Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Duncan Looks for Spare Children

Arne Duncan teams up with Marc C. Morial and Janet Murguia in a blog post on The Hill, trying once again to get some attention for his vision of the new ESEA.

His choice of new catch phrase is extraordinarily unfortunate. He rolls it out in the headline and uses it again in the post:

America has no kids to spare.

Let's think about that for a second.

When you don't have any more of something to spare, that means you're already using all that you've got. "I don't have time to spare" means "I need every second I've got for some piece of business." Our spare tire is the one that we keep to use for tire-related business if one of the regulars gives up. Buddy, if I can't spare a dime, it's because I need to spend my dimes on something for myself.

So if we have no children to spare, that must mean that we (whoever "we" are) cannot give up any children because we intend to use them for something. It evokes a century ago when families might say, "We can't spare this child for school because we need him to work in the field" or the urban poor saying "We can't spare this child for school because we need him to earn some money in the factory."

If we can't "spare" any children, it must be that "we" have some other pressing use for them. What, I wonder, does Duncan imagine we need to use all these children for. What kind of coggitious widgetry is their destined use? We can't spare one child from our plans for a drone workforce? We can't spare one child from helping us create revenue streams for corporate interests? "I have no children to spare," is what the witch in the gingerbread house says, not somebody who is concerned about allowing children to grow and develop and stand up strong as the best persons they can be.

This particular construction reveals, once again, the notion that children are the toasters on the assembly line that is the reformsters' ideal education system.

Duncan et al get into some specifics from their ESEA wish list. 

For instance, they want to be sure that districts are getting resources, including various subgroups, and I think that's a great idea except that maybe, if that's our goal, we'd want a program other than Race to the Top or other signature "competitive" programs that say, "Hey, children in struggling subgroups-- we will get resources to you IF you are fortunate enough to be in a school system run by people who are good at filling out federal Give Me Money, Please paperwork. But if the heads of your state and local system do not meet our federal standards, we will teach them a lesson by giving fewer resources to you, struggling student."

Getting resources to students who need them and making many systems compete for limited resources are not compatible goals. Duncan needs to figure out which he stands for.

Duncan says parents should know that students who are found to be in non-goal-meeting schools, the feds will be on the way with resources and supports and interventions. Of course, by that last word, we mean "handing the school over to a charter operator," an intervention technique that doesn't seem to have saved many students at all, and has certainly stripped resources and support away from other students in those same communities.

Also, he wants preschool.

He also wants feedback about individual student achievement, support and autonomy for teachers, and money to go to high poverty schools, as well as support for "innovation" with a proven track record. These are great things; these are also things that the administration has not tried at all in the last seven years. Maybe this is the part of the article that Duncan did not write.

One more spare

Of course, there's another way to understand the word "spare." It can refer to a show of mercy, a relenting of damaging and destructive force, as in "I will spare your life."

If Arne is announcing his intention to spare no child the oppression of reformster education programs, then I will give him points, at least, for accuracy and honesty. If he is saying "America has no kids to spare the indignity, timesuck and waste of pointless standardized testing," then we have here one of those rare occasiona in which Duncan's words and his actions actually match up.

But I'm guessing that's not what he meant to say. In which case, we can just dismiss this as more pointless word salad from USED.


  1. Doesn't Arne have a PR handler? Don't they focus group test these things before they let Arne blurt them out in public (in writing, no less)?

  2. Isn't "a proven track record" inconsistent with "innovation?" From the same minds who announced that every child should be "above average" without realizing that math is, er, quirky?