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Jerry Brown to Arne Duncan: Think Again!

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Stop this train! That is the message Jerry Brown sent this week to Arne Duncan. Secretary of Education Duncan will visit Sacramento on Thursday, to make sure the state complies with his requirements that we allow test scores to be linked to teacher pay and evaluations, and to unlimited expansion of charter schools. California's former governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown sent this comment on August 28, 2009, in response to Arne Duncan's Race to the Top. I think it is worth reading.

Via eRulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov

Re: Race to the Top Fund [Docket ID ED-2009-OESE-0006]

In view of the hundreds of comments that are being submitted, I am confining my own to just a few general observations.

1. The basic assumption of your draft regulations appears to be that top down, Washington driven standardization is best. This is a “one size fit all” approach that ignores the vast diversity of our federal system and the creativity inherent in local communities. What we have at stake are the impressionable minds of the children of America. You are not collecting data or devising standards for operating machines or establishing a credit score. You are funding teaching interventions or changes to the learning environment that promise to make public education better, i.e. greater mastery of what it takes to become an effective citizen and a productive member of society. In the draft you have circulated, I sense a pervasive technocratic bias and an uncritical faith in the power of social science.

2. Inherent in the command and control philosophy of your draft regulations is a belief that everyone agrees on what should be taught--to whom and when--and how the lowest performing schools can best be turned around. Yet, there are so many unknowns about what produces educational success that a little humility would be in order. A better way would be to state what educational outcomes children should reach and then permit state and local flexibility to figure out how to reach the desired outcomes. The current draft regulations conflate what must be done with entirely too much specification about how to do it.

3. Curriculum choices are not just technical and “evidence based” issues, but go to the heart of deeply held beliefs and understandings of what children should learn. California's current curriculum standards have received high national rankings and there is no evidence that they need a radical overhaul.

4. Your draft also specifies very specific data elements that need to be included without sufficient justification for why all these date elements are essential or how they should be utilized.

5. You assume we know how to "turn around all the struggling low performing schools,” when the real answers may lie outside of school. As Oakland mayor, I directly confronted conditions that hindered education, and that were deeply rooted in the social and economic conditions of the community or were embedded in the particular attitudes and situations of the parents. There is insufficient recognition in the draft regulations that inside and outside of school strategies must be interactive and merged.

6. Most current state wide tests rely too much on closed end multiple choice answers and do not contain enough written and open ended responses that require students to synthesize, analyze and solve multi-dimensional problems and construct their own answers.

7. There are huge technical and conceptual problems that remain on how to assess the specific impact of individual teachers and principals on the scores of students on annual state tests. Test score increases and decreases can be caused by many factors in a specific year, and it is beyond the current state of the art to sort out what is the unique and independent influence of teachers and principals. Performance pay schemes for teachers based primarily on annual test scores in other states reveal more about how not to structure performance pay rather than show what are viable ways to restructure teacher compensation. Compensation should to be just one element of a broader approach to improving teacher effectiveness that includes initial recruitment and preparation to retention and professional development.

Having $4.3 billion to spend on education in this time of draconian cuts is a godsend. We in California look forward to joining with you in promoting a real love of learning and outstanding achievement in all our public schools.

What do you think of Attorney General Brown's stance? Will Duncan listen? Will President Obama?

4 Comments

I don't think I could of said it better myself. At least one politician gets it.

Let's just hope that Obama and Duncan actually read this and change their approach to education.

Kick out Arne and make Jerry Brown the new secretary of education...Jerry's ideas are much more sound and reasoned than anything Arne Duncan has said or done.

Thank you, Jerry Brown (and I don't usually say that).

Thank you, Anthony, for posting this.

Jerry Brown is right. I don't know if the right people will lesson.

The whole standardized testing craze is comoletely antithetical to what many of us know about how children (and adults) learn, and how learners demonstrate progress. Standardized tests leave no room for actual communication, for constructing and exploring alternative theories, or for sharing unique insights in any subject. Because students must take tests in their "grade level," regardless of where they started the year, standardized tests also do not measure the real progress of students who start "behind grade level" in any subject, whether because they are second language learners, have reading or attention difficulty, a gap in schooling, or life circumstances that have interfered with their acquisition of what the state or federal government thinks they should know at this age. Good teachers start where students are and try to take them somewhere higher, developing their critical thinking and communication skills along the way. Under these "reform" provisions, good teachers who work with students who have any type of extra challenge (language differences, learning differences, difficult life circumstances, etc) will be punished for taking on these students and treating them in a humane way. It's not only a waste of money; it's actually harmful to the progress of students and the effectiveness of teachers. How do we help non-teachers see this?

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The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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