Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Duncan Scolds Education Schools

When former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan isn't busy joining another board of some education-flavored enterprise (his latest is Revolution Foods, an over-hyped cafeteria supply company), he still finds time to offer uninformed opinions about education itself.

Pay me to have an opinion about school lunch? Retirement is awesome.

Take for instance his open letter today at Brookings, in which Duncan castigates the nation's collegiate teacher preparation programs.

He opens with his trademark blame-disguised-as-praise:

Schools of education are providing one of the most important services in America today, training our future teachers who will prepare our children to succeed in work and in life. No other responsibility is more directly linked to our future.

Really? Economic policy, business growth, policies addressing poverty, maintenance of infrastructure, global diplomacy-- nothing at all more directly influences the future of our nation than how well colleges prepare future teachers?  Okay then. Let's address the Most Critical Issue Facing Our Nation with a look at the hard facts.

Nah. On second thought, says Arne, let's just pull out a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a group devoted to proving that college ed programs stink, and proving it by using the laziest research methods ever. In fact, Duncan goes back to a NCTQ report from November of 2014, the delightful "Easy A" report. I've already discussed this as the most rigor-free half-baked research to ever be taken seriously. Research so lazy that it "evaluated" non-existent programs. Research so lazy that it literally consisted of reading commencement programs and course catalogs.

Duncan also cites the Deans for Impact, a group that includes Mayme Hostetter, a "dean" of the Relay Graduate [sic] School [sic] of Education [sic], the group created by charter operators as a way to grow their own "teachers" without having to actually do any of the real work. Relay was just rejected by the state of Pennsylvania, based on their lack of pretty much all characteristic features of an actual graduate school of education like qualified education professors and (no kidding) a library of actual education resources.

Duncan also shares the shocking news that he has talked to many teachers who did not feel ready to teach on Day One. Here's a quick pro tip-- if you feel absolutely ready to teach on Day One-- any Day One, including Day One of your thirtieth year-- you do not understand the situation and you are probably not safe to let loose in a classroom.

Nevertheless, I will give Duncan some slack here. I have been pretty critical of some teacher prep programs myself, and it is true that there is room for improvement. That's the education biz-- there is always room for improvement. But first you have to understand what needs to improve and how teaching actually works, and after all these years, there's little evidence that Duncan gets it.

As usual with a Duncan missive on education, there is grinding cognitive dissonance folded in with the soaring rhetoric. Duncan wants education programs to know that there is no room for lowering expectations, that lowering expectations does a disservice to teaching candidates, students, and presumably, given his opening, the fate of civilization as we know it.

He wants to see teachers held to high standards, "like engineering, business and medical students," which I suppose is his special way of saying that teachers are super-important, but they all suck.

We've heard versions of this from Duncan before, and as always I am waiting for the part of the message that would logically follow.

I am waiting for the part where Duncan condemns Teach for America for its super-short teacher training program. I am waiting for the part where Duncan condemns states that now allow anybody with any sort of degree to work in a classroom. I am waiting for the part where he condemns states and school districts try to fight the teacher shortage by lowering the job requirements to "stays upright, mostly."

I am waiting, of course, in vain. Citizen Duncan, like Secretary Duncan, reserves his scolding for the traditional public school system and the people who spend their lives working there. The shadow education system, the parallel system set up in the land of free market forces and private profit-- that system remains above reproach, immune to criticism, the recipients of no public letters except those filled with praise.


  1. I really enjoyed your scholarly and incisive interrogation of Arne Duncan's offensive letter. Thanks.
    Brian Cambourne

  2. Back when Gene Hickok was PA Sec of Ed, I heard him present at a conference data showing that colleges of education in the state higher education system were pulling from the bottom 40% of the SAT pool. The President of Kutztown (or was it Millersville) went insane yelling that being more selective would put his College of Ed out of business. So the idea that teacher recruitment and education is seriously flawed is nothing new.

    1. Can you cite some research demonstrating a link between SAT scores and teacher effectiveness? Thanks.

  3. NCTQ's latest campaign is "teacher shortage denial" --- along the lines of "Holocaust denial" and "global warming denial."


    Here's some vintage NCTQ, with spokes-hole Kate Walsh talking out of both sides of her mouth.

    On the one hand, NCTQ's Kate Walsh celebrates the following: (CAPS mine)

    "Finally, as the Las Vegas Sun reports, state efforts to EASE CERTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS and improve certification reciprocity have supported the work of the Clark County team. This is an APPROACH EMINENTLY EMPLOYABLE elsewhere."

    As in, that's a good thing, but then, in the VERY NEXT paragraph, Katie says:

    "The fall out of faux teacher shortages is OF TREMENDOUS (negative) CONSEQUENCE. They routinely result in both states and school districts LOWERING STANDARDS FOR WHO IS LICENSED AND HIRED."

    So which is it, Katie? Is lowering requirements and standards for teachers a good thing or a bad thing? You're coming off a little confused here.

    Also, it's not "faux teacher shortages" --- or NOT ONLY the "faux teacher shortages" --- that lead to lowering of requirements. It's also and overwhelmingly the "REAL teacher shortages" that lead to lowering of requirements, as in the districts and states where the shortage is real, VERY REAL. It's so real, in fact, that, without that lowering, there will be NO ONE teaching their children. Thus, they then have to get somebody ... ANYBODY actually ... standing in front of the classroom at least acting in the role of teacher.

    I could link to a half-dozen more "teacher shortage claims are all hoaxes" articles written by disparate corporate reformers (Kevin Huffman, anyone?). Therefore, it appears that the corporate reform leadership has established this as a new party line of sorts, one that needs to be proliferated ... but WHY?

    I mean hat do you tell parent in a state/district where the allegedly "faux" shortage has nevertheless led to their children being taught by a bunch of Goober Pyle's (60's reference shows my age)?

    "Oh no. There's no shortage. Kate Walsh over a NCTQ says so. Goober's gonna work out fine as your kid's teacher."

    And Katie doesn't forget to throw in a dig at unions:

    "One of the answers is to pay such teachers more than other teachers are paid, but most districts continue to reject that solution because it is untenable with their unions. For STEM teachers we could ramp up the availability of part-time teaching positions, but again few districts and states embrace this option--also because unions worry that districts will begin replacing full-time employees and their costly benefits with part-timers."

    If Katie has kids of her own --- or if she someday has them in the future --- will she want them taught by minimally trained "part-timers" brand new to teaching, or with fully-trained full-timers with years of experience --- even if they do come with those "costly benefits" that fully trained full-timers veterans require and demand.

    Walsh surprisingly does deride TFA as just "a bandaid" on the problem.

    1. More "teacher shortage denial" from perennial union-basher Mike Antonucci:


      Peter, what's the logic behind this campaign? It's sort of like everyone sees a tornado funnel cloud approaching, while others insist on saying, "Oh that's nothing."

      Is it ... the more we convince folks there's no shortage, the more schools get will then destroyed or the more schools that will "fail", then the easier they are to privatize --- close 'em, them re-open them under charter management?

      I've found over ten of these "teacher shortage denial" articles that have been recently posted. This whole campaign is being coordinated, but WHY?

  4. He wants to see teachers held to high standards, "like engineering, business and medical students,"

    The F'ing idiots who trumpet this view leave out the HUGE factor...NOBODY is willing to pay rookie teachers livable salaries. Moreover, the trend has been to take away the perks...stable job security, secure guarantied pensions, being able to use one's own intelligence, creativity & talent to teach. As a vet of 33 years of teaching the physical sciences (mainly physics), I had AND have other ways to make a living. No way I'd enter the teaching 'market' in today's environment.