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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 06/19/2010

Arne Duncan's opposition: A partial list

By Valerie Strauss

This interesting dynamic marked a meeting this week between Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. legislators representing 17 states:

Not a single lawmaker voiced to Duncan his or her very real objections to some of his key education policies.

According to Education Week, the lawmakers stayed mum about their concerns when Duncan asked them for help in supporting the Obama administration’s education goals. His deputies, however, got an earful about some of Duncan’s favored initiatives, including linking teacher’s pay with standardized test scores and the tough measures required to deal with low-performing schools.

It is a mystery why the legislators did not do their job and challenge the education secretary. Were they being polite? Were they intimidated?

Surely Duncan must know that there is hostility across the country to the policies that the Obama administration is pursuing under his leadership, even if he suggested to the New York Times that there wasn't any.

The man can count, so he knows that not all 50 states jumped at the chance he offered to win millions of dollars in federal grant money in his $4 billion Race to the Top competition if they would only pursue initiatives that he favors. Fourteen states sat out of the second round, and support was hardly unanimous in the participating states.

Department officials say that they meet with thousands of people a week to discuss policy, and it is unlikely they have the organizational ability to meet exclusively with supporters. So they hear some griping.

The question is whether they listen, and the available evidence suggests that nobody at the highest levels in the government grasps the depth of the disillusionment and the breadth of disapproval to the Obama/Duncan vision for public education.

As a presidential candidate, Obama bashed No Child Left Behind, former president George W. Bush’s main education initiative, saying that obsession with high-stakes standardized tests was no way to run an education system.

But Obama, taking Duncan’s lead, now supports some of the key NCLB concepts that doomed it to fail: high-stakes standardized testing, punishment for lowest-achieving schools, and arbitrary deadlines for success. And they are adding some of their own bad ideas to make things worse: linking teacher evaluation and pay to how well kids do on
standardized tests.

These policies are right in sync with those of former President George W. Bush and his No Child Left Behind law, with its obsession on high-stakes testing. And now they are being praised by Bush’s brother Jeb, the former governor of Florida, who has anointed himself a national education leader and is pushing for the national adoption of policies that have made a mess of Florida’s public education system.

That should be enough to give pause to anybody in the Obama administration.

But it isn’t. They seem to think it is a good thing that they are on the same page as people who damaged the public education system. After all, bipartisanship is a good thing, right?

And, just as the Bush crew did, the Obama team likes to paint its policy opponents as people who prefer the status quo, a passive-aggressive way of saying that these folks don’t care as much about kids as the education secretary does.

This is not going to end well, not for the people who matter most in this dynamic: the kids.

There is no evidence whatsoever to show that these policies will do anything to help kids learn or help more minority students improve, and some evidence that harm will be done.

Just in case the folks at the Education Department need help in tracking down opponents, here is a very short list of a small fraction of the teachers and parents groups, on Facebook alone, that are opposed to Obama’s education agenda. They have a combined membership of hundreds of thousands of members:

Testing is Not Teaching

Teachers Should Make the Decisions about Education

Parents Across America Say: Put the Parent Voice Back in Public Education!

Teacher Letters to Obama

Florida Teachers Against Pay-for-Performance Salary/Pay Scales

NJ Teachers United Against Pay Freeze

Stop Race to the Top/Sen Bill 6

FCAT-FL Children Are Tortured

Speak Up for Education and Kids

Stop Sen John Thrasher (RTTT now)

Make Schools Our Priority

Children Are More Than Test Scores

Save FL Public Schools

Fund Education Now

SOS Million Teacher March

Public Education Matters

Moms & Dads Against Race to Top

Stop JEB Now

Professors Against Race to the Top

Future Florida Teachers Against SB6

Charlie Crist's Veto Pen


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By Valerie Strauss  | June 19, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, Race to the Top, Teachers  | Tags:  against race to the top, education secretary arne duncan, education secretary arne duncan and race to the top, facebook groups against arne duncan, opposition to race to the top, parents against race to the top, race to the top, teachers against race to the top, teachers and race to the top  
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Surely you saw this excellent editorial:

Michele frequentily posts on the forums here under the name Cal Lanier.

Posted by: researcher2 | June 18, 2010 6:39 AM | Report abuse

I am heartened every time I read some opposition to the steam roller that has been the washington post agenda.
I think the NCLB education act, which was a joint Ted Kennedy and Bush effort, is soooo bad for the reasons you state. The mods by Obama don't really help since the punitive issues and test scoring are still there.
Arne Duncan is a fast talking bureaucrat who supports the "philantropist" set. The guys capitalist barrons who pillaged and now feel compelled to help the little children. Sorry, it doesn't work that way and the Rhee agenda is more of the same. From your article I can see that you have read Diane Ravitch and the other rational researchers who have identified the void of the NCLB agenda and that of its cousins and supporters the Brodes, Gates and Klein's of the country. Yes, they are doing some damage to our children.

Posted by: zebra22 | June 18, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse


Michele frequentily posts on the forums here under the name Cal Lanier.

Are you referring to Michelle Rhee?

Posted by: aby1 | June 18, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

From Palm Beach County:
Thank you, Valerie Strauss, for another great editorial and for getting our message out on a national level! As a member of many of the Facebook groups listed, I appreciate all you do. How long can they pretend an opposition does not exist?

Posted by: DebbieS1 | June 18, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Regarding the legislators noted in the article in Education Week, the opening sentence says plenty, "Seeking more allies for his school improvement agenda, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today asked a select group of state legislators to keep "pushing very, very hard" on the policy levers that he and President Barack Obama have made a top priority." Note, "select group of state legislators" conjers up so many thoughts. Oh, maybe future appointments or offers for new funding channels for next election, who knows.

Duncan has in essence become an untouchable extension to the executive branch of government. What reasonable person would have ever conceived of the vast amount of such power potentially to be held by one person at the time the U.S. Department of Education was born/reborn in 1980? Now Duncan, with Obama's blessings, is essentially handing over the education of the children of the United States of America to the rapacious pseudoeducators, barons of testing industries, and all the entourage thereof. Duncan must dimis his objectors as non-existent or misguided in order to proceed with this massive predatory coercion. He declares that the education system, including teacher preparation programs are defunct, pay systems wrong, etc. The present thinking must be destroyed or crippled in order for the new system to take root. The RTTT hostage monies are handy in reaching this goal. Otherwise rational school systems and state governments cower under pressure to secure desperately needed funds. Those that bend are rewarded, those who don't suffer even more. In this time of economic instability and insecurity, such stategies are effective in soliciting reform. This manner of thought reform is Duncan's forte.

Duncan/Obama education reform is a Trojan horse. Generations will suffer. Our nation and national security will suffer. How will national security suffer? Our future leaders will have been conditioned through inferior education, one in which analytical thinking is undermined and the test results/illusions and learning how to game the system will be inbred. Already teachers often say they lose one month a year of true teaching in order to prepare for high-stakes testing. What of sucking the joy out of learning as well? Pitiful situation.


Posted by: shadwell1 | June 18, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

To aby1:


Michele frequentily posts on the forums here under the name Cal Lanier.

Are you referring to Michelle Rhee?"

No, the referrence is to Michele Kerr, who penned an op-ed on teacher evaluation in today's Post. Michelle Rhee does not know enough about education to have written that op-ed.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 18, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

FYI to the education blog, yet another research paper published this month shows another "education reform" favorite, TFA, not only damages the education prospects of the kids they teach, but does so at a high economic cost as well.

Here's the link:

Posted by: mcstowy | June 18, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Diane Ravitch twittered yesterday that teacher's cries are wholeheartedly ignored by Duncan and the DOE - as well as Washington as a whole. They censor their blogs and comment spaces - and delete email that speaks out against their policies. They claim all teachers are on board with these draconian practices described by this post.
Duncan has been lying to the President, to Congress, and to the media - who are also deaf to the outcry of teachers. They assume we wish for this testing, merit pay, and the charter privatization movement. The sanity will only end when 3.5 million teachers in this country walk out of their classrooms and let the politicians deal with it. A nationwide strike aught to get them to listen.

Posted by: Care1 | June 18, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Thanks researcher2!

Posted by: aby1 | June 18, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

If Secretary Duncan is deaf to opposing views and not open to perspectives from seasoned educators, then the public must go directly to Congress and to President Obama. They must listen. Votes talk--remind them that 4 Million teachers plus families = 10 Million voters minimally. The same voters who ushered Pres Obama into the White House.

This DOE-dubbed "Agenda of Reform Initiatives" has disaster written all over it. Those who suffer the most will be:

1) Children who speak English as 2nd Language;
2) Poverty stricken & homeless children;
3) Learning disabled children (dyslexic,
autistic, etc.)

All public school children will become adept at taking bubble tests in Reading & Math. So much rides on the results-whether or not the school is closed, school rating, teacher's employment and salary, student's promotability, graduation, etc.

No wonder more than a half dozen states have been caught red handed tampering with tests already--just those who've been caught.

For the DOE to state that June 17 was the first utterance received regarding opposition to Race to the Top, to merit pay, etc. is frankly preposterous. Denial? Disillusionment? Fear of job loss? Marketing Hype? Whatever the case the DOE must start reacting to the opposition before Duncan becomes known as the BP Safety Inspector of education. And before this becomes known as the $4.5 Billion dollar debacle.

Posted by: rsolnet | June 18, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

My question is: WHERE are the Professional Organizations? Answer: Making back room deals with one another and with the enemy? After all these groups have "small" time lobbyist playing with the enemy. Where's the outrage from the professional organizations?

The D.C. folks shake your hand, nod, pretend their are listening, and then just ignore the common person anyway. We are not the big money they get from the insurance industry, the pharmacy companies, the oil kings, etc. Follow the money. Also guess what Neil and Jeb Bush are doing? Cashing in on their brother started.

Good thing people are using their own means of getting this information out to others. Can't rely on the establishment. They are part of the problem. The kids know that the past 9 years have been nonsense. And it all started with Reagan. Clinton was also part of the problem. Then GW took this to ridiculous heights. And now...we have ARNE DUNCAN. HELP. The guy plays basketball. This is all he knows. Arne thinks school is like a basketball game. Duncan was Mayor Daley's henchmen. With regards to Obama, he needs to fire Duncan and please no one from Harvard. Stanford, etc. Egads, the state university system has better folks than the places of education Obama is hitting up for help.

Posted by: Educator10 | June 19, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

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