With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Duncan's latest donut. He claims that kids drop out because school is 'too easy'

"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." -- Mike Tyson
In yesterday's Tribune op-ed piece, Arne Duncan jumps in behind Rahm Emanuel's call to make every kid "have a plan" and to make it more difficult for Chicago's predominantly students of color, to graduate from high school.

Neither Duncan nor the mayor are talking about increased school funding or a more rigorous curriculum, a term that is itself problematic, or anything to do with teaching/learning. Instead they want to use bureaucratic powers to force students to get letters, proving that they've been accepted into college, a job, the military or some other program before receiving a diploma. They both are assuming of course that there are jobs and affordable college seats waiting to accept them. That's quite an assumption in these times.

I'm not sure what that would mean for students who want to travel to Europe or Africa, write a novel, paint a masterpiece or drive a cab.

As Dewey once said: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself"

Duncan does allow for a "gap year" before college or military adventures in Syria (he himself avoided military service) but what about a gap two years? Or even a lifetime?

All this amounts to simply another top-down, unfunded mandate, reminiscent of Rahm's imposed longer school-day/school-year. Now, as budget realities set in, the mayor is threatening to shorten the school year by three or four weeks. I wonder who's going to keep track of and verify all those college acceptance and internship letters, now that they've laid off all those counselors, school social workers and clerks and when they can't even afford to keep the schools open?

In his op-ed Duncan claims that students, "don't drop out because school is too hard. They drop out because it is too easy". This statement, coming from a non-educator who somehow was put into top management of Chicago's and then the nation's public schools by his wealthy patrons, shows the hollowness of modern school reform.

Actually, reasons for dropping out go way beyond the classroom and the question of easy or hard. As we all know, what comes easy for some, comes hard for others. There are rigorous (hard) schools in both wealthy and poor, black and white, urban and suburban communities. But we know that high dropout rates correlate with poor schools with high concentrations of kids living in poverty.

Poverty, inequality of opportunity, joblessness, violence, mass incarceration, destruction of social networks all are at play here.  Otherwise, the dropout rate wouldn't correlate so closely with concentrated poverty and students of color. Low-income students are six times more likely to drop out of high school.

As I have pointed out over the years here, the anonymity of large-scale schooling can also be a factor for kids who drop-out because nobody seemed to know them well or care whether or not they stayed or went.

Yes, of course students should "have a plan". But education, if it is to be engaging, can't just be about job preparation and training.

Duncan's reductionist polemic, coming on the heels of Rahm's proposed bureaucratic move to create more hoops tor kids to jump through, brings back memories of his failed Race To The Top. Duncan used that program to threaten the loss of federal funding to school districts in order to impose more standardized testing, school closings, teacher firings and privately-run charters. In other words, he set the table for Betsy DeVos. 

The op-ed indicates to me that Duncan is up to something bigger than promoting a few new hoops (no pun intended) for city kids to jump through. I'm hearing rumors that he's planning a run for mayor after Rahm's term expires and that he's got some big money behind him. Remember, Duncan was one of the main advocates for mayoral control of the schools and is an opponent of an elected school board.

Bankrolling Duncan's Chicago political aspirations is the Emerson Collective, a group founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire widow of Apple founder, Steve Jobs. 

I think they're making a bad investment. 


  1. I just made a long comment (which disappeared), so I'll be brief.
    You all MUST read the November, 2016 Chicago Magazine puff piece, "Can Arne Duncan Save Chicago?" I guarantee that it will nauseate you even more than this post by Mike--hard to do, I know, but here's a teaser (after the article explains the "work" Arne is doing w/jailed youth, & other such good endowed by Duncan):

    "And here, in his office overlooking Michigan Avenue, he begins to cry."

    And, BTW, for those of you unfamiliar w/the city, Michigan Ave, is THE prime real estate in Chicago--the shopping area is called "The Magnificent Mile." Imagine that--Arne, crying in his high-ri$e, high-rental office over kids whose education was ruined--not because school was "too easy," but because his reign put into motion everything that helped to ruin the Chicago Public Schools.

    But you all read it...and weep.

  2. Typical of top-down reformers from Gates to Duncan. Brainstorm new things to do to students and teachers to "hold them accountable". Then impose your will through mayoral control or federal overreach. When unfunded mandates fail, blame teachers, parents and kids. Test and punish. Close their schools, privatize and walk away.

  3. Here is yet another example of why the tone deaf Democrats keep losing elections. No one believes their nonsensical education prescriptions. Trust is difficult to restore when promises don't produce real results. I guess the DNC plans to keep loosing elections around the country until we're all under the thumbs of our wall st masters.

  4. Joan Grim - What are you talking about "nonsensical education prescriptions"????

    1. Arne & Rahm share a lot in common with the privatizers. Test,punish, starve public schools & displace experienced teachers with TFA. Their 'reforms" have hurt more than helps our public school system.


  5. Smart Arnie-He planned to get a high paying job after his political one.
    Smarter Rahm- He's planning early. After his 3rd or 4th term, he's planning for a high paying job too.

    Use your platform as a former government official to fight racism and economic injustice-bad plan!
    Confront the 1% on exploitation and greed-bad plan!

    Blame the poor for their poverty-good plan!

    Good for the 1%.
    Good for Arnie.
    Good for Rahm.
    Bad for the rest of us.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.