I’ve been following the announcements of different officials to fill President-elect Obama’s cabinet, and have been paying particular attention to discussions swirling around the post of Secretary of Education (SOE.) Of the short-list contenders for the post, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond has my unreserved support and vote, as I noted on November 13th. Sadly, of course, I doubt President-elect Obama is reading my blog or is going to pay attention to my opinion on this issue, but none-the-less I’m going to share it with you. You never know who might be reading! 🙂
Gary Stager brought Alfie Kohn’s upcoming article “Beware of School ‘Reformers'” in The Nation to my attention today, and Kohn provides several reasons to expect Arne Duncan and Joel Klein (the other apparent short-list finalists for SOE) would keep statist, misdirected, NCLB-mentality supporting educational policy advocacy alive and well in Washington D.C.
Of Arne Duncan from Chicago Public Schools, Kohn writes:
Duncan, a basketball buddy of Obama’s, has been called a “budding hero in the education business” by Bush’s former SOE Rod Paige. Just as the test-crazy nightmare of Paige’s Houston served as a national model (when it should have been a cautionary tale) in 2001, so Duncan would bring to Washington an agenda based on “Renaissance 2010,” which Chicago education activist Michael Klonsky describes as a blend of “more standardized testing, closing neighborhood schools, militarization, and the privatization of school management.”
Those prescriptions for “education reform” certainly make me feel more than a little queazy.
Sadly, a similar misplaced understanding of and focus in educational reform appears to characterize the politics of New Yorker Joel Klein. Kohn writes Klein:
…is despised by educators and parents in his district perhaps more than any superintendent in the nation (see Lynnell Hancock, “School’s Out,” The Nation, July 9, 2007). In a survey of 62,000 NYC teachers this past summer, roughly 80 percent disapproved of his approach. Indeed, talk of his candidacy has prompted three separate anti-Klein petitions that rapidly collected thousands of signatures. One, at StopJoelKlein.org, describes his administration as “a public relations exercise camouflaging the systematic elimination of parental involvement; an obsessively test-driven culture; a growing atmosphere of fear, disillusionment, and intimidation experienced by professionals; and a flagrant manipulation of school data.”
Sound like a great candidate for the bully pulpit office for educational change and leadership in our nation? I hope not.
We desperately need to turn aside from the destructive educational policies of the Bush administration which have served primarily to build further distrust and ill-will on the part of the public toward teachers in general, further overload teachers with standards and mandates, and impede the efforts of those who would help our schools become learning communities rather than prisons with a forced diet of standardized examinations. Writing today about the “true” reformer positions which Linda-Darling Hammond would offer as SOE, John Affeldt notes:
Perhaps not surprisingly, because she [Darling-Hammond] has been a shining beacon for bold and comprehensive reform, recently, a group of anti-union, pro-testing reformers has mounted a concerted media campaign to thwart her appointment. Absurdly, they seek to label her a defender of the status quo. Status quo? You might as well call former Massachusetts Board of Education Secretary Horace Mann a staid bureaucrat. Darling-Hammond’s comprehensive vision encompasses and exceeds the reforms being pushed by her attackers. Charter schools? She has founded and advised them. Hold teachers and schools of education accountable for teaching that improves student outcomes? A recurring theme in her hundreds of articles. Pay excellent teachers more and remove those who are incompetent? Darling-Hammond pioneered these ideas in her groundbreaking 1996 report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future which led to major reforms across the country.
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