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NCLB Outrages

US schools chief says kids need more class time

Ohanian Comment: Fox News in New York City e-mailed me the story below the afternoon of April 7, asking if I'd be available to comment on it on their noon show on April 8. Although my mornings are filled with physical therapy I said sure, if they'd call me early. I received a phone call at 7:30 a.m. and I told the producer how very wrong Arne Duncan's comments are, offering a few facts. You can see some points below.

She responded, "Hmmmmm" and "Really?"

And she began hedging, "Well, as you know, money is tight and I don't know if we can get you into the studio in Burlington or not." I told her I was leaving at 9 a.m. and would need to know by then.

So she called back at 8:59, telling me she still didn't know and could she call me later.

I told her she could call my husband and I'd get in touch with him for instructions.

Next came a gruelling hour of physical therapy on my broken shoulder. Afterwards, my husband reported there had been no call from Fox.

The Fox TV station being in the opposite direction from my home, I decided to do errands in that direction. I found mandarin oranges on sale at the grocery store. (Yes, I belong to a local farm co-op and yes, I worry about carbon footprints, but I also can't lick my California heritage of eating fruit year round. At least these were from Bakersfield and not Australia, which would have given me pause.) Then I inched a bit closer to the TV station by going to K-Mart,looking for a bargain on toilet paper. And so on.

At 11:30 I checked in with my husband: Still no word from Fox. I'd been making my way toward the TV station, so I went on over there. The technician said that Fox in New York had made no contact all morning. . . and that by then it was too late to organize an upload as noon is a busy time for their own station.

The New York Fox News person never made further contact, and by now I've figured it out. Call me a slow learner. Fox knew when they called me what it would cost for a live feed from Burlington. As a matter of fact, I've done this before at that station. Fox New York tried me out in that initial call, didn't like my strong rebuttal of Arne and the corporate dominance of education policy, and decided not to use me. But the producer couldn't figure out how to say this so she hedged and told me they'd still have to figure out the budget of the matter. While I was left hanging between 7:30 and 12, they were rounding up someone with a more positive attitude toward Arne.

Fox News? I feel foolish for even have considered cooperating. But I hate to see Arne Duncan and friends pontificate with never a word of dispute. This is the perennial dissident dilemma: Refuse to cooperate. Or waste our energy trying to rebut them.

By Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP) -- American school children need to be in school more -- way more -- if the nation is to compete with students abroad, the nation's top educator said Tuesday.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said American schools should be open six days a week, at least 11 months a year, to improve student performance.

"Go ahead and boo me," Duncan told about 400 middle and high school students at a public school in northeast Denver. "I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short."

NOTE: Finnish children, who score at the top on international tests, remain in a true kindergarten situation, with play being the focus of their day, until age seven. Then, they don't have long school days. Many days end by one o'clock. School lessons are broken up by lengthy recess periods of play every hour. Finnish students take off ten weeks in the summer. According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)Finnish pupils spend an OECD record low total of some 5,523 hours at their desks, compared to the average of 6,847 hours.

RESEARCH: Physical Activity May Strengthen Children's Ability to Pay Attention. Science Daily (April 1, 2009)

Alliance for Childhood. Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School (March 20, 2009)

"You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China," said Duncan.

Oh really? Of course Duncan ignores the fact that India and China make no attempt to educate ALL their chidren. And slides by the fact that many US jobs are disappearing, not because we haven't educated our youth for them but because corporate greed outsources them. IBM workers were told they could keep their jobs--if they moved to India and accepted Indian wages.

Or perhaps Duncan had in mind that we should educate kids to sit at looms knotting rugs.

I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year," Duncan said.

U. S. workers are the most productive in the world--and work the longest hours. . . and are now dissed by the Obama regime, the corporate cronies who've been throwing our money at banks and brokerage firms. Now the Obama regime wants to put children on this same frenetic pace? All work and no play make Jack worse than a dull boy; they kill childhood.

Instead of boos, Duncan's remark got an unsurprising response from the teenage assembly -- bored stares. But the former Chicago schools superintendent went on to talk about school reforms he believes are coming from the Obama administration.

Duncan praised Denver schools for allowing schools to apply for almost complete autonomy -- which allows them to waive union contracts so teachers can stay for after-school tutoring or Saturday school.

Duncan calls it autonomy. And even though the unions choose to roll over and play dead, I call it union busting, and I call it reprehensible. Teaching is reduced to on-call script-reading, a test prep occupation for those willing to give up any semblance of professionalism, any semblance a private life. Of course, if you're reading scripts, you won't have to go home and prepare lessons. You'll only have to be ever-available at the phone.

Duncan also applauded Denver's pay-for-performace teacher pay system, a scheme that some Democrats and teachers' groups oppose. In visits to two schools Tuesday, Duncan quizzed school administrators about Denver's reforms, including the pay system, longer hours and waiving tenure rights for new hires.

Pay-for-performance relies on student scores on bogus standardized tests. Secret tests that are kept secret because their content is so inappropriate. For a small sample take a look at Stupid Test Items.

None of the people promoting Pay-for-Performance has ever studied the actual items on standardized tests. . . or admitted that Pay-for-Performance promotes endless test prep for children in poverty. The very children who need a rich curriculum the most won't get it.

As George Madaus,Michael Russell, and Jennifer Higgins observe in The Paradoxes of High Stakes Testing, "As a nation, we spend more than $1 billion a year on federally mandated educational tests that 30 million students must take each year. The country spends an additional $1.2 billion on test preparation materials designed to help students pass these tests." Isn't it past time to hold the testing industry accountable for their product--instead of searching for ways to give these tests even greater importance over the lives of teachers and students?

"Talent matters tremendously. ... It's important that great teachers get paid more," Duncan said.

And McGraw-Hill will get to provide the matrices for defining who's great.

Duncan visited at the invitation of Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who was Denver's schools superintendent from 2005 until his appointment to the Senate this year. The city's pay-for-performance plan was one of Bennet's chief accomplishments while in charge of the 75,000-student system.

The old saw used to be "Anybody who's been to public school feels qualified as an expert on how they should be run." Now such attendance isn't required. This fellow, a corporate turnaround expert, is the product of private schools all the way. Bennet was a featured speaker at the recent Al Sharpton/NY schools chancellor Joel Klein notorious National Action Network Convention.

A couple of years ago, Bennet's pay-for-performance plan received a $22 million boodle from the Bush's U.S. Department of Education, a funding grease-the-wheels package to increase test score hysteria, further encroaching on the professional integrity of educators.

Similarly, Duncan hasn't shied away from challenging Democratic positions on education since joining Obama's cabinet.

Last month, he said that poor children getting vouchers to attend private schools in the District of Columbia should be allowed to stay there, putting the Obama administration at odds with Democrats trying to end the program. Duncan talked up school choice during his Denver visit, though he didn't mention vouchers or elaborate whether he meant private schools, too.

Vouchers are a distraction, diverting attention from the real needs of children of poverty. What poor children need is to live in a family receiving a living wage. They need adequate food, adequate housing, adequate health care. They need parents who aren't consumed with money worries.

"I'm a big believer that students and parents should have a choice what school they want to go to," Duncan said.

Bennet, greeted by hugs from teachers lining the hallways of the two schools, sided with Duncan. Bennet told reporters he wanted to help steer any education reform proposals from the White House through the Senate.

"A change needs to come, especially in urban school districts, and it's not going to be easy," Bennet said.

He added, "I will do absolutely everything to get myself in the middle of that conversation."

Colorado, along with other states, is prepping to apply for some $5 billion worth of federal education grants coming through the economic stimulus package. Duncan said details of how that money will be awarded haven't been decided.

Already, the federal Department of Education has released $44 billion to the states for education. According to Colorado estimates, the state is due about $487 million for K-12 education. The principal at the high school Duncan visited announced to the students and teachers that the school has already received its portion, about $200,000.

"It's here!" principal Kristin Waters cried, to cheers from the staff.

Duncan is full of hot air, mouthing empty cliches. But I heard it on good authority that a writer trying to write a profile has found it hard to find anyone at a think tank, university, union, and so on who will speak critically of him--at least not on the record. My theory is that with all these billions stacked up in the U. S. Department of Education, people don't want to hurt their chances for getting their hands on some of the filthy lucre. So mum's the word on Duncan.

— Kristen Wyatt
Associated Press


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