With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Duncan needs to deepen his apology

"Unbelievable progress"???

Arne Duncan
was right to apologize for his offensive (especially to the thousands who lost family members and homes) remark that Katrina was "the best thing that ever happened to the education system in New Orleans." But once again, I'm urging the Ed. Sec. to go deeper than his, "I said it in a poor way, and I apologize for that. It was a dumb thing to say," mia culpa.

First, I hope he wasn't emphasizing the words TO SAY. Secondly, I hope he will take a deeper look at the data and re-examine the rest of his comments about the "unbelievable" progress "they've made in four years since the hurricane." By "unbelievable progress," of course, Duncan means there was a bump in test scores.

But that bump may have much more to do with death and relocation of tens of thousands of poor, mainly African-American families than it does with the ballyhooed recreation of Paul Vallas' two-tiered school system--one tier, traditional neighborhood schools, the other, privately-managed charter schools.

Posting on TAPPED, the group blog at The American Prospect, Gabe Arana writes:
The statement itself isn't really a call for outrage; it was a trite way to tie test-score gains to the mythology of the city's resurgence. I see it as just another excess of the "education speak" that's bandied about, where everything's about "reform," "achievement," "accountability" -- and "wake-up calls." However, the reason for the correlation should provoke anger. New Orleans schools aren't necessarily doing better with the same students. They are serving a different demographic, one that is more affluent, whiter, and more educated
Arana's comments are based on a 2008 study which was released last October, comparing pre- and post-Katrina census data and educational attainment. The study finds that compared with 2000 census data, the region is now less poor with fewer adults lacking a high school diploma, fewer households with children, more one or two-person households, fewer households lacking vehicles, a larger share of the population that is foreign-born, a higher homeownership rate, and more homeowners without mortgages.

New Orleans lost about 60,000 families after Katrina, according to Post Office mail surveys.

Could these demographic and population changes account for the relatively small bump in N.O. students' standardized test scores? You bet they could. Can they explain the "unbelievable progress" Duncan is referring to? Of course they can. Is Post-Katrina New Orleans a model for school reform and social reorganization in cities like Detroit, D.C., or New York? Of course not.

Duncan needs to deepen his self-criticism and rethink his assumptions about reform.


  1. "Duncan needs to deepen his self-criticism and rethink his assumptions about reform."

    Needs to, but won't. His own education obviously failed him as he appears to completely lack critical thinking skills. Yet another reason Harvard is due for a "turnaround."

  2. Duncan's comments about New Orleans are not the least bit surprising to me. In Chicago, Duncan always seemed willing to tout gains, despite the back story of how the gains were made.
    Here's a good example: One time, I covered a press conference about an increase in Chicago graduates going to college. Come to find out the district included students who went to a local for-profit college for the first time. Without these students, the percentage of CPS graduates going to college would have held steady.
    When asked about this, he and the other CPS officials readily admitted what they had done and that there was no real increase. But they understood PR in a canny way. The national press must also understand them.

  3. Not surprising to me either Sarah. His comments reveal what he really believes about school reform. His only mistake was saying them openly. But they will surely slip out again and again. The only way to improve schools is through shock-and-awe. Natural or man-made disasters "wake up" the masses. It's a "ground zero" mentality held by many more than Duncan. See Klein's bbook, "Shock Docctrine."


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.