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What does Duncan mean by … “status quo”…?

June 1, 2011

Interesting article in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss.  In it, Strauss is wondering just who Arne Duncan is talking about when he repeatedly mentions those dastardly “status quo” practitioners.

For example: In a Q & A with Newark NJ’s Star Ledger Arne said: “What keeps me up at night is the historic lack of urgency, the acceptance of the status quo. We need to change. Anyone who is defending the status quo is part of the problem.”

You see, the implied logic here is that existing teachers are terrible, they are clinging to the status quo, they don’t want to be better.  Forget about the endless professional development seminars, the umpteen classes which many of us have taken POST Masters, the learning every day on the job and getting better as the situation dictates…all of that…no good for Arne, it is all “status quo.”  Interestingly, I have posted about how when controlled for poverty, the “status quo” or American public schools do just fine – it is only when high poverty areas are averaged into American school students’ scores that we drop internationally.

Here is our feckless chief again talking to Wolf Blitzer of CNN: “In a knowledge-based, globally competitive economy, we have to do so much better educationally, so anyone who’s defending the status quo, anyone who is saying we don’t need change is part of the problem.”

Who is Duncan talking about?  Valerie Strauss contacted Duncan’s office and asked that very question.  The response … wait for it…nothing, she reports that she has asked several times and has of yet, not received a response.  Is Duncan referring to Unions, Bad Teachers, Lazy Teachers, Teachers in General, Parents who like their teachers?  As I have said in the past, Duncan is a sound-bite machine who issues platitudes to suit his situation.  For the time being…”status quo” happens to be a good buzz-word to him.

Well, there is one veteran teacher who takes up the “status quo” meme.  Here post is in full below:

By Nancy Flanagan

Hello, my name is Nancy and I’m an education reformer.

Yeah, I’m a teacher, but—surprise—I’m not in favor of the status quo. Not to put too fine a point on it, the status quo sucks. Not much to recommend the status quo in public education: inequitable, inflexible, mired in what might politely be called “tradition.” There are some terrific public schools out there, and a huge percentage of pretty good schools. But my take on the status quo is: We could do lots better. We should immediately reform our ideas and practices.

And another thing: I am not a union lackey. Ask anyone at the school where I taught for 30 years. I irritated the daylights out of my unionleadership by being skeptical and questioning every decision. I usually need an adult beverage to tell my personal union stories—but I strongly defend the right, even obligation, of teachers to band together to demand productive working conditions and speak out for what they know is (sorry, here it comes) good for kids. Why would we ever want to reform schools in ways that aren’t sustainable or endorsed by the people who do the actual work?

As a reformer, I’m all for accountability. Accountability is something I have deep personal experience with, including being held accountable for regular, public “authentic performance assessments” done with my 300+ students. As a music teacher, I was accountable not only to all my school supervisors, but also parents (who were sitting on those ice-cold metal bleachers for Friday halftime shows—and making monthly payments on expensive instruments) and students (who had limited choices and could easily pick another elective). I had to demonstrate—at least 20 times a year—that I was teaching students new and worthwhile content.

I support that kind of periodic, critical assessment—that kind of reality-based accountability. I believe teachers should be required to assemble convincing evidence—data, let’s call it—that their students are meeting high and worthwhile goals, and accurately diagnose problems when the learning falls short. In fact, one of my core ideas about reform is: let’s invest in fully professional, career teachers. It seems to have worked forFinland.

Yup, I’m a reformer. I reformed my own curriculum dozens of times during my 30 years. I reformed my instruction about once a week, using the cutting-edge, innovative technique called “paying attention to what kids were learning.” I reformed my ideas about parent involvement from year to year (less fund-raising, more listening). And I reformed my analyses of state and federal education policy, every time a new silver bullet was fired, over my head.

I want to be—with my teaching colleagues—at the white-hot center of education reform. I find finger-pointing, referring to those who believe the market is the optimum strategy to fix our education problems as “deformers,” distasteful. I taught my middle school students not to call people names (I also taught them not to use the word “sucks” in my classroom, but let’s overlook that right now). Bottom line—I want to reform education. I know a thing or two.

So why don’t I get to be an education reformer? Is it because I never ate a bee?

My guess is that Arne Duncan will never respond to, nor will he listen to this teacher as he says he wants to in his Letter to Teachers.  Teachers deserve better, we need a recruitment drive for a Diane Ravitch or a Linda Darling-Hammond to be in the post of US Education Secretary.  Arne has done quite a lot of damage and the repair work needs to begin.


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