Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2010 / 28 Elul, 5770
An Evening with Arne Duncan
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Dear Diary --
Went to hear
But first the well-bred visitor must pay his respects. And if he's a politician, pay his compliments. Lots of them. To everybody in sight. To bigs near and far, well known or well forgotten. It'd been years since I'd heard anybody mention
The politician's equivalent of the bread-and-butter gift is flattery, and our guest slathered it on. It is a truth universally acknowledged that dignitaries -- high, low or in-between -- love it. And our visitor dished it out with a shovel. As my mother would say in her less than perfect but heartfelt English on hearing a particularly smooth salesman, "He'll do well in America."
It was Mark Twain who, always considerate of his audience, informed Gentle Reader that he'd taken all the weather out of his latest book and collected it in a separate section. That way, it wouldn't impede the flow of the narrative, as so often happens in the works of inferior authors. Instead, he explained, references to the weather "will be found over in the back part of the book, out of the way. See Appendix. The reader is requested to turn over and help himself from time to time as he goes along." How convenient.
In keeping with Mr. Clemens' practice, I have taken the liberty of culling a number of current catch phrases about education from Mr. Duncan's speech and listed them right here. Feel free to dip into them whenever you feel the need for a good cliché when discussing public policy about education. Mr. Duncan offered his listeners a wide assortment to choose from. No platitude went untouched. For example:
Critical thinking skills, culture shift, problem-solving, creativity, incentivize, bold new strategies, autonomous life-long learning, data-driven decision-making, content knowledge, "an absolute game-changer," and, yes, "no school is an island operating in isolation."
There. That ought to hold even the most rapacious cliché-collector for a while. Just sprinkle any or all of them over your prose when the spirit moves you, and you, too, can pass for an expert in education policy.
Now on to the good parts:
Secretary Duncan noted that the administration's Race to the Top competition for federal money --
Let it be noted that Mr. Duncan is for more charter schools. He shouldn't have had to add that he was in favor only of the good ones. That much should be understood. But, of course, he had to spell things out for this suspicious crowd, which was largely composed of pubic school teachers.
The secretary of education is also for publicizing how well individual schools, even individual teachers, do at improving their students' test scores from the beginning to the end of the school year. He didn't explain why he didn't dare release that information when he was superintendent of
How long, oh, how long, before any mom and dad in any state in the Union can just fill in the name of a school and teacher, and find out how much progress that teacher's students have made over the course of a school year? That day can't come too soon.
Secretary Duncan said it was time parents were held accountable, too. Then why not give them the information they need to take responsibility for their kids' education?
The secretary said he was for a longer school day and a longer school year. Good idea. Because good things -- like education -- take time.
He's also for paying those teachers most who are most in demand, like good math and science teachers. Who says this administration doesn't understand how a free market works?
Secretary Duncan even had a good word -- I could scarcely believe my ears -- for the No Child Left Behind act, and its emphasis on transparency in the schools. He evoked applause when he borrowed a theme from the Bush presidency (without attribution) about education's being the civil-rights issue of our times. As, of course, it is the civil-rights issue of any time.
At one point he even had a good word for -- hold on to your hat --
On the other side of the ledger:
Our guest had well-deserved words of praise for the Harlem Children's Zone and its
But the secretary of education restrained his enthusiasm when the subject was
The secretary noted that schools of education need to be held accountable for the teachers they're turning/churning out, but he didn't point out that, until those schools and departments of education are completely changed, or just abolished, there is little hope for improving the starting level of American teachers, and therefore the level of American education.
Note how both the KIPP program and Teach for America, by recruiting liberal-arts graduates from some of the country's most prestigious schools, have improved the level of American education. Recommended reading: "The Miseducation of American Teachers," the classic by
The secretary emphasized the importance of increasing the number of college graduates in this country -- so many entering students never get their degrees -- but he didn't have much to say, indeed he didn't have anything to say, about the quality of the education those graduates are getting. His silence on the subject spoke mournful volumes.
For a degree is not an education. Any more than the map is the road. It would have been exhilarating to have the country's well-respected secretary of education put in a word not just for the credentials but the substance of education. Instead, he seemed to approach education as if it were just another kind of vocational training. Like shop or driver "education."
Ah, well, can you think of another secretary of education who's been so popular and so influential, too? It's no easy accomplishment to be both politician and achiever. Just achieve, Mr. Secretary, just usher in a new era of educational achievement, and all the politics will be happily forgiven.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
if (strpos(, "printer_friendly") === 0)
=<< © 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.