With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Friday, July 10, 2015

Duncan's legacy

"It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education." -- Diane Ravitch
Arne Duncan says he will remain at the D.O.E. "until the final bell". At this point, no one really cares.

The damage is already done and with billions of Race To The Top money no longer in his back pocket, he has no more juice with states, school districts, or with Congress. According to most surveys, his version of school reform has been badly discredited (I hope I helped a little) and many feel he will be remembered as the worst ed secretary ever. 

Diane Ravitch documents the destruction left in his wake:
*He used his control of billions of dollars to promote a dual school system of privately managed charter schools operating alongside public schools; 
*He has done nothing to call attention to the fraud and corruption in the charter sector or to curb charters run by non-educators for profit or to insist on charter school accountability or to require charters to enroll the neediest children;
*He pushed to require states to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students, which has caused massive demoralization among teachers, raised the stakes attached to testing, and produced no positive results;
*He used federal funds and waivers from NCLB to push the adoption of Common Core standards and to create two testing consortia, which many states have abandoned;
*The Common Core tests are so absurdly “rigorous” that most students have failed them, even in schools that send high percentages of students to four-year colleges, the failure rates have been highest among students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students of color;
*He has bemoaned rising resegregation of the schools but done nothing to reduce it; [Here, I would add that Duncan openly opposed, what he referred to as "forced integration" and abandoned fellow cabinet member, AG Eric Holder on his deseg suit in Louisiana--mk].
*He has been silent as state after state has attacked collective bargaining and due process for teachers;
*He has done nothing in response to the explosion of voucher programs that transfer public funds to religious schools;
*Because of his policies, enrollments in teacher education programs, even in Teach for America, have plummeted, and many experienced teachers are taking early retirement;
*He has unleashed a mad frenzy of testing in classrooms across the country, treating standardized test scores as the goal of all education, rather than as a measure;
*His tenure has been marked by the rise of an aggressive privatization movement, which seeks to eliminate public education in urban districts, where residents have the least political power;
*He loosened the regulations on the federal student privacy act, permitting massive data mining of the data banks that federal funds created;
*He looked the other way as predatory for-profit colleges preyed on veterans and  minorities, plunging students deep into debt;
*Duncan has regularly accused parents and teachers of “lying” to students. For reasons that are unclear, he wants everyone to believe that our public schools are terrible, our students are lazy, not too bright, and lacking ambition.
Diane could have also included Duncan's unflagging support for autocratic mayoral control of urban school districts. He made mayoral control an essential piece of his top-down school reform model and went so far as to say he would consider his time as education secretary a “failure” if more mayors didn’t take over city school systems by the end of his tenure.

They didn't. It was and he is.

Final Note: According to a report in the S-T, while Duncan remains in D.C., is wife and two daughters returned to Chicago with the children to attend the expensive and private University of Chicago Lab School.

I leave it to Valery Strauss at WaPo to point out the obvious:
…now his children will attend a progressive private school in Chicago, a school that does not follow key school reform policies that his Education Department has set for public schools.
It does not, for example, use the Common Core State Standards (though many teachers there support them). It does not bombard its students with standardized tests or spend weeks each semester in test-prep mode. It does not evaluate teachers by student standardized test scores. In 2013, 20 Lab teachers signed a letter to Duncan protesting his policies that promote standardized test-based school reform. Also among the signatories were teachers from the Ariel Community Academy, a public school founded by a team of people that included Duncan.
Another irony is that Duncan will be sending his children to a private school in a city where he ran the public schools for seven years; he then went on to control federal oversight of the nation’s public schools for another seven years. One wonders if there is not a single public school — or public charter school — that Duncan could have chosen after being personally responsible in some way for the improvement of the public education system in Chicago.


  1. Arne Duncan was one of a number of mega failures by President B.O. Obama picked him, stuck with him, and supported him through both of his terms. Obama, the education dilettante, sent a message to teachers, students, and parents when he made Duncan his education chief. He also sent the country a message when he enrolled his kids in a charter school in D.C. at a time when scandal-ridden Michelle Rhee was driving D.C. education into the ground. Speaking of scandal and charter schools, there's hardly a day that passes without hearing or reading about dishonest, corrupt charter school operators. Thanks, President B.O.

    I'm a Democratic precinct committeeman and I spit on the very ground on which Obama walks. This may be heresy to some of my fellow Democrats, but the level of betrayal I feel from this corporate Democratic president has reached dizzying heights. I supported the man twice, the second time in 2012 with the enthusiasm that the sight of a dirty rag generates. Obama's opponent in 2012 was the only incentive I had for supporting him for the second time. I expected the worst from Romney and there was no disappointment there, but Obama betrayed the broad mass of lower and middle income Americans. That was hard for me to swallow from a man who calls himself a Democrat. It's hard for me to put into words the level of disgust I feel for both Obama and Duncan, especially when I'm reminded about the serious damage the two have inflicted on American public education.

    Karl Gabbey
    Democratic Precinct Committeeman, Precinct 56, Bloomingdale Township

    1. The election choice of bad (Obama) or much, much worse (Romney) reminds me of the Illinois governors race. The choice was bad (Quinn) or much, much worse (Rauner). Unfortunately, Rauner won the election.

  2. Karl,
    Small point. Obama sent his girls to Sidwell Friends, a D.C, private school, not a charter.

  3. Thanks, Mike. You're right. Karl

  4. Seeing as how some of the U. of C. Lab Staff sent Arne a letter protesting his policies, wouldn't it be funny if they could reject his family's applications to the school?
    Oh--I know--the children of such public figures are "off limits."
    Interesting, though, how "other people's children" aren't--subject to every failed education experiment as perpetrated under the direction of this highly unqualified, dangerously harmful, individual.

  5. Thanks, Mike. I should have mentioned that he shares ALEC's contempt for democracy.

    Good catch!



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