Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 15, 2009


Deborah Lynch, Chicago Sun Times - It is ironic that [Arne] Duncan is now moving to the Cabinet post when he essentially has admitted that he does not know how to manage low-performing schools. His entire approach has been to close underperforming schools and turn their management over to outside organizations, many with no track records of school reform. Yet during his tenure, the Chicago Public Schools graduation rate remained stubbornly at barely 50 percent.

This is a travesty, not an example for the nation. A few short years ago, Duncan was a semi-pro basketball player. He never studied education, never worked in a school, and is not qualified to teach. He was a political appointee who came in with a philosophy which basically blamed low student achievement on career teachers and on their union. This philosophy of viewing the problem as bad teachers, and their union contract as an obstacle to reform, resulted in the Renaissance 2010 model, unveiled in 2004. Since then, Duncan has closed dozens of schools and created a private district-within-a- district of 80,000 former CPS students, all funded by public education dollars.

These schools have no union staff members and no local school councils and, for the most part, no accountability. Charter and contract schools do have to take state-required tests. CPS claims that many of these schools do better than our neglected neighborhood schools, yet reputable, independent, national studies of charter schools yield inconclusive results.

Duncan's latest twist on closing underperforming schools is called the school "turnaround." About two dozen school closures and turnarounds are about to be announced this month. Parents, staff and students pleading for a reprieve year after year became an embarrassment to Duncan and Mayor Daley. Now they just fire all the staff in designated schools.

Yet, do we close police stations in high-crime areas and fire the police officers? No, we provide the best support and resources possible -- and that is what should have been provided to our struggling schools.

When the union proposed a joint program of cooperation and support for struggling schools to Duncan after he closed three schools back in 2002, he gave lip service to the idea, then ignored it. It did not fit with his philosophy that the union was an obstacle to reform.

Low student achievement is not caused by "bad" teachers clinging to union work rules. Teachers working in the highest-performing high schools in the state, such as Whitney Young, Walter Payton and Northside College Prep, are all working under the union contract. Several elementary schools are using "Success for All," one of the three highest-ranked schoolwide reform models in the U.S., without violating the contract.

The hard fact is that poor students -- and 85 percent of our students are low-income -- are more expensive to educate. They are just as capable as non-poor students of learning, but they arrive in kindergarten already far behind their more-advantaged counterparts. Research on teaching them is clear and compelling: They need master teachers, an extended school day, and small schools and class sizes to break the debilitating hold of crushing poverty on their learning. . .

Duncan's model has involved an unconscionable scapegoating of the front-line professionals and has had an extremely negative effect on thousands of students. These committed professionals serve our children each and every day, despite a lack of support, respect and resources.

The Duncan/Daley solution of giving up on struggling schools has been an absolute abdication of responsibility and public trust, and should certainly not be seen as a model for America.

Deborah Lynch was president of the Chicago Teachers Union from 2001 to 2004.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no opinion on Arne Duncan, other than that as an appointee of a snake-oil salesman, his abilities are suspect. But one point in the article you excerpted is a screaming lie: "blamed low student achievement on career teachers and on their union" is held up as an example of Duncan's lack of ability. Nothing is our sad world is truer than the culpability of career teachers and their unions.
Teachers in the main are incompetent. A degree in education is a certificate attesting to a low (i.e, less than 100) IQ. My SO works in a public school. Every day I hear the drumbeat: irresponsible behavior by teachers; flagrant failure to follow documented procedures; screaming (literally) tantrums in front of mothers and pupils about classroom assignments; theft--caught on video spy cameras (yep, that's right, spy cameras in our public schools); ostrich behavior by principles in the face of long-term criminal (yep) teacher behavior toward students because of fear of union resistance to discipline or termination of the miscreant; inability of holders of the Masters in Education degree to comprehend basic multiplication algorithms; fear and loathing of basic teacher competency tests; favoritism/hostility towards selected students; and on and on and on.
It's really simple: public schools are a war crime without the war. Send your kids to private schools, if you can afford it--church or secular, it doesn't matter. Or home school them. Anything, anything, but keep them out of the hands of the education demons. The public education establishment is a kakistocracy beyond belief--unless you have long-term, dispassionate insider information. - wam

January 16, 2009 8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an education degree and am a public school teacher.
My I.Q. is 136.
I think you meant to spell the title of my boss 'principal,' not 'principle.'
Yes, there are some teachers who are incompetent, unethical, immoral, etc. Such people exist in every profession.

January 24, 2009 10:54 PM  

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