To the Editor:
Your article “Duncan Carving Deep Mark on Policy” (Jan. 20, 2010), on U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s first year in office, noted the existence of opposition to his policies. That opposition is grounded in the reality that the Obama administration’s education “reform” proposals have no basis in research or practical experience. In fact, school “restructuring” and extensive privatization in Chicago, where Mr. Duncan previously served as schools chief, and elsewhere have left many students worse off than they were before. People across the political spectrum recognize this.
In addition to promoting their harmful pedagogy driven by standardized testing, Washington politicians seem determined to become the national school board. Even if “tight on ends, loose on means” were reasonable (a dubious assumption), the reality is that these proposals are tight on both.
Clearly, there is a vitally important role for the federal government in education, to promote and expand equitable opportunity to learn and to engage in research and dissemination. We also need the feds to fund sizable pilots to find out if innovative ideas such as using classroom-based evidence to evaluate school quality can be done efficiently and beneficially. But mandating annual testing (making the United States a world leader in the wrong direction) and coercing states to turn public schools over to private control are not proper federal roles.
President Barack Obama and Secretary Duncan are pushing warmed-over Bush-Paige-Spellings schemes in the No Child Left Behind style. Initiatives such as Race to the Top will intensify the problems caused by that educationally destructive law and reduce democratic control of schools. They are just more examples of the sort of dangerous overreaching that has fueled the current backlash against Washington.
Interim Executive Director
National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)
A version of this article appeared in the February 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as Duncan’s First Year Had Familiar Mistakes