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Is Linda Darling-Hammond Forgotten?

June 1, 2011

The more I have been reading about Teach for America (TFA) and blogging about it, see here and here, the more I feel like Alice in Wonderland heading down the rabbit hole, or, Morpheus offering Neo the Blue Pill or the Red Pill if you are more familiar with that metaphor.

I feel like when you scratch the surface of what is going on here it is dark, dank, rotten, and fetid underneath.  Just how did we end up with Arne Duncan?  How was Arne chosen over Linda Darling Hammond?  Who was in the war room advising President Obama on this?  I have several complaints with Obama, they stem from what I view as his uber friendliness towards the financial industry and his willingness to stack his cabinet with Wall Street insiders.  My other problems stem from his appointment of Arne Duncan as his Education Secretary, and his lack of vocal support for the Wisconsin Union workers when they really needed it.

This article on the Washington Post blog – The Answer Sheet written by Valerie Strauss says something interesting.  The article was written on 03/12/2010, and one of its first quotes is this:

Anybody who does read the Darling-Hammond book–and Diane Ravitch’s new book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System”–will get a full picture of how Obama and Duncan are off track with education reform and in danger of wasting billions of dollars on schemes that had already wasted billions in the George Bush era of No Child Left Behind.

I think we can safely say that education reform is not only “off track” – it has been hijacked and is running off the rails on a Crazy Train (thanks Ozzie!).

Darling-Hammond’s research, teaching, and policy work focus on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity–and she knows as much about them as anyone in the country. These issues are central to any effort to create schools that really work.

Still, when it came time to pick an education secretary, there appeared to be a campaign against her. She was falsely accused of supporting the status quo and blindly aligning with teachers unions.

It is interesting to me that if you are a teacher and you are supportive of teachers you are accused of “supporting the status quo” – if you are a reformer, you are some kind of rock star.  If you think that teachers do a good job, you are a union hack but if you support taking tenure away from teachers you are deified in today’s environment.  How did this all occur?  It has been a surreptitious campaign that starts in right-wing think tanks, and has somehow permeated wealthy hedge funds and supposedly Democratic heavyweights.  Michelle Rhee labels herself as a Democrat, yet, she is against anything with regard to the fair treatment of unionized teachers.

Whatever his reasons, Obama tapped Duncan, the superintendent of Chicago schools, who supported key elements of No Child Left Behind during his tenure there. As education secretary, he has disappointed many people who had hoped Obama would end the era of high-stakes standardized testing and punitive measures for schools that don’t meet artificial goals.

Obama seriously disappoints in the area of high-stakes testing.  His appointment of Duncan made the matter worse, not better.  I am anxiously awaiting what will happen as we get close to 2014 and the deadline to have 100% proficiency for all students.  The law will be changed somehow, but what it will be changed to and the stipulations that will ride on the new law will be interesting to see.

Darling-Hammond’s book gives us an idea of where we could have been headed if she were in charge of the country’s education policy.

Her education experience is extensive: At Stanford she launched the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute and the School Redesign Network, and served as faculty sponsor for the Stanford Teacher Education Program. She is a former president of the American Educational Research Association and member of the National Academy of Education. She was, from 1994-2001, the executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a blue-ribbon panel whose 1996 report, “What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future,” led to important policy changes that affected teaching and teacher education. And she has written hundreds of publications about education.

Why in the world was this woman NOT chosen for the U.S. Secretary of Education?  Look at her qualifications.

Darling-Hammond uses a mountain of data and stories about reform efforts in various states to explain what can really work in helping close the achievement gap and what hasn’t worked.

She takes conventional wisdom and explains why we don’t really know what we think we know. For example, she explains how Finland, Singapore and South Korea created excellent, equitable school systems.

There is a common notion that they did it through the centralization of power. That’s not what happened. The key element in all three success stories was a commitment by the governments to equitably fund schools.

Finland went from having a centralized model to “a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around very lean national standards,” she wrote. All assessments are school-based, designed by teachers, rather than standardized.” The Finnish government put a lot of money into making sure they had a quality teaching force, raising standards for teacher preparation as well as salaries.

Singapore, a country that is highly controlled by the national government, realized that regimentation in schools was counterproductive and introduced the American notion of innovation.

Her analysis of the ups and downs of reform efforts in three states–North Carolina, Connecticut and California–lays bare how policy-makers can get things right, then get them wrong again.

Darling-Hammond’s remedies are not original; they are what many educators have long known is necessary to close the achievement gap and build an equitable system, but which the country has never properly funded.

Working to reduce poverty so that children have secure housing, food and health care is central; kids who go to school hungry and sick can’t learn. But some of today’s generation of reform superintendents think they can achieve their goals simply by ordering the classroom in a specific way.

How many studies must be done before policy-makers understand that supportive early learning environments are critical, that teachers and education leaders must be well-trained and well-supported, that any effort to close the achievement gap is doomed to fail if we don’t equitably fund all schools and properly staff them?

If Obama and Duncan did read the book, I have to think that it would be hard for them to stay on the road they’re now traveling.

It feels to me that we are in some time/space continuum where logic and good sense fall by the wayside and the only thing that makes sense in this new world are money and power.  Arne Duncan doesn’t have half the brains or experience that Linda Darling-Hammond has, Arne has been nothing but an empty suit who is full of clichés, platitudes, and sound-bites.  Teachers do not like him, unions can’t stand him, but he is the toast of the ball to education “reformers.”  Something is rotten in this entire situation and I hope to keep posting about it.


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