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Surprise, Surprise: California Mayors Education Roundtable Sucks up to Duncan

Ohanian Comment: This is the outrage of the day, with one shining spot of good news from the mayor of Richmond and the Community Advocate working in the mayor's office.


California activists should contact mayors and superintendents in their communities. Advocates in other states should check up on the existence of similar suck-up letters. And everybody should write a thank you note to the mayor of Richmond and the Community Advocate, Marilyn Langolis.

Surprise, Surprise: California Mayors Education Roundtable Sucks up to Duncan


Dear resisters,

A couple of months ago, Arne Duncan came to San Francisco and met with the "California Mayors Education Roundtable," convened by WestEd. My boss, Mayor McLaughlin of Richmond, and I attended.

As a follow-up, that group sent Arne a letter on July 8, basically groveling for ARRA dollars, and praising his priorities for adopting rigorous standards, recruiting and retaining effective teachers especially in classrooms where they are needed most, turning around low-performing schools, and building data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

It was signed by mayors of Berkeley, Chula Vista, Fresno, Long Beach, LA (Deputy Mayor), Pasadena, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Francisco, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Stockton, along with their local school district superintendents. For Chula Vista, only the Mayor signed, not the supt. For Richmond, San Diego and San Jose, only the superintendent signed, not the mayor.

Mayor McLaughlin of Richmond did not sign the letter, but did send the e-mail below, including Susan Harman̢۪s article in Dissent. She̢۪ll send a similar letter to Arne himself.

Marilyn Langolis
Community Advocate
Office of Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin

First, we get the Standardisto suck-ups looking for money.

California Mayors Education Roundtable An Initiative of WestEd

July 8, 2009

The Honorable Arne Duncan Secretary of Education U. S. Department of Education 400 Maryland Avenue, SW Washington, D. C. 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan:

The California Mayors Education Roundtable wishes to thank you for joining us on May 22. We appreciated the candor and clarity of your remarks concerning the roadblocks our state must overcome if we are to take advantage of resources available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). You have challenged us to respond to the tremendous opportunity before us. We believe the coalitions of city, district and county leaders represented within the Mayors Roundtable hold the ingenuity and capacity necessary to realize the promise of a world-class education for all children in California.

Understanding the significance of this historic moment, the California Mayors Roundtable is ready to work with you to catalyze the reform contemplated by the ARRA. The city and school district partners represented by the Roundtable are committed to making progess on the priorities and direction set by your office. Specifically:

  • adopting rigorous standards that prepare students for success in college and the workforce;
  • recruiting and retaining effective teachers, especially in classrooms where they are needed most;
  • turning around low-performing schools; and
  • building data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

  • Our group is also committed to supporting California's application for stimulus funding. We recognize the state's vital role in the application process, particularly with respect to developing a statewide data system that links student achievement and teacher effectiveness. We are prepared to work with the California Department of Education, the Governor's office, and others to expedite development of such a system. In the coming weeks, members of the Mayors Roundtable will meet with state leaders on this issue, pledging our support, offering our assistance, and establishing reciprocal commitments that will build accountability for results into this process. At the same time, we are keenly aware that the state's continuing fiscal challenges are likely to place significant concstraints on its ability to prepare a successful application for federal funding; if that is the case, the Mayors Roundtable remains interested in submitting an alternative approach for your consideration.

    As we work with the state, our commitment to working closely with the Admionistration is unambiguous and unqualified. Innovative national leadership at this critical uncture is essential. Decisions that affect the viability of our cities and the future of our children are unfolding and must engage our collective best efforts. We welcome the opportunity to continue our conversation with you about strategies for lasting change, and we hope to meet with you again on one of your future trips to California.


    City of Berkeley
    Tom Bates, Mayor
    Julie Sinai, Chief of Staff Mayor's Office
    Bill Huyett, Superintendent, Berkeley Unified School District

    City of Chula Vista
    Cheryl Cox, Mayor

    City of Fresno
    Ashley Swearengin, Mayor
    Michael Hanson, Superintendent, Fresno Unified School District

    City of Long Beach
    Bob Foster, Mayor
    Chris Steinhauser, Superintendent Long Beach Unified School District

    City of Los Angeles
    Miriam Long, Deputy Mayor for Education, Youth and Families
    Angela Bass, Superintendent, The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools

    City of Pasadena
    Bill Bogaard, Mayor
    Edwin Diaz, Superintendent, Pasadena Unified School District

    City of Richmond
    Bruce Harter, Superintendent, West Contra Costa School District

    City of Riverside
    Ronald Loveridge, Mayor
    Gladys Walker, Superintendent, Riverside Unified School District
    Wendell Tucker, Superintendent, Alvord Unified School District

    City of Sacramento
    Kevin Johnson, Mayor
    Ting Sun, Education Advisor, Mayor's Office
    Susan Miller, Superintendent, Sacramento City Unified School District
    David Gordon, Superintendent, Sacramento County Office of Education

    City of San Bernardino
    Patrick Morris, Mayor
    Arturo Delgado, Superintendent, San Bernardino Unified School District

    City of San Diego
    Terry Grier, Superintendent, San Diego Unified School District

    City of San Francisco
    Gavin Newsom, Mayor
    Hydra Mendoza, Education Advisor, Office of the Mayor
    Carlos Garcia, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District

    City of San Jose
    Don Iglesias, Superintendent, San Jose Unified School District

    City of Santa Ana
    Miguel Pulido, Mayor
    Jane Russo, Superintendent, Santa Ana Unified School District

    City of Santa Barbara
    Marty Blum, Mayor
    J. Brian Sarvis, Superintendent, Santa Barbara School District

    City of Stockton
    Ann Johnston, Mayor
    Anthony Amato, Superintendent, Stockton Unified School District

    Now we get the person willing to speak out for principle.

    City of Richmond
    Office of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin

    July 23, 2009

    Arne Duncan
    United States Secretary of Education
    LBJ Education Building, Room 7W311
    400 Maryland Ave., SW
    Washington, DC 20202

    Dear Secretary Duncan,

    Thank you for taking the time to come to San Francisco on May 22 and meet with the California Mayors Education Roundtable. I appreciated the opportunity to hear your ideas about improving education for our children. On July 8, several members of the California Mayors Education Reoundtable sent you a follow-up letter, and I would like to explain to you why I opted not to sign that letter.

    While I applaud the notion of recruiting and retaining effective teachers, especially in the classrooms where they are needed most, I don't believe your proposal of offering teachers more pay for higher test scores will accomplish this. The attached article from Dissent Magazine by a retired teacher who dedicated her career to working with low-income students in Richmond, San Pablo and Oakland provides an important perspective on the nature of motivation in the field of education, and reminds us of the overall persistent correlation between socioeconomic status and academic achievement.

    Where is what my constituents tell me is needed to turn around schools facing challenges.

  • More support for teachers in the form of lower class sizes, ample support staff, time to collaborate with colleagues, and flexibility to offer a rich curriculum
  • Policies that will eradicate poverty and eliminate the gross inequalities in wealth and income that plague our country.

  • These are things that I believe we should be strongly advocating, and I would encourage you to do so in your role as US Secretary of Education

    Gayle McLaughlin
    Mayor, City of Richmond

    Pay-Per-Score: Arne Duncan and Merit Pay

    by Susan Harman
    Dissent, July 2009

    OUR NEW Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (and his president) argues that we need to "incent" teachers with "merit pay" to get them to do better: "I think we cannot do enough to recognize, reward, shine a spotlight on, and yes, incent excellence." To understand how many things are wrong with this assumption, we need to take it apart.

    What does he mean by doing better? He means getting our students to score higher on the tests. But researchers have found that test scores correlate very highly with socio-economic status. Those schools with poor kids and high scores have likely resorted to gamesmanship: They hold kids over in ninth grade, so they don̢۪t lower the all-important tenth grade scores and push out low scorers. They "re-norm" the tests and set new cutoff points so that last year̢۪s failing score is this year's "proficient" score. They teach to the test by turning the curriculum into "drill-and-kill" test preparation--or simply teach the test itself (otherwise known as cheating).

    So why does Duncan call it merit pay then? Is there anything meritorious about relentlessly subjecting kids to test prep? Defining a school̢۪s success or a teacher's merit by high test scores is not just simplistic but profoundly wrong. A school devoted to test prep is a bad school whereas a school where children and adults delve deeply into a rich, experiential, relevant, and sophisticated curriculum is a good school. The latter may also have high scores but that's often a function of the socio-economic status of the children who go there since this kind of school tends to be populated by families who do not tolerate a test-prep curriculum.

    Let's instead call merit pay what it is: pay-per-score.

    Duncan thinks the reason children score low is that teachers don̢۪t work hard enough at raising the scores. He might actually have some insight here. I don't know a teacher who thinks the tests provide any instructionally useful data, so why invest the time or energy in prepping students for them? Since teachers hate doing test prep, which is what much of our curriculum has become, perhaps Duncan is right that only money will motivate us to raise scores.

    What would actually doing better in schools look like? It would mean building on what the teachers are already doing: designing engaging curriculum, forging relationships with children and their families and neighborhoods, and collaborating with their colleagues. It would take full advantage of the fact that many, if not most, teachers love working with kids. Duncan's concept of merit pay suggests that he doesn̢۪t know this. Instead, he demands we substitute "drill-and-kill" test prep, which engages no one except the companies that publish the tests and the prep materials (the Big Three are Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, and the Bush family favorites, CTB/McGraw-Hill).

    Would we need to be bribed to teach genuine curriculum better? Do our business and political leaders think people go into teaching for the money? Perhaps they haven’t looked at teacher salaries lately. Don't they know that people go into teaching for the love of the craft and the kids—in other words, because they feel a "calling"? Ask any of us, and I’m betting not one will say, "Ever since I was little I loved playing school and handing out bubble answer sheets to the other kids and making them fill them in."

    If the federal government imposes a pay incentive based on test scores, who would want to teach poor kids since it's clear that they often score low on tests. Now, I know I just said that teachers don't do it for the money, and we all know that many of us are committed to working with poor kids. Nevertheless, to know up front that you will be paid less than those up the hill working with the rich kids--that could "dis-incent" some teachers. Plus the fact that middle-class parents substantially subsidize the "frills," which have been driven out of the generic school day by the pressure to raise test scores, means that the hills schools have art, music, libraries, foreign languages, P.E., science, trips, and recess. The flatlands schools--without these parental inputs--suffer from "drill-and-kill" phonics and arithmetic. Regardless of one's commitment to the poor, who would want to administer scripted texts as opposed to teaching genuine curriculum?

    But perhaps the Broads, Gateses, and Business Roundtable folks who are running education in this country don̢۪t love what they do. Perhaps they do, indeed, need to be "incented" with money to do what they do. Perhaps misery loves company. I feel sorry for them and would urge them to spend some time with a good teacher in a school that has escaped the drill-and-kill curricula these same businessmen have imposed on the rest of us. Perhaps a visit to the Sidwell Friends School, in Washington, D.C., where Malia and Sasha go, would change Duncan's perspective on what's valuable to learn--and what motivates teachers to teach it. It certainly ain't pay-per-score.

    Susan Harman is a semi-retired principal, teacher, psychologist, and writer, and the Coordinator of CalCARE, the California Resistance to the standards and testing madness.

    — California mayors and school superintendents
    Mayors Education Roundtable





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