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Answering Arne Duncan... 'The problem is poverty'

We must follow Stephen Krashen's example and keep repeating it: The problem is poverty.

by Stephen Krashen

[Editor's Note. Early this year, the Washington Post did another one of those mindless interviews with Arne Duncan, currently U.S. Secretary of Education, wherein Duncan is able to say the most outrageous things about U.S. public education (and his own personal history) without the reporter questioning anything Duncan spouts. Substance is sharing the following material from Substance contributor and reporter Stephen Krashen, who has criticized the policies the Duncan is now promulgating across the USA back before Duncan was playing "professional" basketball in Australia (when readers will note, he claimed to be "teaching" in Chicago's inner city. Dr. Krashen's observations are being shared with our readers after the materials brought joy to thousands of hearts across the Internet in early January 2011. Professor Krashen (now retired from USC) tries to do his critical writing in the least time and with the fewest words possible, always adding footnotes, but in the case of Arne Duncan's bizarre pronouncements, as noted below, it took a little more space than usual. In the material below, Stephen Krashen is responding to an article which guoted Duncan on the subject of his hopes for "bipartisan" governing as the No Child Left Behind act is renewed in the coming year by the U.S. Congress.].

Six months after Arne Duncan was made U.S. Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama despite Duncan's scarcity of teaching experience or qualifications, members of CORE protested against a speech being given at Chicago's Regency Hyatt Hotel by Duncan. Duncan was speaking to a newly organized but well funded group called "Advance Illinois" on June 19, 2009, but teachers were barred from the "Invitation Only" event. CORE and others protested Duncan's speech noting, among other things, that Duncan's "turnaround" policies had resulted in the firing, by the Duncan administration in Chicago, of classroom teachers because their impoverished inner city school children had "low" standardized test scores. By the time Duncan became U.S. Secretary of Education, he had, as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools (2001 - 2008) been responsible for the firing of more veteran African American teachers in Chicago than any schools chief in the city's history. Because of the coverup by Chicago's corporate media, Duncan's reputation is still being burnished, despite the racism that haunts both Duncan's personal history and his policies for the reasons stated in the accompanying article.

Comment posted on Washington Post website.

Duncan states that schools and their "local partners" are "overcoming poverty" by "investing in teachers, rebuilding school staff, lengthening the school day and changing curricula."

I know of no evidence that this is so. Rather, the research indicates that there are very few high-performing schools in high poverty conditions.

Also, to my knowledge, no detailed studies have emerged with descriptions of rebuilt schools with longer days showing consistent, startling progress. There have been occasional media reports (e.g. Felch, Song and Poindexter, 2010), but these cases of improvement are sketchy.

It is not clear whether scores are being pumped up by test prep or are the result of genuine teaching and learning. The lack of comparison groups makes it impossible to dismiss the possibility that all students in the district are getting better, possibly due to the introduction of new tests and "test inflation," improvement due to greater familiarity with the test. Bracey (2009) reports that one highly publicized "success story" published in the NY Times about the Harvard Promise Academy, was true only for one grade, one subject and for one year.

Advance Illinois, which sponsored Arne Duncan's June 19, 2009 Chicago speech, was created by wealthy corporations and individuals and launched to attack teachers and unions in 2009. Its director, millionaire heiress Robin Steans (above right) would ask carefully screened questions to Duncan during the "question and answer" section of the event. Duncan then answered each question with a carefully scripted comment promoting one of the favorite policies of the U.S. Department of Education, from teacher bashing "performance evaluations" to charter schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Duncan gives the impression that "overcoming poverty" happens all the time under his administration. There is no real evidence that it happens at all.

Bracey, G. (2009). The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/Bracey-Report

Krashen, S. 2002. Don't trust Ed Trust. Substance 27 (6): 3.

Felch, J. Song, J. and Poindexter, S. "Teacher Quality Often Ignored in Reform of LA School," 12/23/10, available at http://www.edweek.org /tm/articles/2010/ 12/23/mct_cateacherquality.h30.html#comments.

Answering Arne Duncan, part 2 Comment posted on Washington Post website.

Arne Duncan claims widespread support for new tests. Yes, we all want accurate ways of measuring student growth. But does this mean we must have new tests and more testing than has ever been done before?

When actual teachers (above) tried to enter the Regency Hyatt Hotel in Chicago to ask Arne Duncan questions, they were told by hotel security (above right) that they would be arrested is they "trespassed" despite the fact that Duncan is the highest ranking education official in the United States of America. Above, members of CORE, including Toni Barnes (the the time with CSDU), Jackson Potter, Michael Brunson, Suzanne Dunn, Earl Silbar, Danielle Ciesielski, Kenzo Shibata, Norine Gutekanst, and Jim Vail hear the proclamation from Hyatt security that they will face arrest if they enter the building where Duncan was speaking. Had the teachers in the photograph above been allowed into the expensive breakfast taking place downstairs, they would have doubled or tripled the actual number of classroom teachers in the room. The Advance Illinois breakfast for Duncan was co-chaired by William Daley (brother of Richard M. Daley and at the time a vice president of J.P. Morgan Chase bank) and Jim Edgar (former Republican Governor of Illinois) and funded by some of the largest corporations in Chicago. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.I think we already have a wonderful and accurate way of "accurately measuring what children know." It also "helps inform and improve instruction." It's called teacher evaluation. There is no evidence that extensive testing does a better job than teacher evaluation done by professionals who deal with children daily. Please see Krashen, S. A Fundamental Principle: No Unnecessary Testing (NUT), available at www.sdkrashen.com, for supporting arguments and supporting data.

The plan presented in the Dept of Education's Blueprint calls for an astonishing amount of testing, far more than we have now with NCLB. The only people I know who support the testing plan have spent very little time in schools, haven't read the Blueprint, or just aren't listening to real education professions or students. Or all three.

We are about to make a mistake that will cost billions and make school life (even more) miserable for millions of teachers and students. The only ones who will profit are the testing companies. We should be talking about reducing testing, not increasing it.

Answering Arne Duncan, part 3. Stephen Krashen. Comment posted on Washington Post website.

Duncan thinks that "More and more, teachers, parents, and union and business leaders want a real definition of teacher effectiveness based on multiple measures, including student growth, principal observation and peer review."

No: More and more, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates and companies in the testing business want value-added standardized test scores (widely acknowledged to be inaccurate in evaluating teachers), and want to video-tape teachers to make sure they are focused on test/standards-related items in class. There are no teachers, union members, or parents marching in the streets and writing angry letters demanding new and more rigorous measures for teacher evaluation.

Most important: There is no evidence that there is a crisis in teacher quality, no evidence that teacher quality has declined. When we control for poverty, American students score at the top of the world on international comparisons.

The problem is poverty.

— Stephen Krashen
Substance News


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