Friday, July 11, 2014

Arne Duncan Gives Lip Service to Equity

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says he wants all students to have access to a quality teacher. Well, who could argue with that? On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education launched an initiative aimed at addressing what Duncan calls the “systemic inequities that short-change students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country.” He has called for every state to get cracking at developing their teacher equity plans.

The Secretary wants equity so badly that, according to Education Week, he has dedicated 4.2 million dollars to develop a “technical assistance” network to help states develop their plans.

Golly gosh gee willikers, Mr. Secretary, 4.2 million dollars. To put that figure into perspective, that 4.2 million is less money than one modest sized urban school district in the country will spend in one year on the new Common Core testing regime that the Secretary has bribed states to participate in.

I would say that backing this equity initiative with a pittance in cash indicates just how committed to equity this administration is. If we wish to read where their real commitments lie, perhaps we should look at other places where they spend money.

In 2010, the Department of Education, under Secretary Duncan, granted 50 million dollars to Teach for America. You read that correctly. Ten times more cash was committed by this champion of equity for a program that literally defines inequity.

A quick refresher. Teach for America (TFA) provides recent college graduates looking to pad their resumes and who have shown no prior interest in education as a career, with five weeks of training in teaching and throws them into the classrooms of some of our neediest children. A large majority of these recruits are gone from the classroom in 2-5 years. Originally designed to fill a need in underserved areas, they now replace furloughed certified teachers in many areas and form the bulk of the staffs in many charter operations.

To recap, Duncan has committed 4.2 million to teacher equity and 50 million to insuring that inner-city children get teachers who are clearly not qualified to teach and will leave the profession in a couple of years. Whether it be under the No Child Left Behind definition of “highly-qualified” or any other designation of a well-trained, committed and certified teacher, TFA is no friend of teacher equity.

If the Secretary wanted to strike one clear blow for equity, he would immediately disavow TFA and insist that every teacher in urban schools be fully trained and certified. Don’t hold your breath.

It will be interesting to see what the states come up with in these equity plans. I would think that the plans would call for making teaching in urban areas more attractive to teachers. This would include things like insuring school buildings are clean, safe and under good repair. It would include insuring a professional staff that included counselors and other support staff that could help to meet the needs of students in crisis as so many urban children are. The plan might include good pay, but even more importantly, job security and the kind of autonomy that high performing teachers desire.  It might also include an evaluation system that includes multiple measures of performance and that does not rely on spurious value-added formulas, famously skewed against teachers of struggling students, to assess teacher performance.

But wait. Secretary Duncan recently praised the Vergara decision that stripped teachers of their job security protections. Duncan pushes for value-added measures so we can (erroneously) identify who the best teachers are. Duncan pushes for charter schools (he gave 50 million to KIPP charters in 2010 also) that drain the funds urban districts might use to fully staff schools and repair and maintain buildings. Good luck getting your equity plans past the Secretary if you include job protections and autonomy and disavow value-added.
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Secretary Duncan is the enemy of the very equity to which he gives lip service.

For a full and witty discussion of the false promises of the teacher equity concept, I highly recommend you read what my colleague, Peter Greene, has to say about the issue in this Huffington Post article.