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Jon Stewart Exclusive - Arne Duncan Extended Interview

Ohanian Comment: Arne, very experienced at soundbites, offers robo-responses to some good questions by Jon Stewart. When Arne doesn't feel like answering Jon's question, he answers another question he has stored in his back pocket. At least he spared Jon Stewart the famous lines he repeated dozens of times in Chicago when asked a serious question by Substance reporter George Schmidt: "I'll get back to you on that."

Below I offer a few highlights from the Stewart-Duncan exchange, but first enjoy what Valerie Strauss has to say.

by Valerie Strauss at the Answer Sheet

Jon Stewart tries to talk to Arne Duncan
By Valerie Strauss

Jon Stewart tried to engage Education Secretary Arne Duncan on “The Daily Show” Thursday night, but the effort was an exercise in the futility of conversing with someone who won’t deviate from his talking points.

Duncan was so programmed that Stewart was even unable to get the basketball-playing secretary to have some fun talking about the New York Knicks' new hero, Jeremy Lin.

When Stewart jokingly asked Duncan whether, having graduated from Harvard, it was "a disappointment" that he "ended up as just the secretary of education" and not as an NBA superstar, Duncan's only response was about how great a role model the hard-working Lin was for young people.

Stewart surely knew at that point he would get nothing from Duncan, but he made a polite effort anyway, because he had time to fill and, perhaps, because he knew his mother, a teacher who apparently can't stand Duncan's policies, would be watching.

Stewart told Duncan that his mother tells him that the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative is exacerbating the standardized testing obsession of No Child Left Behind and making it harder for teachers to creatively do their jobs.

This is happening because the administration's policies encourage states to link teacher evaluation to standardized test scores, which not only has lead to more"“teaching to the test," but also an expansion of standardized testing into areas besides the traditional math and reading areas. I ran a guest post last year from a high school student who wanted to know why he had to take a standardized test in his yearbook class as his district field-tested 52 such tests in all kinds of subjects so that teachers in all subjects could be evaluated by the results.

That's the kind of thing teachers are complaining about, but Duncan gave no indication that he has heard them.

When Stewart said that a lot of the rhetoric about Race to the Top centers around innovation and creativity but that the reality is the opposite, and that teachers shouldn't be teaching to the test, Duncan said: "I actually agree with that." Huh?

Duncan then quoted President Obama as saying recently that "we have to stop teaching to the test," betraying not a hint of irony that it is the administration’s policies that are continuing this dynamic in public schools.

Stewart tried again and again to get Duncan to have a real conversation, but Duncan seemed to never directly respond to a question, always coming back to one of his talking points.

He even said that "teachers have been beaten down," again without betraying any recognition that many teachers blame his policies for this state of affairs.

What we learned from this exchange (the part that was televised) is that Stewart displayed a great grasp of the issues and the consequences of Race to the Top, and Duncan, well, not so much. I don't need to say that something is wrong with this picture, so I won't.

Part 1

Jon Stewart interviews Arne Duncan

Jon: My mother is a teacher. Her friends are teachers. . . they have an issue with Race to the Top. . . .

Arne: We're turning around under-performing schools. . . We're trying to fix things. . . . We're seeing amazing innovations coming from states. . . .

Jon made the point that "causing schools to teach to the test frustrates teachers rather than freeing them to be creative." Arne blamed this on the evil NCLB and insisted "we're for a well-rounded education for every child."

Jon: Benchmarks give mistaken impression that teaching is a science. Teaching is an art. . . .
Isn't RTTT the exact thing that demoralizes teachers even further?

Arne: We're trying to empower great local teachers and parents. . . . We have to educate our way to a better economy. . . two million jobs that go unfilled because there are no qualified workers to fill them. . . .

Part 2

Jon: They adopted your standards.

Arne: No. We don't have national standards. This is all done by courageous governors and state chief officers at local level. We do not have national standards.

Jon: Are educators' voices being heard enouogh?

Arne: . . . We're trying to take pockets of excellence--like Geoffrey Canada--and bring them to scale. . . .

Jon: Was RTTT a misstep?

Arne: Absolutely not. . . . All leadership is coming from the state level. . .

Part 3

Arne: . . . great teachers who work longer days, longer school years. . . . [talked about great things he did in Chicago--wrap-around services, etc.] We have 95,000 schools in this country. . . . They don't belong to me; they belong to the community.

Jon: . . . What you're describing doesn't seem to be matching up to teachers' experience. What can you say to them more directly, on a human level. . .

Arne: . . . Yesterday we announced we're spending 5 billion dollars to significantly elevate the profession. . . The entire pipeline is broken. . . . we're going to put a huge amount of money into places that train teachers better. . . we're going to compensate teachers in very different ways. . . . What we're doing with RTTT is to support really great teachers--the tough tough fight in New York will ultimately support great teachers. . . . Recognize and reward excellence. . . . That's what this entire initiative is about. . . .

NOTE. Part 2 of the interview is here.

Part 3 here

— Jon Stewart with Arne Duncan & coment by V. Strauss
The Daily Show & Answer Sheet





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