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The truth about Arne Duncan and the Chicago schools

My colleague Nick Anderson, the Post's national education reporter, has done a wonderfully balanced and nuanced job of answering a question I am often asked: If Arne Duncan is such a hotshot education secretary, then why are the Chicago schools he once led so bad?

Anderson's front page story Tuesday provides all the relevant facts---disappointing test score gains, watered-down Illinois state standards, Duncan turnaround projects that didn't work. But he also puts it in context, showing where Duncan forced some improvements and how daunting Chicago's problems are.

He also makes it clear that you can't expect anyone to transform our urban school systems in a big way quickly. The improvements that occur are always on the margins. Those districts will never rise to the level of their suburban neighbors. But you can see Duncan has been working at this very hard for many years, and (if you look at what he has actually said rather than what sloppy writers like me have suggested) he has been honest about how far his home town still needs to go.

Every big city has some terrible schools and some great ones. Trying to decide which city has the worst education system (something I have done, to my discredit) doesn't get us very far, and can often be little more than a wild guess. My favorite story about this comes from Chester E. Finn Jr. in his 2008 memoir, "Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform Since Sputnik."

Finn was working for then U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett when Bennett gave a reporter his famous quote that Chicago had the nation's worst schools. In his book, Finn writes that Bennett “urgently summoned me into his office and asked—I was the research guy, after all—if he was right. I thought fast and said, ‘Well, Chicago has some competition from Newark and St. Louis and Detroit, but you weren ’t wrong.’ ”

Anderson's story is a wise summary of where we are in the great enterprise of improving urban schools. He has lots of data, and inside the classroom views of Chicago teachers and principals at work. It is a long story, but you should take time to read it. There isn't much on TV this week anyway, and if you go outside you are likely to slip on the ice and break something.


For more from Jay, go to http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle. For all the Post's education coverage, go to http://washingtonpost.com/education.

By Jay Mathews  | December 29, 2009; 10:38 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Arne Duncan, Chester E. Finn Jr., Chicago schools, criticism of Duncan's record, education secretaries' records  
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Comments

Jay is being extremely generous when he says that Arne Duncan has been honest about how far Arne's hometown (Chicago) has to go.
I think that George Schmidt of SUBSTANCE, who has closely followed Mr. Dunan in Chicago, would likely say that the words honesty and Duncan are not ever properly used together in the same sentence.
What Nick Anderson's piece, and other recent reports, reveal is that Arne Duncan - as Jery Bracey once said - doesn't really have a clue about public education.
Isn't it time we all acknowledge that Arne is just another Chicago political hack who will say anything and spout unsubatantiated and untrue claims - which many in the media lovingly and uncritcally repeat as gospel, e.g. Indian and Chinese children receive 25% to 30% more schooling than American kids - just to increase the grip the federal government has on our local classrooms, all to the detriment of our children and public education in our country. The last thing our country needs is Arne Duncan Chicagoizing schools across America.
"Race to the Top" is really "Bribes from the Top" from our "Briber-in-Chief" to set our country's public education on a unified course to ruin an educaton system that has great merit despite all the disparagement coming from Arne the Charm.
Dave Miner, Bradenton, Florida

Posted by: dwmineresq | December 29, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Jay is being extremely generous when he says that Arne Duncan has been honest about how far Arne's hometown (Chicago) has to go.
I think that George Schmidt of SUBSTANCE, who has closely followed Mr. Ducnan in Chicago, would likely say that the words honesty and Duncan are not ever properly used together in the same sentence.
What Nick Anderson's piece, and other recent reports, reveal is that Arne Duncan - as Jery Bracey once said - doesn't really have a clue about public education.
Isn't it time we all acknowledge that Arne is just another Chicago political hack who will say anything and spout unsubatantiated and untrue claims - which many in the media lovingly and uncritcally repeat as gospel, e.g. Indian and Chinese children receive 25% to 30% more schooling than American kids - just to increase the grip the federal government has on our local classrooms, all to the detriment of our children and public education in our country. The last thing our country needs is Arne Duncan Chicagoizing schools across America.
"Race to the Top" is really "Bribes from the Top" from our "Briber-in-Chief" to set our country's public education on a unified course to ruin an educaton system that has great merit despite all the disparagement coming from Arne the Charm.
Dave Miner, Bradenton, Florida

Posted by: dwmineresq | December 29, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Is Race to the Top a done deal? Is there a way to change it?

I'm hoping the feds, run by saner minds than DC, can acknowledge a mistake and correct it before the whole country is damaged.

Arne Duncan may not be a miracle worker or an educational guru, but he also doesn't strike me as a teacher-hater, a union-basher or a warlock (to Rhee's witch). Obama is no Fenty, either. Thank goodness.

Hopefully, we can salvage this thing, and put children's interests before adult interests (and egos), for a change.

Posted by: efavorite | December 29, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

what about the post's gushy coverage of duncan's chicago accomplishments just a year ago, jay?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/29/AR2008122902672.html

much the same information about chicago's lackluster results was available back then.

should nick's story have included mention of the past coverage, since his piece was essentially a correction?

should nick's story have addressed more closely the issue of whether duncan took part in misleading the public about his record?

thanks
/ alexander
www.thisweekineducation.com

Posted by: alexanderrusso | December 30, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

I foresee a similar Rhee-correcting article coming out soon. It should have come out long before this. People will be shocked to learn that it’s been known for over two years that she lied on her resume and continued to lie about her success as a teacher to national audiences. They'll be outraged that she said test scores in a DC model school stayed about the same when the scores actually went down -- and then continued to lie about it even after PBS corrected the original error on its website. People be highly disturbed to learn she took credit for improving NAEP math scores that had been improving more long before she arrived. They’ll be disgusted that she fired good principals for no reason and protected bad principals who hide violence and discipline problems.

Oddly, all of these things have been reported, but in such an understated way that they are hardly noticed over the resounding media praise for the Rhee educational miracle.

It was chilling to read the hopeful comments on the original glowing Duncan piece, some of them my own, while people from Chicago expressed their disbelief that the Post would publish such nonsense.

How many times do we have to go through this?

Posted by: efavorite | December 30, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

How many times do we have to go through this?

Unfortunately, quite often, efavorite.
There were red flags about Dr. Metts and Dr. Hornsby, yet PGCPS hired them.
(Typed by a PG County resident)

Posted by: edlharris | December 30, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

What we have here is another savior on a white horse (or pony in the case of Bruce of Scotland, comrade of Braveheart) with the knowledge and ability to rescue the poor from the their low achievement.
Newspapers/media hail the saviors, yet do not ask what exactly will happen day-to-day in the classroom.
Like whack-a-mole, somethings seem to improve (the reasons for the "improvement" are not provided) while others don't.
What are their plans to sustain long term systemic improvement?
That question does not get asked.
And the poor and minority students are left behind.
Go read what Bob Somersby over at www.dailyhowler.com has to say about this (search his site for Kopp and Rhee).
I remember 24 years ago, Dr. John Murphy was the savior for PGCPS. HE worked his "miracle" for several years, moved along to Charlotte-Mecklenburg to repeat the "miracle", but it did not occur.

Posted by: edlharris | December 30, 2009 9:56 PM | Report abuse

What we have here is another savior on a white horse (or pony in the case of Bruce of Scotland, comrade of Braveheart) with the knowledge and ability to rescue the poor from the their low achievement.
Newspapers/media hail the saviors, yet do not ask what exactly will happen day-to-day in the classroom.
Like whack-a-mole, somethings seem to improve (the reasons for the "improvement" are not provided) while others don't.
What are their plans to sustain long term systemic improvement?
That question does not get asked.
And the poor and minority students are left behind.
Go read what Bob Somersby over at www.dailyhowler.com has to say about this (search his site for Kopp and Rhee).
I remember 24 years ago, Dr. John Murphy was the savior for PGCPS. HE worked his "miracle" for several years, moved along to Charlotte-Mecklenburg to repeat the "miracle", but it did not occur.

Posted by: edlharris | December 30, 2009 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Here's the real story on Arne Duncan:
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2402926/posts

and its related story:
http://www.illinoiscorruption.net

Posted by: Anita2004 | December 31, 2009 7:49 PM | Report abuse

So many of the big names in education such as Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, just don't understand what the poor and the minorities are going through.

Posted by: aby1 | January 1, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Wow, telling William Bennet that ‘Well, Chicago has some competition from Newark and St. Louis and Detroit, but you weren ’t wrong.’ What a troublemaker Chester Finn must be.

Posted by: member8 | January 5, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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