When the president named Arne Duncan as his first secretary of education, he was doing a lot more, and a lot worse, than just naming a Chicago crony and basketball buddy to a critical Cabinet position. He was adopting one of the most aggressive, least tested, top-down, pro-corporate philosophies toward education administration ever promoted in this country.
Despite clear evidence that Duncan’s methods had failed to improve Chicago Public Schools by the only measure he overwhelmingly targeted (test scores), reporters from the corporate media tripped all over themselves to lavish friendly coverage on Duncan’s efforts to bring the same tactics to bear on a national scale. Taking advantage of state revenue shortages, Duncan took command of a massive fiscal war chest and turned it into a reality legislation show called Race to the Top.
“Want a piece of my billions?” Duncan asked the states, shaking his money bag. “Fight for it, winners take all! Whichever five or ten state legislatures enact law coming closest to my cruel, unproven vision of test-driven education, well, you folks can ride out the money storm in relative comfort. The rest of you, with your pie-in-the-sky ideas from John Dewey, you can rot in fiscal hell—no cash for the disobedient!”
Poll: Parents Won’t Be Fooled Again
Despite 18 months of press love, yesterday’s Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll shows Americans completing a resoundingly negative report card on Obama’s education initiatives, with a mere 34 percent giving the president a “B” or better, and 59 percent giving him a C, D, or F.
These numbers are significantly lower than his overall approval rating (currently near his lowest, at 42 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable). They represent consistent, bipartisan drops from the previous year, and come after sweeping legislative “victories” by the administration in dozens of states.
With similar clarity, the public overwhelming rejected point by point the aggressive, market-ideological thuggery comprising Duncan’s arsenal of “school reform” tactics: paying students for grades, mass firings, using punitive funding schemes, etc.
So far the main result of Obama and Duncan’s adventures in school reform is that now a startling 80 percent of respondents believe the federal government should play no role in school accountability.
In stark contradiction of the administration’s views, respondents shared the beliefs of most teachers and their unions, that the largest problem with schools is a shortfall in funding, that the major issue with teacher competence is support for retraining and keeping up to date, and that the primary purpose of evaluating teachers is helping them to improve teaching (rather than assessing eligibility for merit pay or providing evidence for dismissal). Only a small number of Americans (19 percent, down from 25 percent in 2000) agree with the administration that teaching pay should be “very closely tied” to students’ academic achievement (though a clear and growing majority feel that it should be “somewhat” closely tied, whatever that means).
It turns out that most Americans like the public schools they know most about, the ones their children attend—and they like those schools a lot.
Seventy-seven percent of public-school parents give an A or B to the school their oldest child attends, the highest such figure since Gallup first posed the question, in 1985.
However, respondents rate other schools in their area—the ones they only read press reports about—lower, or just over half favorably.
Most interestingly: Respondents rated public schools in the nation as a whole—schools they only know about from national corporate media—very poorly, with just 18 percent giving an A or a B.
Even in this context—with widespread concern about the schools for other people’s children—respondents actively rejected the draconian close-the-school, fire-them-all approach. Gallup’s discussion of the poll concludes: Overwhelmingly, Americans favor keeping a poorly performing school in their community open with existing teachers and principals, while providing comprehensive outside support. This finding is consistent across political affiliation, age, level of education, region of the country, and other demographics.
From the point of view of actual electoral politics: well, I’d watch out if I was Arne Duncan. The teachers’ unions may not be able to hold out on Obama in the next national elections, but they can sure choose to let a few Democrats dangle in the cool breeze of public disapproval. Especially in those 40 or so states dubbed “losers” by Duncan’s Race to the Top chicanery.
And how better to signal a change of direction than to ask Duncan to fall on his basketball? In fact, displeased Dems have already trimmed a few hundred million from Duncan’s war chest, a legislative shot across the executive bow.
I’d say Duncan’s days of spanking the states are soon over—either that, or he’ll spend a lot of time eating love-the-teacher crow through the next national election campaign.
All the news fit for education corporations?
Closer to home, I guess I’d like to see a few more of us start to question the objectivity of The New York Times and Washington Post, both corporations with increasingly large hopes that profits from their education ventures will prop up sagging journalism revenues. The Post, which owns Kaplan and shocked readers by blatantly pushing Kaplan’s legislative agenda in print and in person, is already an education corporation that owns a newspaper as a sideline.