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“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”

May 11, 2011

EdWeek is continuing to monitor the outpouring of negative feedback received by the federal Department of Education after Secretary Duncan’s letter to teachers last week. (For more explanation, less question, check out Diane Ravitch’s take on the matter.)

A few people have used various means to try to undermine the critiques that have been leveled at Duncan and Co., including the idea that most teachers basically don’t know what’s going on, and the majority of those people have no problem with Duncan’s letter*. To which the always astute Anthony Cody replies:

I am sure the vast majority of the three million plus teachers in America did not read Duncan’s letter and many of them are not following the ins and outs of education policy. But this episode has revealed that among those who ARE following policy, Duncan (and Obama) have some serious problems. The Department can continue to plug its ears or go listen to people who will tell them what they want to hear, but a defense that rests on the premise “the people who are not paying attention don’t feel this way” should not inspire much confidence.

Exactly. As I said in my first letter, I’m glad that more of us are raising our voices, enough to force them to concede that there’s at least enough merit in our critiques to mention them. (A year ago, there was no need to do even that.) But it is still incredibly disturbing that for the most part, the education reform conversation is happening beyond the earshot of most teachers, parents, and students. Here’s to another year of working to make that less true!

For my part, I’m still wondering why the Huffington Post piece, and this one in EdWeek, treat the response to Duncan’s letter like it’s more or less evenly split (emphasis added):

What’s the evidence [that this feedback is unrepresentative of the majority of teachers’ feelings]– that a few teachers within the DOE’s sponsored program (some of whom notably missed the mark in identifying why teachers are upset) are saying something different from the *overwhelming* majority of teachers who bothered to comment? Hmm.

Not saying they’re not entitled to their opinion, but how is that even close to equivalent? How is it possible that reporters are remarking on this like it’s a mixed bag? That’s like calling a 54-6 football game a “close one”. What is going on here?

Seconding Anthony Cody’s comment. If their only solid defense is that the people who aren’t paying attention don’t agree with the outraged crowd, they are in big trouble. Sadly, by extension, that means we are ALL in big trouble.

*I disagree with this. One, there is still no evidence that this is the case. Although many teachers do not closely track policy decisions or the every move of the Education Secretary, most are very aware of the attacks on our profession, and are struggling to find the courage and/or the means to push back while also doing their best for their students and families. And from what I can tell– based on the influx of new letters in my inbox, the so-called “silent majority” is getting much less silent… and they are NOT on Duncan’s side! (I’m doing my best to get back to you. It’s a really busy time in all of my different lives, but you are important to me! Had I two extra hands, no need for sleep, and funding from billionaires so I could pay people to clean my apartment, check my other emails, and otherwise make my life less hectic, I’d respond to you instantly :))

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2011 8:55 pm

    There is no doubt in my mind that rank-and-file teachers all over the country are right royally pissed at what’s going on, and they can’t be too thrilled with Duncan’s supercilious bullshyte letter. I wrote to the Obama campaign that I would not donate any money nor work for his candidacy this time around as long as his administration is on the wrong side of every education issue. He could win me over by replacing Duncan with someone actually qualified to hold the office of US Sec. of Education, preferably someone progressive. Thus far, I’ve gotten no reply. I’m not holding my breath for one, either.

    • May 11, 2011 9:06 pm

      I wrote the same thing a few months back. I never in my life thought I’d pray for a primary challenger to our first Black president, but here I am….

      • May 11, 2011 11:38 pm

        I’m so there with you, girl! Hasn’t been the hope and change I was waiting for.

      • Dan Middleman, M. Ed permalink
        May 12, 2011 7:41 am

        Don’t do that. If someone challenges Obama in the primary and he loses the presidency, what we’ll get is far worse than Duncan. If we were to get Obama’s ear, he would listen to reason and facts. He’s that kind of guy. What kind of Sec. of Ed do you think Michelle Bachmann would hire? Or Newt Gingrich? Or Mike Huckabee? Or anyone from Bush’s party? Remember Rod Paige? That was Bush’s guy. He was the creator of the Houston Miracle. We don’t need to go from the frying pan into the fire.

      • May 12, 2011 12:49 pm

        I suppose…though I really can’t see what is going to move him at this point, except a real threat to his re-election. I’m just so disappointed in him.

        I had a HOPE ’08 sticker on my car last time around. This time, it looks like I’ll have to make room for “Well, he’s not Bachmann or Gingrich or Trump ’12″…

    • May 11, 2011 11:40 pm

      And I’m not so happy that the NEA cabinet is endorsing Obama already. Stupid idea completely lacking in strategy.

  2. May 11, 2011 11:35 pm

    This is my 2nd letter to Arne @ the DOE website. The moderator would not post it.

    MONDAY, MAY 9, 2011

    Dear Secretary Duncan:

    Last week I wrote to you in response to your Teacher Appreciation Week letter. I admit, my letter was kind of caustic. Well, actually, it was a LOT caustic. It had been a long week near the end of a long year and I just wasn’t feeling your love.

    In fact, I haven’t felt your love since shortly after you became our Secretary of Education. I was a bit puzzled by your appointment. Your job qualifications were kind of odd for the position. You were a pro basketball player in Australia, worked for an investment company, were CEO of Chicago Public Schools, even though you had no education credentials, and then became Secretary of Education. I wondered why Linda Darling-Hammond didn’t get the job. Maybe her jump shot wasn’t all that. And yes, I know you helped out your mom in her after school tutoring program and that was cool, but that wasn’t really enough to prepare you for the jobs in education that you’ve held.

    You confuse me, Arne. Despite the failure of Renaissance 2010 in Chicago Public Schools, (Chicago Tribune says ‘Renaissance 2010’ has failed) you keep insisting that those failed strategies be imposed on our nation’s schools. You have an impressive talent for not heeding the well-researched advice from such stellar education scholars such as Diane Ravitch, Stephen Krashen, Yong Zhao, Alfie Kohn, and a list of others. Oh yeah, you also don’t really listen to experienced veteran teachers either.

    Arne, I so want to like you. Everyone says you’re such a nice guy, but I’m just not feeling you. You want to help our children be successful in school and reach their highest potential, and I give you props for that. But Arne, you’re going about it in the wrong way.

    First, our children are not failing because of bad teachers. Our children are not failing because of LIFO based layoffs. Our children aren’t failing because of due process rights for teachers. Merit pay is not the answer. Teach for America is not the answer. Charter schools are not the answer. Bill Gates doesn’t have ANY of the answers. Our children are struggling for a variety of reasons:

    · Inequity in school funding: Our most struggling schools, those schools you call failures, sorely lack the resources needed to support our most struggling students. You poured salt on our wounds by implementing your Race to the Top program, which further exacerbates the economic disparity between schools.
    · Higher standards: Implementation of higher standards in many states (my state, California, being one) has lead to developmentally inappropriate curricula being imposed on our children. No matter how high your standard is and no matter how hard you work, you’re just not going get that newborn baby to walk.
    · Overloaded, yet narrow, curricula: Another result of raising the bar is that our curricula have become 10,000 miles wide and .000001 inch deep. We race through a developmentally inappropriate, test-focused, jam-packed, NARROW curricula then we wonder why our kids don’t score as well as kids in other nations (more about that later).
    · Larger class sizes: Larger class sizes severely hamper teachers’ abilities to best serve all of our students. Rule of thumb: The more challenging the student population, the smaller the class sizes should be. Class size does matter regardless of what Bill Gates says. Arne, Bill is a computer guy, not a teacher. Think about it. You’ve got two kids. Do you seriously think you would be as successful parenting fifteen kids versus two? (And that’s without having to teach them any academics.) Regarding class size, have you noticed that charter schools boast of small class sizes in their advertizing literature? The Obama children attend a private school with class sizes of 13:1. If it’s good enough for the Obama kids, it certainly is good enough for my students.
    · High-stakes testing: The sanctions threatened and imposed by NCLB have served to focus schools on teaching to the tests, resulting in the creation of massive test prep factories. And look what happened in your own neighborhood with Rhee and RheeraserGate. Do you think there is a correlation between test prep factories and drop out factories?
    · College-for-All: An over-emphasis on college readiness has encouraged the abandonment of vocational education classes. The insistence on college-for-all discourages those students that are not college material. News flash: Not all kids are college material. By eliminating vocational education and severely narrowing curricular offerings, we have created an atmosphere of hopelessness for many students. This atmosphere encourages kids to drop out because they see no substantive purpose for school in their lives.

    Finally, Arne, POVERTY IS NOT AN EXCUSE. Poverty is a reality that affects student achievement. Research supports this, as does classroom experience. To deny the effects of poverty on children is patently unfair. Until you are willing to BEGIN the discussion by addressing the effects of poverty on our nation’s children (21% are living there), you will never be able to reach a solution. Denial of poverty and its link to student achievement assures the continued failure of our most needy students. And PLEASE stop telling the world that our kids are sucking on international assessments. They’re not. Schools with <10% poverty rank at the top on international assessments. In fact, our kids do quite well in schools with up to 49.9% of children living in poverty. Are you aware that the highest-ranking nation, Finland, has only 3% of its children living in poverty? Poverty matters, Arne. It really does.

    So there you have it, Arne. Public education as seen and experienced through the eyes, mind and heart of a veteran educator who has dedicated her life to teaching our nation’s neediest children.

    As I said before, I want to like you, Arne. I really do. But unless you start making some better choices, I won’t be feeling the love.


    Tracey Douglas

    p.s. If you are still wondering how the broader teaching community feels about your letter to teachers, don’t listen to Justin Hamilton. I think he’s just messing with you. Teachers still just are not that into you.

    • Dan Middleman, M. Ed permalink
      May 12, 2011 8:05 am

      Well said. Typically the rule of thumb is that if you’re angry, don’t send out the first draft. Send out the fourth. This is well detailed and there is evidence to back up your claims. Can we get this version published in the NY Times and the Wash Post? Do we have any connections?

  3. May 11, 2011 11:37 pm

    This was my 1st response to Arne’s letter ‘o appreciation. The DOE would not post this one, either. So much for free speech. I think Arne’s in major denial if he thinks teachers are sending him love beams and unicorns.

    WEDNESDAY, MAY 4, 2011

    Dear Secretary Duncan:

    When I read the title for your open letter to teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week, I rolled my eyes. I mean, I couldn’t help it; my eyes just automatically started rolling. So, Arne has penned a missive to teachers to express his appreciation? RUFKM? Seriously.

    You said that teachers “deserve to be respected, valued, and supported”. But aren’t you the guy who applauded when every teacher at Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School was fired? Remember that school? You know, it’s one of those high-poverty, failing schools?

    And aren’t you the guy who applauded again when the Los Angeles Times published a list ranking teacher effectiveness based on a test score? I don’t think Rigoberto Ruelas was feeling your love. He was that highly regarded teacher who the LA Times rated less effective than his peers. After that list came out, Ruelas killed himself. But that little bump in the road didn’t sway you from giving New York City educrats the thumbs up when they announced their intention to publish teacher rankings. I guess, you some people are just slow learners.

    You said that you appreciate the challenge and skill involved in the work teachers do and applaud those who have dedicated their lives to teaching??
    How we recognize, honor, and show respect for our experienced educators will reaffirm teaching as a profession.
    I mean, you really said that! I am NOT making this up. You also said that the days of a last-in-first-out (LIFO) policy of layoffs are over. Wow, Arne, that certainly is an innovative way to honor those dedicated, experienced, veteran educators.

    To put it in words, many of which you incessantly overuse, that you can understand: I am fundamentally tired of your laser-like focus dramatically aimed at dismantling public education during your hugely historic tenure as Secretary of Education. I am tired of you putting absolutely amazing veteran teachers on the trajectory to obsolescence. Your unprecedented attack on our nation’s schools has been dramatically rigorous as you work to super-size the status quo. You demonstrate an amazing sense of 21st century urgency while pimping for the Billionaire Boys Club as they incent you to do their world-class dirty work. No Corporation Left Behind! Inequitable funding through your ill-conceived Race to the Top should be the civil rights issue of our generation, not getting rid of LIFO and due process for those teachers you so honor and respect.

    BTW, a lot of people can say that they have spent much of their life working in education – custodians, cafeteria workers, secretaries, health clerks, bus drivers and playground supervisors. So when you say that you’ve spent much of your life working in education… well, I’m just not overly impressed. In fact, I’m not impressed at all. With your laser-like commitment to imposing your failed Chicago Public Schools policies on our nation’s schools, well, I’m just feeling hugely unimpressed with your understanding of teaching, learning, and how to best serve our most needy children. I’m willing to bet that those school workers I mentioned above have a greater grasp on what is really happening in schools across the land than do you. You’re just the drive-by photo op dude to me.

    Next year, please don’t write another love letter to teachers. We’re just not that into you.


    One Amazing Hugely Pissed-Off Awesome World-Class Teacher

    p.s. You might want to try to out-educate yourself and do a little reflecting: Chicago Tribune says ‘Renaissance 2010’ has failed


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