I’ve been online since 1983 and my own web site dates back to the first term of the Clinton presidency. Along the way, I may have ruffled a few feathers.

Let me tell you about one of my all-time favorite social media brouhahas.

On December 17, 2008, The Huffington Post published an article I wrote entitled, “Obama Practices Social Promotion.

I began the article…

“A curious cartel of billionaire bullies, power hungry politicians and tough-talking school superintendents wage an eternal battle against social promotion — for the good of our children of course. Social promotion, a divisive political term with no basis in reality, like partial-birth abortion, is one of the most popular talking points among the the most vocal critics of public education. The “end of social promotion” has caused tens of thousands of kids as young as 3rd grade to be left-back, despite overwhelming evidence that this practice harms children and increases the drop-out rate.

However, social promotion is a godsend to urban school superintendents in this age of privatization. It is truly bizarre that the public education system, which at least in-part is dedicated to preparing people for careers and life, would devalue expertise.”

…and went on to say…

“Arne Duncan Fails Upward

Today’s nomination of Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan to be the Barack Obama’s Secretary Education is a spectacular example of social promotion. Duncan, who as been the CEO or Chief of Staff of the Chicago Public Schools for the past ten years has done such a swell job of “reform” that his best friend and basketball buddy, Barack Obama, would not send his own children to the public schools. President-elect Obama is like Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the members of the Business Roundtable who kill public schools with their kindness while turning them into the sort of joyless test-prep sweatshops unworthy of children they love.

Arne Duncan is a darling of the charter school movement, Eli Broad, the right-wing Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, anti-union “Democrats” and I kid you not — Hooked-on-Phonics. President-elect Obama eagerly awaits recommendations on nuclear proliferation from Billy Mays, Ron Popeil and the ShamWow guy.”

All of my assertions (especially the inflammatory ones), contained links to supporting evidence.

Then it happened

A few days later, right around Christmas, my Google Alert started sounding. Soon it was like a bell warning of  four-alarm fire and the alarm sounded for several straight days. What could possibly have caused such sudden popularity for Little ‘ol me?

It seems that the CEO of Hooked-on-Phonics® was so offended by my joke comparing their qualifications to endorse a federal Secreatary of Education to the ShamWow guy that the company paid a public relations firm to issue a global press release condemning me. “Hooked on Phonics(R) CEO Responds to Gary Stager’s Criticism of President-elect Obama’s Choice of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education,” was released in dozens of countries around the world. Every time one of those press releases went public, my Google alert rang again.

What is so golden about that misguided attempt to make me famous is the lengths to which the CEO of Hooked-on-Phonics® went to avoid offending the ShamWow guy (probably a wise idea since he apparently beat up a cannibal hooker).

“Gary Stager is entitled to his opinions regarding President-elect Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and education policy generally. However, it is unfortunate he has tried to trivialize my views by likening my company and its product — Hooked on Phonics, a product that has helped millions of children learn to read — to a sponge (with all due respect to the folks at ShamWow).”

Read the entire condemnation of me here. I could not be prouder!

My only regret is that the predictions I made about President-Elect Obama’s education policies and his nominee for Secretary of Education turned out to be even worse than I had feared. Read the five and a half year-old article for yourself here.

Rufus T. Firefly
President: Huxley College

I often explain to graduate students that I don’t play devil’s advocate or any other clever games. Just because I may say something unsaid by others, does not mean that I don’t come to that perspective after careful thought and introspection.

Being an educator is a sacred obligation. Those of us who know better, need to do better and stand between the defenseless children we serve and the madness around us. If a destructive idea needs to be challenged or a right defended, I’ll speak up.

My career allows me to spend time in lots of classrooms around the world and to work with thousands of educators each year. This gives me perspective. I am able to identify patterns, good and bad, often before colleagues become aware of the phenomena. I have been blessed with a some communication skills and avenues for expression. I’ve published hundreds of articles and spoken at even more conferences.

People seem interested in what I have to say and for that I am extremely grateful.

The problem is that I am increasingly called upon to argue against a popular trend. That tends to make me unpopular. In the field of education, where teachers are “nice,” criticism is barely tolerated. Dissent is seen as defect and despite all of my positive contributions to the field, I run the risk of being dismissed as “that negative guy.”

Recently, I have written or been quoted on the following topics:

I’ve also written against homework, NCLB, RTTT, Michelle Rhee, Eli Broad, Joel Klein, standardized testing, Education Nation, Common Core Curriculum Standards, Accelerated Reader, merit pay, Arne Duncan, union-busting, Cory Booker, Teach for America, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, mayoral control, the ISTE NETs, Hooked-on-Phonics, President Obama’s education policies, etc… You get the idea.

The “Jetbow” sandwich at NY’s Carnegie Deli

These are perilous times for educators. When once bad education policy was an amuse-bouche you could easily ignore, it has become a Carnegie Deli-sized shit sandwich. Educators are literally left to pick their own poison, when choice is permitted at all. If I take a stand against a fad or misguided education policy, my intent is to inform and inspire others to think differently or take action.

So why, pray tell am I boring my dear readers with my personal angst? An old friend and colleague just invited me to write a magazine article about the “Flipped Classroom.” Sure, I think the flipped classroom is a preposterous unsustainable trend, masquerading as education reform, in which kids are forced to work a second unpaid shift because adults refuse to edit a morbidly obese curriculum. But….

The question is, “Do I wish to gore yet another sacred cow?” Is speaking truth to power worth the collateral damage done to my career?

In the 1960s, the great Neil Postman urged educators to hone highly-tuned BS and crap detectors. Those detectors need to be set on overdrive today. I’m concerned that I’m the only one being burned.

What to do? What to do?

I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
No matter what it is
Or who commenced it
I’m against it!

Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
And even when you’ve changed it
Or condensed it
I’m against it!

Whatever It Is, I'm Against It
by Harry Ruby & Bert Kalmar From the Marx Bros. film "Horse Feathers" (1932) 

 

I published this (IMHO) important article, “First We Kill the Teacher Unions” exactly three years ago today in The Huffington Post. I am enormously proud of the article and extremely sorry for being so prescient. After you read the text of that article below, you might take a look at my December 2008 article about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Obama Practices Social Promotion. That’s the story that caused the CEO of Hooked-on-Phonics to issue global press releases condemning my comparison between their product, Arne Duncan and Shamwow.


First We Kill The Teacher Unions

September 3, 2008

Then What?

Slate recently reported on the latest public demonstration of enmity towards public schools and their teacher. Teacher bashing is hardly novel, but what makes this gathering particularly noteworthy is that took place during the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The voucher, excessive testing and privatization fantasies of the GOP are well documented, but Democratic big shots have now joined in the chorus of anti-teacher karaoke.

The complexity of how to “fix” America’s public schools reduced to a single objective. Break the teacher unions. This is particularly ironic given the AFT and NEA’s timeless support for the Democratic Party. Hell, AFT President Randi Weingarten, was seated behind President Clinton during Senator Clinton’s address to the Convention. In almost any jurisdiction, support of teachers can mean the difference between election victory and defeat. Yet, many Democratic officials are eager to bite the hand that feeds them, regardless of the consequences for children in their communities. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek called this week’s betrayal of the DNC’s supporters, “landmark.”

It especially saddens me that Cory Booker of Newark, a man of privilege and extraordinary education at Stanford and Oxford, would attack teachers with the level of contempt reported by Slate. He’s upset that teachers had the audacity to fight him on school choice schemes for Newark. Aside from wondering how magically wonderful schools would spontaneously bloom in Newark it is worth mentioning that Cory Booker didn’t need school choice when he grew up in affluent Bergen County. What sorts of choice does he advocate – taxpayer funded religious schools or the urban obedience schools funded by Eli Broad (another Democrat). Broad loves schools where poor kids spend their days barking answers to scripted curricula – schools Mayor Booker’s parents would never have tolerated for their son.

At the recent Ed Challenge for Change event, Booker denounced the “insane work rules” of teachers. Perhaps he should meet the teachers in his district that I know.

Newark, New Jersey, an economically deprived city, which for decades had neither a supermarket or movie theatre, does have some of the most dedicated capable educators I’ve ever encountered. For a decade, I led professional development in the Newark schools and had countless teachers attend workshops I led elsewhere. Newark was known for its innovative uses of computers in education, despite little local funding and the Newark teachers I worked with demonstrated a level of commitment and skill rivaling the best of their suburban counterparts. Newark is one of the rare school districts where dozens of teachers would voluntarily attend a daylong workshop on a hot humid summer day. The Newark educators I know love the children they serve and do their best to educate some of the poorest children in this country. They deserve our support and respect.

You Can’t be a Democrat who Quashes Democracy!

Fueled by the shaming and humiliation of No Child Left Behind, billionaire “philanthropists” and simplistic management theories recited from business books sold at airport gift shops, many big city mayors have staged bloodless coups of their city’s school districts. (Each of the mayors is a Democrat with the exception of “democratish” Michael Bloomberg of New York) Their theory suggests that the Mayor has ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the public schools and is uniquely prepared to triumph where others have failed.

The reality is that publicly elected school boards are disbanded, chaos is introduced into the bureaucracy, the curriculum is homogenized, classrooms become Dickensian test-prep sweatshops, parental involvement is diminished, the arts disappear and with term limits, there is no actual consequence for mayoral failure. All of the benefits of dictatorship accrue to the mayor and innocent children feel all of the consequences.

It is worth noting that cities with mayoral control of schools – Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and the mayoral control wannabe, Los Angeles – employ Superintendents and Chancellors woefully unqualified for the job. This new generation of mayoral dictators first suspends democracy, and then installs obedient ideologues lacking experience or independent thought to carry out their mischief making.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is the latest educational fascist of the month. His self-appointed killbot, Chancellor Michelle Rhee enjoys glowing profiles in Fast Company and gets an hour on the Eli Broad-funded Charlie Rose show (representing perhaps 10% of all television time dedicated to public education annually).

Rhee occasionally makes sense and may even be committed to doing the right thing for D.C. kids, but the majority of her public focus seems to be on busting the teacher unions. Mayor Daley of Chicago and Michael Bloomberg are equally vocal fans of sowing the seeds of teacher discord and powerlessness.

Unions are Democracy!

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees unions. The right to organize is the embodiment of our cherished Freedom of Assembly. Unions built the American middle class while building our roads, bridges, cars, schools, hospitals and other institutions we cannot live without.

American teacher unions are not too powerful and they do not have a stranglehold on our democracy. The fact that teacher unions are so readily used as political piñatas by shameless demagogues is proof of their weakness. The fact that major urban districts are run by unemployed generals, accountants and prosecutors challenges the notion of the union’s unchecked power. The fact that the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school district, couldn’t manage to pay some teachers for nearly a full school year, yet the teachers continued to work while losing their homes or cars is evidence that the unions are weak, not powerful. Governor Schwarzenegger uses constitutionally guaranteed school funding as his personal piggybank. The union can’t stop him.

Former Secretary of Education Rod Paige survived calling the National Education Association a “terrorist organization” while his pal, Reid Lyon, called for colleges of education to be “blown up.”

It doesn’t take a very tough politician to beat up on teachers. That’s why teacher unions are such perennial targets. I’d like to see Democratic politicians talk such trash about teamsters, cops or firemen. Schwarzenegger was terminated when he messed with the nurses union a few years back. The nurses weren’t quite as genteel as the teacher unions.

A Few Facts and Even More Questions

America is not the only country with unionized teachers. Many of the countries that beat us on the ridiculous international comparisons politicians quote are more heavily unionized than us. It’s hard to imagine No Child Left Behind leaving the starting blocks in a country like Australia where the teacher unions would have shut the schools down at the first hint of NCLB.

Blaming educational problems on teacher unions is even more absurd when you consider that states like Texas have no teacher unions. Is Texas immune from student achievement challenges? Hardly.

The larger question is a matter of leadership and employee relations. How does reducing teacher creativity, independence and responsibility for decision-making help instill those qualities in the children they teach? How does alienating teachers, placing them in rubber rooms or attacking their motives make them a partner in school reform? How does insulting your base and violating a fundamental American liberty create a wise and more just society?

Do you want your children taught by defensive or depressed teachers who feel assaulted by the community they serve? How does that state of affairs contribute to educational excellence?

If the educational neocons succeed and break the backs of teacher unions, what do they think would happen? What would magically occur the next day? How are schools expected to improve? I demand that these Democratic tough guys and gals tell me what they will do next.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has decided to throw a few dollars around for parental involvement to distract the public from the anti-democratic school “reforms” he advocates. Of course this announcement is accompanied by the familiar “mea culpa” that the government hasn’t done enough to involve parents.

This is a total load o’ crap, especially given Duncan’s heavy-handed imposition of Race-to-the-Top and endorsement of anti-democratic measures, such as charter schools and mayoral control of school districts. (Let’s set aside the abysmal record of mayoral control in D.C., Duncan’s Chicago and New York where after 8 1/2 years of heroic mayoral control 28% of African American males now graduate).

Oh yeah, an awful lot of parents are school teachers and union members who don’t appreciate being vilified and having their family’s security jeopardized by the policies of Duncan and his billionaire buddies.

If you want parental involvement/engagement in education, then make them full partners in the operation of public schools. Encourage greater participation in elected school boards and advocate “universal charter school” legislation in which every single American public school is run by the parents and teachers in that school. The only parental involvement ever tolerated by many local schools is when they ask parents to be ATMs and Narcs. Schools want parents to write checks and enforce their rules beyond school hours.

Perhaps, Secretary Duncan can stop blaming kids and parents for the fact that you have created joyless & irrelevant test-prep sweatshops where teachers work in fear and learning is subservient to compliance.

Parental involvement does not require $270,000,000 of Federal investment. It requires a bag of Doritos, a cheap box of wine and an honest partnership between equally empowered stakeholders.

The following is an article I published in 2008 that should give you a sense of how terrible the Duncan “parental involvement” plan happens to be when put into practice.

Chief Family Engagement Officer (2008) by Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.

  • Seize control of 1,400 public schools
  • Appoint a prosecutor to lead
  • Disband the democratically elected Board of Education
  • Hold one public hearing in five years
  • Centralize the bureaucracy
  • Maintain files used to discredit critics on the right and left
  • Favor managers over educators
  • Detain teachers in rubber rooms (read additional news accounts here and here)
  • Invent Orwellian job titles for propaganda officers…
  • Stalinist Russia?

    Fughetaboutit! It’s just the New York City Public Schools under Chancellor Joel Klein.

    The March 4, 2008 edition of the New York Times reports on the state of Mayoral control of the public schools in After 5 Years, City Council Holds First Hearing on Mayor’s Control of Public Schools. The article covers a New York City Council hearing where questions about the efficacy of suspending democracy battled the non-educator Chancellor’s argument that “mayoral oversight is critical to turning around the vast system…” and “The fundamental governance structure of mayoral accountability and control, I think, is right and needs to be maintained.” As the title of the Times article suggests, this was the first time the City Council has held a hearing about the Mayor’s school takeover in five years.

    Sure, the Chancellor’s claims of improved test scores, enhanced accountability and greater efficiency went unchallenged. I have come to expect very little from politicians and journalists who suspend their disbelief when matters of public education are discussed. At least once Councilman compared mayoral control to martial law.

    Lack of parental input into governance of their local schools, standardized curricula, no public oversight of the system and powerless administrators are the expected outcomes when political ideologues get to play corporate dress-up and the public schools become their toy.

    None of this surprises me. I was however delighted by the latest Orwellian confection served up by the Chancellor. Klein offered a faux mea culpa about how he had not followed up on the millions he spent to hire “parent coordinators” in each school. (I assume to neutralize desires for parental involvment)

    If the image of full-time paid “parent coordinators” does not paint a clear enough picture of this educational Potemkin Village, Chancellor Klein admitted that “he had waited too long to create the post of a ‘chief family engagement officer’ to oversee the coordinators.”

    Just when I thought the corporate psychosis polluting our public schools had reached its zenith, semantic gems like “chief family engagement officer” are invented. Thank you Chancellor Klein! That’s one for the ages!

    — Gary Stager
    The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate

    2008-03-05

    I’m occasionally accused of suggesting that Seymour Papert is the answer to every educational question. That may because over more than 40 years, my friend and colleague, predicted the future of education with impeccable precision, warts and all.

    Don’t believe me? Check out this recently found Papert quotation.

    It is this freedom of the teacher to decide and, indeed, the freedom of the children to decide, that is most horrifying to the bureaucrats who stand at the head of current education systems. They are worried about how to verify that the teachers are really doing their job properly, how to enforce accountability and maintain quality control. They prefer the kind of curriculum that will lay down, from day to day, from hour to hour, what the teacher should be doing, so that they can keep tabs on it. Of course, every teacher knows this is an illusion. It’s not an effective method of insuring quality. It is only a way to cover ass. Everybody can say, “I did my bit, I did my lesson plan today, I wrote it down in the book.” Nobody can be accused of not doing the job. But this really doesn’t work. What the bureaucrat can verify and measure for quality has nothing to do with getting educational results–those teachers who do good work, who get good results, do it by exercising judgment and doing things in a personal way, often undercover, sometimes even without acknowledging to themselves that they are violating the rules of the system. Of course one must grant that some people employed as teachers do not do a good job. But forcing everyone to teach by the rules does not improve the “bad teachers”–it only hobbles the good ones.

    Sound familiar? That passage is ripped from today’s headlines!

    Twenty years ago, a lifelong dream of visiting Australia was achieved. That was followed by my work leading professional development at the world’s first “laptop schools” and more than forty subsequent  trips to my second home, “downunder.”* In addition to having a paper accepted by the July 1990 World Conference on Computers in Education, that first trip to Australia was the first time I really got to spend a lot of time socially with Dr. Papert.

    It was at that 1990 World Conference that Papert gave the keynote address including the words above. That keynote address has been published as Perestroika and Epistemological Politics and it is worthy of your attention. Here is another passage from that important speech.

    I would suggest that one reason education reform has not worked is that it almost always treats these dimensions as separate and tries to reform one or another–the choice depending on who is doing the reforming. Curriculum reformers try to put new curriculum in an otherwise unchanged system but ignore the fact that the old curriculum really suits the system and reverts to type as soon as the reformers turn their backs. Similarly, when reformers introduce new forms of management of the old approach to knowledge and learning, the system quickly snaps back to its state of equilibrium. And, perhaps most dramatically from the point of view of people in this room, the same kind of process undermines any attempt to change education by putting a lot of computers into otherwise unchanged schools.


    *I’m currently in Australia keynoting a conference, working with the South Australia Department of Education and as a Visiting Scholar at Trinity College – University of Melbourne

    peter-garrett1In the current world of education policy, nothing succeeds quite like failure.

    Traditionally, Australia’s newly elected Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, “should” be pro-teacher and public education, but in a strange twist of politics much like the way Obama treats public education, she too will do irreparable harm in the name of meaner tougher “reform” and greater accountability.

    Gillard LOVES all of the failed educational policy fantasies of her buddy and mentor Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools – merit pay, Teach for Australia, standardized testing, public reporting of deeply flawed teacher accountability measures, insulting and shaming educators.

    Now, just like President Obama, Prime Minister Gillard has now pointed someone with dubious credentials to lead the nation’s schools. Arne Duncan played basketball for the Launceston Ocelots and other defunct Australian basketball teams and Australia’s new education minister is wait for it – Peter Garrett.

    If that name sounds familiar, you may recognize Education Minister Garrett in this video.

    Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Australian, reports the following about Garrett’s appointment and qualifications.

    THE minister pilloried for mishandling the $2.45 billion home insulation scheme, Peter Garrett, has been rewarded.

    Julia Gillard has handed him the prestigious education portfolio.

    Despite expectations Mr Garrett would be dumped from cabinet, he received one of the biggest promotions in the ministry, progressing from being an environment minister with diminished responsibilities to become Minister for Schools, Early Childhood and Youth…

    The school sector was cautious over the appointment, with some concerned Mr Garrett’s environmental stance would align him with the Greens, who oppose government subsidies for private schools; others questioned his ability to manage the schools portfolio, given his problems with the home insulation scheme.

    Opposition frontbencher Peter Dutton said he was “absolutely amazed” Mr Garrett had been rewarded. “He’s presided over deaths and fires in a program that probably has been mishandled like no other since federation,” he told Sky News.

    Doesn’t this sound eerily like Arne Duncan being promoted to Secretary of Education after the spectacular job he did of “turning around” the Chicago Public Schools?

    Further reading:

    National Public Radio’s terrific talk show, Talk of the Nation, interviewed US Education Secretary Arne Duncan this morning and sent out a tweet asking for questions worth posing to the Secretary. I immediately tweeted back a barrage of questions and the host asked a paraphrased version of one the most innocuous questions I submitted.

    If goal is raising opportunities & achievement for all kids, isn’t RACE for the top an unfortunate metaphor? (1 winner, many losers)

    Engaging in critical debates about Federal education policy in 140 characters is a challenge, but not impossible.

    The following are the other questions I “tweeted” to Secretary Arne Duncan (in reverse chronological order) via NPR’s TOTN:

    How would Sect. Duncan to respond to the report card given him – A for efficacy and D for policy?

    Isn’t firing all of the teachers and charterizing public schools a right-wing utopian fantasy?

    Where does Sect. Duncan think the magical teachers & perfect schools will come from after he fires teachers and closes pub schools?

    Did you ask Duncan what he thinks of Diane Ravitch’s research disproving the basic assumptions of Obama education policies?

    Given the Gates Foundation’s expensive school reform failures, why do they have so much influence within the Dept. of Education?

    If you’re a parent in Harlem, should be concerned that nearly all of the local public schools have been turned into boutique charters?

    Why should public school facilities be surrendered to private charter school operators?

    Which is true: a) The Chicago Public Schools are a mess & failing children b) We should trust Sect. Duncan to do the same for America?

    Should Americans be alarmed that most major city districts and the Dept. of Ed are now run by unqualified non-educators?

    If goal is raising opportunities & achievement for all kids, isn’t RACE for the top an unfortunate metaphor? (1 winner, many losers)

    Why has a “Labor” administration worked so hard to bust the teacher unions across the nation?

    On December 17, 2008 – one month before Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, I expressed my fear about his appointees and agenda for public education in a Huffington Post article entitled, “Obama Practices Social Promotion.”

    Read the article linked above or pasted below and judge for yourself whether or not I was clairvoyant.

    Obama Practices Social Promotion

    A curious cartel of billionaire bullies, power hungry politicians and tough-talking school superintendents wage an eternal battle against social promotion — for the good of our children of course. Social promotion, a divisive political term with no basis in reality, like partial-birth abortion, is one of the most popular talking points among the the most vocal critics of public education. The “end of social promotion” has caused tens of thousands of kids as young as 3rd grade to be left-back, despite overwhelming evidence that this practice harms children and increases the drop-out rate.

    However, social promotion is a godsend to urban school superintendents in this age of privatization.

    On October 19, 2006 I wrote an article, When I Run the Navy, for a now defunct LA Times blog.

    Call me Admiral Stager! (October 16, 2006)

    I took swimming lessons for seven years, visited the USS Ling submarine in Hackensack, NJ and my father was once in the National Guard. I’ve even been known to giggle at reruns of McHale’s Navy and Gilligan’s Island. However, the best reasons to name me Admiral are:

    1) I want the job and
    2) I have no qualifications whatsoever!

    Ridiculous! Why would someone with zero qualifications be put in charge of a naval fleet?

    A similar question might be asked of Vice Admiral David L. Brewer III, just named Superintendent of the 710,000+ student Los Angeles Unified School District.

    The always entertaining Los Angeles School Board appointed the retired General with absolutely no advanced degree, educational expertise or teaching experience to lead the second largest school district in the country.

    Admiral Brewer may be an impressive leader and heckuva guy. The L.A. School Board may be sticking it to the Mayor for his recent power grab of the school district. Yet, none of this matters much or will improve the quality of education in this troubled lumbering district.

    In the topsy-turvy world of public education a lack of qualifications earns you the fast track to big city school leadership and a hefty paycheck.

    One of the primary goals of education is the development of expertise, not just political acumen. What sort of example are we setting for students? How much do we respect education when educators are deemed unacceptable as district leaders?

    Learning is more complex than supply chain management. It seems as if any unemployed member of the military, failed businessman or police officer is thought better qualified to run schools than educators.

    I’m sick of it. How about you?

    Perhaps we need federal legislation requiring a fully qualified superintendent in every school district!

    Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District gave Admiral Brewer at least $517,000 to make him disappear. Half a million bucks in an age of budget cut backs and economic crises. It’s not clear if that includes his $45,000 expense account or $36,000 housing allowance.

    Who could have possibly predicted that a person with absolutely no education experience, wisdom, vision or accomplishments would fail as the leader of a major US school system? Call me Nostradamus!

    It is truly bizarre that the public education system, which at least in-part is dedicated to preparing people for careers and life, would devalue expertise.

    Arne Duncan Fails Upward

    Today’s nomination of Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan to be the Barack Obama’s Secretary Education is a spectacular example of social promotion. Duncan, who as been the CEO or Chief of Staff of the Chicago Public Schools for the past ten years has done such a swell job of “reform” that his best friend and basketball buddy, Barack Obama, would not send his own children to the public schools. President-elect Obama is like Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the members of the Business Roundtable who kill public schools with their kindness while turning them into the sort of joyless test-prep sweatshops unworthy of children they love.

    Arne Duncan is a darling of the charter school movement, Eli Broad, the right-wing Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, anti-union “Democrats” and I kid you not — Hooked-on-Phonics. President-elect Obama eagerly awaits recommendations on nuclear proliferation from Billy Mays, Ron Popeil and the ShamWow guy.

    Duncan spends millions on standardized testing, turns public schools into military academies and endorses Teach for America, an organization built upon the perverse proposition that the most qualified teachers are those without qualifications. Teach for America’s political wing, Leadership for Education Equity, fought hard to ensure that a competent teacher educator would not be nominated. They sure got their wish with Arne Duncan.

    Arne Duncan is a strong supporter of merit pay, which like social promotion is based on ideology and wishful thinking, not fact. He is also a proponent of paying children for good grades.

    Riddle me this. If Arne Duncan is such a “reformer with results” who did such a swell job leading the Chicago Public Schools, why did President-elect Obama send his daughters to private school?

    Duncan is a fan of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and never met a standardized test he didn’t love. His education policies and practices are indistinguishable from those of the Bush Administration. In fact, the current unqualified Secretary of Education Spellings virtually endorsed Duncan while she posed for for a photo-op with him four days ago. Today she praised Duncan’s nomination while spinning her own tall tale and invoking romantic visions of student accountabily.

    “Arne Duncan is a visionary leader and fellow reformer [emphasis mine] who cares deeply about students.” (Margaret Spellings — 12/16/08)

    Apparently, “change you can believe in” stops at the school metal detector.

    The mainstream media covers education issues as if they were writing for Pravda. Today’s news accounts of the Duncan nomination were stenography with no questions asked or facts checked. It’s not difficult to find examples of Duncan’s creative interpretation of data or how he is a political appointee of the Daley machine in Chicago.

    Obama was never asked to define school reform or explain why he relied on questionable standardized test score gains to justify nominating Duncan, the Harriet Miers of his administration.

    Across the political spectrum, the mainstream media sleepwalks through any education news. NPR reported, “He’s focused on improving struggling schools, closing those that fail and getting better teachers,” without providing any supporting evidence while Fox News praised Duncan as a “Bona Fide Reformer.” The media repeats how Duncan closed and then reopened schools like he turned water into wine.

    The “Chicago Miracle” may prove no better than the fraudulent “Houston Miracle” on which NCLB and the six billion dollar Reading First boondoggle were based. Arne Duncan is no better qualified to be Secretary of Education than Coach Rod Paige.

    Bloggers and a handful of independent journalists were more conscientious. Veteran education journalist Alexander Russo writes:

    I hope that the national press will look a little bit deeper into the Chicago miracle, and take a moment to ponder why the folks they’re quoting are saying such nice things about him. No one’s looked at Chicago’s lame NAEP scores or anemic charter program. Most of the folks who are gushing about him don’t really know him (or Chicago) that well, or hope to work for him in the near future, or are approving of him because they think that they can beat him in DC.

    Veteran Chicago educator and journalist, George Schmidt responded to the oft-repeated claim that American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten “has a good relationship with Duncan.”

    After you’ve read up about Chicago from the grass roots, then circulate nonsense about whether the “teachers” and the “union” support Arne Duncan.Randi Weingarten is a lawyer who has less real teaching experience than the average veteran substitute teacher. Arne Duncan is an educational administrator who has as much teaching experience as Randi Weingarten.

    It figures they would be scratching each others’ backs.

    Journalists have an obligation to ask Obama where he stands on private school vouchers since he raised the issue today.

    For years, we have talked our education problems to death in Washington, but failed to act, stuck in the same tired debates that have stymied our progress and left schools and parents to fend for themselves: Democrat versus Republican; vouchers versus the status quo… (Barack Obama — 12/16/08)

    The President-elect also needs to clarify his stance on unions since 1) the teacher unions supported him; 2) he is a democrat; and 3) the auto “bailout” may destroy the American labor movement (and middle class) once and for all.

    Reformers vs. Teachers

    If Arne Duncan turns out to be the most effective Secretary of Education in history, I will be delighted to praise him.

    However, Obama and his transition team have done great violence to millions of committed educators by framing the selection of Duncan as a choice between “reformers” and those who care about teachers and children. Progressive author Alfie Kohn explores this dishonest choice in a thoughtful article in The Nation, Beware of School “Reformers.” Kohn writes:

    Sadly, all but one of the people reportedly being considered for Secretary of Education are reformers only in this Orwellian sense of the word. The exception is Linda Darling-Hammond, a former teacher, expert on teacher quality, and professor of education at Stanford.

    President-elect Obama has remained silent as one his advisors, Dr. Darling-Hammond, a highly respected and accomplished educator was ridiculed and insulted in the media. To paraphrase former Reagan offiicial Ray Donovan, “Which office does Dr. Darling-Hammond go to get her reputation back?

    If you view the world through left/right glasses, I suggest you consider the words of education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch who served in George H.W. Bush’s Department of Education and is a Fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and Board of Trustees of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

    Many years ago, Linda Darling-Hammond and I were colleagues at Teachers College. We sometimes crossed swords over issues, but I always found her to be smart, thoughtful, and deeply devoted to the well-being of teachers and children. I don’t think that makes her a leader of the “status quo” crowd. I have always thought that she is above all interested in improving schools, helping teachers, and doing right by kids. What’s wrong with that?As for the new breed of superintendents who are supposedly going to “save” American education, I have a very different take on them from the editorialists. They say they are Democrats, but their policies are truly the Republican agenda. The Republican education experts and conservative think tanks have always wanted more accountability, more choice, merit pay, and a tough anti-union stance. Thus, it is one of the amusing ironies of our time that the people who now espouse this agenda call themselves “reformers” and are acclaimed as such by the national media. They are reformers indeed, but the reforms they are advocating and implementing come right out of the Republican playbook. (Diane Ravitch — 12/16/08)

    Gary Stager’s web site

    School Wars – Politicians, billionaires, and mavericks all want to fix public schools. They won’t. Parents will. (from GOOD Magazine)

    Related books on progressive education

    As Arne Duncan and other unthinking vertebrates get aroused by the notion of common core standards, the rest of us should look at how stoobid the existing ones are.

    Teachers in California are not only required to write the standards they are teaching on the board so that their disinterested first graders will magically achieve enlightenment, but they are forced to teach bunch ‘o crap standards like this gem from the 2nd Grade History – Social Science for California Public Schools Content Standards:

    2.5 Students understand the importance of individual action and character and
    explain how heroes from long ago and the recent past have made a difference in
    others’ lives (e.g., from biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Louis Pasteur, Sitting
    Bull, George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Golda Meir,
    Jackie Robinson, Sally Ride).

    Please answer the following comprehension questions:

    1. WTF?
    2. Which does not belong?
    3. Are you kidding?
    4. Second grade?

    duncanobama2On September 3, 2008 I published this article, First We Kill the Teacher Unions, in the Huffington Post. The article reported on some evidence that the first “labor” President of the 21st Century and his “liberal” friend were going to use teachers as public policy piñatas.

    So, was I right? Did I understate the assault on public education and its practitioners by the Obama administration?

    Feel free to copy links to articles related to this issue in your comments.