “and that’s a good goal. But sometimes those rules place teachers in schools and communities where they won’t succeed—and that’s wrong.  We created tenure rules to make sure that a struggling teacher gets a fair opportunity to improve—and that’s a good goal. But when an ineffective teacher gets a chance to improve and doesn’t—and when the tenure system keeps that teacher in the classroom anyway—then the system is protecting jobs rather than children. That’s not a good thing. We need to work together to change that.”

 

When it comes to unions protecting struggling teachers, Duncan may have a point; and I say this as a member of a teachers union myself. 

 

However, let’s back up a minute and talk about real teacher supports.  One of the biggest reasons teachers struggle is because of classroom management issues—you must have order before you can teach.  What are two big causes of management problems?  Class size, and the lack of alternative placements for troubled students. 

 

How long have unions been asking (begging, pleading) for smaller class sizes?  How long have teachers been held hostage by violent or unruly students who are kept in the classroom because there is no where to put them, or by laws that prevent their expulsion? 

 

Why don’t we cut class sizes or build more alternative schools?  Because it costs too much money!  And when it comes to money, everyone isn’t on board the reform train.  Money is going here, there, everywhere, but too little of it finds its way into the classroom for direct instruction.

 

So where is the hands-on support for the struggling teachers?  Where are the resources for the teachers who have 33 teenagers in their classroom, some with ADD, others with physical and behavior health issues, and no parental involvement? 

 

Real education reform is possible in American.  Teachers do have room to improve, and unions must learn to be more open minded and flexible.  But if real reform is going to happen, we all must truly get on board, and reform cannot stop with teachers and schools. 

 

To quote Arne Duncan:  “There is simply no more important work in our society than education. The President understands that, parents understand that, America understands that. Now we—all of us together—must act on that understanding and move forward.”

 

Now if only we could get Arne Duncan to expand his definition of “all” to truly include everybody.       

 

Inquirer editorial bashes Philadelphia public school teachers

 

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

Leave it to newspapers and politicians to oversimplify the problem with public education in America.  The root causes of failing schools are much more complex than bad teachers and a lack of charters, as the Inquirer states in their recent editorial.   

 

For starters, cell phones are destroying attention spans and producing a generation of children addicted to electronic gadgets.  Even the most cutting edge lesson plans have trouble competing with the soft core pornography and computer generated images found in movies, videos games and on the internet. 

 

The divorce rate in America is also an issue.  Many single parents are too overwhelmed with their own social ills to teach their children how to communicate properly and solve problems nonviolently.  Respect for authority in many public schools is at an all time low.

 

In addition, many education policy makers, such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have no experience teaching.  Often their ideas and strategies are off-base and impractical, and do not translate well in the classroom. 

 

Public education is a direct reflection of American society.  Blaming low student achievement primarily on bad teachers is like attributing heart disease to failing doctors.      

 

Education will only improve in this country when responsibility is equally distributed between teachers, parents, and society at large.