Tag Archives: Arne Duncan

Exclusive! My Interview with Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sits down with the Assailed Teacher to answer the questions we all want to ask him.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sits down with the Assailed Teacher to answer the questions we’ve all wanted to ask him.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is facing some heat for his “white suburban moms” comment. As part of his public relations damage control, Secretary Duncan agreed to an interview with me. Below is a transcript of the interview in its entirety.

AT: Good evening Secretary Duncan and thank you for agreeing to this interview.

AD: Thank you for having me. I must say, you are much more overweight and slovenly than most other public school teachers. Perhaps you should come down to Washington so you can get in a few rounds of basketball with me and the President, fat boy.

AT: You know, it is comments like this that have gotten you into hot water lately. This past Friday you claimed that some critics of the Common Core Standards are “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — [are discovering] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Would you care to elaborate on this Mr. Secretary?

AD: Certainly. See, some mothers just cannot bear to hear any negative news about their perfect little cherubs. Women, by nature, are irrational creatures with an overly optimistic view of their offspring. It takes someone like me, a man from the masculine financial world who now walks the halls of power in Washington, to tell them the reality. I made sure to look at the scores of the children of every single white mother who opposed the Common Core. Guess what? They are all from the suburbs and all of their scores suck. What I said might have been a bit brash, but it was true.

AT: Whoa! Let’s unpack that statement a little bit. First, I must say that your comments just now came off as incredibly sexist.

AD: So? Sexism is part of life. We want to prepare children for the 21st century. Guess what? Sexism exists in the 21st century. Look at Michael Bloomberg. This is a man who treats the women who work for him as his personal harem. He has been the mayor of the largest city in America for the first 12 years of the 21st century. Children need to learn that sexists can do anything, including become Mayor of New York or Secretary of Education.

AT: But your comments were incredibly racist as well. I mean, are there no minority mothers in the suburbs? Are there no white mothers in the cities? Are there no minority mothers anywhere who oppose the Common Core?

AD: Don’t be so quick to play the race card, fatty. Remember, I was appointed by the nation’s first black president and play basketball with him every morning. Everyone knows that these Common Core Standards were created to help minority children. In fact, all bold education reformers today care about minority children, unlike you fat, lazy teachers. No, no minorities anywhere oppose the Common Core. They all love and support it. Don’t you understand? With these standards, minority children in urban areas will have to be taught the same thing in the same way as white children in the suburbs. This ensures that all children, no matter their race, get a quality education. We don’t have to worry about ameliorating urban poverty or proving adequate resources to urban schools. It is enough for us to mandate every child get taught the same thing and, voila, equal education for all. It is so simple, I don’t know why we didn’t do it earlier.

"Perhaps you should come down to Washington so you can get in a few rounds of basketball with me and the President, fat boy."

“Perhaps you should come down to Washington so you can get in a few rounds of basketball with me and the President, fat boy.”

AT: From my understanding, we intend to determine if children are meeting these standards by subjecting them to standardized tests every year. In fact, your “white suburban moms” comment shows that you measure intelligence and the success of schools by test scores. Don’t you think testing only measures a very narrow conception of “intelligence”? Are you not afraid that the obsession with testing will cause teachers, parents and children to do nothing more than test prep for the 13 years they attend public schools?

AD: As I have said many times before, we are competing with the rest of the world. We live in a globalized economy. China is going to be kicking our butts soon if we don’t do something. That means we have to be more like China. Chinese students take many exams. They have a government that treats their people like disposable cogs in a machine. The only civil rights they have are the ones the Communist Party allow to exist. Those who protest or speak out against the government are systematically jailed, beaten, monitored or worse. These are recipes for success. Testing and test prep will ensure that public school students obediently follow orders. Reading informational texts, as the Common Core mandates, will destroy critical thinking and imagination. Why do we need those things in the 21st century? We don’t. Those things only lead the next generation to want to “Occupy Wall Street” or something. We want to prevent more Occupy Wall Streets in the future so we don’t have to have a Tiananmen Square. Do you catch my drift? So, yes, I concede the point that testing and Common Core narrows imagination and civic engagement. So what? Those are not necessary skills for the 21st century. Shut up. Fill in the bubbles. Believe everything that is written and don’t let your mind run too far. That is what our country needs to be successful. We will out-China China.

AT: And yet, by those very same measures you just mentioned, those white suburban children you criticized as being not so smart outperform children in most other nations. Our wealthy and middle class children do quite well on standardized exams when compared with the rest of the world. So what exactly do you mean that these white suburban moms are mistaken about the intelligence of their own children?

AD: Public schools are failing and that is that. I don’t have time to disaggregate test scores according to socioeconomic status. I am a busy man. In a few minutes, I am getting a massage paid for by the good people at Pearson. This weekend, I am going on a vacation funded by the good people at inBloom. Let the eggheads worry about things like statistics and research. I don’t have the time to go into which schools are failing and which schools are not. They are all failing. Everyone knows that. People on the right and left have all bought into the idea that public schools are pathetic failure factories with lazy unionized teachers like yourself. They need to be shut down and given over to the private sector. Pearson and inBloom and Michelle Rhee and the free market know how to run schools better than the government. I know because they told me. They told me with their money. They are all wealthy. You don’t get wealthy by being stupid. People with money are smarter and better than everyone else. Therefore, they should run the school system. If they did, then they could teach everyone to be wealthy and all of our problems would go away… Don’t look at me like that. I know what that look means. You think that my cozy relationship with the privatizers is causing me to say all of this. My response to you is: why do you hate America? Don’t you know the idea that our schools are failing is the one thing we can agree on as a country? Democrats and Republicans have been fighting it out on every single issue from climate change to healthcare to taxation. Are you not happy that we have this one thing that unites us all? Why do you want to cause division by casting doubt on the narrative that public schools are failing? They are failing. End of story. This message was brought to you by Pearson… Sorry, I get $100 bucks from them every time I say that.

"Shut up. Fill in the bubbles. Believe everything that is written and don't let your mind run too far. That is what our country needs to be successful. We will out-China China."

“Shut up. Fill in the bubbles. Believe everything that is written and don’t let your mind run too far. That is what our country needs to be successful. We will out-China China.”

AT: So, you do not believe that cushioning the ill effects of poverty or providing schools in poor communities with more resources before you heap irrational standards upon them is a more humane way to reform education?

AD: What kind of socialist garbage is that? Poor schools, poor communities, poverty in general, those are all excuses. Those are excuses poor people use to blame the system for their own failures rather than themselves. Those are excuses fat teachers like yourself use to explain away your own laziness and failures. This negative attitude and finger-pointing is exactly what is wrong with America. Turn that frown upside down. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Believe in the American Dream.

AT: So, you are saying that the rise in poverty that has taken place over the past 40 years is due to millions of Americans all of the sudden becoming lazy and negative? How about the stagnant wages and disappearing middle class? What about the fact that the average American worker is more productive now than ever before, yet also poorer now than ever before?

AD: See, this is an example of Americans being spoiled. Look at all of those fast food and Walmart workers who are trying to unionize. They don’t know how good they have it. I have traveled the world. I have seen people in other continents who live in houses without roofs, cities without sewage and countries without governments. All of these poor people in America who are complaining have roofs over their heads. They have access to public transportation. They can go to a hospital for healthcare. They urinate and excrete into toilet bowls. The fact that many of them excrete at all demonstrates that they all have food in their bellies, especially you fat boy. How great is America that everyone has the ability to excrete waste? How great is it that we can do so into a porcelain bowl? You can walk into any Starbucks and use their toilets. For absolutely free of charge, you can sit like royalty on one of their toilets and read the newspaper while doing your business. Heck, 99% of the time, it has free toilet paper, soap and water so you can clean up. You want to complain about poverty in America? You don’t know how good we have it here. You don’t know how good all of us have it here.

"How great is America that everyone has the ability to excrete waste? How great is it that we can do so into a porcelain bowl? You can walk into any Starbucks and use their toilets."

“How great is America that everyone has the ability to excrete waste? How great is it that we can do so into a porcelain bowl? You can walk into any Starbucks and use their toilets.”

AT: Should that really be the standard? The fact that people here don’t live in mud brick huts and use a hole in the ground as a bathroom seems like an awfully low standard. I thought you were all about raising standards? Why does that only apply to students, parents and teachers in public schools? Why does it not apply to the American way of life in general?

AD: You don’t get it. We are competing with the rest of the world. There are countries out there where people live like absolute paupers their entire lives. Americans should expect to do the same. You don’t see people in those countries complaining about their living conditions? They get by with what they have. We must imitate their model. That is what Common Core will do. It will train Americans to keep the “what ifs” out of their minds. It will prevent them from asking pesky questions. Don’t you know that most of the nations of the world have horrendous poverty and inequality caused by a greedy ruling class who only want more for themselves? We have the same thing here, only that there are people who want to unionize and “Occupy Wall Street”. We will never be able to compete with the rest of the world if the people in this country don’t accept their miserable lot. That is what Common Core is about. That is what Race to the Top is about. America will only race to the top once Americans accept the fact that they will always be at the bottom.



Michael Winerip: “Unsettling Sight” in Washington

Michael Winerip from the 2/27/12 New York Times:

What was Arne Duncan doing sharing the stage with Michelle Rhee at a recent education conference?

Mr. Duncan is the education secretary.

Ms. Rhee was the chancellor of schools in Washington from 2007 to 2010.

Since last summer, the Office of the Inspector General in Mr. Duncan’s department has been investigating whether Washington school officials cheated to raise test scores during Ms. Rhee’s tenure.

You would think Mr. Duncan would want to keep Ms. Rhee at arm’s length during the investigation. And yet there they were, sitting side by side last month, two of four featured panelists at a conference in Washington about the use of education data.


“This is an amazing panel, so I’m thrilled to be part of it,” Mr. Duncan said in his opening comment.

So, Arne Duncan’s Department of Education is investigating the school district Michelle Rhee used to run for rampant cheating on tests during her tenure as D.C. schools chancellor.

Late last month, they shared a stage at an education conference, with Duncan justifying it by saying he was part of an “amazing panel”. Between the two of them, they have no more than 5 years teaching experience.

There are people who say that Rhee should not be held accountable because she did not do the cheating. Yet, she put the system in place to judge students, teachers and schools by these test scores. When test scores increased, she was happy to take the credit.

Yet, when test scores did not increase, she blamed teachers. Many lost their jobs.

After her stint as chancellor, she used her shameless self-promotion skills to form a non-profit lobby group that continues to pull in millions of dollars from billionaires. She pockets a very hefty salary for doing so.

And now that those test scores on which she constructed her mythical legacy are called into doubt, there are people who say she should not be held accountable.

I thought Rhee was all about accountability?

And now the guy whose office is investigating these test scores and, by proxy, her “legacy”, deigns to share a stage with her.

There is a huge story in here somewhere. Not only does it call into question the objectivity of the investigation, it shines a light on the smoke and mirrors of education reform, the blurring of lines between public and private institutions and the conspiracy (there, I said it) among the billionaire boys’ club to destroy (privatize) education.

Arne Duncan needs to learn that he is no longer in high finance where the word “democracy” is a foreign term. He cannot merely share the stage with people his office, that he runs as a public servant, is currently investigating.

I know the following examples are not strictly the same, but they are in the ballpark:

What if President Andrew Johnson shared a stage with the people involved in the Lincoln assassination?

What if Al Smith shared a stage with the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory?

What if Robert Kennedy shared a stage with the mafia?

What if Ken Starr shared a stage with Bill Clinton?

That is the idea. Something is rotten in Denmark. Unfortunately, conflcits of interest are the norm in education reform today, as well as government as a whole.

Neoliberalism at its worst: shamelessly disdainful of “We the People”. That is the real story here.

Take Action: Sign the Petition to Get Rid of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education

Picture from New York City Public School Parents website: http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2011/02/arne-duncan-dumb-and-dumber.html

With the backlash against SOPA, we see how effective online activism can be.

Sign the petition here.

Full text of the petition. (Original Link)

Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned, a cross section of the nation’s teachers and their supporters, wish to express our extreme displeasure with the policies implemented during your administration by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Although many of us campaigned enthusiastically for you in 2008, it is unlikely that you will receive continued support unless the following three dimensions of your administration’s education initiatives are changed:

  1. The exclusion of teachers from policy discussions in the US Department of Education and from Education Summits called under your leadership.
  2. The use of rhetoric which blames failing schools on “bad teachers” rather than poverty and neighborhood distress.
  3. The use of federal funds to compel states and municipalities to use student test scores in the evaluation of teachers and as the basis for closing low performing schools.

Because of these policies, teachers throughout the nation have become discouraged and demoralized, undermining your own stated goals of improving teacher quality, upgrading the nation’s educational performance, and encouraging creative pedagogy rather than “teaching to the test.”

We therefore submit the following measures to put your administration’s education policy back on the right track and to bring teachers in as full partners in this effort:

  1. The removal of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and his replacement by a lifetime educator who has the confidence of the nation’s teachers.
  2. The incorporation of parents, teachers, and school administrators in all policy discussion taking place in your administration, inside and outside the Department of Education.
  3. An immediate end to the use of incentives or penalties to compel states and municipalities to use student test scores as a basis for evaluating teachers, preferring charter schools to existing public schools, and requiring closure of low performing schools.
  4. Create a National Commission, in which teachers and parent representatives play a primary role, which explores how to best improve the quality of America’s schools.

We believe such policies will create an outpouring of good will on the part of teachers, parents and students which will promote creative teaching and educational innovation, leading to far greater improvements in the nation’s schools than policies which encourage a proliferation of student testing could ever hope to do.


The Undersigned

Arne Duncan: The Fish Rots from the Head

Arne Duncan is pure rot.

So Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came dangerously close to calling New York City a “laggard” for failing to implement a new teacher evaluation system. His exact words, as quoted by the New York Times, were “New York has a chance to be a national leader, or a laggard…” Laggard was an early 1900s way of referring to a student who falls behind. Back then, the word had a similar function to the word “retard” today. In reference to students, it was not a nice word. In 1909, the book Laggards in our Schools: a Study of Retardation and Elimination in City School Systems was a popular screed of early education reform.

If there is a “crisis” in education, then look no further than at the top to the Secretary of Education. Arne represents everything that is wrong with education deform. He works for the lobbyists in Washington who want narrow national standards, standardized testing, charter schools and the ability to fire veteran teachers. The Race to the Top program he has been busy pushing requires any state that signs on, like New York, to implement these deformer policies on condition of receiving federal dollars. It is the quintessential “my way or the highway” approach that defines every effort at education deform. There are “no excuses”, as the deformers are fond of saying. If the teachers of New York do not want to abide by their new evaluation system, then we are “retards”.

Yet, if a teacher were to treat their students this way, there would be cries from every corner to fire them. Teachers get fired for saying the wrong thing on facebook or giving the wrong grade to the wrong kid. The Secretary of Education, on the other hand,  gets a free pass when he threatens to withhold millions of dollars from the schools of millions of children, then stops short of calling the state in which those kids live “retards”.

People generally assume that schools are havens from the cruelty of the real world. The fact that so many people call for teachers’ heads on platters when they step out of the tiniest bounds of Puritanical ethics proves this. The reality is that schools are created by the real world and reflect the values of that world. It is a cynical world where an elite group of people can set all the rules, whether it is which test to give or what the labor laws shall be. If you fail in this real world, you are a “laggard” or a loser. There are no excuses, as the education deformers love to say. Your failures are your own fault.

People, hypocrites generally, talk about making our schools great. Yet, in all of the years they have had to make bold reforms, they have come up with no greater guiding philosophy than to bring the same mediocre mindset of the corporate world (the “real world”, that is)  to schools. It is a lack of imagination to say the least and their standardized exams and Common Core Standards will ensure that their own utter dearth of creativity will be internalized by the current generation of students suffering through their “reforms”.

The truth is, you cannot have a great education system when you are guided by  dogmatic ideologies. You cannot have a great education system when you have a Secretary of Education who is beholden to these ideologies. Punishment, name-calling and shame are not sound educational strategies. The crisis in education is a crisis of imagination and creativity at the very top of the system. Until we reform who the reformers are, we will never have great schools.