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Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 11/24/2010

The mismatch between Duncan's words, actions

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and who now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network.

This post, which appears on his Teachers Magazine blog, Living in Dialogue, refers to Monday's Day of National Blogging for Real Education Reform, in which scores of educators from around the country shared their perspectives. Education Secretary Arne Duncan blogged too, and here is how Cody responded to Duncan:

Secretary Duncan,
You may recall we spoke on the phone last May when I was part of a group called Teachers' Letters to Obama that organized ourselves to share our concerns and ideas with your administration. Unfortunately we never heard back from you (as I describe here).

In your post [Monday], you wrote, "We in education spend too much of our time and energy focused on issues that divide us. We forget how important it is to move forward on what we agree on."

The trouble I have is that we are truly confused by a mismatch between your words and your actions. This makes a real consensus impossible, and forces us to continually return to the core disagreements we have with your policies.

My question to you is that you frequently tell teachers of your conviction that we need to move away from "teaching to the test." Yet you are aggressively encouraging states and districts to:

* Pay teachers based on the growth in those test scores.

* Evaluate teachers based on those test scores.

* Close schools or fire principals or teachers based on those test scores

* Evaluate the "effectiveness" of teaching credential programs based on test scores.

You often say that we must recognize teachers for their greatness. Unfortunately, the primary means you have been promoting to measure greatness is the same one that doomed No Child Left Behind.

In your blog post yesterday, you wrote:

"For education reform to be 'real,' we need to focus on what works. We need consensus on the right way to measure students' progress. And then we all need to hold ourselves accountable--and recognize those educators who are especially effective.

When you say we must focus "on what works," do you recognize the research that demonstrates that pay for performance does NOT work, even to raise test scores? Has this powerful evidence caused any reevaluation of this strategy within the department?

Do you recognize that asking states to remove any limits on the expansion of charter schools is a mistake, given that charter schools have been shown to be no more effective than regular public schools?

While there may not yet be a consensus on the best way to measure student progress, there IS a clear consensus on what does NOT work - which you yourself frequently join in. That consensus says that the tests currently in use are, to use your own words, "low quality bubble-in tests." There IS a broad consensus among educators that says the over-reliance on these scores for accountability purposes is destroying the quality of education in our schools. When will you bring your policies in line with your rhetoric?

Teachers have a whole range of alternatives to these misguided policies, and we have offered them repeatedly, with the belief that our deep understanding of what works in our classrooms and schools is an essential -- but missing -- component of improving schools.

You have been in office now for almost two years. It is not just my perception that teachers are more alienated than ever from the Department of Education. Do you hold yourself accountable for any part of this broken dialogue?


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By Valerie Strauss  | November 24, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Anthony Cody, Education Secretary Duncan, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  anthony cody, arne duncan, education secretary, evaluating teachers, school reform, standardized tests, teacher assessment, value-added  
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Excellent response to Duncan's hypocrisy. Too bad it doesn't appear in the dead tree edition of the Post where he and other education "reform leaders" are more likely to read it.

Posted by: tstahmer | November 24, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

And how about Blarney Duncan explaining Derrion Albert's death also? I'd really like an explanation of that.

Posted by: jlp19 | November 24, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

For more information about Derrion Albert's death go here:

Since 2005, dozens of Chicago's public schools have been closed and thousands of students reassigned to campuses outside their neighborhoods – and often across gang lines – as part of Renaissance 2010, a program launched by Mayor Richard Daley when Duncan was Chicago Public Schools chief.

While the plan has resulted in replacing failing and low-enrollment schools with charter schools and smaller campuses, it has also led to a surge in violence that has increasingly turned deadly, many activists, parents and students say.

Posted by: jlp19 | November 24, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

First, the nearby school, Fenger Academy, is a newly reconstituted "Turnaround" school. Carver High School was closed by the Chicago Board of Education, and long-time teachers and staff fired, radically destabilizing already challenged communities and pushing students out and across gang territory into unfamiliar settings. Two schools, Fenger Academy and Carver Military School were created with new teachers and staff for the 2009-2010 school year. This made little sense to the community or to the youth from Altgeld Gardens housing development, who now are assigned to Fenger rather than Carver. The students were not consulted about their safety or their school preference.

Posted by: jlp19 | November 24, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Derrion Albert died because Arne Duncan refused to listen to the advise of the community, and send students from rival gangs to the same school.

This blending of gangs occurred in several other schools also, which caused an increase in violence in those schools.

Arne Duncan needs to be accountable for his choice to ignore the community about throwing rival gangs into the same school.

Posted by: jlp19 | November 24, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

The problem with not comparing schools and student achievement based on test scores is that is what parents want. They want to raise their children in the communities with the best schools. How do they decide what the good schools are? They look at national, state and local standardized test scores. They don't go into schools and interview teachers nor do they check to see how nurturing a staff might be. We live in a competitive nation. We even compare our schools with international schools based on test scores.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | November 24, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Obama selected an unqualified fool as Secretary of Education who happens to be stubborn as well. Let the Democratic Party pay the!

Posted by: lacy41 | November 24, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

What a facetiously idiotic post. The difference between the raw stupidity of NCLB and the use of value-added scores is oceanic. That a teacher as smart as this one pretends to misunderstand that points to the Union misinformation campaign.

Posted by: staticvars | November 25, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

With no disrespect to Mr. Cody, but many of the statements made in this editorial find their roots in the all-too-insular world of public education. We teachers need to stick our heads out the schoolhouse door occasionally see what's happening in the real world.

Mr. Cody asserts -- while taking Mr. Duncan to task -- "When you say we must focus 'on what works,' do you recognize the research that demonstrates that pay for performance does NOT work, even to raise test scores? Has this powerful evidence caused any reevaluation of this strategy within the department?"

For his "evidence," Mr. Cody links to a report about a recently published study on a controlled experiment by Vanderbilt University on performance pay. Or so they think.

Many -- including the researchers -- believe the study demonstrates that paying teachers significant bonuses for student achievement doesn't work. There are two major flaws in the study, however: (1) the researchers never assess whether any of the participants actually were motivated by this kind of reward to begin with; and (2) the "performance pay" in the experiment bears no resemblance to the "performance pay" in the real world.

Since most public school teachers trade meaningless pay raises for the job security and lack of performance scrutiny the ubiquitous step-in-grade pay systems provide, it's highly unlikely any of the study participants cared about the bonuses, at least relative to the other rewards their work environment provides.

Just as important, for most of the world, performance pay systems include the very important components of observation and feedback, career planning, coaching, employment risk, and meaningful professional development. The Vanderbilt study has none of these -- and gave no explanantion for not including them.

Because the vast majority of teachers and administrators have no or limited experience in authentic merit pay environments, we all too often confuse our limited and insular experiences in the public education culture for universal truths.

In reality, what the Vanderbilt study, as well as the New York research cited in this column in June, demonstrate, is not that performance pay doesn't work in public education, but that it doesn't work with the current rank-and-file of teachers.

This experiment might instead be a strong argument to get different teachers into our schools.

Posted by: ErvAddison | November 25, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

ErvAddison says, "This experiment might instead be a strong argument to get different teachers into our schools."

Hey, Erv - when was the last time you took research methods? If you'd like to get rid of all the current teachers,and replace them with people who say they want performance pay why not just say so?

Your comment as it stands doesn't say much for your academic acumen, though, so I doubt you'd have very good ideas about how to improve teaching.

Posted by: efavorite | November 25, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Erv would prefer his new breed of teachers to be money hungry wendigos. A very lovely thought, Erv. At the the end of the day the 1st grade teacher says to herself, "I'm helping those kids learn so I can purchase a diamond necklace." Now, if only we can get more cannibalistic wendigos in the classroom to prove your theory correct.

Posted by: DHume1 | November 27, 2010 12:55 AM | Report abuse

Guess what?

I heard that Erv gets his advice from Mr. Crabs.

Posted by: DHume1 | November 28, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

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