A Conundrum

A Conundrum -

A new year, a new look, but with that comes the responsibility of looking back.  As January is named after the Roman god Janus who could look in both directions, it is always helpful to look back while also looking ahead.  For some reason, others in the education world are looking at the impact of education secretary Arne Duncan.  The articles I saw were surprising, provocative, and causes for further reflection.

In an article entitled "How Arne Duncan Reshaped American Education and Made Enemies Along the way" Perry Bacon Jr. But Duncan, who officially stepped down this week, leaves Washington as a deeply divisive figure. Over the last seven years, the Chicago native has aggressively implemented his vision for American education, in a more comprehensive way than perhaps any cabinet officer in the Obama administration has changed policy in his issue area. The rise of the Common Core education standards, a huge growth in the use of data in education and a strong push for accountability on colleges are among Duncan's signature projects.  (Duncan Reshaping Education),  presents Duncan as a mover and shaker - and an enemy maker.

Bacon writes, "But Duncan, who officially stepped down this week, leaves Washington as a deeply divisive figure. Over the last seven years, the Chicago native has aggressively implemented his vision for American education, in a more comprehensive way than perhaps any cabinet officer in the Obama administration has changed policy in his issue area. The rise of the Common Core education standards, a huge growth in the use of data in education and a strong push for accountability on colleges are among Duncan's signature projects." (Duncan Reshaping Education)

 

Bacon's balanced approach towards Duncan's tenure as national education leader is seen throughout the article.  I'm glad that Duncan convinced schools to stop suspending students in kindergarten and elementary schools - and I'll admit there is a part of me that wants to say, "Why is that happening in the first place?" but that may be for another blog.

Yet, when Bacon writes, "By 2010, with little fanfare, Duncan had turned the Department of Education, traditionally a backwater cabinet post since the federal government provides only about 10 percent of the money for K-12 education (states and localities provide the bulk of the spending), into a powerful force helping set policy in nearly every state. " one can argue both ways.   Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  What is the role of the Federal government in education?

Contrast Bacon's views and approach with those of Jesse Hagopian in an article entitled "Arne Duncan: Testocracy Tsar. Educational Alchemist. Corporate Lacky." (Duncan - Tsar) In this impassioned article, the author vilifies Duncan's tenure as secretary of education.  Hagopian writes, "Duncan’s official title may have been Secretary of Education, but his real role has been the “testocracy tsar.” His signature policies of Race to the Top and Common Core have been singularly focused on promoting high-stakes, standardized test-and-punish policies."  (Duncan - Tsar) Duncan’s official title may have been Secretary of Education, but his real role has been the “testocracy tsar.” His signature policies of Race to the Top and Common Core have been singularly focused on promoting high-stakes, standardized test-and-punish policies"

It may be that Hagopian has a vested interest and a personal insight into the complexities of educational politics by writing, "This hit home for me last year when my state of Washington refused to mandate standardized tests in teacher evaluations. Arne Duncan then took off his gloves and showed he wasn’t afraid to punish children by revoking the NCLB waiver for the state. With the waiver gone, nearly all of Washington’s schools were labeled failures, resulting in the loss of control of millions of dollars in federal money." (Duncan - Tsar)  

It's pretty clear that Hagopian has an agenda and doesn't support federal education policy, and he is not afraid to say so.  Hagopian concludes, "Federal education policy will continue to follow the whims of the richest people in the world—people who did not attend public schools and would never dream of sending their children to one—until the opt out movement joins with other social justice struggles to fundamentally shift the balance of power away from the executive board room and towards the classroom." (Duncan - Tsar)  

Whew... these are opinionated statements. There is controversy here.  Controversy is not a bad thing, as long as it is controlled, and there is a sense that Hagopian looses a sense of control in a diatribe.

Two questions emerge -

1. What is the role of the federal government in setting and enforcing education policy?


2. What is the role of any tax paying adult in being involved in the community where these policies have impact?

and a third question automatically arises -

Are Americans sufficiently schooled to question what they read?


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