Salon Writer Jeff Bryant Gets Arne Duncan Exactly Right
Below is a excerpt from the most refreshingly comprehensive, accurate summation of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that I have ever read. Salon writer Jeff Bryant captures the absolute waste that Duncan was as secretary– and he chastises those removed from the reality of Duncan’s destructive policies for attempting to paint him a success.
Thank you, Jeff, from the multitudes Outside of the Beltway.
Washington Post writes the most embarrassing, awful profile of Arne Duncan ever, completely misses the point
Jeff Bryant 07-11-15
For some years now, the term “The Village” has circulated throughout the Internet blogosphere as a shorthand description of the insular life of the Washington, D.C., policy makers and media mavens. As Heather “Digby” Parton explained in 2009, the term is a metaphor for how Beltway folks in policy circles and the press speak with great assurance about what is understood by “average Americans” without ever actually consulting anyone outside a tight circle of anointed “experts” or dipping their toes into the experiential waters of communities very different from their own.
Although thoughts attributed to The Village are most apt to be shared in discussions about economic policy, there is a form of Village narrowcasting in education policy discussions too.
That’s why, for instance, you almost always see news articles about education policy liberally salted with quotes by operatives from a very select few right-wing and politically centrist Beltway policy shops, such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Education Trust, or Democrats for Education Reform.
When reporters want to “balance” that wonkery with another point of view, they might get a statement from a teachers’ union representative such as American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. But what’s extremely rare is to encounter arguments being made by people of color in communities such as New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, or New York City – you know, the people actually most affected by the kinds of policies being talked about.
Maybe journalists believe ordinary citizens with firsthand experiences can’t be regarded as “experts.” But even when they look for validated expertise, their gaze rarely goes beyond the banks of the Potomac.
This is not to say that those inhabiting the education wing of The Village are dishonest people, lack credibility, or have any bad intentions – or that it may be arguable that people who report about education generally have more journalistic integrity than reporters on other beats. It’s just that when conversations about something as important as public education seem extraordinarily closed off to but an elite few, there are bound to be some completely unsubstantiated claims and atrocious misperceptions being reported by what normally would be considered reliable sources.
That’s likely the dynamic that caused Lyndsey Layton, a normally super-competent education journalist for The Washington Post, to lay this brontosaurus egg in that outlet.
The subject of Layton’s reporting, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, was thebipartisan stud when the Obama administration debuted but has now devolved into the bipartisan flop as new bills in Congress seek to do all they can to neuter the secretary and make sure future secretaries never do what he did ever again.
Nevertheless, Layton does all she can to prop up assumptions of Duncan’s accomplishments and laud him as a bastion of qualities most people agree he has never had.
The result of her off-target report is that not only does she mischaracterize the painful flaws of the Obama administration’s education policies – and the consequences of those flaws for public school children and teachers – but she also misses the most important story about what this failed policy leader leaves in his wake.
What Good Did Duncan Do?
First, let’s look at some grand assumptions Layton makes about what Duncan has accomplished. Because of Duncan, she seems to imply, “Most Americans now accept public charter schools as an alternative to neighborhood schools, most teachers expect to be judged in some measure on how well their students perform on standardized tests, and most states are using more demanding K-12 math and reading standards.”
Each of these conclusions would be true only if you ignored a whole lot of context around them.
First, regarding Americans’ supposed acceptance of charter schools, let’s be clear that because surveys show people generally have a favorable opinion of charter schools, that does not mean most people consider them “an alternative.” The main conclusion of most polling data about charter schools is that most people don’t know what the hell they are. After all, only 6 percent of the nation’s school children attend charter schools, and vast swaths of the country are still relatively charter-free.
So while it’s true Duncan’s pro-charter policies have certainly led to more Americans being aware of charter schools, that’s a far cry from concluding Americans actually see charters as viable alternatives. In the meantime, as the torrent of bad publicity about charter schools continues to grow and spread, favorability of these institutions is likely to head downward.
Second, it’s true that more teachers than ever before are having student test scores used in their performance evaluations. But Layton’s own contention that teachers “expect” this is refuted in her own reporting that Washington state “rejected Duncan’s requirement that it use student test results to evaluate teachers, which experts increasingly say is not a reliable way to identify good and bad teachers.”
Even in those states where the policy has become the norm, as Education Week’sAlyson Klein reports, it has often not been fully embraced and will be quickly dispensed with once Duncan has lost the power he has had to grant waivers to the No Child Left Behind law. In fact, both versions of a revised NCLB currently being considered in the House and the Senate forbid the federal government from enforcing this requirement.
Last, while Duncan was instrumental in pressuring states to adopt new Common Core State Standards, there’s not really any evidence the standards are “more demanding” than what states already had. While that might be true in Mississippi, others have argued it’s not true for Massachusetts. As an article in The Huffington Post recaps, some authoritative reviews of the new standards agree completely they are an improvement over what existed before, while others find older standards in some states, such as those in California and Florida, were better than the Common Core.
The fact is no one really knows what the imposition of new standards will lead to. The first consequence already observed is that student scores on tests related to the standards decline precipitously and will likely continue to do so. But this doesn’t prove the new standards are more demanding. It just proves they are different.
There is much more to Bryant’s nail-on-the-head article. Read it here.