Saturday, January 3, 2009

What you need to know about our new Secty of Ed

Originally posted in Daily Kos

The Chicago Tribune and New York Times have reported that President-Elect Barack Obama will announce on Tuesday that CEO of Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan is his pick for Secretary of Education. Based on the comments and poll results of DKos posts on Duncan here and here, I realize that many dKos readers feel they don't know enough about Arne Duncan to form a strong opinion. Who is Arne Duncan and what has he done in Chicago?

Arne Duncan grew up in the Hyde Park section of Chicago. He went to school at The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (where Sasha and Malia Obama will attend until they move to D.C.). His father was a psychology professor at U Chicago and his mother runs the Sue Duncan Children's Center, where, according to Wikipedia , Duncan hung out and honed his basketball skills. Duncan graduated from Harvard with a degree in sociology. After four years of playing pro basketball in Australia, Duncan returned to Chicago and became Director of the Ariel Education Initiative(AEI).

After four years of playing pro basketball in Australia, Duncan returned to Chicago and became Director of the Ariel Education Initiative(AEI). AEI is an initiative run by Ariel Investments, whose slogan is "Slow and Steady Wins the Race". According to their "About Ariel" website page,

By concentrating on the long-term, our patient approach allows us to take advantage of buying opportunities that frequently arise from Wall Street’s excessive focus on the short term. We invest in quality companies in industries where we have proven expertise. And we only buy when these quality businesses are selling at an excellent value.

They must be quite busy right now.

Ariel Education Initiative grew from Ariel Investment's goal toward "strengthening the neighborhoods and cities in which we live and work, practicing a hands-on model of corporate responsibility." The jewel in AEI's crown is the Ariel Community Academy, which is
a small Chicago Public School based on a student-family-school-community partnership. The Academy model is rooted in the understanding that family and community are vital ingredients in the social, physical, emotional and educational well being of children.

From the Principal's Message one can see that the school has a progressive, process-oriented approach, in stark contrast to Chicago Public School's focus on test scores. I'd like to name the principal here, but I cannot find her name on the school's website, just her picture. Here is her Philosophy of Education:

Our philosophy is congruent with the Experimentalist philosophy which views change as an ever-present process in a student’s learning experience. Experimentalism insists that curriculum is the subject matter of social experience and instruction is a problem solving, project-oriented process. The role of the teacher is to assist and advise the student, actively participating and contributing to their learning in order to expand and discover the society they live in and share experiences together. We believe that a child’s education at Ariel Community Academy should be based on current and up-to-date research that is supported by the best teaching and learning methods. Therefore, students should be aware of their own multiple intelligences and utilize a wide variety of abilities to demonstrate what they have learned.

Despite AEI's understanding that family and community are key stockholders in children's emotional and educational well being, and despite the educational philosophy of the public school they support, Arne Duncan became sucked into Mayor Richard Daley's vision of public schools and their reform. In 1998 Duncan joined Chicago Public Schools as the Deputy Chief of Staff for CPS's former CEO. By 2001 Mayor Daley had appointed Duncan CEO.

Historically, school board members have been elected to district positions by community members. Increasingly, this democratic power has been usurped by at-large school board positions and mayoral control. When Mayor Daley took control of CPS in 1995 he radically altered the power structure of the schools and school reform, taking power away from community members, parents, teachers, and students. Mayoral control of schools has not proved to bring improvement.

As Joel Rubin, reporter for the L.A. Times writes

But Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school system, can hardly be seen as an advertisement for mayoral control of schools. After a decade with Daley in
charge, the Chicago district has failed to distinguish itself from other major urban school districts. Many of its schools remain subpar and, overall,Chicago’s students continue to score poorly on reading and math exams used to compare big-city districts. "It is hard to argue that we’re worse off than we were a decade ago, but we’re not dramatically better off either," said education consultant Alexander Russo, who has written extensively about school reform in Chicago. "If mayoral control was the best thing since sliced bread, after 10 years you would expect Chicago to have risen to the top. It is far from a magic bullet."

Tuesday Barack Obama will make his announcement with Arne Duncan at Dodge Renaissance Academy. Dodge was the one of the first school to change to a private charter school under CPS's Renaissance 2010 program. From the Chicago Public Schools website,

In June 2004, Mayor Richard Daley launched Renaissance 2010, a bold initiative whose goal is to increase the number of high quality educational options in communities across Chicago by 2010. New schools are created through a competitive, community-based selection process which establishes a set of high standards to which every new school will be held accountable. In 2005, Chicago Public Schools opened the first "cohort" of Renaissance 2010 schools.

The goal of R2010 is to close down "failing" schools, send the kids somewhere else, and reinvent the closed schools as privatized charter schools. The claim that this allows parents the choice to send their kids to successful schools has not been challenged as parents are scared to let their children travel across town through unfamiliar and often violent, unsafe neighborhoods. During Duncan's tenure he has closed many schools, with little to no support for the closed or receiving schools. Gangs from the closed schools get splintered and go into schools with rival gang members, creating an unacceptable level of violence and death of Chicago Public Schools students.

George Schmidt, founder of the newspaper Substance, wrote a commentary on crime and violence in Chicago Public Schools

"More than two years ago, as I've testified to before the City Council Education Committee, the Chicago Teachers Union predicted the increase in violence and gang problems that would result from the closing of high schools (at that time, Austin and Calumet; since, Englewood and Collins). On June 12, 2004, at 10:00 a.m.(Calumet) and 2:00 p.m. (Austin), I testified on behalf of the Chicago Teachers Union, where I was at the time director of school security and safety. We warned that the closing of Austin and Calumet would result in increased violence at the receiving schools. The same warning could have been issued in 2005, when Englewood was closed, and in 2006, when Collins was closed. Instead, the media generally hailed the closings as necessary "toughness" because the schools were slandered as "failing."

"This school year, the problems of violence are worse and earlier than in the past three years. In many cases, they are the direct result of the disruption of the city's poorest communities by school closings under "Renaissance 2010." The additional pressures on west side elementary schools caused by the closings of Frasier and Morse elementary schools is added to the community pressure caused by the closing of Collins High School. On the south side, the pressures caused by the Calumet and Englewood closings continue to hammer schools as far east as Hyde Park and as far west (now) as Bogan.

"Problems are festering or growing at every general high school on the west and south sides right now. And the cause of the increase in those problems, this year and for the last three school years, has been the school closing and "Renaissance" policies of CPS.

But have Arne Duncan and Mayor Daley pulled up Chicago's test scores? Julie Woestehoff of PURE and Monty Neill of FairTest authored the extensive "Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation" study that contrasts the success of Chicago schoools governed by parent-majority local school councils with the lack of sucess of "reform" schools.

Research on the 1990-2005 period of school reform in Chicago clearly demonstrates that teaching to the test has not produced greater learning, and more generally, that the CPS test-centered policies of the Vallas era did not work.

On the positive side, Arne Duncan was an original signer of A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. As I've blogged about before, I'm a member of BBA.
A Bolder, Broader Approach has also been busy recently, advancing its campaign by sending emails to 860+ signers of its statement. BBA's conviction is that

schools alone cannot close the achievement gap, but that school improvement must be complemented by improvements in the social and economic conditions from which children come to school -- specifically by high-quality early childhood programs, provision of comprehensive routine and preventive health care, and high-quality after school and summer programs.

This, of course, is a direct response to those in organizations (such as Teach for America) who believe that high teacher quality is the only factor necessary to get those test scores up. These groups work against teacher unions and bash many older,established teachers as being uncaring and mediocre.

BBA is now forming an advisory board and committees to help direct each of it's goals: Outreach and Recruitment (e.g., new BBA signers); Health (including school clinics); Early Childhood; School Improvement; After-School and Summer Programs; and Comprehensive and Coordinated Services.

Additionally, BBA will

sponsor a series of forums on Capitol Hill, as well as, where possible, state capitals, on various aspects of the broader bolder approach. At these forums, signers of the BBA will describe more specifically the statement's principles. We plan initially to sponsor sessions on the importance of health care for achievement, on what is known about the impact of early childhood programs, on what is known about the impact of after school and summer programs, and on how accountability policies can be sufficiently comprehensive to ensure that a broader, bolder approach can be carried out.
Our Web site ( will be further expanded, and become, we expect, the definitive resource for state and federal policymakers for research on, and solid evidence for, this broader, bolder approach.
We will sponsor a series of demonstration projects, in half a dozen cities nationwide, where school improvement, early childhood programs, adequate health care, and after school and summer programs will be coordinated to produce real outcome gains for disadvantaged children.

Please check out their website for updates!

So the question becomes, will Arne Duncan (separated from Mayor Daley and Daley's school reform agenda) lean toward the Broader, Bolder Approach and the educational philosophy of the Ariel Community Academy when he heads of the U.S. Department of Education, or will he continue the pro-privitazation/pro-high stakes testing/pro-edubiz agenda of Mayor Daley?

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