Duncan's Background and Duncan's Plans
by Stephen Krashen
Sent to Time Magazine, September 5, 2009
What I learned from "Can Arne Duncan (And $5 Billion) Fix America's Schools?" (Sept. 14) is that Secretary of Education Duncan's only experience in education is helping out in his mother's after-school tutoring program, which was somehow enough to get him an administrative position with Chicago public schools.
I also learned that when he was head of Chicago public schools, he tried a number of odd schemes, all known to be ineffective, to improve performance (e.g. charter schools, bribing students, merit pay, closing down schools). These schemes resulted in "modest gains," a description that is much too generous, according to an article in USA Today on July 12.
Duncan's plan now is to use these discredited approaches nationwide, and expand the Bush administration's testing program, also shown repeatedly to be ineffective.
All this is because he thinks American schools are "dysfunctional," despite analyses that show that the problem is poverty, not the quality of our schools: American students who do not live in poverty do very well on international tests when compared to students in other countries.
In her book, "Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids Caught in a Killing Curriculum," published in 2001, Susan Ohanian, an experienced and award-winning educator who has actually taught in public schools, pointed out that:
"The pattern of reform … has spread across the nation: Bring in someone who has never been involved in public education; proclaim that local administrators and teachers are lazy and stupid; use massive testing to force schools into curriculum compliance" (page x).Since this passage was written, this pattern of reform has clearly spread to the highest levels.
Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:
• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testingThese practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.
• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation
• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.
Contact: The Alliance for Childhood