"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." -- Mike TysonIn 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.
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.