Tag Archives: arne duncan

Scared Sleepless

When quantitative social indicators are used for social decision-making, corruption arises; that’s Campbell’s Law. So where do we go from there in terms of testing?

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Drowning In A Rising Tide Of…

Almost 30 years after ‘A Nation at Risk,’ is the tide of mediocrity still rising? Does Washington have the solution?

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Back to Basics

What are the basic tenets of education? John takes a stab at four of them — and how a focus in that direction could be good for American education.

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Race to the Top: A New “Diet” for Schools?

To understand the Race to the Top, think of Education Secretary Arne Duncan as a diet doctor and public education systems as obese, out of shape individuals in need of a better nutrition program. But here’s the catch: state-controlled school systems are not Secretary Duncan’s children. They are independent adults, and ‘Dr. Duncan’ can’t just order them to eat better and work out regularly. He has to cajole and entice them into behavior that he is certain is in their best interest. And so he’s offering rewards ($4.35 billion) to those who come up with the best ‘diet’ of education reforms.Arne Duncan

Make no mistake about the educational shape our schools are in—it’s bad! More than one million students drop out of school every year, costing the economy billions of dollars. International comparisons are downright embarrassing. Only 1.3 percent of our 15-year-olds scored at the highest level of mathematical proficiency, putting us 24th out of 30 nations participating in PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment. By contrast, 9.1 percent of Korean and 6 percent of Czech 15-year-olds scored at the highest level.

Duncan believes he knows how states can shape up. For openers, they have to step on a reliable scale. In education, that means a transparent data system that tracks students’ progress throughout their school years, and it means common standards, so that everyone is using the same weight measures. (Today each state chooses its tests and decides what constitutes passing.)

His plan for better nutrition, educationally speaking, includes a diet of charter schools, publicly funded but independently run institutions.

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“Pay teachers what they are worth (think six-figures)”: An Interview with Rick Hanushek

Economists, whether liberal or conservative, don’t think about education the way most educators do, and that’s healthy. My friend Eric Hanushek is in the conservative camp, as his affiliation with the Hoover Institution at Stanford indicates. Eric HanushekRick has been interested in education–no, strike that–in doing something to improve education, for many years. He’s active on a number of fronts, particularly in Texas and with the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. Professor Hanushek has a new book out, but, because he manages to sneak in two plugs in our interview, I won’t repeat the title here.
The Interview

Before we turn to No Child Left Behind, tell me your take on the current so-called “Race to the Top.” Secretary Duncan has an unprecedented amount of discretionary money, $5B, to give away. States seem to be falling all over themselves promising to do what Washington wants. Is this good?

I absolutely think the Secretary is doing the right thing, and I am actually encouraged by the positive reactions of the states. He has chosen particularly important issues to take to the states: developing systems for ensuring that there are effective teachers in every classroom; encouraging more competition in education through expanding charter schools; and developing good data systems that allow for reliable evaluation of programs and teachers. These are central elements of the funding and policy proposals in my recent book (Statehouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses), so I am thrilled that the Secretary is putting the force and the funding of the federal government behind these ideas. The essential unifying idea is that we should provide strong incentives to improve student performance – and each of these policy thrusts fits into that overall structure. I applaud the Secretary and the President for their forceful leadership in these substantive matters. Moreover, he has done this in a way that respects the states’ central role in education, while encouraging their movements in productive directions.

The Department says there will be winners and losers, but will that fly politically? Educators are accustomed to getting money based on formulas, not in a competition. Can you imagine the political pressure Arne Duncan is going to be under?

There is no doubt that the Secretary has taken a courageous position, because many resist the idea that policy should intrude on the way we have always done things. And his are not the positions that have been championed by the educational establishment. But, while there are political difficulties with standing firm, I think of the issue more from the viewpoint of what happens if he does not succeed. I frankly worry for the nation.

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Current Efforts at ‘Reform’ Will Produce Minimal Change: An Interview with Herb Kohl

Here’s some of what Wikipedia has to say about my friend Herb Kohl: “Herbert Kohl is an educator best known for his advocacy of progressive alternative education and as the acclaimed author of more than thirty books on education. He began his teaching career in Harlem in 1962. In his teaching career, he has taught every grade from kindergarten through college.”

I would add my own memories. I remember being inspired by his first book, 36 Children, when I was a beginning teacher in New York. When I was at NPR, I visited Herb and his family at their home in the Redwoods in northern California. He took time away from directing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for his daughter’s elementary school. The challenge, he explained, was that four or five girls wanted to play Puck and had the talent and energy to do it well. His solution was to rewrite the play–they all got to star! Many years later I ran into Herb, then around 70, in New York and learned that he was studying Chinese calligraphy!

A restless intellect who has stayed true to his progressive principles, Herb is also an interesting interview.
The Interview

What’s your quick impression of Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” plans, which include what sounds like serious competition for dollars—and that means winners and losers? Is this political courage, or is it more federal encroachment on public education?

Arne Duncan, on the official Department of Education website said, “For states, school districts, nonprofits, unions, and businesses, Race to the Top is the equivalent of education reform’s moon shot.” I thoroughly agree with him. Remember we went to the moon, not to improve science or the quality of life in our country, but to face down the Soviet Union. We spent a lot of money doing it, got little return, and never went back. I believe Duncan’s analogy should be taken seriously.

One of the goals he articulates for the program is to be first on international standards of performance. Good luck – there are no agreed upon international standards. Another goal is to digitize education information and treat it like the digitize medical information the Administration proposes. But that simply entrenches specific high stakes tests into the system without delivering any substantial pedagogical change.

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“I’ve Got a Lot More Questions Than Answers”: An Interview with Chester Finn

Checker Finn has been a player in American public education for a long time. To many liberals, he’s been a burr under the saddle–or worse–but no one can deny that he’s thoughtful, articulate, productive and tireless. Checker, the president of the Fordham Institute, has written a zillion articles and books, most recently the aptly-titled “Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform” and another mentioned below.

In the first of a series of interviews and guest blogs on Taking Note, I asked my friend Checker a few questions.

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