U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and K-NEA President Van Roekel addressed student teachers’ questions at a forum at Emporia State University. Unfortunately, Duncan addressed five issues and got five issues wrong.
Secretary Duncan spoke forcefully of using multiple measures of teacher effectiveness. Meanwhile his Department of Education continues to make student test scores THE major requirement to receive a waiver from NCLB. He says one thing; his department’s actions require otherwise.
One young student teacher asked about the narrowing of the curriculum and the dismissal of music teachers who did not teach a topic that was required and tested. Duncan asserted that art and music and physical education and the rest of the curriculum were vital to a well-rounded student. He described one music teacher in Georgia who had developed a method to evaluate music teachers. Duncan’s answer was apparently that all courses could be defended by making them all based on student tests and teacher evaluations. He had no idea how much expanded time is being taken to double-block current students for math and language tests. All assessments, all the time!
To standardize-test the whole curriculum would make for 36-hour school days! But of course there is no way to mandate an expansion of curriculum to enforce his well-rounded prescription. Nor did he appear aware that veteran art and music teachers across Kansas and nationwide have already been fired because their courses are not part of the mandated testing. Not a clue.
Another student teacher explained how she and her classmates had to take ever-more-costly content and pedagogy tests to enter teaching. Duncan’s reply—that these were state requirements and not federal mandates—was jaw-dropping. State teacher-training institutions must require these tests. If more than 20 percent of teacher candidates fail for two years in a row, that teacher school loses its program—according to the federal Higher Education Act. Again, not a clue.
Duncan correctly stressed that the real threat to the future of U.S. education is the shortage of good teachers going into the classroom. But he was blind to the fact that the number of student teachers wanting to enter teaching dropped dramatically because of No Child Left Behind teach-to-the-test oppression. And despite the recent Kansas waiver of 100-percent-proficient-by-2014, Kansas test scores must still go up. Federally-mandated teach-to-the-test teaching is the cause of the teacher pipeline shortfall. Again, his policies are the problem, not the solution.
Both Duncan and the NEA President attributed the current reform movement to the 1983
Commission on Excellence in Education report: A Nation at Risk. President Reagan had assigned his
Education Secretary Terrel Bell to shut down the department. But this report reversed that decision and put education on the national political agenda by proclaiming the situation so bad that it was equivalent to an act of war.
This Commission did recommend more years of math and science, longer school days, a longer schol year, and higher teacher salaries. But it did not mandate a standardized national curriculum nor high stakes testing. Mandated testing and standardization rests with President Bush’s Education Secretary Spellings and President Obama’s Secretary Duncan who both ratcheted up the blame and penalties of No Child Left Behind.
If you are keeping count of the clueless scores, we are at strike five. But Duncan is still not “out.”
Unfortunately, both political parties play on the same don’t-have-a-clue team. Neither presidential candidate will end the tyranny of federalized education where Washington DC controls 100 percent of education policy while providing only seven percent of school funding.
Nothing short of states pulling out of federal funding will restore teacher professionalism. And in an economy where funds are short, that is a heavy sacrifice for state boards of education to make.
The science teacher pipeline declined dramatically over the last decade with the imposition of NCLB and standardized testing.