Last week Arne Duncan and John King shared a bill at the National Action Network gathering in NYC. King's message was "Blah blah blah standards tests blah." Same old, same old. Duncan, however, field tested a new message that translates basically to, "All youse normals, just shut up."
John King's history as NY High Commissioner of Educationy Stuff is that of an old school politician-- he says dumb things and does dumb things-- and he never fails to disappoint. But while Duncan is consistent in his pursuit of bad policy, he's a new school post-Reagan pol who understands that if you say good things, you can just go ahead and do bad things that don't match. Except, of course, that he also gets bad cases of the dunderheads, and then dumb things just fall out of his mouth. So I didn't pay much attention to what King had to say; I could probably write it for him. But as quotes started to appear from the Random Noise Generator that is Arne's mouth, I perked up.
Part was pure boilerplate. "I challenge you to support your governor as he challenges the status quo and tries to raise standards, raise expectations, and evaluate and support your teachers and principals."
At the risk of setting off the redundant redundancy alarm myself, let me repeat that neither King nor any of the other Purveryors of Reformy Nonsense are fighting the status quo. The PoRN stars have had years upon years to show us all how their complex of standards based test driven high accountability baloney will save us all, and it isn't happening. NY is special because it has had every single element the PoRNs want-- the charters, the TFA, the testing, the teacher evaluations, the centrally produced teacher-proof CCSS curriculum materials (okay, they haven't killed tenure yet)-- and yet none of those programs has produced anything remotely like success. In New York State the reformy nonsense IS THE STATUS QUO.
King is not challenging that status quo. He is challenging all the people who hate the status quo he and Cuomo have bolted into place.
As a side note, I'll point out that apparently Arne's list is a bunch of things that King is going to do singlehandedly. There is no call for everyone to pitch in and help, no "we're all in it together to lift up the public schools that belong to all of us." Nope. Just "support this guy while he does these things." (He also tagged Cuomo as a brave national leader.)
Arne has been trying out a new talking point lately. It's on display in the latest #AskArne video (which, for the love of God,you should not watch, but I summarize it for you here). Here's the version he used in NY.
It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be rocky, there is going to be
mistakes. People need to listen, they need to be
humble in this and be nimble and make changes. But to sort of stop and
go back to the bad old days simply doesn’t make sense to me.
This new rhetoric is familiar to anyone who, at the age of six, slipped on the ice, fell down, got up, and exclaimed, "I meant to do that. Shut up."
A year ago, in settings such as his infamous "How To Present The News About CCSS The Way I Want You To" speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the PoRN position was, "Anything you've heard about problems with CCSS stuff is a lie. This stuff is great, and we must implement it exactly the way it's laid out"
Last winter we had moved on to "Stay the course. Don't lose momentum! It's starting to work!"
Now we're swinging around to, "Well, of course there will be some problems and mistakes. We totally expected that. It's absolutely part of the master plan for implementation to involve the screwed up torpedoing teacher careers and crushing eight-year-old spirits." Okay, it doesn't generally get as specific as that last part, but our new talking point is basically, "Yeah, when I fixed your carburetor, I totally expected the front end of the car would burst into flames. That's how it's supposed to work. Shut up."
"People need to listen. They," Arne advises, "need to be humble...and nimble..."
People? Which people, I wonder. Not King, who we are supposed to cheer for, nor Cuomo who is a brave leader. Nor did Duncan use that oh-so-obscure construction "We." There isn't a bit of Arne's talk to suggest that what he means is "We reform pushers need to stop and check ourselves, our ideas, and our plans. We need to listen to the people who have been affected by our work and really consider how it's playing out on the ground. We need to be humble enough and flexible enough to be able to say that even though we really believed in a program, it needs to be changed in light of the reality that our children are facing." I mean, geeze, Arne-- if I can see all the way from rural PA what you should be saying, why can't you?
When, in the same speech, Arne characterizes parent concerns as
"drama and noise," it becomes even clearer who is actually supposed to
be doing the listening. And it's not Arne. No, when someone says, "I need to be humble and listen," it means "I have to do better." But when someone says, "You need to be humble and listen," it means, "Shut up. Remember your place. Stop all your drama and noise."
The "bad old days" flourish is, as always, insulting. I invite Arne to try it out in, say, Massachusetts where the bad old days featured better standards and better results than the current reformy mess. The only thing I like about the "bad old days" construction is that it's an admission that the "status quo" line is a lie. How can we "return" to the bad old days, if they are what we are fighting against right now?
It seems like a screw-up, but I'm sure it's exactly what he meant to say. I'll shut up now.