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'Alan Greenspan II' Heads Education Department

Arne Duncan's Newspeak -- and Ayn Rand/'Free Market' Ideology-- -- Means Bullying States Into Forced School Closings, Massive Privatization

Publication Date: 2009-04-18

April 15, 2009

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This is a must read for anyone interested in current education "reform" efforts.

Duncanspeak is scary. I see it in the Portland Public Schools, where I am a student teacher. Our superintendent, Carole Smith, also refers to our portfolio of schools. Board members talk of "failing" schools - elementary and middle schools in poor neighborhoods that were turned into K-8 models by a $25 million grant from Bill Gates and a local philanthrocapitalist. Add in Portland's open enrollment system (students can easily switch schools even before NCLB's open transfer policy kicks in).

Reversing the market mechanisms are tremendously difficult. Kim Smith, former TFA member and influential member of the New Schools Venture Fund supporting a variety of Chicago charter schools, notes public education can be privatized by outsourcing services - food service, busing, textbooks. And, of course, through the charter school movement driven by Gates/Broad/Walton.

Keep up the good fight,

Not too many reporters noticed that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was using a specific kind of jargon when he discussed his plan for education during his brief visit back to Chicago on April 14, but one specific reference was important.

"You basically eliminate that bottom part of your portfolio," Duncan was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying.


"Low performance?"

Here is the entire paragraph from the April 15 Chicago Tribune: "As he called for higher pay for those teaching math, science and foreign languages, Duncan said states need to be more aggressive in closing the worst schools. 'You basically eliminate that bottom part of your portfolio,' he said."

The Tribune did not make it clear whether Duncan's remarks were from a public press conference at a photo opportunity at a Chicago public school, or from a private briefing with the Tribune Editorial Board. Duncan repeated several important points about how he intends to use the second round of federal stimulus money to force states to follow the free market approaches to education which he claims (falsely, as Substance has reported) improved public education in Chicago. The report on Duncan's Chicago visit was replete with the jargon of Wall Street, not of school boards and Main Street. And at the heart of Duncan's corporate jargon is a deeply held philosophy more remniscent of the former head of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, that of any person who ever headed a public school system in the USA in the more than 200 year history of American public schools.

Duncan, in fact, is promising to lead American public education in a right wing revolution against the traditions of public schools.

"We're not looking just at past track record," Duncan is quoted as saying, "We're looking at people who are really willing to challenge the status quo..."

Referring to the first wave of federal stimulus money, Duncan said: "That piece of it is behind us, and Illinois has a chance to either stay at a very mediocre level or fundamentally break through and start to reward excellence and create innovation and incent [sic] innovation."

As the article makes clear, "improving public education" in Arne Duncan's version of reality means more charter schools, the closing of low-scoring public schools, and various forms of choice and material incentives (including teacher merit pay). Duncan claims that he successfully brought those reforms to Chicago's public schools, although Substance has proven in each case that Duncan's claims are false and will continue to do so even more elaborately now that Duncan is trying to export the attacks on public education that he got away with in Chicago.

But why is Barack Obama's Secretary of Education sounding like a Wall Street investment banker -- or like Alan Greenspan? Haven't Wall Street investment bankers learned the error of their fundamentalist free market ways, just as Alan Greenspan admitted he was wrong about the massive deregulation he promoted, especially when the Federal Reserve "Open Market Committee" would meet?

Not a bit. Arne Duncan believes what he says, and will do what he promises. He got away with it in Chicago largely because the corporate media was uncritical of Mayor Richard M. Daley's performance as chief of the schools and the fact that his "Board of Education" would rubber stamp every free market approach to the public schools, especially those designed to privatize as much of the school system as possible. During the more than seven years Arne Duncan served -- not as "Schools Superintendent" but as "Chief Executive Officer" -- at the top of Chicago's public schools system, the Chicago Board of Education would vote every month -- unanimously and without debate -- in favor of betwen 100 and 200 proposals from Arne Duncan every month. More than 2,000 per year. More than 10,000 in the seven years between July 2001 (when Duncan was appointed) and December 2008 (when Obama tapped Duncan to head the U.S. Department of Education). What most of the USA is about to learn is that Barack Obama's Secretary of Education is not simply not an educator, as George W. Bush's final education secretary (Margaret Spellings) was. Duncan doesn't even think about education. He views a school system as he viewed an investment portfolio during his days with Ariel Capital Management, the investment house at which he worked prior to his appointment as U.S. Secretary of Education by President Obama in December and his taking office in January 2009.

For more than a year, Duncan, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education (all of whom are in business, not education) and his inner circle (especially the all-powerful Office of New Schools which leads the replacement of public schools under "Renaissance 2010") have been discussing Chicago schools as a "portfolio" -- the same as your "financial planner" would discuss your investments if you have enough money to have a financial planner and maintain investments in stock, bonds, and other so-called "instruments" or "products".

Like any good financial planner, Arne Duncan proposes that at some point the owner dumps low performing and under performing assets, much like your stock broker (if you had enough of a fortune to have one) would tell you to dump stocks in companies that were "failing."

Duncan was operating like this long before he became U.S. Secretary of Education. During his final years in office as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, he routinely used the jargon of a stockbroker to describe how Chicago was accumulating what he called a "Portfolio" of New Schools under "Renaissance 2010" and was eliminating from the public education portfolio a large number of traditional public schools that were variously described as "underperforming," "underutilized," or located serving poor children in gentrified communities where the wealthy were "underserved."

Using this Orwellian jargon, straight out of his own business experience, Arne Duncan was systematically destroying public schools in Chicago and replacing them, for the most part, with unregulated quasi-private schools (charters and others).

And if that's what Barack Obama wants done now across the USA, it's why Arne Duncan is in power. One of Obama's earliest and most powerful supporters in politics has been John Rogers, Arne Duncan's high school buddy and head of Ariel Capital Management and several other investment institutions. If that approach is not what the USA wants for its public schools, people had better stop thinking that Arne Duncan is thinking like all the other teachers and school administrators in the USA and realize that Duncanspeak is not an aberration, but the dawn of a radical new era where the writings of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman will be much more important than the writings of John Dewey and traditional American public school advocates.

Don't miss the photo which brings home this commentary. Below is the photo caption.

No, it wasn't one of those obscure Alan Greenspan jokes. As soon as Arne Duncan became "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public school system in July 2001, the office building that housed the Chicago Board of Education's administrative offices and school board, in the old Commonwealth Edison building at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago, got a new tenant on a floor that was mostly used for public business. "John Galt Solutions" (SEE John Galt. John Galt Solutions state with pride that they are named for the iconic figure in Ayn Randâs novel, Atlas Shrugged.) was, for several years, the only private business leasing space on the 19th floor of the Chicago Board of Education's headquarters. All other activities on the floor (as shown in the above August 2008 photographs) were public business. One entity on the floor favored the abolition of public service and public business, as did on chief executive. Substance photo showing the "floor directory" outside the elevators on the 19th floor of 125 S. Clark St. in August 2008 by George N. Schmidt.

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