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Change That Looks Pretty Much The Same

We now know the next Secretary of Education is going to be Arne Duncan, currently the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

But what does that mean for American education and more specifically for any real reform of the system?

If you listen to Gary Stager (and I generally do), the choice pretty much means no changes from what we’re doing now.

Duncan is a fan of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and never met a standardized test he didn’t love. His education policies and practices are indistinguishable from those of the Bush Administration. In fact, the current unqualified Secretary of Education Spellings virtually endorsed Duncan while she posed for for a photo-op with him four days ago. Today she praised Duncan’s nomination while spinning her own tall tale and invoking romantic visions of student accountability.

According to everything I’ve read about Duncan, his “reform” efforts seem to be centered around charter schools, NCLB-style standardized testing, and merit pay for teachers.

Unfortunately charter schools, while a wonderful concept with lots of potential, have largely turned out to be selective, underfunded clones of the schools around them.

Most use the same traditional structure, curriculum, and teaching methods as the public schools their students formerly attended.

Uniforms, boot camp regimentation, and adding hours to the day or days to the year is not innovative and fundamentally changes nothing.

The American concept of school needs a complete overhaul, not thousands of little experiments that do little more than tinker with the current format developed a century ago.

As for merit pay, any system that targets individuals does little more than reinforce the illusion that teachers are independent contractors, each classroom is an island unto itself, and that nothing outside the door affects the kids.

If you are going to pay bonuses for improving student learning, it must go to teams of teachers, entire schools, or even to communities of people from inside and outside the physical building.

And then there’s NCLB. Forget it!

The law is based on the incredibly stupid philosophy that all kids learn at the same rate, that all schools/students/teachers are exactly alike, and that anything worth learning can be assessed using a standardized test.

NCLB needs to scrapped and instead the next Secretary of Education needs to begin the change process with a serious discussion about the concept of what it means to be “well educated” and about the skills and knowledge kids need to develop to be successful in their lives, not just on the next test.

However, if everything I’ve read about our “pragmatic” (the adjective most used to describe Duncan) new leader of American education policy is true, we will continue to tinker about the edges and call it “reform”.


  1. Doug Johnson

    But this is encouraging…

    Obama’s Pick for Secretary of Education Supports School Libraries
    School Library Journal, 12/16/2008


  2. Brett

    supports school libraries… what a radical. Who doesn’t support school libraries? (I’m sure you’ll let me know :-))

    I agree with you. My question: How do we “do school” while we overhaul the entire American education system (which would be a pretty monumental task)? How would such an event even begin? Where do you start? There are so many stakeholders that would need to be involved. I think about how staggering a job it would be just to overhaul my own school division and we are tiny.

  3. Jay S.

    This is depressing. I feel as if Obama has promised “Change”, but teachers are simply getting more of the same.

  4. joe stafura

    The changes that will happen over the Obama administration will be driven by the economic and global considerations.

    Much of the upper income folks that can’t afford private schools will create a regiment of public education and tutoring, either face to face or online, such as Tutor.com or Apangea Learning.

    The lower income will also use more tutoring as the title one SES funding in NCLB become more widely utilized by the increasingly consolidated providers such as Club Z

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