"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Op-Ed Blasts Duncan

From AJC, Tuesday, December 23:
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hailed by some as a pioneer in education reform, Arne Duncan was recently selected by President-elect Obama to be our next secretary of education. However, his track record as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools for the past seven years shows that Duncan is the wrong choice for America’s schools.

Behind the rhetoric of “reform” is the reality of Duncan’s accomplishments, particularly the problems behind his signature initiative, Renaissance 2010. Launched in 2004, Renaissance 2010 aims to open 100 new smaller schools (and close about 60 “failing” schools) by the year 2010. To date, 75 new schools have opened.

However, many of them are charter schools that serve fewer low-income, limited-English proficient and disabled students than regular public schools. More than a third of them are in communities that are not high-needs areas. During Duncan’s tenure, district-wide high school test scores have not risen, and most of the lowest-performing high schools saw scores drop.

This should not be surprising. Central to that strategy was the creation of 100 new charter schools, managed by for-profit businesses and freed of local school councils and teacher unions, groups that historically have put the welfare of poor and minority students before that of the business sector.

Duncan’s reforms are steeped in a free-market model of school reform, particularly the notion that school choice and charter and specialty schools will motivate educators to work harder to do better as will penalties for not meeting standards. But research does not support such initiatives. There is evidence that encouraging choice and competition will not raise districtwide achievement, and charter schools in particular are not outperforming regular schools. There is evidence that choice programs actually exacerbate racial segregation. And there is evidence that high-stakes testing increases the drop-out rate.

Duncan’s track record is clear. Less parental and community involvement in school governance. Less support for teacher unions. Less breadth and depth in what and how students learn as schools place more emphasis on narrow high-stakes testing. More penalties for schools but without adequate resources for those in high-poverty areas. Duncan’s accomplishments are not a model.

America’s schools are in dire need of reform, and in 2009, we have the opportunity to overhaul the failed policies of No Child Left Behind. The research is compelling: students need to learn more, not less. Parents need to be involved more, not less. Teachers need to be trained more. Schools need to be resourced more. We need new ways to fund schools, to integrate schools, to evaluate learning and to envision what we want schools to accomplish.

Education should strive to prepare every child to flourish in life. We need a different leader, one with a rich knowledge of research, with a commitment to educating our diverse children and with a vision to make that happen.

• Kevin Kumashiro is associate professor and chair of educational policy studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of “The Seduction of Common Sense: How the Right has Framed the Debate on America’s Schools.”

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