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Secretary Duncan: Here is What Divides Us

Yesterday was a Day of National Blogging for Real Education Reform. Scores of educators from around the country shared their perspectives.

And so did Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Since I am engaged in thinking about the dialogue between teachers and his Department, I wrote the following to him and posted it on his blog. Please visit him there and share your thoughts as well.


Secretary Duncan,
You may recall we spoke on the phone last May when I was part of a group called Teachers' Letters to Obama that organized ourselves to share our concerns and ideas with your administration. Unfortunately, we never heard back from you (as I describe here: )

In your post yesterday, you wrote, "...we in education spend too much of our time and energy focused on issues that divide us. We forget how important it is to move forward on what we agree on."

The trouble I have is that we are truly confused by a mismatch between your words and your actions. This makes a real consensus impossible, and forces us to continually return to the core disagreements we have with your policies.

My question to you is that you frequently tell teachers of your conviction that we need to move away from "teaching to the test." Yet you are aggressively encouraging states and districts to:


  • Pay teachers based on the growth in those test scores

  • Evaluate teachers based on those test scores

  • Close schools or fire principals or teachers based on those test scores

  • Evaluate the "effectiveness" of teaching credential programs based on test scores.

You often say that we must recognize teachers for their greatness. Unfortunately, the primary means you have been promoting to measure greatness is the same one that doomed No Child Left Behind.

In your blog post yesterday, you wrote:

For education reform to be "real," we need to focus on what works. We need consensus on the right way to measure students' progress. And then we all need to hold ourselves accountable—and recognize those educators who are especially effective.

When you say we must focus "on what works," do you recognize the research that demonstrates that pay for performance does NOT work, even to raise test scores? Has this powerful evidence caused any reevaluation of this strategy within the Department?

Do you recognize that asking states to remove any limits on the expansion of charter schools is a mistake, given that charter schools have been shown to be no more effective than regular public schools?

While there may not yet be a consensus on the best way to measure student progress, there IS a clear consensus on what does NOT work—which you yourself frequently join in. That consensus says that the tests currently in use are, to use your own words, "low quality bubble-in tests." There IS a broad consensus among educators that says the over-reliance on these scores for accountability purposes is destroying the quality of education in our schools. When will you bring your policies in line with your rhetoric?

Teachers have a whole range of alternatives to these misguided policies, and we have offered them repeatedly, with the belief that our deep understanding of what works in our classrooms and schools is an essential, but missing, component of improving schools.

You have been in office now for almost two years. It is not just my perception that teachers are more alienated than ever from the Department of Education. Do you hold yourself accountable for any part of this broken dialogue?

What do you think? What is YOUR comment for Secretary Duncan?

(please visit here to give your thoughts to Secretary Duncan directly.)

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