Wednesday, January 20, 2010

From outside the beltway

When Michele NcNeil called to interview me for Edweek's assessment of Arne Duncan's first year, I carefully jotted down some notes listing the main points I wanted to make. Michele said she wanted someone from "outside the beltway" to comment on Duncan. There's no one more outside the beltway than me these days--well, maybe Bill Ayers--which is just fine with me.

So when I read Michele's piece yesterday, and read my own quotes, I felt uncomfortable that she had me saying, "In some way, Duncan’s policies are worse than what we experienced over the last eight years."

It's not that I didn't say that or that I don't think it's true. But that kind of a statement, left hanging out there without any explanation, could easily be misinterpreted. So I wrote this clarification and tacked in onto the end of Michele's report:
I didn't think it was right of Ms. McNeil to leave my "in some ways worse than Bush" quote hanging out there without any examples or explanation. For the sake of clarity, I don't think the current regime is worse than the neo-cons or that Sec. Duncan is worse than Paige or Spellings. The fact that teachers and their union leadership is even at the table, represents a step up from the previous 8 years.

My point was that there are some things, some policies, which are even more destructive and more of a threat to the public aspect of public schooling. What is worse about current policies is the cynical way Duncan has used his power and the threat of withholding desperately-needed federal dollars in the midst of the current economic crisis, to coerce states and school districts into accepting his failed approach to reform (there's now important and overwhelming evidence of this failure coming out in the Chicago media).

This failed Chicago approach includes, as I pointed out to Michelle McNeil, massive school closings in inner-city neighborhoods, turning local public schools over to private management companies, single-minded emphasis on standardized tests and test-driven merit pay.
On these policies he's outstripped even the previous administration.

I'm still hopeful however that the push-back we are now seeing in communities and by hundreds of school districts saying no to the Race-To-The-Top (an even worse metaphor for reform than No Child Left Behind), will force a rethinking and shift in these policies.
Michele was nice enough to respond with this note to me:
...on the Duncan profile. Sometimes in my attempt to cram a lot into a small space (tho I did get a fair amount of space, no doubt, for this piece) I don't do as good of a job as I could have in fully explaining people's thoughts. So I just wanted to drop you a quick note and thank you for further clarifying, and to let you know I appreciated your comments. I took note!
"Every picture tells a story, don't it"--Rod Stewart

Afterthoughts: 1) I think Michele McNeil is a really good journalist. 2) I think the picture atop Michele's article, showing Arne Duncan strolling in front of the Washington Monument with Dell CEO, Michael Dell, says a lot about how I really see Duncan's first year.

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