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Education Thu Oct 08 2009

Arne Duncan Should Justify His Existence

During his time here, Arne Duncan had little detectable effect on our schools. In fact, he left behind a mess, according to Chicago Magazine's profile of Ron Huberman. He accomplished little to nothing. His program of privatization has put and is putting unqualified, terrified teachers in front of students who have no faith in the adults around them.

Now people are wondering: Does the policy of school "turnarounds" that guts schools of all its leadership, denigrates teachers, alienates parents from schools, and destabilizes school life for kids, have something to do with the increased chaos and poor performance? (Yes.)

Was Arne Duncan not only ineffective but detrimental to our schools? If so, then how the hell did he get a promotion?

The tragic beating death of Derrion Albert of Fenger High School brought national media attention to Chicago's failing schools. Electing a guy who was a "community organizer from the south side of Chicago" will get you that kind of attention. They are starting to ask the question we've been asking here: what qualified Arne Duncan to be the national leader of our public schools, other than his playing basketball with the President?

It seems that Arne Duncan needs to justify his existence. He owes at least that to the people whose children will be effected by his apparently useless decision making.

This isn't jumping on a scandal and extrapolating. That PURE post linked to earlier was put up in February. They say such now-obvious things as,

2) Students are being displaced and discarded.

• Research across many cities is conclusive that mobility sets students back academically, which is why responsible school districts try to limit mobility.

• Stability is not just about being in the same school building; it's about having the same adults around, yet CPS fires them all in a turnaround.


3) Violence has increased in and around schools affected by Renaissance 2010.

• Closing schools and combining students from different ethnic, racial and gang affiliations has led to an increase in violence centered on our schools, and has become so bad that visitors are now barred from CPS basketball games.

...but of course, we can't trust the people to run the schools. Leave it up to a small group of bankers and real estate developers.

I wonder if that has any relationship to another of PURE's points:

1) Renaissance 2010 is not an education plan, it's a business and real estate developer plan.


• Schools to be closed/etc. have over last 5 years mapped onto areas gentrified or adjacent to gentrified/gentrifying areas, according to a UIC report.

No measurable improvement in our schools. Increasing violence seemingly a by-product of "turnarounds" and closings. That is a record of failure, and one that has been predicted for years by teacher and parents organizations.

So Duncan comes to town to put out the growing national fire around the murder of a CPS honor roll student on Barack Obama's South Side. Duncan knows that people are going to be looking at the disruptive and painful school "turnarounds" (euphemism for "unjustifiable shutdowns and firings") and closures as one contributing factor to the murder of Albert and so many other CPS students. Anybody who spends a moment in the neighborhoods of Chicago has heard the stories from schools like Clemente and Wendell Phillips, where the boundary crossing and destabilization has predictably led to chaos. This is the kind of mistake only insular bureaucracies make, because they have no institutional or material, street-level knowledge. Knowing this, Duncan is on the defensive.

How do I know Duncan knew his disastrous, top down policy would be blamed for the increasing violence? He was ready for the questions, with overly specific numbers:

Q Secretary Duncan, some have suggested that the turn-around -- (off mike) -- that you implemented last year -- (off mike) -- was partly to blame for the violence. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about destabilizing schools.

SEC. DUNCAN: I think that's absolutely ridiculous. If you go back to '03-'04 in Fenger High School, you had 124 students from the Altgeld Garden community. You go this year, '08-'09, there are 142 students. There are 18 more students in Fenger today from Altgeld Garden than from five years ago.

Excuse me, but where does Duncan get his nerve* from? Is he serious? Are we supposed to believe that converting an entire school (Carver) to a military academy--thus displacing all the students--and then "turning around" Fenger, releasing many of the adults who had ties to the community whatsoever, had nothing to do with the troubles there? So we fire every experienced teacher, every teacher who has a shred of connection with these kids, every administrator who knows not only the kids but probably educated their parents. Meanwhile, according to Duncan himself in that press conference, children are demanding "mentors" around them.

Everybody's an idiot but Arne.

You remember this Mr. Secretary?

During his time as CEO of Chicago schools, Duncan said he realized dramatic school improvements by adopting the turnaround model, which calls for replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of the school's staff. "We replace leaders, we replace teachers. Adults will leave and children will stay," he said.

Brilliant idea, Lord of the Flies. Now you want to "challenge" us? Excuse me, Arne, but you can go fly a kite*.

How can we take Duncan's commitment to throw $500,000 at Fenger and its feeder schools as anything other than a reactive stop gap?

So it's $500,000 for one child? That'll solve all our problems. No contrition about the condition of the school district he led until eight months ago? Up there in that interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he seemed eager to take credit for "dramatic school improvements." What about the dismal failures?

Let me quote Arne to Arne.

"I challenge every adult to step up and join the conversation,'' Duncan said. "No one should get a pass.''

Even the adults you asked to leave earlier? Those adults?

No one is absolved. Of course parents need to involved in their children's education, and teachers need to be accountable to parents, and one another.

But I agree. Nobody gets a pass. Your "Chicago model" of gutting public education has been an abject failure. Schools stagnates. Violence escalates. Teachers are terrorized by mass layoffs and parents and students are alienated from their community schools. That is the legacy we're seeing.

No more passes. Why are you the Secretary of Education?

*By which I mean a different expression.

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Kilroy from Delaware / October 9, 2009 2:21 AM

Arne Duncan is useless as a woodpecker on an aluminum telephone pole.

Max Weismann / October 12, 2009 5:09 PM

Secretary Arne Duncan
United States Secretary of Education
LBJ Education Building, Room 7W311
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan:

I reside in Chicago and I am a well known moral philosopher in the field education and I am the protégé of Dr. Mortimer J. Adler.
U.S. Attorney General Holder: "We want to listen to educators, parents, and experts in the field, and find out the best ideas for addressing this urgent problem. We're not interested in just scratching the surface or focusing on generalities, and as we delve into this problem we're not going to protect any sacred cows. We're here to learn firsthand what's happening on our streets so we can devise effective solutions."

As long as you treat violence, drug/alcohol addiction, vicious behavior, etceteras as the problem, instead as a symptom of a moral problem, you are not really addressing the crisis.

Whenever there is something bad or wrong in our communities, cities, states, it is because we (citizens & parents) let it get that way.

Most Americans have lost their moral compass and we are in lock-step with the cultural trajectory of ancient Rome.

When the word education is used today, vocation is meant. Only a true liberal education can save us and that is not even a guarantee.

Our schools are not turning out young people prepared for the high office and the duties of citizenship in a democratic republic. Our political institutions cannot thrive, they may not even survive, if we do not produce a greater number of thinking citizens, from whom some statesmen of the type we had in the eighteenth century might eventually emerge. We are, indeed, a nation at risk, and nothing but radical reform of our schools can save us from impending disaster. Whatever the price we must pay in money and effort to do this, the price we will pay for not doing it will be much greater.


Max Weismann,
President and co-founder with Mortimer Adler, Center for the Study of The Great Ideas and Chairman, The Great Books Academy (3,000+ students)

Cc: Eric Holder
Mayor Richard M. Daley

Kilroy / October 16, 2009 5:09 PM

Arne Duncan is as useless as a porcupine in a balloon factory.

"Whatever the price we must pay in money and effort to do this, the price we will pay for not doing it will be much greater."

The price isn't the question as who reaps the profit? People like Neil Bush, Wendy Kopp anre hubbie Richard Barth? Ask Wendy where the $774,000.00 went!

Ben / January 25, 2010 12:58 AM

I am wondering why teachers who fail to perform deserve to keep their job? Give these new teachers time to learn their new schools and then judge them. I will admit, you are more informed on the issue than I, but in a city where no ONE public high school is meeting performance standards, we need some drastic change in education. What would your solution be?

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