Saturday, April 19, 2014

Duncan Lays It All Out (2010 edition)

If you want a complete explanation of the CCSS Reformy Master Plan, as well as one more piece of evidence that the CCSS regime is in fact a federal program, you can't do much better than Arne Duncan's speech on November 4, 2010, to UNESCO, "The Vision of Education Reform in the United States."

I recommend you read the whole thing, but if you're in a hurry, or you just enjoy commentary, let me run it down for you.

Introductiony Stuff

UNESCO has been around for many years, and it's a swell group, promoting peace since 1945, when the world was a bit messy. "The promise of universal education was then a lonely beacon--a light to guide the way to peace and the rebuilding of nations across the globe."

Today the world is no longer recovering from WWII, but education is still a Very Swell Thing.  "And in a knowledge economy, education is the new currency by which nations maintain economic competitiveness and global prosperity."

He has two major messages today about education.

And They Are

"First, the Obama administration has an ambitious and unified theory of action that propels our agenda." It can't be fixed quickly. It will take "a clear, coherent, and coordinated vision of reform."

Second, the President and Duncan reject any notion that ed reform is international zero sum. If some people excell, it's good for everyone. We will grow the economic pie rather than carve it up.

This Is Super Important

We have an unprecedented opportunity to make US education great, which is #1 in national economic boosting. We have "an economic and moral imperative" to fix the gap. 25% of US students don't finish in four years-- and here I interrupt to question the big focus on the four year thing. It's a dumb choice, because it means a kid who fails an entire year and has to repeat, and for whom that experience is a shock and a wake-up call so that he gets his act together and finishes as a strong student-- that kid is considered the same as a kid who just plain drops out. that's dumb.

Duncan also name checks the retired military report that 75% of US grads are unfit for military service because they are dropouts, criminals, or not physically fit. Also, he read that Thomas Friedman says the world is flat, so knowledge etc competition is globally tough.

"In the knowledge economy, opportunities to land a good job are vanishing fast for young workers who drop out of school or fail to get college experience." And I'm thinking that sentence should have stopped after "workers," but here we have inserted the belief that corporations would stop outsourcing call center jobs to India if only they could find more Americans with Masters degrees willing to work part time for minimum wage and no benefits.

The President says that the country that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow, and then offers historical examples of when this has happened in the past--oh no, whoops, I made that last part up. We're just going to go with what, in the CCSS biz, we call "thoughts and feelings with no textual support." Also, all our scientists and PhD's and engineers are immigrants, so that's why we're going to close up the VISA loopholes being used by employers to hire cheap immigrants and why we're also going to start providing real support for the hard sciences in this country instead of making science go begging from corporations. No, sorry, I made up all that last part again.

Duncan observes that we also must collaborate across boundaries. In this new world we can't fix poverty of terrorism by ourselves, but must cooperate with other nations. These international partnerships will require students to do more critical thinking, learn new languages, understand other cultures, and embrace their sense of obligation to the world community. Conservative conspiracy theorists will want to highlight this portion of this speech (delivered to a group of international cooperators).

Here Are Some Goals

The Pres wants us to lead the world in college grads by 2020. Because more college grads = world domination. But don't forget-- "not zero sum." Our world collegiate domination will bring benefits to everybody.

Also, we should get girls into college.

Better educated world = better economics world. Because when you have lots of educated people, lots of high-quality well-paying jobs appear to greet them. Just ask all the degreed 25-year-olds still living in their parents' basements and working at Burger King.

Also, better educated world = safer world. Because ignorance causes violence. That's why, when we led the world in college grads, we never got into wars with anyone. Okay, I made that up. I can't help it. Duncan keeps saying things without offering any evidence or support-- not even anecdotal. I know it's four years late, but I'm still trying to finish this speech for him.

Education is the great equalizer, but when economies improve, the college educated will reap more of the benefits.

Then This Quote Happens

As the author Ben Wildavsky writes in his new book, The Great Brain Race, in the global economy “more and more people will have the chance . . . to advance based on what they know rather than who they are.”

And I could spend a whole day discussing how odd I find it to imagine that our knowledge base is somehow separate from who we are as people. But since we're starting with the presumption that education is a transformative commodity and not a human quality, I guess this makes sense. So I'll move on.

And Now For the Creepy Stuff

There have been misconceptions in the cover of President Obama's plans. For instance, his support as a progressive for private charter schools, and his insistence that teachers be evaluated based on student test scores.

Duncan says that the misconception is not that these aren't his actual plans, nor does Duncan try to point out that these ideas have their origins anywhere but the Oval Office. No, the misconception is, apparently, in seeing these as The Plan when in fact they are just the tip of the iceberg. "In fact, these elements are only a modest part of our overall agenda.  The President’s aims are far more ambitious."

Test based teacher evaluation = great teacher in every classroom. Growing "school choice" = more innovation.

The North Star guiding the alignment of our cradle-to-career education agenda is President Obama’s goal that America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
That goal can only be achieved by creating a strong cradle-to-career continuum that starts with early childhood learning and extends all the way to college and careers.

So, cradle to career it is. We will expand pre-K. And we will try to increase access to college. He does not actually add "and make a huge profit off the loans."

The Four Assurances 

The K-12 theory of action is based on the four assurances, which will look familiar. They are

1) Academic standards will show that students really are college and career ready, because states have been lying to them. Fortunately, we all know the exact secret of measuring someone's C&C readiness, so, easy peasy.

2) Big data. Because that will totally give teachers the feedback they need to do their jobs (because we are all clueless, I guess. Or liars. But if we're liars, what difference will the feedback make? We'll just lie about it.) No mention of what else big data might be useful for.

3) Improve preparation and evaluation of teachers.  Because "when it comes to teaching, love, and commitment and talent matter tremendously." And love and commitment really show up on those standardized tests. Also, poor students have bad access to good education, and that makes Arne sad.

4) Gets several graphs that boil down to: Some schools really suck. Fewer than 2,000 schools produce more than half the dropouts, which amount to almost 75% of brown and black dropouts. Can I have a fact check on aisle three? No more tinkering, says Arne. We are going to throw real money "to drive real change with unprecedented urgency."

The Federal Role and How We Made It Almost Illegal

As we made our plans, we had to factor in that the federal role in education is "unusual," by which we mean "constitutionally non-existent." In the 1960s it grew to encompass handing out money for "inputs."

The Obama administration has sought to fundamentally shift the federal role, so that the Department is doing much more to support reform and innovation in states, districts, and local communities.

And now after a big bunch of laying out the President's program developed by the President and following the President's goals for the President's vision of the education as supported by the President's initiative, Arne spends some time saying, "But, we, like totally were being pushed along by state and local officials in a way that is not at all a violation of law regarding federal involvement in American education."

So we offered grants and stuff, and states signed up for them (Arne doesn't mention the NCLB gun pointed at every state's head). Basically, the feds figured out how to apply principles of venture philanthropy to gummint work. Don't just give money to people who say they'll do something good-- lay out exactly what you want done and then wait for someone to create just that. It's not if you build it they will come-- it's if you pay for it, they will come and build it themselves.

At the end of the day, I believe it is that courage, and not our resources, that will transform educational opportunity in our country. But we have a lot more resources than courage, so that's what we're going with. Now you may think this is the part where we get the story of how the governors just leapt up and said, "Hey, we want to write standards!" But actually, we get this:

In March of 2009, President Obama called on the nation’s governors and state school chiefs to “develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.” 

And golly bob howdy, those standards have gone over like gangbusters. We just awarded a bunch of grant money, and we also awarded grant money to the consortia that won our contest to develop assessments. These are great assessments. magical assessments. How magical?

When these new assessments are in use in the 2015-15 school year, millions of U.S. schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will know, for the first time, if students truly are on-track for colleges and careers.

Reform has to be about results.

The Wind Up

Duncan quotes five questions from Sir Michael Barber, whom he does not identify as That Guy from Pearson, and points out they are better than the questions that the USDOE usually asks about their money: Are program rules being followed? Are monies being spent as promised? So understand that THIS USDOE will not be all about compliance with their rules (this was in 2010, so Duncan may not have known that he would eventually threaten several states with losing their money if they did not comply with his conditions for giving it to them.)

Duncan's DOE is going to be listening to the states, and in all fairness he has only had four years to get started on this and a lot on his plate, so maybe that's coming soon. We also have a lot to learn from other countries (like Finland, South Korea, and Singapore, because if we are too dense to recognize the role of local culture and socio-economics when it comes to American urban school districts, why would we recognize it on an international level. They all speak English, right?)

Annnnd we have lots to teach other countries. So watch out Other Countries-- we may happily export our swell and profitable ideas to you!

The year, again, was 2010. It's a pretty complete picture of the reformy agenda's public face as well as a fairly straightforward admission that education reform does require a big fat federal power grab, and that this whole business is the administration's baby and nobody else's.

1 comment:

  1. Are you sure this is shorter than the actual speech? ;-)

    There are SO many things I love about your analysis, but I'll limit myself to brief commentary on just one point. This 'improved evaluation' of teachers and 'higher teacher standards' - which you also deal with in your newer post - what's the goal, exactly?

    What's the plan if it turns out lots of teachers are mediocre, or suck?

    I don't think they do, generally, but what if they did? Then we'll... what?

    The larger districts in my state can't fully staff even before all of the new evaluations. We can't keep people in the profession without CCSSI or TLE or whatever's coming now. Where are the hidden legions of highly qualified professionals aching for a chance to teach public school, if only they weren't being screened out by all this dead weight currently holding those positions?

    I find that bewildering.

    Thanks for this blog and these posts. Brilliant AND entertaining.