Saturday, January 2, 2016

Resolutions for USED

After I earlier took a swipe at Acting Pretend Secretary of Education John King's resolutions for the new year, blogger, author, activist and fellow trombonist Jose Luis Vilson asked me what my resolutions would be, were I the Secretary of Education. It's a fun question, so here we go-- if hell froze over and I were writing the resolutions for the Ed Secretary's office, here's what I would resolve:

That we will do everything possible to see that each community in America has the tools and support it needed to create and maintain the great local school system that it dreamed of.

That means local control, local decision-making, local vision of what the schools should be. Every single community in America is different, and that means that every school is different, with different needs, goals, resources and aspirations. And nobody knows all of those factors better than the people in that community. But not all communities have the resources and support needed to make their dreams real. We will make sure that the USED is there to get them those resources-- and that does not mean giving some corporation a contract to provide what we decide the community needs. We will not tell the community what they need; they will tell us. If that means a lot of corporate interests go hungry, so be it.

We will not be there to tell them what "great" must look like or what goals they must embrace, or else. We will be there to make sure that no school's vision denies basic principles of democracy or law in this country; no community will be allowed to exclude or deny some families their hope for their children's future. There can be no great schools without justice.

We will also be there to demand that our fellow agencies help. Where poverty, racism, and chaos are disrupting a community, it is hard to build a great school. Partnership between state and federal government can help build the solid community foundation on which communities can build great schools.

We will not abandon communities by silencing democracy and closing schools. We will strive for an America in which no community is left behind, stripped of voice and forced to send its children elsewhere. We will not try to enforce a one-size-fits-all top-down definition of excellence on every community in America.

That we will end the tyranny of federally mandated standardized testing.

Yes, annual standardized tests of reading and math are written into the ESSA, and I resolve that the department will devote a budget of $1.99 and three hours a week from our youngest intern to making sure that law is followed.

Big Standardized Tests have made a twisted toxic mess out of education policy. We're done. Just as in the past we have bent the rules to enforce policy that had no force of law behind it, we will find ways to discourage the scourge of BS Testing.

That we will seek out and include teacher voices. Also, parents and students.

I am going to track down the teachers who are strong, influential forces for good in their communities. I will not have them apply to come be heard and insist that they be vetted for unwelcome attitudes. I will track them down, find where they teach, travel to sit in their classrooms, and listen to what they have to say. I mean, actually listen. Does that sound time consuming? Very well-- I will travel the public schools of this country in a well-teched-out bus. After all, what reason is there for me to be hunkered down in DC, other than it makes it easier for lobbyists to find me in the office. For more than half of my work year, I will run this office from the road.

That market forces are incompatible with a free, open, equitable public education system, and we will say so, and act like we mean it.

Period. Not since trickle-down economics has such a groundless basis for policy gotten as much play as "market forces will make public schools excellent." It's baloney. We're done with it.

Finally, about this job.

There's so much more I could resolve about, but King kept his list to just three items and I've already doubled that. So let me finish by resolving to give this job to somebody way wiser than I am so that I can get back to my own classroom. 

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