Our new Secretary of Education

Arne Duncan, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, will be our nation’s next education secretary.

The New York Times says Duncan “represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years.”

Catalyst Chicago, which covers education reform in the Windy City, says improvements in the city’s public schools have been modest under Duncan’s leadership. A story published yesterday about Obama’s education pick reports:

Duncan’s oft-stated goal was to create the “best urban school district in the nation.” Yet here, as elsewhere, high schools have made little progress.

This morning, I received press releases from the American Association of School Administrators and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools praising the selection.

Judging by some of the posts on the Oakland Education Association’s listserv, however — and on this forum, by OEA executive board member Steve Neat — I gather that the choice wasn’t well received by the local union leadership.

Many of you have been following educational policies and politics for much longer than I have. What do you make of Obama’s pick and what do you hope he’ll be able to accomplish?

AP photo

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Hopefully he’ll accomplish a rational conversation without all the ideological posturing that leaves our kids stuck in the middle. I believe he’ll be open to trying many ideas as is Obama’s promise as opposed to being stuck with one ideology or another. There is no panacea. I hope for pragmatism and mutual respect.

  • Cranky teacher

    He plays pick up basketball with Obama.

    He is a corporate lawyer, not an educator.

    He has enforced the dead-end “reconstitition” policy on failing schools.

    He is endorsed by right-winger David Brooks of the NYT.

    Wow, color me not excited.

    Sounds like No Child Left Behind is going to be with us for another eight years.

  • Cranky teacher

    By the way, have you seen the Cali. Republicans budget proposal today, vis-a-vis schools?! OUCH. Me thinks they don’t put their kids in the system…

  • http://liftedfromtheUndernewswebsite mary


    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Schools Matter – The new front group for the privateers and profiteers of the education industry is called Democrats For Education Reform, and it was hot last evening to offer their quick and hearty endorsement of Duncan as Secretary of ED. This outfit is run by the charter school industry and . . . is funded from capital investments by “social entrepreneurs” who (from Gates on down) enjoy federal tax credits for funding the deconstruction of public education via charter schools managed, of course, by corporations–both for profit and non-profit.

    DFER’s website says the group was “founded in June of 2007 by a group of Democratic contributors and education reformers who were frustrated that the Democratic Party appeared to be unfairly resistant to positive change in schools.”

    Here is the “positive change” that Gates, Broad, and the impatient “disruptor” profiteers would like to see:

    ||| DFER supports Democratic candidates committed to progressive ideas like greater mayoral accountability [mayoral takeover] for schools; adjustments in teacher licensing requirements [make teacher preparation even weaker]; changes to teacher compensation to reward our best educators [bonus pay for test scores]; and a renewed focus on early childhood education (in particular, linking early childhood education with charter schools, which usually do not include Pre-K)|||

    Now if the new education reform sounds just like the old education reform, you would be right, of course. More testing, more scripted teaching, more corporate control, erasure of teacher rights–just the kind of change you can believe in. Why else would Spellings be showing Arne around the office and offering glowing endorsements?. . .

    Here is part of a piece from Catalyst on the “triumphs” in Chicago Schools by the next Secretary:

    |||| The district’s new schools initiative-Renaissance 2010-has garnered much national attention for Duncan. The idea is to close low-performing schools and replace them with smaller, entrepreneurial schools, many of them free from union contracts and some state regulations.

    So far, Duncan has presided over the opening of 75 such schools, 42 of them in areas that have been identified as most in need of better schools. Early on, though, a Catalyst analysis found that of the students who were displaced by school closings, only 2 percent were enrolled the next fall in new Renaissance schools. Nearly half of the displaced students landed at schools that were on academic probation. . . .

    Catalyst also found that not all students are making the best choices. Nearly 23 percent of African Americans who opt out of their neighborhood high school go to schools that are not much better. . . .

    The effort has caused tension on the labor front, as the bulk of new schools are run by charter or other education management outfits that do not hire union members. Add to that, displaced teachers have no seniority rights on the job hunt, due to state legislation dealing with Chicago schools only.

    New on the scene is the district’s turnaround strategy, a response to community uproar over students who were displaced by school closings. Turnarounds, as they are called, allow the children to stay put while the district cleans house among staff, firing teachers and principals wholesale. To date, there are eight such schools, two of them high schools.

    Despite the early claims of success, this model is largely untested. Sherman, the first turnaround school is in its third year. Experts predict it will take three to five years to know whether this strategy produces solid academic gains.

    Another hallmark of Duncan’s tenure is bringing business-oriented reformers into the fold, taking cues from Harvard University’s business and education schools. Their input has shaped a data-driven, performance-based culture that rewards well-run schools and their teachers and leaders, and penalizes schools that make no progress.

    Star schools and principals have been granted more flexibility and autonomy, and often financial freedom and bonus pay. Teachers in 40 pilot schools can earn bonuses based on how well they teach and their student do. . .

    On the other hand, struggling schools have seen their decision-making powers greatly reduced. Probationary schools, for example, have little say over how they can spend poverty funding, an area otherwise controlled by elected local school councils. [Local school councils] at struggling schools have also lost the right to hire or fire principals-restrictions that have outraged some parent activists. . . . |||

  • mary

    My concern is that if Chicago initiatives be replicated nationwide, leadership first consider if harm was done with some of the initiatives, and that the harm be addressed prior to imitating any of the reform on a grander scale.

    Absolutely, changes needed to be made within the CPS system. And, it’s hard to realize perfection with reform, especially in the short term. Many of us in Chicago, however, do know that the negative aspects of some of the reforms fell hardest on the poorest, most vulnerable neighborhoods, families and children, and continue to do so.

    A well-to-do suburb would simply not put up with their community school closing when it failed to meet academic goals. Parents would not allow that to happen, but in Chicago, neighborhoods and children who walk to school (rather than being driven) were stripped of their neighborhood school. Many children transferred and some multiple times in the name of reform. In many cases, they were children whose parents would not have put them in a lottery for a promising charter school, or they were children who would not have qualified for a selective enrollment school. Some had unmet special education needs. Some were from families who simply wanted their children in the neighborhood school, and had to have faith that the “new and improved school” would actually be better, and that their children would be allowed to return to it. The impact on the children and families depends in part on the age of the child. If the neighborhood school for an at risk high school junior closed, it’s unlikely that student survived the changes.

    When the government steps in, there is a heightened responsibility to attend to those who are most dependent on the government, and do not have some of the community, neighborhood, and family strengths that others possess. They are the first group to which any governmental agency must attend.

    There has not been a comprehensive assessment of the harm done to the most vulnerable children by CPS educational reform. Let’s not replicate Chicago reforms until we are able to address effectively those concerns.

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