MinnPost's education reporting is made possible by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

Of tests, teachers and Arne Duncan’s roiling of the waters

From the Department of Costly Political Miscalculations:

Did it not occur to anyone that it would be a mistake to roll out new, complex and tough-to-teach academic standards and teacher evaluations based in part on student achievement in the same year? Did it not occur to anyone that this would spur an anti-testing tsunami?

Anyone? Anyone? OK, so I’m talking to you, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I’m not sure whether you’ve noticed, but I think you’ve shot yourself in the foot.

I know what you’re going to say, that the situation is not entirely of your making. That Congress has been stalled on education policy since you and your basketball buddy Barack Obama moved east. And that the Common Core, the standards everybody loved a couple of years ago and everybody fears today, are a creation of the states.

True dat to both, and yet it’s also true that your marquee Race to the Top was the only money on the table during the worst of the recession, which meant states were too starved not to adopt the policies that would earn the cash. Which turned your beloved innovations, Arne, into federal intrusions.

And it seemed pretty clear back in the halcyon days of 2011 that both teacher evaluations and the new standards would generate better teaching. Not so much because Bad Teachers would be identified and dispatched with but because the associated data would identify great teachers and by extension their practices. And not because we’d get “higher” standards so much as standards that would require more dynamic teaching. 

Laudable goals all. And yet what we have today are teachers who are being asked to do something other than what they have been taught to do in the past, and to do it for the first time in the very same school year when it probably feels like an imperfect performance could mean a one-way ticket to the Bad Teacher guillotine.

You didn’t do it singlehandedly, Mr. Secretary. There is a long, long line of folks who either want you to fail for their own political reasons or who want to hoover up the money that will pay for the new texts and tests.

But you might have foreseen that in frightening teachers you’d frighten parents. And Democrats, who need teacher union support to make it through this year’s midterm elections. And that in frightening everyone you’d endanger the data stream — imperfect but getting better by the day — that underlies your beloved innovation.

I’ve read the news stories about the back-and-forth you’ve had with other states that have asked for opt-outs on testing with interest. And: What fat irony that states are asking for waivers from compliance with the testing and accountability waivers you’ve been handing out for the last two years.

But more to the point, and then I will leave you to your usual business, is there maybe an opportunity here to un-roil the waters? To articulate a vision? Just a thought.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/14/2014 - 02:24 pm.

    Hope springs eternal

    “…is there maybe an opportunity here to un-roil the waters? To articulate a vision?”

    Sigh. If only…

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/16/2014 - 06:22 pm.

      What Vision

      Just curious… What “vision” you would support?

      NCLB had a pretty clear vison. “No Child Left Behind”

      Yet many resisted that.

  2. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/15/2014 - 08:55 am.

    Bad Teacher guillotine

    Are you serious?

    Per your previous post it seems that guillotine has a soft foam blade.

    “A provision would make the removal of a small subset of underperforming teachers faster. If an outside mentor determines that the teacher is not likely to work out for the school, the teacher can be transferred within 45 days, versus eight or more months in the current contract.”

    From this it sounds like the “underperforming teacher” stays employed in the district… Why isn’t their employment terminated?

    Tenure needs to go at some point if we truly believe in “Kids come First”.

  3. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/16/2014 - 07:29 am.

    William Pappas

    How about an opportunity to undo Arne’s vision, a counter intuitive vision that simply isn’t backed up by facts either. Sixteen years of trying to beat public education over the head with excessive testing and some vague idea that teacher quality is destroying our children’s ability to learn has produced nothing but a chaotic system of public/private education that actually reduces the quality of education available to everyone.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/16/2014 - 12:47 pm.

      Denial of Reality

      Would you like to go back to the days when we did not know how many kids were being “Left Behind”?

      The days when Teachers and the system just kept passing failing students on to the next grade because that was pretty easy back then. The days when these undereducated students would graduate and enter our society unprepared for our “knowledge economy”.

      Of course there has been little improvement over the past 16 years… The Public Education system is too busy fighting the measureable expectations to work on changing and improving so that the children can attain them.

      As for “excessive testing”. the state of MN only requires 2 – 3 tests per year. These are the MCA’s. Does this seem “excessive”.

Leave a Reply