"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This is Teacher Appreciation?

It's Teacher Appreciation Week (in fact, today, May 3, 2011, is National Teacher Day) and the Hypocrite of the Week for this week is none other than the US Secretary of Education himself, Arne Duncan. He has written an Open Letter to American Teachers and has tipped his hand in the first sentence.
I have worked in education for much of my life.
Yes, he worked in education. He went right from his private school education in Chicago to Harvard to play basketball and study Sociology. He has been a school administrator, heading the Chicago Public Schools by appointment from Mayor Daley. He has worked in education...but he has never taught in, was never an administrator in, in fact, has never even attended a public school. This is the man who is responsible for the nearly 100,000 public schools in the United States.

This is the man who we're supposed to trust. Sabrina, in her Letter to Arne Duncan, reminds us that Duncan has
Praised the mass firing of all teachers in certain ‘failing’ schools...

Promoted questionable school reform policies embraced by powerful non-educators over the express opposition of many teachers (and public school parents, for that matter)...

Undermined the teaching profession by:
  • frequently elevating the views of non-educators over those of educated, experienced professionals
  • supporting programs and policies that continually lower entry standards into the profession
  • increasing the instability of the profession (and our schools) by promoting policies that tie teachers’ evaluations and continued employment to flawed value-added measures based on flawed tests
...and...
elevated and increased high-stakes tests that are hastily scored by temporary employees and/or machines over classroom-embedded assessments designed and evaluated by teachers...
I've said it before (and I did once again above) but it's nice to see someone else repeat it, too...again, Sabrina...
More fundamentally, your very presence in the role of Education Secretary reflects a level of disrespect for our profession not found in others. Our Surgeon General is a career physician, who earned a full MD before going into family practice. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a career naval officer, who studied at the Naval Academy before participating in combat operations aboard a destroyer. Yet despite “working in education” for a while, you never studied education, and you’ve never taught in a public school classroom. Working in non-profits, playing basketball, and being a political appointee are not substitutes for classroom experience.
She adds...
I can say firsthand that my beliefs about educational failure changed dramatically when I went from “working in education” to actually running a classroom of my own. Classroom teachers have to contend with far greater “accountability” while having far less flexibility or control over how, when, what, and with what we teach. Meeting the academic, cognitive, and social needs of 20 (or 30 or 40…) students simultaneously is very different from working with small groups or tutoring one-on-one. Until you have navigated that, it is very difficult to fully appreciate just what teachers are up against.

Schools are places where all of society’s issues—all the ‘isms, all the politics, all the everything—play out. Ideally, the person in charge of our whole school system would, at a minimum, have seen all aspects of it firsthand (as a student, as a scholar, as a teacher, as a parent, as a school leader, etc.) before ever being entrusted with overseeing it. We need leaders who can combine in-depth knowledge of education policy and history with practical experience at all levels of the public education system, and a proper respect for the perspectives of those doing the work every day.

And if we can’t have all that, then at the very least we need someone who is humble enough to admit what they don’t or can’t know, and defer to the those who do and can—instead of seeking the counsel of those who know even less.
I started my teaching career when Duncan was in Elementary School. I was still teaching when he was playing basketball in Australia. I'd like to see Sabrina's last question answered as well...
So what do you plan to do to prove you respect, value, and support teachers? And when can teachers expect your apology letter, for the disrespectful and destructive policy choices you’ve already made?
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2 comments:

The Reflective Educator said...

Are you going to DC in July?

Stu said...

Another response to Duncan's "Open Letter"

http://www.markgarrison.net/archives/1084