Huffpost Education
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mercedes Schneider Headshot

12 Embarrassing Years of NCLB and RTTT: Time for Arne to Blame USDOE

Posted: Updated:
Print

Ever notice that the "problem" with American education appears to be everywhere except with the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE)? I find this rather remarkable given that American education has been subjected to twelve years of a combination of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT).

Seems like it is time for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to finally admit that federally-touted (coerced?) reforms are a flop.

However, he is not done blaming others just yet.

In this January 14, 2014 U.S. News and World Report article, Duncan continues to blame others for the fabricated "failure" of American education.

(An aside: U.S. News is tied to the National Council on Teacher Quality [NCTQ], a reform-bent, unaccredited agency that "grades" teacher training programs. I wrote a 17-part series on NCTQ in January-March 2013.)

Duncan: It's the Parents.

First of all, Duncan blames parents:

Comparing American students to those in South Korea - a country that ranks among the highest in the world in terms of academic achievement - Duncan said part of the problem is a culture in the United States that perpetuates low expectations in schools. Parents in the United States do not demand the same kind of educational excellence as those in other countries, he said. [Emphasis added.]

This should come as no surprise since Duncan has already blamed Common Core opposition on "white suburban moms" who *cannot seem to come to terms with their children's mediocrity*.

To Corporate Reformer Duncan, test scores are the end-all, be-all. It is no surprise, then that in the U.S. News article, he is enamored with one of the "examination hell" countries, South Korea:

"As you think about how to use your voice, your time, and your energy, I want to pose one simple question to you: Does a child in South Korea deserve a better education than your child?" Duncan said. "If you answer is no - that no child in America deserves any less than a world-class education - then your work is cut out for you."

Part of the reason students in other countries outpace American students on these exams, Duncan said, is simply because they are more serious about education, not just in their cultures, but in their policies. [Emphasis added.]

Let us consider that South Korean education "seriousness." Duncan is right; South Korea does take education seriously -- because the South Korean student's future rests on a single test. As this 2011 Economist article notes:

ON NOVEMBER 10th South Korea went silent. Aircraft were grounded. Offices opened late. Commuters stayed off the roads. The police stood by to deal with emergencies among the students who were taking their university entrance exams that day.

Every year the country comes to a halt on the day of the exams, for it is the most important day in most South Koreans' lives. The single set of multiple-choice tests that students take that day determines their future. Those who score well can enter one of Korea's best universities, which has traditionally guaranteed them a job-for-life as a high-flying bureaucrat or desk warrior at a chaebol (conglomerate). Those who score poorly are doomed to attend a lesser university, or no university at all. They will then have to join a less prestigious firm and, since switching employers is frowned upon, may be stuck there for the rest of their lives. Ticking a few wrong boxes, then, may mean that they are permanently locked out of the upper tier of Korean society. [Emphasis added.]

American parents, this is the "better education" that Duncan wants you to demand for your children: Examination hell:

[In South Korea,] high school is hell. Two months before the day of his exams Kim Min-sung, a typical student, was monosyllabic and shy. All the joy seemed to have been squeezed out of him, to make room for facts. His classes lasted from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., after which he headed straight for the library until midnight. He studied seven days a week. "You get used to it," he mumbled...

Min-sung says he doesn't particularly want to go to university, but he feels "social pressure" to do so. He dreams of getting a job as an agent for sports stars, which would not obviously require a university degree. But he reluctantly accepts that in Korea, "You can't get [any] job without a degree." [Emphasis added.]

Yes, American parents, be sure to take Duncan's advice and sell off your children's joie de vivre for higher test scores.

Duncan: It's Also the Politicians.

The second Duncan scapegoat is the "politician." Naturally he doesn't include himself in this comment, for it is the "lack of action" on the part of politicians that is the problem according to Duncan -- and by "action," he means the spectrum of RTTT reforms intended to straitjacket America right into "higher test scores" -- the only evidence of success that matters to Duncan. And so, he returns to his admiration for South Korea, citing that South Korea "walks the walk" when it comes to education.

Here is where "the walk" has taken South Korea:

A poll by CLSA, a stockbroker, found that 100% of Korean parents want their children to go to university. Such expectations can be stressful. In one survey a fifth of Korean middle and high school students said they felt tempted to commit suicide. In 2009 a tragic 202 actually did so. The suicide rate among young Koreans is high: 15 per 100,000 15-24-year-olds, compared with ten Americans, seven Chinese and five Britons. Min-sung's older sister, Kim Jieun, who took the exams a few years ago, recalls: "I thought of emigrating, I hated the education system so much."

As more and more students cram into universities, the returns to higher education are falling. Because all Korean parents want their children to go to university, most do. An incredible 63% of Koreans aged 25-34 are college graduates--the highest rate in the OECD...

This sounds great, but it is unlikely that such a high proportion of young Koreans will actually benefit from chasing an academic degree, as opposed to a vocational qualification. A survey in August found that, four months after leaving university, 40% of graduates had not yet found jobs.

Unemployment represents a poor return on what for most families is a huge financial sacrifice. Not only is college itself expensive; so is getting in. Parents will do anything to help their children pass the college entrance exam. Many send them to private crammers, known as hagwon, after school. Families in Seoul spend a whopping 16% of their income on private tuition. [Emphasis added.]

Politicians, let's take Duncan's advice and push students into college so that they can run increasingly greater risk of both suicide and unemployment.

Duncan: It's the Teachers.

The third Duncan scapegoat is (of course) the American teacher:

While teachers in America often come from the bottom of the academic barrel and are disproportionately teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds, Duncan said, teachers in South Korea are selected from the top of the class and are rewarded for working with low-income students. [Emphasis added.]

Wow. If only American teachers did not "often" come from the "academic dregs," our international test scores (and the associated miseries) could soar, just as they do in South Korea.

Such irony coming from a U.S. secretary of education who himself has never taught a class and who wholeheartedly endorses a set of national standards credited to a "lead architect" who failed to secure a NYC high school teaching position.

I guess being completely removed from the barrel prevents one from being "at the bottom," eh?

Handing Off to Haycock: Spotlight "Some Schools"

In this U.S. News article, Duncan has finished his blaming; the ball is then passed to CEO Kati Haycock, whose Ed Trust nonprofit is the controlling nonprofit of the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit directly involved in promoting student data collection associated with Common Core.)

Haycock notes that poverty is not the issue since "some [high poverty] schools" have "turned around":

...When people see statistics showing that by age 24, students from high income backgrounds earn bachelor's degrees at almost seven times the rate of those from low income families, they often blame poor academic achievement on the students' race, their family background or their cultures -- not the school or school leaders, said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust.

"Our question back to them is if you're right, why are low income students and students of color performing so much higher in some schools?" Haycock said.

Haycock gave examples of schools across the country -- such as Halle Hewetson Elementary in Las Vegas, George Hall Elementary in Mobile, Ala., and Elmont Memorial Junior-Senior High School in Elmont, N.Y. -- with high numbers of minority and low-income students and histories of poor performance that were able to turn around due to changes in leadership, teachers, staff training and parent involvement.

Now, students in those schools are outperforming students throughout the state. [Emphasis added.]

My questions in response to Haycock are these: Why showcase "some schools" and not entire districts? After all, if "changes in leadership, teachers, staff training, and parent involvement" are overcoming the effects of poverty, is it that the districts only have their "great teachers" in "some schools" but not all?

Could it be that these "turned-around" schools also have other supports in place that the "un-turned" schools in the same district do not have?

One of the schools Haycock cites, Halle Heweston Elementary in Las Vegas, does have impressive scores. However, the same district, Clark County, has hundreds of schools, many of which are not the "showcase quality" that is Halle Heweston. As for Haycock's second example, George Hall in Mobile, Alabama, results are also mixed, with some schools having no test scores available for comparison.

Her third example, Elmont Memorial Junior-Senior High School in Elmont, NY, doesn't have the consistent reformer-coveted high test scores that her other two examples have (based upon 2012 Regents Exams). Test results for this school are mixed.

To Duncan and Haycock: "Showcased" Reform Is No Reform.

If poverty can be overcome by test-driven reform, why haven't we seen it happen in districts (not "some schools," but districts) across the nation in the twelve NCLB/RTTT years?

First, it takes an increase in resources to overcome poverty, not the decrease that corporate reform has been systematically choking out of districts by siphoning public funds to all-too-often underregulated education companies and "nonprofits" (an ironic name for the bucks nonprofit CEOs can rake in. Haycock's total 2011 compensation for running the nonprofit Ed Trust was $300,000).

Improving education in the U.S. also involves forsaking the obsession to compare American education to some test-score-fixated, non-existent ideal that does not truly exist in other countries.

Finally, scapegoating those closest to students -- their teachers and parents -- needs to stop, and it especially should not be coming from the U.S. secretary of education. Unlike many of the "pop-up teachers" nursed on the destructive doctrines of education privatization, traditional teachers are not in education in order to pad a resume on the way "up." Traditional teachers are an indispensable part of the fabric of our democracy, and it is about time for Arne Duncan to recognize and respect that fact.

Originally posted 01-16-13 at deutsch29.wordpress.com