How fatuous is the upper-end “press corps?” Consider part of Bill Turque’s account of yesterday’s meeting with Duncan. Most likely, this isn’t Turque’s fault:I am aware that this Howler is mainly pwning the press corps; but the other theme, that of our Ed. Sec. being just as vacuous as the next empty suit, is what this little section is also about.TURQUE (3/5/09): Duncan said he will encourage states to adopt achievement standards that give a clear picture of whether U.S. students are prepared to compete with global peers. And the funding will help states create better tests to show whether students are on track for college.We don’t know what that first paragraph means. To the extent that we can guess, Duncan’s proposals are reasonable but quite underwhelming. But good God! The conversation described in that second graf is one for Extremely Slow Learners. According to Duncan, we can go beyond mere test scores if we want to rate our teachers. We can observe their work in class, he says. And we can take their attendance!
Duncan said the Obama administration aims to support performance pay to reward good teaching, individually and schoolwide. Beyond standardized test scores, Duncan mentioned classroom observation, parent and student surveys, and attendance as ways to help rate teacher effectiveness.
It would be hard to overstate how fatuous that passage is. But according to Turque, this conversation was going on at the highest levels of America’s “press corps”—perhaps just after the various scribes finished kicking The Bachelor around.
The next paragraph really is Turque’s fault—or the fault of his editor:TURQUE (continuing directly): “We also have to make it easier to get rid of teachers when student achievement isn't happening,” Duncan said. He added, however, that teacher tenure—a form of job security that is a key issue in contract talks for D.C. teachers—is not the main problem. Duncan said it was vital to make acquisition of tenure more rigorous and establish a fair, expeditious process to remove low-performing teachers.Tenure isn’t the main problem, Duncan reportedly said. But Turque fails to say what the main problem is for Duncan. Did anyone bother to ask?
Readers, we can keep track of teachers’ attendance! And we can observe them as they teach! These claims are certainly true, of course—and yet, the inanity of these suggestions is truly a thing to behold. To state the obvious, principals have been rating teachers through classroom observation roughly since the dawn of time. And who ever thought of keeping track of their attendance? Did we need to import a new Ed Sec to make such obvious observations? We don’t know what Duncan actually said, and we don’t mean this as a criticism of his ideas. But Turque describes a D-plus discussion—a discussion for a remedial class.
And yet, in this morning’s editorial, the editors who sat through this session express the very highest praise for a range of vague ideas which emerged from the chat. Falling down in praise of Duncan, the editors stand opposed to “the same failed programs” and “broken schools;” by way of contrast, they stand in favor of “reform” and “programs with proven records of success.” (They also seem to favor “dramatically improv[ing] the education of children.”) The editors favor “improved student assessments as well as sophisticated data systems” (our emphases). Not only that: The editors “admire the fact that Mr. Duncan has absolutely no use for those who would use the social ills of poor children as an excuse for not educating them.” And they close with a very high-minded statement. Like Duncan, they favor “what works.”
Even those whom I respect-Obama--can make a lame hire; Duncan should probably refrain from saying things like he did above if he wants to nationalize the schools and be taken seriously by the reformers. I hope folks realize, with this Duncan illustration, that reforming the schools is a drop in the society-is-fucked bucket, as even our Ed. Sec. doesn't know how to blame teachers--yet!