Thursday, August 09, 2018

Arne Duncan's New Book

Duncan's book is called (and it's a mouthful as he seems to want to give himself a pat on the back) -
How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation's Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education.  It's a long title for a book from for a guy who's been in education work for decades and it clocks in at  just over 250 pages.  The book was released on Tuesday, August 7th but has already generated much discussion (I have not read it yet). 

He starts out this way:

 “Education runs on lies. That’s probably not what you’d expect from a former Secretary of Education, but it’s the truth.”

I think that's pretty harsh but perhaps not entirely untruthful.  The reviews have been decidedly mixed.
He writes he was “shocked” that, when conceiving the Race to the Top grant program, he found states like California and Wisconsin banned school districts from using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness.
“What was the lie at the center of these laws?” Duncan writes. “Was it that good teaching was immeasurable? Or was it that some teachers … preferred to claim that they couldn’t help the kids who most desperately needed their help?”
The Atlantic interviewed him about the book and he said this:
I don’t only blame politicians—I blame voters. We don’t vote based on education at any level—local, state, Congress, president; we don’t hold anyone accountable for results, voting based on whether a politician is going to help increase access to pre-K, is going to increase high-school graduation rates, and so on. Education should be the ultimate nonpartisan issue.
I guess he forgot about school boards because his friend, Mayor Rahm Imanuel of Chicago, is large and in charge of Chicago schools.  Apparently, some voters DO want a school board so they can hold people directly accountable. 

And once again, one of my favorite reviewers is the conservative, Rick Hess, who has an unerring eye for excuses and misdirection.  Hess explains how when Duncan came in, public education was something of a "bright spot" of non-partisan politics. From Education Next (bold mine):
Seven years later, when Duncan stepped down, NAEP scores had stagnated, the Common Core was a poisoned brand, research on new teacher-evaluation systems painted a picture of failure, and it was hard to find anyone who would still argue that education reform was a bipartisan cause. It would be ludicrous to say any of this was Duncan’s “fault,” but it’s fair to say that his self-certitude, expansive view of his office’s role, and impatience with his critics helped bring the great school-reform crackup to pass.

Now, Duncan has written a book about his years in education. It could have been a meditation on why things went awry, what he’s learned, and how all this should inform school improvement in the years ahead. That would have been a book well worth reading. Or Duncan might have really taken on the skeptics, answering their strongest criticisms and explaining why the path he chose was the best way forward. Instead, Duncan has opted to pen a breezy exercise in straw men and self-congratulation, while taking credit for “chang[ing] the education landscape in America.”

As for those who thought Race to the Top was an intrusive attempt to impose not-ready-for-prime-time dictates around teacher evaluation or school turnarounds, Duncan relates, “Many states were already undertaking this work—we called them the ‘laboratories for innovation’—and all we wanted to do as federal employees of the Department of Education was help the states amplify and spread their success.” Duncan never acknowledges that skeptics might have shared these goals but had good-faith doubts about Race to the Top or how he went about executing it.

Especially for a guy who presents himself as a truth teller bent on exposing education’s “overripe and rotten lies,” Duncan shows a disconcerting tendency to waffle. When it comes to standards and curriculum, he explains that “if the standards are new, then the curriculum is also new” because they “are distinct yet bonded together”—only to later rip into Common Core critics for failing to appreciate that “the Standards do not dictate curriculum.” Even as he repeatedly declares his faith in tests and vaguely asserts that Race to the Top and the Common Core fueled significant gains, Duncan never once mentions that in fact NAEP gains stalled out under his watch, even falling between 2013 and 2017.
Hess also has a good article at Forbes, 5 Inadvertent Lessons From Former Secretary Of Education Arne Duncan's Memoir, about what he learned from reading Duncan's book,
  • Much more can already be done to improve schools than is commonly thought.   
  • Just because people disagree with you doesn’t mean that they’re “not for the kids.” 
  • It’s tough to persuade people who sense that you despise them. 
  • It’s easy to blind ourselves to inconvenient realities 
  • It’s easy to blame every failure on “bad messaging.
On that last one: 
Time after time, he assures the reader that it all would’ve worked out if only he’d had better messaging and PR. Along the way, Duncan betrays an uncanny conviction that all of his stumbles and setbacks weren’t a matter of mindset, flawed proposals, or execution—but only as evidence of the need for a better sales job.

Come to think of it, with that, Duncan may have offered the perfect epitaph for where twenty-first-century school reform lost its way.  
What's Duncan up to these days?  Still with ed reform.

Ed Surge reports that he joined "Emerson Collective as a managing partner, aiming to look for ways to help “disconnected youth,” kids ages 17 to 24 years old who are not in school, not working and may have criminal records, reports the LA Times. Duncan and the Emerson Collective will “focus first on Chicago,” noted this release. The Emerson Collective is a Limited Liability Company (LLC) based in based in Palo Alto and focuses on education, immigration and social justice. It is supported by Laurene Powell Jobs, who serves as the organization's president."

He also tweeted this in May:

This is brilliant, and tragically necessary. What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe? My family is all in if we can do this at scale. Parents, will you please join us?


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