I am no fan of Arne Duncan's, and I never have been. I want to state that up front so that my bias is known to the reader from the get go. If you like Arne Duncan…if you think he has been a good spokesperson for teachers and students and if you think he is doing a fine job as the Secretary of Education for the United States, you may want to skip this post. I won't mind, I promise. But if you are as offended by some of the things Mr. Duncan says about teachers in general and about public education in particular as I am, you may want to continue reading.
Mr. Duncan's most recent egregious remark was made at a meeting of the state schools superintendents on Friday. He said that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who–all of a sudden–their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were.” Yes, he really said that.
Of course, Arne Duncan's disdain for public education in America is well known and documented. He has said many things along this line ever since he was appointed to the post of Secretary of Education by President Obama. His frame of reference is Chicago's public schools, and he has yet to broaden his perspective to include the many successful schools that are operating all over the country every single day. He has measured his assessment of the nation's schools based on that Chicago experience, and he is apparently sincerely convinced that most of the schools in this country are under par. Furthermore, he is of the opinion that a large percentage of America's teachers are so bad that they should be fired immediately.
Duncan has an arrogant tendency to dismiss those who disagree with him, much the way we might swat at a fly or wave off a gnat that is bothersome but generally inconsequential. Indeed, Duncan's tendency to dismiss detractors and critics was the subject of an article written by Dr. Patricia McGuire, President of Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC. in yesterday's Huff Post. She commented that he “uses the word ‘silly' a lot these days to describe people who have points of view that differ from his on the topic of education reform, both K-12 as well as higher education.”
I honestly haven't decided yet how I feel about Common Core Standards. I know that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) have offered support for them, and I think I understand why. And I wouldn't go so far as to say that the standards are necessarily bad. I understand from some concerned critics of the standards that they are developmentally inappropriate, and if that is true, that is certainly worrisome and a legitimate source of concern. Having said that, I can appreciate the argument that having standards that have been adopted by every state might help students who move from place to place in this ever increasingly transient society. Students who move from California to Maine might benefit from having a more or less standardized curriculum so that a move doesn't set them back because the curriculum in California is so markedly different from Maine's curriculum, and vice versa. But I question the rush with which the standards are being implemented and the high stakes nature of the tests that continue to be tied not only to the standards but to teachers' ability to get the students up to benchmarks which may or may not be realistic. Certainly the ultimate goal set for No Child Left Behind was not attainable. I wonder if it is possible that new goals being set by non-educators are similarly unrealistic and unattainable.
I don't have an opinion about Common Core Standards, but I do have an opinion about Arne Duncan, and that is that he would do everyone involved a favor if he would step down and go to work for some for profit charter or testing corporation instead of abusing his current position the way he seems to be doing. A Secretary of Education should be a champion of public education. A Secretary of Education should be an exemplary educator. A Secretary of Education should have a deep understanding of the challenges that teachers face whether they are in our urban schools or our poorest rural schools. A Secretary of Education should believe that poverty is no excuse but not take away the resources that teachers need in order to work with the 16% of our students who live in poverty every day (20% of students under the age of 6 live in poverty). Mr. Duncan doesn't get it, and unfortunately it doesn't look like he is ever going to. He just continues to stick his foot in his mouth again and again. He continues to do more harm that good in the long run. I wish we had a champion as our Secretary of Education…but I guess I will just keep wishing for now.