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Peter Greene on Arne Duncan’s April Fools Day Joke

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Peter Greene does his very best close reading of Arne Duncan’s bizarre article in The Washington Post in which he insists that his policies have NOT failed, contrary to the evidence and public opinion.

He begins:

Lately, a wave of apostasy has swept through Reformsylvania, and reformsters have stepped up to say that ed reform kind of, well, failed. Yesterday, just in time for April Fools Day, former secretary of education Arne Duncan (and current thinky tank fixture) took to the pages of the Washington Postto try his hand at some non-reality-based history and argue that ed reform has been a resounding success.

How has he managed this feat? Well, there are several tricks.

This damn guy

First, move the goalposts. All the way back to 1971. Fourth grade math and reading scores on the NAEP are up since then!! Why focus on fourth grade scores? Maybe because 17-year-old scores haven’t really moved much at all. And of course, reform hasn’t been in place since 1971– and most of that growth happened before modern ed reform ever took hold– you know, prior to those days when Secretary Duncan was explaining that American schools actually sucked? And all of this assumes that a single standardized math a reading score is a good proxy for the quality of the entire educational system.

Duncan has an explanation for those flat 12th grade scores– because the graduation rate is up, more weak students are taking the NAEP, and so keeping the scores flat is a win. Yay? Anyway, graduation rates are up, so that’s more proof of ed reform success, except that, of course, whether those diplomas actually mean anything other than districts have learned how to game the system with credit recovery and other baloney– well, never mind. There’s probably some real gain there, and that’s not a bad thing. The numbers are up, so woohoo…

[His] notion that test-based accountability “revealed” achievement gaps is baloney. Educators knew where the gaps were. We’ve4 always known where the gaps were. We’ve screamed about the gaps. I don’t believe any teacher in this country picked up test results and said, “I’ll be damned! I had no idea these non-white, non-wealthy students were having trouble keeping up!” At best, test-based accountability was a tool to convince policy makers who would listen to data spreadsheets before they would listen to teachers. And even then, policy makers didn’t look at the data and say, “Well, we’d better help these schools out.” Instead, all the way up to Duncan’s office, they responded with, “Well, let’s target this school for closure or conversion or a growth opportunity for some charter operators.”

This, it turns out, is another thing Arne “Katrina’s Destruction of NOLA Public Ed Is a Great Thing” Duncan counts as success- three million students in charter school. He cites Boston as a win (again, debateable) but ignores the widespread fraud, corruption and failure that charters have been prone to nationally…

Duncan has tried a variety of history rewrites for his administration (only politicians hated Common Core! charter school magic unleashed! ESSA was not a reaction against his work! CCSS should have been rolled out faster!) But all of his reflections stumble over the same problem– Duncan simply refuses to acknowledge the damage that his policies have done to public education. Here he is acting puzzled again–

[Duncan wrote:] Some have taken the original idea of school choice — as laboratories of innovation that would help all schools improve — and used it to defund education, weaken unions and allow public dollars to fund private schools without accountability.

No, Arne! Not “some.” Not some faceless mysterious group of folks. You. You and the people that you empowered and encouraged and cheered on and backed with your policies. You did that.

Well, as we have come to expect, Peter is right on target.

Charter schools are the gateway to vouchers. It is now widely understood that Arne Duncan and his friends paved the way for Betsy DeVos and her all-out war on  public schools. That is now widely recognized, even if Duncan doesn’t admit it.

Reform is failing, failing, failing. The public is wise to the reformers’ real goal, which is to privatize public schools and disparage teachers instead of confronting the real issues of poverty and segregation.

And nothing that Arne writes here changes that fact.


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