Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Bee campaigns for Arne Duncan's views-again

Editor Pia Lopez was impressed by the visit of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to Sacramento. I wasn’t.
See the comments here: see Pia Lopez's column on this topic and excerpts of her interviews with US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, state Sen. Gloria Romero, and Assemblywoman Julia Brownley.

The most essential problem with the politicians approaches to school reform endorsed by the Bee editors is that they listen to promoters and not to teachers. Arne Duncan, Kevin Johnson , Michelle Rhee, Joe Klein and others well represent the promoters view of school reform. They have tried to command teachers but they have not lead teachers –probably because they are unable to do so.

School reform will come when we can engage teachers, students and families. If you want to improve schools you need to engage the teachers in the classroom. It will not come from the promoters nor the consultant class not working closely with teachers. My 35 + years of experience in working with schools convinces me that the consultants and the researchers may receive the research funds, but the solutions will come from dialogues with the teachers and community activists and by improving teaching and learning conditions in the classrooms.

Arne Duncan and Kevin Johnson, along with Sarah Palin, like to use basketball metaphors. So, lets try one out. Duncan 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.

The most basic decisions on class size in schools are made by the Governor, the legislature, and the voters not the Secretary of Education nor the Mayor. 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. Many art, music, and career technical teachers will be layed off. Did you know that California already ranks 49 out of the 50 states in counselors per student. That is why there are so few counselors in schools. California now has the largest class sizes in the nation. Our Senators and our Assemblypersons voted for this budget. They argue that they had no choice.
The legislature, enjoys a 16% approval rating from voters. They listened to Arne Duncan, the coach of the cheerleaders, when he was in town. In particular Senator Gloria Romero has introduced legislation to change the way California uses student test scores to comply with the demands of the Obama/Duncan administration. This particular coach has $10 Billion dollars to distribute. That is impressive. But, the federal competition is a distraction from the more basic issues. Until the schools are adequately funded- a state matter- and class sizes reduced to at least the national average- no amount of cheerleading will improve the schools.

Duane Campbell
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