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

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Back to the Future of Education Reform

After reading the Dunc's remarks to the (Corporate) Education Writers Association two days ago, I was interested to look back at the ed rhetoric that was circulating a hundred days after Bush came to town. Looking back in the NY Times archive, I found this piece that could have written yesterday, even though it is reporting from 20 years ago, just after Bush I wound up the Charlottesville Conference with governors at UVA--a fateful meeting that would give the reigns of American education to the technocratic, amoral hucksters of the Business Roundtable. Since then nothing has changed in terms of federal ed policy except, of course, the generational tightening of the thumb screws on students and teachers as each subsequent version of "accountability" measures fails to produce the advertised future.

And now, the thumb screws are about to be turned down once more, as the Dunc visits Detroit, a district blown up by the last 7 years of AYP bombs. The solution: tighten the screws again:
Duncan told The Detroit News that education in Detroit will be corrected only by raising expectations the district places on students and teachers.

"What's going on there is a national disgrace, and we're not going to change it without raising the bar," he said. "Detroit is not going to get where it needs to go without raising standards."
As you read the following from September 29, 1989, think Obama for Bush and Weingarten for Shanker and Former-President Clinton for Governor Clinton. Everything else has the same eternal freshness that comes with never-ending denial by antiquarians turned to face in the opposite direction (Marquard, 1987):
President Bush and the nation's Governors agreed today on the need to overhaul the nation's education system by creating a set of goals that will focus on eliminating illiteracy, reshaping curriculums and holding teachers accountable for their performance.

''We believe that the time has come, for the first time in U.S. history, to establish clear, national performance goals, goals that will make us internationally competetive,'' said the joint statement issued here at the end of a two-day meeting called by Mr. Bush to discuss education. The statement was written by the White House staff, Administration officials and a bipartisan group of governors.

Earlier today, in a speech to the governors, Mr. Bush said: ''The American people are ready for radical reforms. We must not disappoint them. ''Education is our most enduring legacy, vital to everything we are and can become,'' Mr. Bush said. . . .

. . . .''This is a major step forward in education,'' said Mr. Bush, standing near the sun-drenched steps of the rotunda on the University of Virginia campus. ''We've reached agreement on the need for national performance goals, on the need for more flexibility and accountability, the need for restructuring and choice.''

Obviously bowing to pressure from the Democratic governors, Mr. Bush added that the Federal Government was committed to ''more Federal support'' for preschool programs like Head Start for poor children. . . .

. . . .Mr. Bush won praise from several union leaders.

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Mr. Bush's speech ''defined a vision of education that was not public relations.'' . . . .

. . . .Mr. Bush had called the rare meeting with the governors largely because of the consensus with the Government and the education establishment that American schools were in turmoil and that the education system was increasingly lagging behind those of other industrial democracies. More Than Three R's

In his speech at midday, Mr. Bush said his Administration envisioned ''tradition-shattering reform in five areas.''

''First, I see the day when every student is literate,'' he said. ''But literacy should mean more than the 'three R's.' We must be a reading nation. We must grapple with the hard sciences.''

Mr. Bush also said students ''must do more than identify names on a multiple-choice question. They must understand the generosity of Andrew Carnegie, the genius of Alexander Graham Bell and the heroism of Rosa Parks.'' . . . .

* Giving parents more choice in selecting the schools they want their children to attend. ''Children differ in their interests, learning styles and capabilities,'' said Mr. Bush. ''I see the day when choice among schools will be the norm rather than the exception.''

* Developing more accountability, where teachers, principals and administrators must clearly answer for poor performances. ''We must now evaluate ourselves on a tougher grading curve, one that includes that other major industrial nations,'' Mr. Bush said.

* Exploiting the potential of every student, not only those who are gifted, but also the ''average students'' and the disadvantaged.

''Some of our reforms and experiments are sure to come up short,'' said Mr. Bush. ''But for too many of our schools, experimentation is preferable to the status quo, because the status quo could scarcely be worse.''

''After two centuries of progress,'' Mr. Bush told the governors, ''we are stagnant.''


  1. Anonymous11:28 AM

    My sense is that Arne Duncan is probably a very nice guy and maybe even an outstanding basketball buddy -- but he is largely unimaginative and uninformed about what is really happening at the ground level of high-needs schools. So I am not surprised at all that he recycles language and ideas about Education reform. Also, does anyone else agree that Duncan is the classic "negative charismatic" leader? Why do I always feel like I need a shower after hearing him speak? Why would President Obama pick someone for such an important post who shares none of his own inspirational gifts? Maybe someone can give Duncan a hug and slip a few good Education ideas into his coat pocket at the same time!

  2. Duncan seems typical of many of the quick, but narrow and shallow minds behind much of the "reform"/Charter movement.

    Oh, and a smarmy, "smiley-face" personality
    is mandatory.

    Ofcourse there are others behind-those-scenes as well-----Those with much sharper, more purposeful minds, and a lock on future profit$.

    What a team, huh?

    But don't laugh, the combo has
    proved devastating so far.