Saturday, April 26, 2014

MSNBC Re-affirms Its Uselessness in Education Coverage

Over at MSNBC, you can watch Andrea Mitchell interview Arne Duncan with all the hard-hitting journalistic thoroughness displayed by Arne's Rent-a-Teacher interviews produced by the DOE.  It's four and a half minutes of blood-pressurizing fluffernuttery. And I'm going to break it down for you so you don't have to watch it. Once again, you owe me, reader.

Andrea starts out in front of a pretty picture of the White House saying that the Obama administration has announced, or will announced (when are we running this tape, again?) a new program to hold state moneys hostage unless schools of education Fix Things Real Good. And look-- here's Arne Duncan. Let's open with a hard-hitting, probing question-- What is this, and how is it going to work?

"Quite simply, we believe that every child deserves a highly effective teacher. And every teacher deserves to be well-trained, well-prepared before they ever enter the classroom," says Arne, wearing his happy yet intense face. "And that is why we are, as of today, completely shutting down the Teach for America program." Ha! No, just kidding. As always, the irony of a call for effective teachers from people who also believe that anybody off the street can and should be a teacher is lost.

Arne says he travels all over the country, all the time, and talks to starting out teachers. All the new teachers know Arne. "Often the vast majority feel they were not prepared," So..... some number. But that's unacceptable. So we want to challenge states--er, I mean partner with states (because, you know, if I were actually running the whole country like my own federal school district, that would be illegal) to make sure every teacher is ready to hit the classroom.

Which is not really a bad sentiment, except then Arne oversells it as each teacher being completely ready to succeed on the first day in September (sucks for you guys who start in August, I guess), and I guess that's okay except that if Arne knows the secret of making a beginning teacher fully equipped on Year One, Day One, he should bottle that miracle goo right away, because most of us take several years to really get a grip. But "success" is a fuzzy word, so I'll let it go.

Are you putting any money behind this? Curriculum advice? Andrea wants to ask a question that will keep Arne explaining. He says, "We have resources." So, well, there you go. We're already throwing around $100 mill every year on teach grants-- we want to make sure that those are going to places that take teacher prep seriously.

Arne thinks about the medical model. Doctors have residencies, and they study stuff before they ever touch a patient. They have a seriousness of purpose there that we don't have in teacher training, and I have agreed with Arne about this before (the short form of my point is that if we were serious about American education, Arne Duncan wouldn't be in charge of it).

And now Andrea is going to take over for Arne and carry some of his talking points for him, starting with Finland being oh, so, serious about teaching and we're just going to ignore the many ways in which our current Reformy Status Quo goes against the Finnish model. Those students do so much better, which means scoring higher on international tests, because teachers are taken more seriously. And look-- Andrea Mitchell has both explained the purpose of education AND diagnosed the entire problem! Arne didn't even have to show up!

Arne says "We want to do everything we can to elevate the profession," and I'm pretty sure he and I have different meanings for "everything we can." Because I think maybe they could, for instance, talk to teachers and parents and listen to what they have to say rather than dismissing them as a bunch of distracting noise or whiny liars who want to obstruct CCSS because they can't handle the truth about their idiot children. Maybe he meant "we want to do everything we feel like," or maybe he meant "we want to do everything we can, but we aren't going to." Also, he loves the South Koreans, because there is a culture that really mirrors our own.

Our teachers are/could be nation builders too, but we don't train, prepare, respect or compensate them as such. So we're going to do everything we can (there's that phrase again) to elevate the profession, starting with spanking college programs.

Mitchell has heard that there is some controversy about tying teacher evals to test scores. And here's your Arne Dunan t-shirt ready wisdom chunk for the day--

The goal of teaching is not to teach; the goal of teaching is to have students learn.

He is proud of that-- he's got his best Arne smirk on. So we have to measure that and tie accountability and multiple measures. Andrea asks about the metrics, and Arne assures her (with hand gestures) that states would have lots of flexibility, and Andrea cuts to Washington State, where officials explain that when the US DOE says "flexibility" they mean "flex my way or I'll bomb you into the Bush era." Ha. Just kidding. The irony of that term's use will fly quietly away, like a fluffy albatross. Arne also wants to survey teachers. I suggest he get on twitter and do an #askArne because that always works out well, but I'm guessing we'll select who we ask question a little more carefully.

And now comes the special part where Andrea and Arne join in demonstrating that they apparently have NO IDEA WHATSOVER of how teachers are actually trained. They appear to believe that teachers do nothing but take philosophy, history and psychology of education and never actually practice teaching, and Andrea thinks maybe prospective teachers should get out in a classroom as part of their college training and HOLY MOTHER OF GOD how can they not know that Student Teaching is a Thing? I have had a college senior in my classroom for fourteen weeks working on her technique and practice side by side with an actual teacher (that's me) and I'm preeeeeeetty sure that our situation is not unusual! But no, Arne says that this is the crux, that teacher wannabes need actual practical experience with (you'll like this) twenty-eight or thirty diverse students. "Clinical experience is so important," says Arne, and I guess that's true because an seasoned television reporter and the head of the Department of Education just sat there and displayed that they don't know how doctors or teachers enter their professions.

Now moving on at the 3:00 mark, we'll pivot to a Common Core question. It's a controversy. Are you surprised, Arne? Arne deflects like crazy-- People want to play politics with lots of issues. Republican, Democrat, Arne could care less because he's a father with two kids ("as you know, Andrea"-- what? Do they hang out a lot?) and we all want high standards for our children. We don't want to lie to our children (but their parents are another matter), we don't want to dummy down standards, and we want students across the nation to be truly college and career ready when they graduate.

Today when students graduate "far too many of them" have to take remedial courses "because they weren't prepared" and of the thousands of separate elements that could explain that, we're going to go with "standards." That's unacceptable. The remedial stuff, not the bad solutions. That should be a bipartisan issue. So, what controversy?

Mitchell winds up with the issue of college value and college cost. She asks about that in a questiony kind of way, and then answers her own question by saying that, golly bob howdy, if you go to college you end up rich (so I guess we're not going to discuss the research that suggests that it's the other way around), and Arne talks about wanting it to be more affordable, and Mitchell brings in Elizabeth Warren to discuss making college loans as cheap as Big Bankster loans instead of using student loans to create huge profits for the DOE and no, I'm joking again, Mitchell does no such thing. Mitchell and Duncan stumble over each other trying to get this talking point across the finish line in time, but by working together, they manage.

Arne thanks her for the opportunity to present his press release live and in person with her help, and MSNBC has successfully used up another 4:30 without allowing its airwaves to be tainted with any hint of actual journalism.


  1. Thank you for pointing out that Andrea Mitchell did not question he who should go back to Chicago about Washington state. Nice talking points. The feds don't even need to go after the 1st amendment, the press willingly gave it away.

  2. Once again-little is heard from veteran educators that know from experience the trends and waves of "reform" largely driven by the nationalism, imperialism, and corporatism of a narrow minority; OR the legions of publishers/producers of ed-consumables eagerly waiting to exploit the latest wave. A decade or more in the classroom tells you where the achievement gap the Duncan crowd is being paid to scapegoat for: it's the opportunity gap. Stable homes with stable incomes and caregiver involvement means the world. Media avoidance of this-what every honest, halfway intelligent person knows (even Duncan, Obama...even puppets like Rhee), is an insult to all of us, and is dangerous.