I thank you for posting this story about Walt Gardner's open letter to Arne Duncan. Gardner makes some valid points about businesses controlling schools too much and Duncan killing teacher morale and not praising good schools enough for their good work.
Speaking of failing schools, I think the real problem is that the data collected on the standardized tests mandated by NCLB lumps all failing schools into the same category rather than trying to find the causes of failure. There is a vast difference between a school that fails because most of the teachers are lazy, incompetent in pedagogy and/or subject knowledge, etc. versus a school that fails because of limited resources or lack of cooperation from parents and the community or a vast student population from broken or poor homes but that the teachers are dedicated to their students. Schools within this first category fail because they do not try; schools within the second category fail because they try to do all the work themselves when it is impossible for schools to do that. Teachers are important factors in students' successes, but they cannot do that alone. They need the help of parents and the community and administration as well. They also need corporation from their own students, too. A student is who dead set against genuine learning and the work required to learn will not succeed--no matter how good the teacher is. A class full of students who threaten to rebel or to complain to the administration who is sympathetic to them because they cannot get an easy A with minimal work or because the teacher refuses to teach them from the textbook because the teacher knows the book is crap (and we know that many math textbooks are crap) cannot be helped much by a teacher because either the teacher will give in to the students to save his or her job or the teacher will be fired for refusing to give in. Ignoring these distinctions between such failing schools is causing a lot of unnecessary harm to teachers and students.
I know that the cooperation of the administration is a major factor in teachers' successes because there are ideas I want to try in my teaching but that I am not allowed to do so. For example, I would like to chuck their textbooks because they are the standard textbooks that gut nearly all reasoning and motivation and beauty from mathematics. And I would like to give assignments and projects that encourage them to think about mathematics and to enjoy exploring some ideas on their own. But I'm forced to use the textbook and their assignments and course materials as they developed them. That's not to say that I will or can make my ideas work if I tried them. Instead, this is to say that a mathematics teacher who tries to teach students genuine mathematics and genuine mathematical thinking will struggle greatly in succeeding at these schools because he or she would find it extremely difficult--if not impossible--to do so while obeying the schools' policies.
Another harm that Arne Duncan is causing is automatically labeling schools with high standardized test scores as good schools. Standardized tests as mandated by NCLB completely or almost completely ignore reasoning, critical and creative thinking, and other deep traits that good learners must have and instead focus mainly on students' abilities to regurgitate facts on exams. Just because a student can recite all these facts doesn't mean that the student can make sense of them or use them to think critically. And let's not forget all the undetected cheating on these exams. How many of these good schools are really good schools after all?
On 3/23/2010 at 3:40 pm, Jerry P. Becker wrote:
> ***************************** > From Education Week (Online) [American Education's > s Newspaper of > Record], Monday, March 22, 2010. See > http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/walt_gardners_reality_c > heck/2010/03/an_open_letter_to_arne_duncan.html > ***************************** > An Open Letter to Arne Duncan > > By Walt Gardner > > Dear Mr. Secretary, > > You are at the helm of a ship that is entering > uncharted waters. > Whether the voyage is successful depends in large > part on your > judgment. The eyes of the nation are on you as you > attempt to > navigate. > > I'd like to remind you that the morale of teachers > plays an > indispensable role. But unfortunately I don't think > you appreciate > the harm you've done by inordinately focusing on the > failures of > schools. Your remarks leave taxpayers with the > distinct impression > that teachers are not doing their jobs and that > schools are > shortchanging their students. > > There are 3.2 million teachers who teach 50 million > students in > 98,000 public schools, according to Education > Department data. Some > are unquestionably guilty as you charge. But > countless schools are > world-class. Why don't the latter deserve as much > praise as the > amount of condemnation you heap on the former? By > refusing to provide > balance in your comments, you unwittingly undermine > your agenda. > > The countries that outperform the U.S. on tests of > international > competition take a totally different approach to > school reform. They > know that teachers are not miracle workers. No matter > how dedicated, > knowledgeable and trained, they cannot possibly > provide a quality > education for their students by themselves. That's > why these > countries view educating the young as a collaborative > effort by > teachers, parents and the community. > > Business leaders certainly have the right to make > their voices heard > in the ongoing debate. But public schools do not > exist exclusively to > meet their needs. The crisis they have manufactured > to justify their > criticism is nothing new. To understand the basis for > this > assessment, I refer you to my op-ed that was > published in the > international edition of the New York Times on Jan. > 14, 2008 ("The > 'crisis' of U.S. education" -- see > http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/14/opinion/14iht-edgard > ner.1.9196672.html). > > I hope you will seriously consider my views at this > crossroads in > educational history. Without the support of teachers, > you will > squander the unprecedented opportunity you have. That > would be a > tragedy for the nation. > > Sincerely, > > Walt Gardner > *********************************************** > -- > Jerry P. Becker > Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction > Southern Illinois University > 625 Wham Drive > Mail Code 4610 > Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 > Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] > (618) 457-8903 [H] > Fax: (618) 453-4244 > E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org