I Met With Arne Duncan Yesterday

I met with Arne Duncan today

…but let me start at the beginning of my day, actually, I will begin with the events of the night before when I was at the AFT, American Federation of Teachers, convention. This will not be a short story so get comfortable.

I was invited to meet with the Chicago delegation that was participating at the AFT Convention and had the great pleasure of meeting Michael Brunson who is now the new Recording Officer for the Chicago Teachers’ Union and Karen Lewis, the new president of the Chicago Teachers’ Union. See: CORE Wins Leadership of Chicago Teachers’ Union and Karen Lewis’ Acceptance Speech

They were fresh from their victory in Chicago where they took over the union leadership and are hard at work at taking back their schools after several years of Arne Duncan and charter schools.

Listening to Ms. Thomas speak in person, I could well understand how she won the leadership in Chicago. Her passion, warmth and intelligence come through in everything that she says. She is a great speaker and an impassioned educator.

Everyone there was warm and friendly and I enjoyed meeting new people and sharing our stories.

During the course of the evening, I heard that something was to happen at Aviation High School where Arne Duncan was to be speaking the following day.

Someone said that I should bring my camera and record the events. See, this is when I really start feeling like a blogger. I thought that sounded interesting and intriguing so I decided to go the next day.

As fate would have it, my internet went down just as I was getting directions to the high school. I remembered that there would be a bus leaving the convention center to head to Aviation High School so I caught the next bus downtown and was fortunate enough to be able to catch a ride on the convention bus.

Aviation High School, by the way, is a small school with an all-district draw. It is located in Des Moines, Washington which is about a 30 minute ride from downtown Seattle. The focus of this school is in the area of science and technology. It has been open for three years and it is my understanding that they will be moving into a new building shortly.

On board the bus I saw people who I knew and began to make new friends as well.  There was a lot of positive energy and camaraderie during the ride. People were laughing, chanting and sharing stories. I was having a great time. People were making signs and I made one too. Mine said “parents FOR teachers”.

I felt like I was on the Magic School Bus. It was a gregarious and upbeat group and just about every seat was taken.

During the ride someone announced that about 50 people protested Race to the Top in front of the Wild Ginger where Arne Duncan was having lunch with a select few.

When we arrived at Aviation High School, we pulled up and the police officers said that we could not be on the school grounds so we got off at the exit to the school and headed to the sidewalk where we waved signs and chanted. The sun was out, it was a beautiful day and everything was going well.

About 45 minutes into our sign waving and cars honking, three well-dressed individuals appeared and asked who our “leader” was.  One person came forward and they spoke for a while.

The offer had been made to have an opportunity to speak to Senator Murray’s staff after the event to let them know what our concerns were. They also said that we could come in an listen to Duncan but we had to leave our signs outside. That sounded reasonable. I wasn’t there to disrupt the proceedings, none of us were.

I thought, OK. It’s not the Senator herself but it wouldn’t hurt to talk with her staff so I saw this as an opportunity to share our views. After about an hour of sign waving and chanting, all of the guests had arrived so some of us opted to stay and hear Arne Duncan while the majority of people needed to return to the convention.

When we got to the table to sign in where there was a plethora of LEV sticker buttons, some of Murray’s people said that the event was for people who lived in Washington so the AFT members from other states were not invited.

I said “I live in Seattle, I’m a parent and I vote” and I walked on in. The rest of the contingent soon followed.

We got inside and there were seats in the back rows that they indicated we were to sit in. That was fine with me. At this point I had my reporter’s hat on, my notepad, (still no laptop) and extra pens to record so I was ready to go.

Looking around I saw two familiar faces, Melissa Westbrook and Stephanie Jones  with CPPS, but that was it. I suppose because it was not in Seattle there would not be too many Seattleites in the crowd. Total count not including press and the entourage of Murray and Duncan was about 140 people at most sitting in the gym.

Because it was a gym and the mic didn’t work well (do they ever at any school?) and there were huge fans in the back of the gym that made a lot of noise, it was hard to catch the introductions or much of what any of them said but I will share what I heard and saw.

The sound bites and rhetoric would start flowing from Murray and Duncan so I will limit repeating  those remarks. You’ve heard them before and you will hear them again. What was most interesting is what the other guests had to say.

By the way, there were to be questions from the audience, but I’ll get to that later.

So Murray starts out with “These are challenging times for all of us” I told you there would be a lot of that.  I have no qualms with Senator Murray but it’s just amazing to see how much one can say and yet not say as a politician.

She begins to introduce Aviation High School as a school where private and philanthropic organizations have come together with public education to develop this school where technical skills are developed and that she wanted Duncan to see what was being done in the state of Washington.

Arne responded with a few platitudes. He comes across as a good spokesperson, kind of slick and almost like a jock.

The panel was introduced and I only got maybe 50% of what they were saying. There was the principal and “CEO” of the school, just like a charter school, a CEO of some Seattle based business, a student of AHS, a recent graduate of AHS and a teacher from AHS who used to work at Microsoft. There was another person on the panel but I didn’t understand who he was.

What I did catch was the following.

The moderator asked the AHS student what he liked best about the high school. The student said that he liked having project based curriculum where he could create, project manage and present to professionals what he had designed. (Now let me say right here that this is the exact opposite of what Arne Duncan’s reform has done. His RTTT directives are about a standardized curriculum and testing based on a narrow scope of information.)

The recent graduate of AHS answered the question by saying that when she began her internship upon graduation she felt confident about what she was asked to do. She said it was “no big deal, I’ve done this before”. She felt that AHS had prepared her well for her first job.

Again, I must describe the parallel between AHS and Nova, our alternative high school in Seattle. The students are prepared for life in general at Nova not only because of the project-based learning but also because of the decision-making process that happens at Nova. The Nova students have the responsibility of organizing and developing with staff what happens in the school, from deciding on and creating their own events to interviewing potential staff and making decisions along with the faculty on who would be the right fit for the school and the culture. The students also take complete responsibility for their course choices working alongside a core coordinator. By the time these students graduate, they are ready to take on life as responsible citizens.

The difference being that Nova has been around 13 years longer than AHS.Both are successful and neither is a charter school. One receives business backing and the other struggles with the same financial picture that all of the other high schools have in Seattle.

The next question from the moderator was why is AHS successful and does it have to do with the meshing of the private sector (a term that was bandied about many times) and public backing.

The principal said that they see it as a prototype, (as Nova was to our new STEM school in Seattle. The principal of STEM conferred with Nova’s principal, Mark Perry, on Nova’s successful model of project based learning.)

Let me back track a little here so that you understand why I keep bringing up Nova. Our school as well as other alternative schools in Seattle, have been under siege since the reign of our Broad Board of Director’s Superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. We have had our schools closed, moved and marginalized and now we dealing with curriculum alignment which has no bearing on project based classes and would destroy the successful curriculum that has been developed over the years in our alternative schools. Hence,the parallels.

The question was then asked of the “private sector employer” regarding what makes AHS successful and he said that the graduates are able to think critically and solve problems (the antithesis of RTTT with narrowed scope of focus on subjects by way of curriculum alignment, high stakes testing and merit pay).

Then there was a question posed by the moderator about the “culture” of AHS.

The principal stated that there is no basketball or football at AHS, just like Nova, because they wanted to use their resources elsewhere. At Nova, if the students want to have a sport within the school, it is their responsibility to develop the program. Nova has roller derby, Ultimate Frisbee and Parcore.

Then the principal said that their school was not about high school proficiency exams or the WASL, it is about what students learn and experience every day. Excellent!

The moderator then asked a question about “failure”. (Tell me this whole thing wasn’t scripted).

The AHS student said that it is how they learn. He said that “it’s the best way to learn”.

The recent grad said that they still continue to fail but at the school that they attend now, they don’t give “F’s” so it’s OK to try something outside of their comfort zone. (Just like Nova, you receive credit but not a grade).

I kept thinking about how this would fit into Arne’s framework of RTTT education reform. My answer in two words is, it doesn’t.

Then Arne had his opportunity to speak. This is what I wrote down. “Facing huge challenges”. “I’m optimistic”. “Celebrate diversity”. “Need to have 10 more, 100 more of these (schools) around the country”. We do, Arne.

Then there was applause.

Wow, one sound bite right after another. I wrote it the way that I heard it.

Then there was a question to Patty Murray of how “this project based approach” can be implemented on a Federal level.

She never answered that question but said something else that I couldn’t catch.

Then Arne jumped in again, more rhetoric and more applause.

At about this time, someone whispered to me that if we didn’t ask any questions during the Q and A period, we would be able to meet with Murray’s staff, otherwise the deal was off. I laughed out loud and said “that’s b——-“and shook my head. I was not going to agree to that deal. I had come there to listen and report but after that remark I decided that I would ask a question and a rather directed one at that.

At this point people from the audience were introduced. First up was Mary Lindquist, WEA President, who asked the question “What can we do to support our teachers?” She said that AHS has an exciting program and that there are also programs similar to it throughout the state such as the Tacoma School of the Arts which receives private and public support.

Then Arne responded to Ms. Lindquist concern regarding, I guess, the support of teachers with saying  “I am desperately worried about this.”

Patty Murray said that they were working on a supplemental bill to try to get the RTTT funding through the Senate. (Arne Duncan’s RTTT funding request got a kibosh from Congress and instead Congress added money to keep teachers on. Thank you for that. Now it has to get through the Senate. Arne was all up in arms about it but Congress is beginning to question the validity of the RTTT demands, particularly the charter school issue. Anyway, we’ll deal with that in another post.)

I would highly recommend that an e-mail to Patty Murray would be in order at this time if we don’t want the demands of RTTT in the state of Washington.

Then Randy Dorn, the Washington State School Superintendent, was introduced. He said that there are STEM schools throughout the state and that there are schools, I think that he was referring to a particular ESL school, that has extended days and classes on Saturday’s. He said that all of these schools have been created within the existing “rules” I’m not sure what his point was. Was he trying to say that we do have schools similar to charter schools and therefore don’t need to change our laws to accommodate RTTT funding?

Again, an e-mail to Randy Dorn would also be a good idea.

Then Bill Williams, the Executive Director of the Washington State PTA, was introduced. He said that the fixation on test results inhibits learning. Those were his words. Now I am truly starting to question the push by the Seattle PTSA and Kim Howard for all things RTTT. Is there a disconnect between what the State President is saying and what Ramona Hattendorf, the Seattle Council PTSA President and her retinue keep trying to pound away at, MAP testing and merit pay? Inquiring minds want to know. This will be fun to get to the bottom of.

Then Trish Dziko was introduced and started to speak about TAF Academy where there is a 75% population of children of color and a population that is under-served in the district. She said that in the lifetime of her children, there will not be charter schools in Washington so “give us the funding” that is needed.

That remark received a big round of applause.

Then the business person said that there was a business consortium that was going to be giving $50M to fund additional STEM programs. This guy also gave accolades to Arne and Obama for the RTTT initiative. I don’t think these folks understand that RTTT is in in direct conflict to what this guy and others see as positive programs. Project based programs cannot exist within the framework of RTTT initiatives.

Sometimes I think people need to understand what they are applauding.

There were to be questions from the audience at this time but I suppose they decided against that. I had not agreed to the deal of not asking questions and others might not have either.

Patty Murray said that she would take “all of this” back with her to DC.

Arne said something about being “serious about competing in the global economy” and then Arne acknowledged the principal of AHS on the job that she was doing. There was a standing ovation for that and then it was over.

Our group was taken to a classroom where there was bottled water on ice, thank goodness for that, and tables set in a semi-circular fashion.

It was interesting how they shuffled us out of the room while Arne was shaking hands but that was OK with me. The last thing that I wanted to do was shake the hand of someone who was causing students and teachers so much grief and destroying schools, neighborhoods and communities around the country.

One of Murray’s staff said that the secretary would be there in about 15 minutes. I thought, secretary, what secretary? Someone is going to be taking notes? Well, whatever. I was glad for the water and a cool room.

We sat around the table and gathered our thoughts. Then someone told us that Secretary Arne Duncan would be with us shortly. Then I thought, oh that secretary! Whoa! Wait a minute, Arne Duncan was going to sit down and talk to us? Yeah, right, OK just like his “Listening Tour” that he had when he was supposedly listening to teachers. parents and business leaders about education in this country and then turned around and did what his intention was all along, RTTT.

Well, he did come into our room, shook our hands as we introduced ourselves and then sat in the chair that was in the middle of the semi-circle.

Jesse Hagopian, a laid off teacher in the first round of rif’s and closures in Seattle, started the conversation. He asked why a school has to be privatized for it to work. How do we fund public schools so that they can function properly? The Credo report states that charter schools are no better than public schools so what is your reasoning behind charter schools?

Duncan said that there are good charter schools and bad charter schools. I had heard him say that before. Some of us think that he is starting to back track from that issue because as one Senator pointed out to Duncan during recent hearings on RTTT funding, charter schools wouldn’t work in rural counties. It’s also been well established that charter schools segregate students and that most do not perform as well as public schools.

He said something about getting additional funding through the Senate, but nothing really addressed Jesse’s questions.

Then a teacher from Detroit began to speak saying that Arne is a union buster and was stepping up the privatization and segregation of public schools. He was angry and went on until someone interrupted him to ask a question.

A Seattle parent asked the question about the bill that will be coming up for a vote regarding state income tax in Washington and if that passes, we will have sustainable revenue for our schools. With that revenue, the demand for charter schools could be replaced with our ability to provide the much-needed funding for public school education in our state.

Then I brought up the concern that there are successful project based schools in Seattle referred to as alternative schools but with the demand for curriculum alignment and standardized testing, these programs could easily be destroyed. I said that he and I seem to have the same concerns and intentions but that the ramifications of testing, performance pay and curriculum alignment on our schools can be damaging.

Duncan mentioned a “well rounded education” passage in his bill that addresses those concerns. I haven’t looked it up yet but will follow-up on that at a later date.

Then a teacher from Chicago talked about her concerns for her students. Her school is surrounded by charter schools so her school receives all of the students that the charter schools discharge due to lack of performance on the part of the student or IEP issues. She said that there is no funding for the public schools to handle the load of special need and low-performing students that they receive back into their system.

Arne answered but it was just rhetoric again. He said that he would look into it.

He said, getting back to my question that the Department of Education can’t devise curriculum, that’s a relief, and that no one has demanded merit pay although he supports it.

He had to leave but shook everyone’s hands again.

After listening to Duncan, I came away with the impression that he thinks that what he is doing is the right thing but is not aware of how his agenda is affecting schools, students and communities. But then again, how could that be? What he did in Chicago he is trying to nationalize now through RTTT. I know that he has heard this all before from teachers and parents in Chicago over the last few years. Then, knowing that it’s not working in Chicago, why is he continuing to think that his idea of education reform will work anywhere else?

I appreciated the fact that he spent time speaking with us but also felt that these conversations needed to happen not only with Duncan but also with our Senators and Representatives.

If you participated in the day’s events, please feel free to add your observations and comments.



13 thoughts on “I Met With Arne Duncan Yesterday

  1. Something Jesse Hagopian, who met with Arne Duncan last week in Seattle, posted elsewhere:

    “Duncan…used this charter school as an example of why we need them–turns out this charter school lied about it’s graduation rate…must read:

    Charter school cooks the books

    A Chicago charter school sent 100 percent of its graduating seniors to college–by not counting the 43 percent who didn’t go to college, explains Rachel Cohen.


  2. Apparently Arne Duncan says different things to different audiences.

    Check out Duncan’s recent address to the National Charter Schools Conference in Chicago on July 1, 2010:

    There he appears to be singing a different tune that contradicts what he told you, Dora.

    For starters, he clearly and strongly supports charters and seems to promise to continue to federally fund them, despite Congressman Obey’s efforts to make cuts from RTTT.

    He does at least acknowledge that there are bad charters out there, but mainly worries that they are politically and publicly damaging the reputation and case for charter schools. (And not that they may be damaging kids…!)

    He also lists off some of the main complaints against charters — they don’t accept Special Ed kids, or English language learners, and tend to cherrypick (“skim” or “cream”), which is something public schools cannot and should not be able to do.

    But of course he entirely skips one main concern about charters — public money being siphoned off to private interests (charter school enterprises).

    I also find it interesting that he refers to “the charter movement,” revealing that the push for charters is a concerted political effort. (He’s probably also trying to conflate it with the Civil Rights movement, but that’s a topic for another post.)

    Here are some highlights, followed by the entire speech:

    — sue p.

    Secretary Duncan: “Obviously we’re [the federal government] proposing record increases in funding for charter schools as we move forward, particularly if we give reauthorization.”

    “…unfortunately, we have far too many mediocre charters and we have far too many charter schools that are absolutely low performing.”

    National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
    Official Transcript: U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan
    Address to National Charter Schools Conference, July 1, 2010

    Chicago, Illinois – “I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you there live today in person, but I’ll keep my remarks very brief and open it up to any questions you might have. First of all, it has been a remarkable year for charter schools. We’ve seen a number of states remove barriers to innovation. I’ve visited a number of charter schools in a dozen or more states, been to dozens of charter schools around the country, and I’ve just been amazed by the quality, the commitment, the difference that charter schools are making in students lives. I’ve been to school after school where achievement gaps have basically been eliminated, where children in inner-city communities are performing as well, if not better, than their counterparts in much wealthier suburbs. And for all the challenges we face in this country educationally, the reason why I’m actually so optimistic is because you guys are helping to demonstrate what’s possible, where there are high expectations, where there is an absolute belief that every child can be successful. And I want to thank you for that remarkable commitment. I can go through a litany of the schools I’ve visited. I will tell you; maybe the most meaningful, emotional one for me was the YES College Prep graduation in Houston. To see a couple different schools’ basketball stadiums filled with young people—every single senior graduating, every single senior going on to college—to see them stand up with such pride and hold up the shirts of their universities or their banners, to see the impact that was having on them and their families, but most importantly, the culture that it was building for the sixth and seventh graders who were sitting there and soaking that environment in, you can’t not want to be a part of that going forward. And so I just want to thank all of you for the hard work and the movement, the progress we’ve seen around the country. Having said that, I want to challenge this group. There are a couple of things that I think we have to do much better, frankly, as a movement. We know where the opposition comes from. We know what the challenges are and I think this charter community maybe hasn’t been as active at taking on some of those challenges and addressing them as we should have been. So that I have a couple thoughts – a four-point plan – just to put on the table for you guys to think about, that I think in the upcoming year will be critical to the long-term health and vitality of the charter movement.

    We know where the complaints come from. We know what the issues are. One is a complaint around a lack of serving diverse populations, the creaming issues we’re aware of, and so I think as a coalition, as a group, we need across the country for – pick a number: five, ten, fifteen, twenty – some set of charters each year to be open that address these specifically.

    So, we hear concerns about not enough English language learners being served. Obviously I saw an extraordinary example there in Houston with YES College Prep, but if there are places – New York, other cities – that don’t have enough charters serving ELL students, you guys need to collectively think through who are the players who are doing a fantastic job who are going to step into the void and, systemically across the country, each year, start to address that issue.

    Secondly, you get a complaint about charters not serving special education students. So who are the set of charters? Again, five, ten, 15, 20 – whatever the number is across the country each year – that is going to step-up and they’re disproportionately going to serve students with special needs.

    Third, you have the issue of creaming, and we can get into whether or not that’s true, but we have a small set of charters that I think are doing an extraordinary job of serving only students who have been kicked out of traditional public
    schools – the opposite of skimming or creaming. We have a few of those. I don’t think we have enough.

    And so, who amongst all the players in the room there today are going to step-up and help those students who, by definition are not being creamed, but whose needs were not being met in traditional settings. And I think if you could come up together with a game plan to start to hit in those three populations – ELLs, students with special needs, students who have been kicked out or expelled from traditional schools – and said you’re committed to serving those and serving more of them each year and creating schools where that’s their mission, that’s their focus, I think that would absolutely move this conversation to a different level.

    Secondly, I’ve been learning a lot here in Washington. I’ve been here eighteen months, but I will tell you quite frankly that as far as – and I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t know – but far too many of the representatives of the children you serve, see you as part of the problem, not as part of the solution.
    So I think building stronger relationships with the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, building better relationships with the leaders of the civil rights organizations, there’s not a widespread understanding or acknowledgement of the difference that charters can and are making in the lives of the most underserved children around the country.

    I think building those relationships at the state and at the national level are hugely, hugely important in getting folks to come out and visit schools and dispel myths. I can’t overstate how important that relationship building will be for you.
    Third, I thought Caroline Hoxby’s randomized control study looking at the students in New York who entered into the lottery – some got in, some didn’t – was an absolute breakthrough. And it’s, as you know, apples to apples that directly addresses the creaming issue, the skimming, that only more motivated parents are sending their children to charters and that’s why charters get better results.

    What I would urge you, that for all of you that have long waiting lists, and, again, it demonstrates the great work you’re doing, but when you have long waiting lists where you have lotteries where some students are getting in and some aren’t, I would actively encourage you to get your local researchers to do longitudinal studies of students who get into your schools who apply and students who don’t.

    It’s obviously an apples to apples
    comparison that will shine a spotlight on the real impact that the great charter schools are having. I think having many more of those studies that look at a whole host of issues going forward around the country will absolutely change the debate.
    And the final thing I’ll say – and I’m going to be a little bit tough on this, because I challenged it at your convention last year. I challenge the charter community to be more vocal and to step out on charter schools that weren’t succeeding, bad charter schools. And quite frankly, I’ve felt a lack of courage around that this past year, and I think the damage that that’s doing to all of you and the charter brand around the country is unfortunately huge.
    As we look to shut down and turn around the five thousand lowest performing schools around the country, about two hundred of those happen to be charter schools, and that, to me, is absolutely unacceptable.

    All of you are in the room because you’re a part of the charter school movement, you’re part of the charter school franchise, and bad charter schools taint all of your reputations. It allows your opponents – your opposition – to use those examples.
    And there has not been, that I’m aware of – and maybe I’m missing something – there has not been courageous leadership from the charter school movement itself to step up and say, “Here are criteria below which these schools should cease to exist.” If you were much more proactive in that area – not that you maybe have the ability to close them down – but you should not be tolerating, in your family, academic failure.

    I think you need to do the same around authorizers where you have states or districts that are much too lenient in who they approve and much too lenient in who they allow to continue to operate. I think you need to have a list of good authorizers and bad authorizers, and very clear criteria about what it takes.
    At the end of the day, the movement can’t be to create more charter schools. The movement’s got to be to create more great schools, and, unfortunately, we have far too many mediocre charters and we have far too many charter schools that are absolutely low performing.

    Your best are world-class. Your best give me extraordinary reason for hope for public education in this country, but this movement has to do a much better job of policing itself. Again, the political costs that the charter school movement is paying for poor performance is maybe much higher than you realize.

    And the silence, the lack of courage, the lack of leadership on both individual schools and on authorizers that are allowing these things to continue, I think does this movement a great disservice and I would strongly, strongly urge this organization to step into that void with courage and leadership, and let the country know what you stand for.
    So I’ll stop there and take any questions you might have. And, again, for those schools that are doing an amazing job of closing achievement gaps and bringing
    hope to communities that haven’t had a quality education opportunities sometimes for decades, I thank you so much for that hard work and
    commitment. Thanks, and I’ll open up any questions you might have. [Applause.]

    So there are two mics out here somewhere and you should feel free to… Oh, we’ve got people up there already. Alright. Well, let’s start at mic one, if you could introduce yourself and then go ahead and ask the Secretary a question.
    Michael Coy
    Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My name is Michael Coy. I’m the Director of School Choice at the Florida Department of Education. Florida is going to be reapplying for the CSP grant, probably in January, and the issue that a lot of folks have been talking about is the news we got yesterday with regard to the $100 million cut that’s been proposed by Representative Obey, and it’s obviously a great concern, given the importance of that funding for things like the CSP grant for facilities and for our replication ideas.
    And I’m wondering, is the Administration committed to fighting that cut to the 2010 budget? And then, also, is the Administration still committed to its promise to maintain full funding and possibly increase funding for the 2011 budget?

    Secretary Duncan
    Obviously we’re proposing record increases in funding for charter schools as we move forward, particularly if we give reauthorization. On the current proposal on the table, we’re in active conversations with Congress and we recognize the need for offsets. We want to save hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs around the country and we think there are some potential other ideas out there.

    So there are a few more innings left to play in this game and we’re continuing to actively engage with Congress, and we think there are other offsets that would meet the need without jeopardizing our reform agenda. We’re going to push very, very hard to have Congress look at those other options and opportunities.

    Thank you. Let’s go to mic two. Go ahead.

    Andrew Louis
    Good morning, sir. Andrew Louis, Chief Programming Officer at Georgia Charter Schools Association. As part of the Administration’s ESEA blueprint, it proposes using charter school funding to fund non-charter schools. State and locals provide dollars to start new traditional public schools, but not the same for charter schools.
    State and locals also do not need resources to enable existing schools to become autonomous public schools. Why is the Administration supporting a reform that weakens and undermines the public charter school sector?

    Secretary Duncan
    Good question. I actually beg to differ on a couple points there. I don’t think it weakens and undermines the charter sector. What we want to do is we want to replicate successful schools and unfortunately what we have in too many places… The goal is not to replicate charters. The goal is to replicate success. And again, I think the lack of courage in the charter movement to shut down and call out those schools that are desperately underperforming in the charter community – again, two hundred being among the five thousand worst in the country. We can’t just say we want to replicate every charter school. I wish we could. We’re not in that situation.
    So what we want to do is replicate success. We want to replicate high performance. We want to replicate those schools that are closing achievement gaps and raising the bar for all students. There are fantastic charters that are doing that. We want to support them.

    There are traditional schools that are doing that and we want to support that, as well, and the $400 million fund we want to create is actually a 56 percent increase and in very tough budget times, we’re putting a disproportionate amount of resources behind replicating success in whatever form or fashion that might be. And again, that’s got to be our collective goal is to support those schools, whatever they look like, that are making a difference in students’ lives.

    Thank you. Let’s go back to mic number one. Go ahead.

    Sean Bradley
    Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I’m Sean Bradley. I’m with the American Federation for Children. My question for you is, in addition to Race to the Top
    and the work that the federal government did to provide assistance to states that opened themselves up toward charters, what other federal programs are going to be utilized to ensure that states embrace charters?

    And we all in this room agree that we have to do something about poor-performing charter schools, but we… There are some high quality charter schools out there. So the question is, again, what is the federal government going to do to continue on the [emphasis] of Race to the Top, but expanding and ensuring that states embrace charter schools?

    Secretary Duncan
    Yeah, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure states are embracing, and supporting, and replicating, and learning from those world-class charter schools, and amongst the best public schools in the country today, charters, I think, are way disproportionately represented.

    It should be an absolute source of pride to the charter community that when I go to different states and they try to tell me what’s the highest performing, high poverty, high minority school in your state, in your district, in your city? It’s amazing to me how many times those top performing schools are charters. I don’t think there’s a coincidence there and you should be extraordinarily proud of the difference you’re making.
    Whether it’s the Race to the Top Fund, whether it’s the Invested Innovation Fund (i3), whether it’s Promised Neighborhoods – in every competition, in every grant proposal that we’re putting out there, we want to replicate success and build upon that.
    Charter schools can be the heart of Promised Neighborhoods communities. Networks of charters working with universities can have fantastic Invest in Innovation proposals, so Race to the Top, I think, was a huge step in the right direction. What we’re really trying to have is programmatic coherence behind every single different competition and every single different opportunity we’re putting out there. Again, to be clear, replicating great, great charters has to be at the heart of that. I want to see that happen in all of these areas.

    Again, and just to push, I know I’ll being a little hard-edged here, but I talked about this last year and so I want more, frankly, than an agreement that we need to do something. What I think this community needs to do is not agree to do something; this agreement needs to actually do something.

    And this community has been about action. It’s been about social justice. It’s been about bringing dramatic change for children and communities that haven’t
    had that, and again, we can’t do enough to celebrate and replicate, and learn from success.

    When it’s not working, this community has to police its own and has to step up, because you don’t want other people doing that for you. Trust me on that. And the more this community can take pride of authorship, pride of ownership, and step up and say, “We’re not going to tolerate failure,” what that would do for you guys politically would be absolutely extraordinary.

    Secretary, I will commit as a member of the board of the National Alliance to get to you a list of the charter schools that our state associations and others have actively worked to close, because we took your statement absolutely seriously last year, and our state associations have been working with the charters in their states to do exactly that.

    We don’t always get press, because we don’t necessarily want to embarrass the people who are having their schools shut down, but we commit to get that information to you and also to continue our vigilance and expand our vigilance to make sure that all of our ranks are on board.

    Secretary Duncan
    I appreciate that and just to push a little bit, Caprice, it’s not, to me, about embarrassing anybody, it’s about helping children learn. And when you have schools that are – because of their lack of success – perpetuating poverty and perpetuating social failure, I think we have a moral imperative to step up and say that those children deserve better.

    That’s the heart. The genesis of the charter movement was this fundamental belief that children deserve dramatically better than what they have and so where it’s not happening, be that in a traditional school, or district, or in a charter, I think we can’t be silent in the face of that, and we need to speak up, and we need to do something better for those children now.

    We absolutely agree with you, sir. I’d like to be able to get one more question in, so let’s go to mic two.

    Francisco Aguilar
    Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I’m Francisco Aguilar from Agassi Prep. Thank you for coming to our school earlier in the school year. Our school would like to partner with a non-district food service provider; however, the school food authority prohibits this.

    As the School Lunch Program is reauthorized, how will the department ensure that all public schools have a chance to improve their school meal options, and especially have a choice in school food authorities?

    Secretary Duncan
    First, I want to say that your school was one of the just extraordinary schools I visited around the country that looked like a college campus. I would have loved to go to a school like that in high school and to see just the camaraderie between the staff and the students, to see the commitment they are giving – absolutely amazing. So you should be so proud of the work you’re doing and it was fun to get some sense of the extraordinary effort that’s going on there.

    I will check and work on that with you. Secretary Vilsack has been a phenomenal partner. As you know, he wants to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act. We want to get rid of junk food in vending machines. We want to make sure the meals are much more nutritious.
    I hear what you’re saying about you want more options about who you can work with, who you can partner with. That’s probably a local decision. I don’t know what we can dictate from here, but something I’m absolutely happy to follow up with you offline to see what we can do to facilitate you having the best options possible to get nutritious food to your children.

    Thank you very much. Thank you, Secretary, for spending this time with us. We’re pleased to be able to spend this time with you and we appreciate the frank dialogue that you engage in with us, and thank you very much for spending the time.

    Secretary Duncan
    Keep up the great work and you guys have been extraordinary.

  3. Hey,

    I liked your story, but I wanted to make sure that you knew that the AHS graduate was a girl not a boy. I just hope she doesn’t read this and get upset (she is referenced as a he).

    Other than that, good job

  4. Chris,

    It didn’t occur to me until I began to write the details of our meeting that I do believe we were taken out of the gym so that we would not ask any difficult or embarrassing questions.

    The audience was basically hand-picked and very rah-rah about everything that Arne said although he really didn’t say anything.

    And yes, just from reading about him previously, I believe that he was a good basketball player who played with Obama and had a friendly and open personality so he fit the bill. I am guessing that Obama’s daughters were in private school in Chicago so he would not understand what was going on in the public school system at the time of the huge debacle which Arne proudly refers to as Renaissance 2010. Obama was only getting the viewpoint of his basketball bud, Arne. I imagine that all of the Obama’s friends in Chicago at the time were moneyed and only had the private school experience.

    It’s a shame no one vetted the guy. Arne’s policies could begin to make it difficult for Obama once he realizes how RTTT has disenfranchised so many people including parents and teachers.

    On NPR today one of the reporters said that the Obama administration had decided not to have DOE folks go to the conventions because they were concerned that they might get boo’d.

    The other concern now is that these unions that supported Obama big time during his campaign, as many of us did, will not be there for the Democrats during the mid term cycle but particularly during his re-election campaign. I sure as heck won’t be. Obama might have to pay a price for determining his selection of Secretary of Education based on how well his basketball buddy could play and joke around.

  5. I was the other parent from Seattle in the room, and although I found myself playing good cop and prefaced my comments with “Perhaps you are not aware how your policies play out on the ground,” I DO completely agree with the teachers that he is being revoltingly disingenuous when he says he supports, say, any other way of doing things but his.

    Furthermore, while I wouldn’t trash every policymaker for an unintended consequence here and there, a worthwhile leader in his position ABSOLUTELY carries the responsibility for the results of his actions. A worthwhile leader would be out there in the communities FINDING OUT what the response is on the ground, and acting on the information, rather than acting surprised the Chicago charters dump their special needs students back in the public system before test season. The most charitable opinion of Arne is that he is simply not the caliber of person for that job, in SO many ways.

  6. Dora, as I read this, I started to think the whole idea was to let us meet with him privately so we would not be talking to him publicly – getting us out of the room before public questions were allowed. Is there someone who stayed who could say whether there were any spontaneous audience questions answered? The ones we saw were clearly non-spontaneous (Lindquist, Dorn, Williams, Dziko.)

  7. Really, really great reporting, Dora.

    I am glad to hear that Arne was willing to hear people outside of “The Village” speak for a moment.

    This same local effort needs to be made at as many of his public events as possible. Readers can track where he’s going @ http://www2.ed.gov/news/events/calendars/secschedule.html. Let your public school supporting allies in those communities know about the events.

    I hope someone has the opportunity at some point to confront him with about that oft-repeated scientist shortage lie. It’s explained @ http://www.miller-mccune.com/science/the-real-science-gap-16191/#

    Also, Joel Shatzky left the most insightful comment on Leonie Haimson’s Huffington Post piece about Bill Gates (7/10/2010):

    “The inferior ‘test-prep’ agenda which bases the pedagogically fraudulent “data” standardized test scores serves as a way of diverting the concerns of working parents who hope that better test scores will lead to better job opportunities for their children. If they realized that they were being given a con job, they might consider other, more ‘active’ forms of political and social protest than simply lobbying for more money for charter and public schools.”

    The whole thing is starting to come full circle.

    My experience with confronting Duncan is @ http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2010/07/speaking-truth-to-power.html

  8. R. Murphy,

    I had heard about this event through our PTSA. The Seattle Chapter is big on all things RTTT, so they sent an e-mail blast asking all members to come to this event.

    When I was at the Arne Forum, I didn’t see any Seattle Chapter PTSA members there by the way.

    Rumor had it that Boeing and Microsoft families were invited to attend.

    They were really trying to control the message. The “they” that I am referring to is LEV, the League of Education Voters, which is Broad backed by the way, and Patty Murray.

    They want the RTTT money and Arne is visiting many states now that have applied for the funds.

    The AFT members were upset because Arne didn’t attend their convention, even though he was in town, where he would have really gotten an earful, so they decided to go to Arne and express their concerns and grievances.

  9. Why weren’t SEA / WEA members notified of this event? Maybe because “Democracy” in our union means hearing from voices as long as those voices are fit to stand in the choir and passionately sing from the songbook of Praises for our Betters and Praises for our Patrons?

    I have a question for people participating in political situations who want “unity” and worry about mixed messages — isn’t that what you should expect in your religion, NOT Democracy?

    All the people I work with work would do anything, anytime, anywhere to help our kids, and what we get for assistance is more fuzzy training from edu-consultants and more fuzzy platitudes from edu-consultants and more fuzzy promises from people NOT at the school or in our class.

    How many WEA / SEA members would really support Arne’s Ca$h for Con$ultant$, Educrat$ and Cronie$? I suppose we won’t find out, since we’re supposed to just stay in the dark and eat our mushroom food.

    R. Murphy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s