A letter to Secretary Arne Duncan
Rita Solnet, a Florida businesswoman and education activist, sent me the following letter, which she wrote and sent to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. It raises some important issues, including what some people see as differences between Duncan's rhetoric and his policies.
Solnet refers to an article in the Kansas City Star on July 14, which reported on a speech Duncan made to the NAACP during its annual convention in Kansas City.
“The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve it in the classroom," Duncan told the delegates in a speech that you can read in its entirety at the Department of Education website here.
Here's the Solnet letter:
July 16, 2010
Dear Secretary Duncan:
Reading your comments in the Kansas City Star [in an article] entitled, “Education is Civil Rights Issue of Our Generation,’ I simply had to write.
I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. However, the DOE’s Blueprint for Reform and Race to the Top competitive grants abandon the very children who desperately need to be educated--those who are English language learners, the poverty stricken, homeless, autistic, disabled, etc.
The DOE’s reform initiatives and criteria to ’win’ grant money narrow the curriculum by its obsessive focus on standardized tests.
The DOE’s reform initiatives and criteria to ’win’ grants not only reinforce teaching to the test and constant test prep, but demand it.
If your salary, your livelihood, and your school’s very survival depend on students’ performance on one reading and [one] math test, wouldn’t you prioritize test prep above all else? Would you willingly risk your livelihood by agreeing to teach the most challenged students?
Further, does obsessively focused test prep on standardized tests simply negate any end result?
The DOE’s reforms are ... predicated on high stakes test scores from standardized tests. Why take a statistically proven failed initiative (NCLB, or No Child Left Behind) and use it as a foundation to launch new reforms?
Secretary Duncan, you have an opportunity to be the hero this country needs. You have the ability to stop these initiatives and regroup. Gain input from all levels of ’stakeholders’ in the process, gain endorsement of a new plan--a plan in which all levels of stakeholders take pride in developing and launching. Congresswoman Judy Chu’s plan is a great first start. The DOE’s proposed four (4) turnaround models [for the worst schools in each state] will not work. Scrap them, start over. Closing public schools should not be an option.
The higher the stakes for standardized tests, the greater the failure of education. I know you want our nation’s children to learn. Your staff relayed that you care deeply about children learning and succeeding in life. These proposed reforms will fail to educate children.
The DOE’s Blueprint for Reform merely ensures a society with lines drawn between the "haves" and the "have-nots". Even the hyped up charters aren’t saving these children. Many privatized charter schools won’t admit ’hard to teach’ students because it will drag their coveted high stakes test scores down too. Please don’t tell me this is a myth. I know it is true. I live outside the Beltway!
Since it is necessary to pigeon hole everyone these days--I’m not red, nor blue. I never owned a union card. I am from corporate America with an MBA. I’m not a teacher, although I respect teachers tremendously. I’ve volunteered in schools 15 years. I’ve held numerous executive and leadership positions. No child of mine ever played soccer. I am a parent.
Mr. Duncan, what you say and what you do, seem to me to be conflicting. Perhaps there is a communication disconnect within the ranks of the Dept of Education and the states? Perhaps there is a communication disconnect between your office and that of the DOE Grants’ Office? Whatever it is, it must be resolved. I’ve watched your interviews, listened to you at the Governor’s conference, read your speeches and articles '[about you] such as this one in the Kansas City Star, and the message is diametrically opposed to the actions of your office. I’m not alone in my thinking. I wouldn’t waste time writing to you if I was.
Undertaking a massive organizational change of any kind requires clarity in communication as well as input from those you expect to become your "change agents" on the front lines. Until this effort is stopped, examined, feedback incorporated, pilot tested, then launched properly, it will fail miserably.
The problem is, it will fail millions of children in this nation for yet another year. Public education is in shambles right now because of eight years of NCLB; not because of a slew of incompetent teachers. Reforms were tossed at teachers repeatedly year after year and each time the stakes were raised higher. Teachers seem to be under attack when many are already leaving the profession. Retention rate of qualified, seasoned teachers must be an even greater problem than ever before in our history.
This is not, as I am sure you are aware, some new product being launched in the marketplace which can be tweaked, then hyped, until it finds its niche. These are children’s lives, their futures, communities’ livelihoods all in jeopardy and all waiting for someone to stop this high speed train crash.
Be please that hero, Mr. Duncan. You are a natural fit for a Superman costume! Race to the Top and those four turnaround models are career kryptonite.
Thanks for reading this in advance,
Very truly yours,
Rita M. Solnet
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| July 19, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Education Secretary Duncan | Tags: arne duncan, failure of nclb, nclb, obama's education blueprint, race to the top grants, rita solnet, school reform
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