Thursday, September 03, 2009

Arne Duncan at the Sacramento Town Hall meeting


Arne Duncan was in Sacramento today, pushing his particular view of test based school reform entitled Race to the Top. The Sacramento Bee carried two opposing views on their editorial page, one featuring two outstanding teachers who made the case well for the limited value of an over reliance upon testing. Here; http://www.sacbee.com/1190/story/2156879.html

Duncan met today with legislative leaders, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and advocates of charter schools. In his town hall meeting Duncan was an effective an effective cheerleader for school reform. You and I would agree with most of what he said. Over 100 business and community leaders were in the front rows. Another 100 teachers and parents were in the back roles.
As has been argued here before, the most essential problem with the politicians approaches to school reform is that they listen to promoters and not to teachers.
Arne Duncan and Kevin Johnson well represent this promoters view of school reform Both Duncan and Johnson, along with Sarah Palin, like to use basketball metaphors. So, lets try one out.
Arne and Kevin Johnson are cheerleaders for an ideology of how school reform should work. They chant and cheer and show a little flash. But, they are cheerleaders.
The players who make school reform work are teachers and students. If you want to win the game, you need to practice and improve the fundamentals – not watch the cheerleaders. Lets look at some fundamentals. Some schools have 17 students per class, some have 34 students per class, and some have as many as 42 per class- particularly in California. Then, all the students are measured on the same test. That would be like having one team field 12 players while another could only field 5 players.
A problem exists in that the media, editorial writers, columnists, the poorly informed and elected officials listen to Arne Duncan as if he were the coach of the players- he is not. He is the coach of the cheerleaders. An interesting coach, particularly since he has $10 B to distribute, but he remains a coach of the cheerleaders. Now, I like cheerleaders. Duncan's message is substantially positive. But, he is on the sidelines of the real game.
In the Town Hall meeting two teachers asked questions about the role of testing. Duncan argued that test scores should be used as one of several measures, not the only measure.In particular he cited that there was a need to change the nature of using test scores for ELLs.
The most basic decisions on class size in schools are made by the Governor, the legislature, and the voters. In last year’s budget deal, the legislature and the Governor cut some $6 billion from the k-12 schools forcing lay offs of teachers and increasing class sizes. California now has the largest class sizes in the nation.
The legislature, enjoying a 16% approval rating by voters, today listened to Arne Duncan, the coach of the cheerleaders. This particular coach has $10 Billion dollars to distribute. But, the federal competition is a distraction from the more basic issues. Until the schools are adequately funded, and class sizes reduced to at least the national average- no amount of cheerleading will improve test scores. You can’t win the game by only putting half of the team of teachers on the floor.
He was asked a couple of strong questions, polite, but firm, about the lack of resources for schools due to the California economic crisis. He cited the additional aid provided by the stimulus bill and the $10 billion available through the Race to the Top and other competitive grants. This is, of course, a very limited response. The economic crisis of school funding is beyond any investment provided by federal funds.
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