Duncan Plan Represents 'Bully-Driven Reform'

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To the Editor:

"Questions for Secretary Duncan," the letter to the editor from teacher-educators at Teachers College, Columbia University, in your Jan. 6, 2010, issue, is a timely opening to an overdue dialogue.

Much of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s hard sell to reshape education nationwide needs to be questioned by various segments of the education community. As it stands now, the burden falls primarily on affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Their concerns too often are dismissed as selfish union interests or defense of the status quo.

Education research organizations need to be speaking out on what works and what doesn’t. Testing and assessment experts should be addressing the misuse of standardized testing. All education interests should be alarmed over the top-down, hardball tactics being used to enact questionable fixes.

Here in Tennessee, Gov. Phil Bredesen called a special session of the legislature to mandate how test data will be used to rate teachers. He insisted that this action was needed to make the state competitive for the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top money. Last summer, dangling the same carrot, Mr. Duncan pressured reluctant Democratic lawmakers to go along with a Republican plan to expand charter schools in the state.

This bully-driven reform is designed to show up the weakest schools and the weakest teachers (based on the lowest test scores), and to take punitive action against them. It offers little or nothing to assess and address the underlying structural, economic, and social factors that impede schools and teachers from excelling with their most disadvantaged students.

If educators’ frustrations and seething resentment in this state become widespread, the Obama administration will lose the confidence of the professionals needed to make any reform work. They are particularly disturbed with Secretary Duncan’s use of federal economic-stimulus money to bribe states into carrying out his agenda, much of which will do more to sink vulnerable schools than to lift them up.

Gene Bryant
Nashville, Tenn.

Vol. 29, Issue 19, Page 20

Published in Print: January 27, 2010, as Duncan Plan Represents 'Bully-Driven Reform'
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