Duncan's 'teacher appreciation' BS backfires... Race To The Top is worse than No Child Left Behind... Duncan's silly 'appreciation' of teachers backfires, and even CNN notices

The rest of the USA is still learning what Chicago teachers learned the hard way (and what the leaders of the National Education Association are still trying desperate to ignore) — Arne Duncan is the enemy of veteran teachers, and he has been since the end of his first year as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools. From the day in December 2008 when Barack Obama announced that Duncan was Obama's choice to be U.S. Secretary of Education, the administration declared war on America's unionized teachers, and that war has been escalating ever since. Even the most starry-eyed teachers who slept on floors to elect Obama in 2008 learned, the hard way, within the first year of the Obama administration that Duncan was carrying out the same corporate agenda across the USA that he implemented ruthlessly when he had absolute power in Chicago from July 2001 through January 2009 (when he became U.S. Secretary of Education).

Chicago's Arne Duncan outlined his attack plan against the nation's public schools at a breakfast hosted by the corporate school reform group called "Advance Illinois" on June 16, 2009, at Chicago's Regency Hyatt Hotel. In his prepared remarks, Duncan told the carefully screened audience that he would be implementing Chicago's reform plan nationally, including closing "failing" (i.e. low test scoring) public schools. Above, Duncan was fed carefully pre-selected questions during the event by Robin Steans, the millionaire heiress who is executive director of Advance Illinois. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.What is still being ignored is the fact that Obama's attack on public schools and veteran public school teachers is really what cost Obama's Democratic Party the November 2010 Congressional elections (and will cost much more in the future). Here is how it worked.

In Spring, Summer and Fall of 2008, the armies of people — a huge number of them public school teachers — worked overtime to get out the votes that Obama needed to win over John McCain and Sarah Palin. Within two months of his November 2008 election victory, Obama, following the corporate script he had previously outlined in "Audacity of Hope," betrayed those teachers by announcing that he would appoint Duncan — who had no teaching experience and had been corporate Chicago's privatizer in chief and hatchet man — to become U.S. Secretary of Education. The Duncan appointment was even announced at one of the many examples of Chicago's corporate fraud (and racism) — the "Dodge Renaissance Academy" on Chicago's West Side. Dodge had been destroyed as a neighborhood public school by Arne Duncan in 2003 and turned over to the corporate "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL). Most of the Dodge teachers (the majority of them African Americans) were forced out of their jobs by Duncan following the pre-"turnaround" turnaround of Dodge. Yet without a sense of irony or history, Barack Obama sat with Arne Duncan at Dodge in December 2008 to announce the Duncan appointment.

The rest was in the script, although it was still going to take some time for America's teachers to realize that the corporate script of "Race To The Top" would be even more vicious than what had been so nasty in "No Child Left Behind." By the time "Race To The Top" had forced a privatization, merit pay, and teacher bashing agenda on more than half the states by early 2010, even the most blinded Obama fans realized that something was wrong. But rather than taking a cold hard look at the Obama (Duncan) record in Chicago (the closing of more than 50 African American public schools between 2004 and 2009, and the firing of more than 1,000 teachers, most of them African American), some people still insisted on belief over evidence. The script was almost like something out of George Orwell's Animal Farm: "No Child Left Behind = BAD.

Speaking at the June 16, 2009 Chicago breakfast hosted by "Advance Illinois" was then bank (J. P. Morgan Chase) vice president Bill Daley, who serves as co-chairman of Advance Illinois. Bill Daley, brother of then Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, has since moved to the White House, where he took Rahm Emanuel's place as Barack Obama's Chief of Staff. Emanuel, meanwhile, moved back to Chicago from his White House job to replace Bill Daley's brother, Richard M. Daley, as Chicago's mayor. At the time of the Advance Illinois breakfast on June 16, 2009, Bill Daley was co-chairman of Advance Illinois. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."Barack Obama - GOOD."


"Race To The Top = GOOD."

Ignoring history had its perils, and there was finally a wake up call to the nation's veteran teachers. That wake up call came not out of the tightly controlled Chicago media bubble (Substance has been the only consistently critical publication of these events since 2002 when Duncan did a "renaissance" on his first three schools — Dodge, Terrell and Williams; all of them all-black), but out of a mostly white school that shared the characteristics of the schools that had been on Duncan's corporate Hit List.

Central Falls High School in Central Falls Rhode Island.

Even American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (who had been looking the other way for nearly two years, from the day Barack Obama lied to the AFT leadership — as reported exclusively in Substance — about not being able to be at the AFT 2008 convention in Chicago) needed to become critical of Obama and Duncan. Once the attack went outside the carefully controlled corporate media bubble of Chicago, and landed in Central Falls, the revisions began.

The June 16, 2009 Advance Illinois breakfast barred teachers from attending (except for the Advance Illinois token teacher, a downstate "Teacher of the Year"), and when CORE members tried to get into the Regency Hyatt Hotel to be part of the Arne Duncan event, hotel security (above right, with walkie talkie) told the teachers they would be arrested on orders of Hyatt Hotel management. The Hyatt hotels are own by members of the Pritzker family, one of whom, billionaire Penny Pritzker, served as campaign finance chairman for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Penny Pritzker is one of 11 Chicago Pritzkers listed in the Forbes March 2011 billionaires listing. Penny Pritzker was appointed to the Chicago Board of Education by Rahm Emanule in May 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.More will be published at Substance about the Obama administration's neo-liberal attacks on public education and the Obama administration's privatization agenda for the nation's public schools (mostly, the urban public schools that are staffed by mostly African American teachers and principals and which serve almost exclusively the poorest ghettoized children in the nation's African American ghettos -- and Latino American barrios) in the future. This morning, we need to share the fact that the rest of the USA is learning what Chicago knew (and Substance published year after year from 2001 through 2009): Arne Duncan is an enemy of public schools, public school teachers, teacher unions, and — when the record of his "CEO" fetishes is studied — democracy itself.

The kooky child of privilege who was groomed by corporate Chicago and the Daley administration to take over Chicago schools and lead the privatization juggernaut called "Renaissance 2010" in Chicago is not doing the same work as the nation's schools chief.



An open letter of appreciation to teachers from the Obama administration's chief education official has highlighted the administration's difficult relationship with the nation's teachers.

"I have a deep and genuine appreciation for the work you do. ... You deserve to be respected, valued, and supported. ... It is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society," reads the letter from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

But many teachers are unmoved.

"Respect? Value? Support? Not seeing much," said teacher and education commentator Sabrina Stevens Shupe, who writes about education on her blog, the Failing Schools Project.

"The gap between his words and his actions is too large to ignore," Stevens Shupe said in a widely circulated open letter responding to Duncan that echoes the sentiments of many in the teaching community.

Though Duncan's letter acknowledges that teachers are often "blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded schools systems," Stevens Shupe points out that Duncan effectively did just that last year by applauding the firing of every teacher at a school in a troubled Rhode Island school district as a way to "do what's best for kids."

In fact, Stevens Shupe said, Duncan has written off the input of teachers he claims to value by framing any criticism of his policies as "a defense of an indefensible status quo," a phrase Duncan has used in reference to his critics in the teaching community.

"How is it respectful to write off the informed opinions of concerned people who have spent their lives serving students and communities?"

A massive online response echoes those sentiments, along with widely circulated open letters in response from prominent education commentators including Stevens Shupe, Aaron Pallas, Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch.

Though U.S. Education Department press secretary Justin Hamilton told CNN that he doesn't think the response accurately represents the sentiments of the broader teaching community, a count of comments regarding the letter on the Education Department's own website and elsewhere found a majority of negative comments, many from those who identified themselves as teachers.

Much of the online response has centered on issues like alternative teacher training programs, charter schools and, perhaps most divisive, standardized test-based evaluations of teachers.

Duncan's letter attempts to assuage teacher concerns about standardized test-based assessments, acknowledging the need for "real feedback in a professional setting rather than drive-by visits from principals or a single score on a bubble test."

But, said Pallas, professor of sociology and education at Columbia University Teachers College, the letter's rhetoric "runs headlong into funding programs such as Race to the Top," which lead directly to teacher evaluation systems that rely heavily on standardized tests.

The Obama administration's Race to the Top program distributes money to states that compete for it based on a set of criteria, including a requirement linking test scores to teacher evaluations.

"These policies, and the dollars behind them, are clear signals of what the Department and the secretary truly value," Pallas said.

Hamilton from the Education Department acknowledged the stress on testing but said, "We think you should be able to use data in a smart way. Race to the Top did encourage states to link teacher performance to student outcomes, and that allows us to spotlight success and to know where the challenges are so that we can help with support and professional development."

But it's not about testing or about the letter or about any other single issue, said Mike Rose, professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The response from teachers is an expression of a broader frustration at not being part of the conversation about education reform, Rose said.

Though teachers are as interested as any group in reforming education, Rose said, they feel like current reforms "are being done to them, not with them."

"They feel they are being dictated to from on high by people who have never spent a day teaching in a public school classroom."

It started in the Bush administration with No Child Left Behind, which effectively blamed teachers for low-performing schools and students, without adequately addressing surrounding issues like poverty, resources and administration, he said.

But teachers really thought that with Obama, they were going to get something different, "and I think teachers are disappointed that Obama has not lived up to some of the education policy initiatives that featured prominently in his campaign."

This matters to all of us, Rose said, because if teachers and policymakers cannot find a way to communicate effectively, it will be our schools and students who suffer.

Still, some see the letter as a beginning.

Even Stevens Shupe said she was pleased, even a little excited, to see some acknowledgement of teacher concerns from Duncan.

Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Columbia University Teachers College, is also hopeful.

"There may be a disconnect between the policies the administration is pursuing and the principles Duncan is advocating in his letter, but at least he is expressing admiration for a profession that has taken a lot of abuse lately."


Published Online: May 2, 2011, An Open Letter From Arne Duncan to America's Teachers In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week By Arne Duncan

I have worked in education for much of my life. I have met with thousands of teachers in great schools and struggling schools, in big cities and small towns, and I have a deep and genuine appreciation for the work you do. I know that most teachers did not enter the profession for the money. You became teachers to make a difference in the lives of children, and for the hard work you do each day, you deserve to be respected, valued, and supported.

I consider teaching an honorable and important profession, and it is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society. In too many communities, the profession has been devalued.

Many of the teachers I have met object to the imposition of curriculum that reduces teaching to little more than a paint-by-numbers exercise. I agree.

Inside your classroom, you exercise a high degree of autonomy. You decide when to slow down to make sure all of your students fully understand a concept, or when a different instructional strategy is needed to meet the needs of a few who are struggling to keep up. You build relationships with students from a variety of backgrounds and with a diverse array of needs, and you find ways to motivate and engage them. I appreciate the challenge and skill involved in the work you do and applaud those of you who have dedicated your lives to teaching.

Many of you have told me you are willing to be held accountable for outcomes over which you have some control, but you also want school leaders held accountable for creating a positive and supportive learning environment. You want real feedback in a professional setting rather than drive-by visits from principals or a single score on a bubble test. And you want the time and opportunity to work with your colleagues and strengthen your craft.

You have told me you believe that the No Child Left Behind Act has prompted some schools—especially low-performing ones—to teach to the test, rather than focus on the educational needs of students. Because of the pressure to boost test scores, NCLB has narrowed the curriculum, and important subjects like history, science, the arts, foreign languages, and physical education have been de-emphasized. And you are frustrated when teachers alone are blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded schools systems. You rightfully believe that responsibility for educational quality should be shared by administrators, community, parents, and even students themselves.

The teachers I have met are not afraid of hard work, and few jobs today are harder. Moreover, it’s gotten harder in recent years; the challenges kids bring into the classroom are greater and the expectations are higher. Not too long ago, it was acceptable for schools to have high dropout rates, and not all kids were expected to be proficient in every subject. In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children—English-language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty—to learn and succeed.

You and I are here to help America’s children. We understand that the surest way to do that is to make sure that the 3.2 million teachers in America’s classrooms are the very best they can be. The quality of our education system can only be as good as the quality of our teaching force.

So I want to work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking. States, with the help of teachers, are now developing better assessments so you will have useful information to guide instruction and show the positive impact you are having on our children.

Working together, we can transform teaching from the factory model designed over a century ago to one built for the information age. We can build an accountability system based on data we trust and a standard that is honest—one that recognizes and rewards great teaching, gives new or struggling teachers the support they need to succeed, and deals fairly, efficiently, and compassionately with teachers who are simply not up to the job. With your input and leadership, we can restore the status of the teaching profession so more of America’s top college students choose to teach because no other job is more important or more fulfilling.

In the next decade, half of America’s teachers are likely to retire. What we do to recruit, train, and retain our new teachers will shape public education in this country for a generation. At the same time, how we recognize, honor, and show respect for our experienced educators will reaffirm teaching as a profession of nation builders and social leaders dedicated to our highest ideals. As that work proceeds, I want you to know that I hear you, I value you, and I respect you.


May 17, 2011 at 1:39 PM

By: Maureen Cullnan

Duncan's 'appreciation' of teachers

Obama's re-election campaign has begun, and the corporate-style reformers' pr firms have decided it is time to tone down the anti-teacher and anti-union rhetoric.

There will be no diminution of the anti-teacher and anti-union policies, however.

May 17, 2011 at 5:52 PM

By: Mike Ombry

Obama's Betrayal

I reluctantly voted for Obama. (Clinton was my first choice.) Just as Obama feels that everyone to his left has nowhere else to go, I think he is in for a rude suprise when he loses in 2012 even as Democrats retake the House and Senate. I would much rather have a Republican president force a Democratic congress to stand up for Democratic principles than have a Democratic president capitulate to the radical Republicans time after time after time. Obama has to go.

I would prefer a primary replacement, but this lifelong Democrat will take four years of another Republican in the White House if we can get a Democratic congress. (By the way, I will not be voting for Obama or the Republican.)

May 18, 2011 at 2:51 PM

By: Rachel Fowler

Young Teachers

My daughter has a friend who is an excellent HS science teacher. She taught at two high schools in Chicago before her second hs was reorganized after having been changed into small schools. She then got a position at a suburban hs. She has been riffed because she has been there only two years. She did not receive tenure in Chicago. She is now considering leaving teaching because she feels that she will never get tenure in any school district. What a loss to hs science education if she does go into another field.

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