With Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, it might be tempting to see Arne Duncan as an educational expert, but Duncan has never formally studied education, or been a teacher. Duncan paved the way for DeVos.
EdSurge recently brought us Arne Duncan’s 6 lessons about education. They are nothing but the same old corporate reforms that have destroyed public schools and the futures of children for years.
The lessons are wrong.
Here are his claims and my anti-arguments.
He emphasizes early childhood education and the economy.
While there’s a school-to-work connection, especially with older students in high school, teaching young children should be about their development, not promoting the economy.
Too often this message results in pushing young children to work at a higher level than they’re capable.
The report of which Duncan refers is by James J. Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. It highlights the economy and the nation’s workforce.
Here are the subheadings of the article.
- Early childhood development drives success in school and life.
- Investing in early childhood education for at-risk children is an effective strategy for reducing social costs.
- Investing in early childhood education is a cost-effective strategy for promoting economic growth.
- Make greater investments in young children to see greater returns in education, health and productivity.
His thoughts about equity are misleading.
Duncan argues that poor children need something different than what wealthy students find in their schools.
But poor children deserve well-run schools, with resources and qualified teachers, not strict charter schools run by management companies and novices.
Most charter schools care more about their bottom line.
Feeding poor children and health screenings should be a part of every school plan.
If Duncan cared so much about grief and trauma in children, why didn’t we see an increase in counselors, school nurses, and school psychologists under his watch?
He claims class sizes don’t matter.
This has been the refrain by reformers like Bill Gates for years and it is false.
Here’s the STAR study as one example in favor of lowering class size.
Lowering class sizes would help teachers have better overall classroom management.
Students would be safer, and children would get a better grasp of reading and other subjects in the early years.
He says teachers matter more than class size.
Real teacher qualifications matter. But that’s not what Duncan is talking about.
He is promoting the faulty idea that a “good” teacher can manage huge class sizes. Of course, this makes no sense.
This is also connected in a roundabout way to replacing teachers with technology. Imagine one teacher teaching thousands online.
Duncan has always been on the side of Teach for America fast-track trained teachers. Consider that they will likely become charter school facilitators, babysitters, when students face screens for their schooling.
He uses teachers as the fix for poverty.
This is an old and dangerous refrain. This message drove No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. It made standardized testing and one-size-fits all common practice.
Teachers can help students, but economic forces are greater than anything a child can learn at school.
Blaming teachers for the problems in the economy, has always been about getting the public to take their eyes off the real culprit of economic woes, the greed of those who run corporations!
He claims children will create their own jobs.
This is an unsettling thought, but it is driven by many charters and the maker movement. It’s the idea that students will pull knowledge out of the air and direct their own paths without much help from teachers or public schools.
The reality is that industry and corporations will direct students, moving them early into career paths that benefit the corporation.
He uses flowery language to confuse.
He says: Content knowledge will always be important. But more than ever, the habits of the mind will be deeply important for this next generation of leaders. Habits of the mind?
Content knowledge is important. Period. Students must study a subject to learn about it. They cannot only play with tinker toys without mastering the information surrounding the projects they work on.
He also says: They [children] will need the ability to think critically, to synthesize information, and will need to have an eagerness to embrace problems.
Teachers are necessary to help students with this. They have always worked on this.
He mentions joy of learning, and students should not focus on tests.
When Duncan was education secretary, and when he led Chicago schools, how many public schools closed due to the enforcement of standardized testing?
Duncan criticizes testing now because he is paving the way for nonstop online assessment and data collection. That’s what personalized learning is all about!
It has nothing to do with the joy of learning.
He says we don’t need to worry about technology replacing teachers.
Duncan tries to act reassuring about technology not replacing teachers, because he knows a lot of parents and teachers are worried about it.
But blended learning is often more tech than teacher, and online charters and programs like Summit are popping up everywhere. I received an email the other day from a parent worried about this conversion.
He claims we should collaborate with other countries on education.
He tries to convince us that as education secretary he looked at how schools in other countries do education, and that we must all work together.
Can we name one innovation that Duncan implemented from another country here in the U.S?
We knew for years that Finland had a good school system and treated their professional teachers with the respect they deserved.
Perhaps Duncan now wants to promote his ideas of corporate reform around the world.
He claims we need honesty and transparency.
We need this with charter schools, and when there are partnerships with built-in agendas to transform schools.
Duncan doesn’t mention this.
To summarize, Duncan is doing nothing but promoting a continuation of the corporate school reforms he pushed years ago. He knows little about how students learn, and he is no friend to America’s students and their public schools.