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Education Wed Dec 24 2008

CEO of the Classroom, Arne Duncan

Apologists have made the argument that Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan's lack of experience as an educator will not impede his ability to fulfill his role as Secretary of Education. Outside of a few photo ops, he has not worked within the classroom; his experience was in the business sector, which has been crucial to informing his policies in Chicago.

Henry A. Giroux and Kenneth Saltman at Truthout describe the Chief Executive Officer's hidden agenda in education reform:

One particularly egregious example of Duncan's vision of education can be seen in the conference he organized with the Renaissance Schools Fund. In May 2008, the Renaissance Schools Fund, the financial wing of the Renaissance 2010 plan operating under the auspices of the Commercial Club, held a symposium, "Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market in Public Education," at the exclusive private club atop the Aon Center. The event was held largely by and for the business sector, school privatization advocates, and others already involved in Renaissance 2010, such as corporate foundations and conservative think tanks. Significantly, no education scholars were invited to participate in the proceedings, although it was heavily attended by fellows from the pro-privatization Fordham Foundation and featured speakers from various school choice organizations and the leadership of corporations. Speakers clearly assumed the audience shared their views.

Without irony, Arne Duncan characterized the goal of Renaissance 2010 creating the new market in public education as a "movement for social justice." He invoked corporate investment terms to describe reforms explaining that the 100 new schools would leverage influence on the other 500 schools in Chicago. Redefining schools as stock investments he said, "I am not a manager of 600 schools. I'm a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I'm trying to improve the portfolio." He claimed that education can end poverty. He explained that having a sense of altruism is important, but that creating good workers is a prime goal of educational reform and that the business sector has to embrace public education. "We're trying to blur the lines between the public and the private," he said. He argued that a primary goal of educational reform is to get the private sector to play a huge role in school change in terms of both money and intellectual capital. He also attacked the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), positioning it as an obstacle to business-led reform. He also insisted that the CTU opposes charter schools (and, hence, change itself), despite the fact that the CTU runs ten such schools under Renaissance 2010. Despite the representation in the popular press of Duncan as conciliatory to the unions, his statements and those of others at the symposium belied a deep hostility to teachers unions and a desire to end them (all of the charters created under Ren2010 are deunionized). Thus, in Duncan's attempts to close and transform low-performing schools, he not only reinvents them as entrepreneurial schools, but, in many cases, frees "them from union contracts and some state regulations." Duncan effusively praised one speaker, Michael Milkie, the founder of the Nobel Street charter schools, who openly called for the closing and reopening of every school in the district precisely to get rid of the unions. What became clear is that Duncan views Renaissance 2010 as a national blueprint for educational reform, but what is at stake in this vision is the end of schooling as a public good and a return to the discredited and tired neoliberal model of reform that conservatives love to embrace.

Does this sound like someone able to maintain "respectful relations with teachers and their unions?"


Gustavo Cero / December 24, 2008 2:56 PM

Arne Duncan and the Board know what must be done, but do not have the will to do what is necessary. They have their own agenda. Teachers or better said, each school staff are told to tighten things up, get in sync, become high performing schools... yet are told by the same board, "we can't give you any resources". This is especially true for the "low performing" schools. When other teachers from other school districts find out how long our instructional day is, they are left speechless by the shortness of it! Arne knows we need a longer instructional day and didn't deliver. He knew that for a school staff to be cohesive there needs to be extensive planning time during the week for teachers to meet and strategize and get in sync. High performing schools are not built by one or two teachers but by a whole staff working and pulling together in sync and targeting the most essential needs first. It is not that "low performing" schools have failed, but that they have not been given the time, tools and resources necessary for professional teachers to pull things together. So, yes, it is kind of dumb for The Truthout article is one of the best I have read on the situation we find ourselves. I hope folks will pass on the link to all teachers that they know. Arne Duncan, never was a true reformer at best. A lot of lazy reporting about Duncan out there. Thank you Gaper's Block Mechanics for getting the word out on Duncan, The Board and Commerce Club!

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