Close Reading of Arne Duncan’s Feb. 7 Speech: His “Either-Or” comment

This series of posts responds to excerpts from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s speech “Fighting the Wrong Education Battles” on Feb. 7 to the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  The bolded parts are Sec. Duncan’s speech.  The plain text is my response.

“I want to speak to you today not about Lady Gaga’s advocacy, but rather about well-intentioned advocacy that goes awry.

I want to talk about advocacy that inadvertently becomes less about helping children and making tough choices—and becomes more about maintaining ideological purity and making false choices.”

Mr. Duncan, the Montgomery County Schools have done some deep work in changing their schools.  A few years ago I read the book Leading for Equity by Childress, Doyle and Thomas which advocated reapportioning assets to targeted populations while raising the achievement for all.  I thought it amazing.  Since then I have learned about their Peer Assistance and Review program, a laudable program that has escorted hundreds of teachers to new careers.  Again, amazing.  I wanted it for our schools.   But you denied it Race for the Top funds because it did not include using test scores.  You talk that policy should not be an either-or choice, but miles away from your office you have a successful system that you ignore and deny because it does not fit your agenda.

“Well-intentioned advocates on both sides present policy choices as an either-or choice—not as a “both-and” compromise, however imperfect, that needs to be ironed out.
So, being “for” more state flexibility means you must be “against” accountability.
Supporting the use of student achievement data in English and Mathematics as one element in assessing school performance means you must oppose teaching a well-rounded curriculum.”

Mr. Duncan, one of the phrases I have liked from Diane Ravitch’s messages is that we should not go by the intention of a law or an idea but by how it plays out.  How are your policies of school assessment playing out?  I just read the March 2011 Educational Leadership (as a practicing English teacher, I am perennially behind professional reading), and found their article “High-Stakes Testing Narrows Curriculum” true.

I support the use of student achievement data in English and Math.  I just don’t support how you are using it.   And I find it interesting that you do not address the narrowed curriculum of RTTT.  You may acknowledge aspects of it, but you blame ESEA/NCLB, not acknowledging that to most practicing educators, RTTT is worse.


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