Time Magazine Calls Arne Duncan An Apostle of Reform

False prophet is what I'd call Arne Duncan. I am uncertain about the specifics of his plan to "scale up" NCLB, but that’s the type of phraseology that has caused many teachers in Chicago to lift a skeptical eyebrow. Those of us who worked in the Chicago Public Schools, who were in the trenches, did not find that Mr. Duncan was an Apostle of Reform. Instead, we see him as anti-union and pro-privatization, a school CEO who was a political pawn of our mayor. As head of the school system, he was personable, but not a proponent of reform, and certainly not as I understand reform.

If his response to troubled schools mirrors how he approached them in Chicago, I am afraid that his focus will not be in correcting failing schools rooted in impoverished communities with serious socio-economic problems. Having worked at one of the most difficult and failing schools, where I experienced successes of my own and many of my colleagues, but test scores remained low, I can tell you that Arne Duncan never looked at our successes. Chicago’s school reform movement has deteriorated into political power consolidation, creating magnet schools and academies that screened students, leaving behind neighborhood schools that enrolled low academic achievers.

On an uneven playing field, all players are considered equal. The results was that a number of schools progressed according to NCLB guidelines, while some chronically failed. The solution to the problem schools was to blame the teachers and hire a completely new staff. In the Chicago Public Schools system, these are called “turn-around schools”. Other underperforming schools are becoming privatized, part of the rush to sell the public school system to charter schools.

Unfortunately, only a few have proven to be measurably more successful than the public school. The rest, mostly, approximate similar successes and failures of the public schools they replaced, scoring about the same in the standardized tests, but they cost less to run, because they recruit college grads and pay them less. It really shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the numerous factors involved in failing schools, but it is more of a challenge to remediate them in light of the many intervening factors. Repeatedly, Chicago's Central Office managers (remember Arne Duncan was CEO, until he became Secretary of Education) have identified only one factor in the equation, generalized as incompetent and overpaid teachers.

That's why I am very adamant about why standardized test scores don't really measure a teacher's or student's success, or only measures success using very limited parameters. I have very many colleagues, who continued to work in this probationary high school in very challenging and unstable conditions, probably caused by dysfunctional families, under-resourced with problems not addressed by Central Office, until it reached a critical mass, and many of them were successful in providing the best education they could within that context. And they most certainly did not deserve to be "displaced" en masse by the Apostle of Reform for the failure they did not cause.

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