MEDIA WATCH: Every silly hagiographic touting of Arne Duncan in July 8 Washington Post article...

The Washington Post devoted a huge amount of space on July 8, 2015, to a lengthy hagiography about Arne Duncan. To read the Post puffery, Duncan is the reluctant "listener" who rose to the top of U.S. Education as a result of his "Ah, shucks" devotion to poor black kids -- and his basketball friendship with Barack Obama.

Arne Duncan and Barack Obama as they tried to salvage corporate "school reform" and the testocracy behind No Child Left Behind in July 2015. Thanks to Diane Ravitch for bringing this to our attention...

The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton is just the latest corporate media reporter to dive into the tank with Arne Duncan. The lies in this one article are mostly by omission, but there are also the usual Arne "biography" pieces that once upon a time were also part and parcel of the coverage of Arne in The New York Times. As early as December 2008, The New York Times devoted a front page story to the official version of Arne Duncan in a story reported by Sam Dillon, touting Arne's wonders and featuring a photo of Arne, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden at a West Side elementary school that was later closed by Rahm Emanuel.

For more than a year, Dillon became Duncan's hagiorgapher. That lasted until the laughter grew so great that the Times found other reporters to try and cover the increasingly complex stories resulting from Duncan's corporate agenda for privatizing and charterizing the nation's public schools. The Times regularly dumped reporters and analysts, beginning with Richard Rothstein, who were skeptical about corporate "school reform" and the massive overtesting that came with it.

And so, the July 2015 Washington Post story is in a long tradition of ruling class apologetics and hagiography for corporate "reform" and its avatars. This story's timing and placement -- as Congress and the White House tussle over the future of ESEA -- lets readers know that the Post still has the same reactionary agenda in its "news" reporting that it follows editorially in its national and international coverage of the resistance to the neoliberal agenda.

Ravitch gets our thanks, and the right to opine on the story...

"Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post has written a sympathetic article about Arne Duncan and the waning of his powers as Secretary of Education," Ravitch wrote in her blog. "He is a nice guy. He is a close friend of the President. He cares about individual children that he met along the way. The pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will prohibit him and future Secretaries from interfering in state decisions about standards, curriculum, and assessment. His family has already moved back to Chicago. But he will stay on the job to the very end."

Ravitch notes that the Obama education agenda has been reactionary from January 2009, when Obama was inaugurated and Duncan installed as U.S. Secretary of Education. What most of those who cried real tears when Obama won the election in November 2008 actually believed that Obama would do nice things for education, anyone who had read Obama's second book ("The Audacity of Hope") knew that Obama was committed to the same union busting, privatization and teacher bashing agenda that had been pioneered in Chicago while Duncan was CEO of Chicago's public schools form 2001 through 2008.

"When Obama was elected, many educators and parents thought that Obama would bring a new vision of the federal role in education, one that freed schools from the test-and-punish mindset of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind," Ravitch continues. "But Arne Duncan and Barack Obama had a vision no different from George W. Bush and doubled down on the importance of testing, while encouraging privatization and undermining the teaching profession with a $50 million grant to Teach for America to place more novice teachers in high-needs schools. Duncan never said a bad word about charters, no matter how many scandals and frauds were revealed."

Ravtich's bullet points about Duncan's reactionary tenure could be doubled.

"During Duncan's tenure in office," Ravitch wrote:

-- *He used his control of billions of dollars to promote a dual school system of privately managed charter schools operating alongside public schools;

-- "He has done nothing to call attention to the fraud and corruption in the charter sector or to curb charters run by non-educators for profit or to insist on charter school accountability or to require charters to enroll the neediest children;

-- "He pushed to require states to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students, which has caused massive demoralization among teachers, raised the stakes attached to testing, and produced no positive results;

-- "He used federal funds and waivers from NCLB to push the adoption of Common Core standards and to create two testing consortia, which many states have abandoned;

-- "The Common Core tests are so absurdly "rigorous" that most students have failed them, even in schools that send high percentages of students to four-year colleges, the failure rates have been highest among students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students of color;

-- "He has bemoaned rising resegregation of the schools but done nothing to reduce it;

-- "He has been silent as state after state has attacked collective bargaining and due process for teachers;

- "He has done nothing in response to the explosion of voucher programs that transfer public funds to religious schools;

-- "Because of his policies, enrollments in teacher education programs, even in Teach for America, have plummeted, and many experienced teachers are taking early retirement;

-- "He has unleashed a mad frenzy of testing in classrooms across the country, treating standardized test scores as the goal of all education, rather than as a measure;

-- "His tenure has been marked by the rise of an aggressive privatization movement, which seeks to eliminate public education in urban districts, where residents have the least political power;

-- "He loosened the regulations on the federal student privacy act, permitting massive data mining of the data banks that federal funds created;

-- "He looked the other way as predatory for-profit colleges preyed on veterans and minorities, plunging students deep into debt;

-- "Duncan has regularly accused parents and teachers of "lying" to students. For reasons that are unclear, he wants everyone to believe that our public schools are terrible, our students are lazy, not too bright, and lacking ambition.

"If he were a basketball coach, he would have been encouraging the team to try harder and to reach for greater accomplishment, but instead he took every opportunity to run down the team and repeat how dreadful they are. He spoke of "respect" but he never showed it.

"This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.

"It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan's policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. The next President and the next Secretary of Education will have an enormous job to do to restore our nation's public education system from the damage done by Race to the Top. We need leadership that believes in the joy of learning and in equality of educational opportunity. We have not had either for 15 years."


Even as Congress tries to stip his power, Arne Duncan holds his ground

By Lyndsey Layton. [Washington Post, July 8, 2015]

Christina Waterss cellphone rang, and she looked down to see that the number was blocked. She knew immediately it was U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, just calling to check in.

It has been that way since Waters attended a 2009 church picnic in Chicago and came away with a bullet lodged in her head from stray gunfire. She suffered hearing loss in one ear, and her college dreams were delayed. But she pushed forward, with encouragement from Duncan, who has known her since elementary school. Now 24, Waters is studying kinesiology at Sam Houston State University in Texas.

Waters belongs to a circle of strivers that Duncan has quietly cultivated, students across the country who are clearing hurdles that would discourage many others. He calls regularly to offer support and advice.

That unfiltered, direct contact has been key in shaping Duncans belief that poor students hold the same potential as their affluent peers but face more obstacles to a high-quality education in Americas public schools. Trying to correct that imbalance, Duncan has injected an unusual amount of federal influence into traditionally local decisions about public education.

The result is that most Americans now accept public charter schools as an alternative to neighborhood schools, most teachers expect to be judged in some measure on how well their students perform on standardized tests, and most states are using more demanding K-12 math and reading standards.

But Duncans policies have led to side effects that people across the political spectrum feel have hurt more than theyve helped. Conservatives say those closest to students local communities lost power to decide whats best for them. Liberals complain about an unhealthy focus on math and reading and about overtesting, leading to an opt-out movement that saw hundreds of thousands of students boycott tests this spring.

The record will show these policies brought about minimum improvement, said Jack Jennings, founder of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy and author of a new book about education politics. They also did considerable harm.

Duncan faces a political backlash that threatens to undercut his power and erase some of his most influential work. The bipartisan warmth he enjoyed on Capitol Hill has yielded to critics from the left and the right, including an odd alliance between tea party conservatives and the teachers unions. This week, both houses of Congress began debating legislation that would seriously dial back the education secretarys legal authority; the Senate began Tuesday and the House approved a bill Wednesday.

The question is not whether were going to put handcuffs on Arne Duncan, said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way, a centrist think tank. The question is how many handcuffs.

As other Obama Cabinet members have come and gone, Duncan has become the longest-serving member of the original group. His own staff has turned over multiple times. And now, even his wife and children have moved back to Chicago, eager to return to life beyond the Beltway.

But Duncan is still here, a onetime professional basketball player who is hanging on until the final buzzer.

He wants to fight for the changes he has advocated and said in a recent interview he feels an urgency to keep pushing toward unmet goals in the waning months of the Obama administration.

He calls his job the dream of a lifetime: I still pinch myself some days.

And even if he wanted to leave Washington, its hard when the president is your buddy.

Duncan and Obama, whose friendship dates to 1990s Chicago, decompress together. There are family weekends at Camp David, Super Bowl gatherings and Fourth of July pool parties at the White House, and the occasional burger run. They have played pickup basketball together for years, though Obama, 53, has traded hoops for golf after a few too many mishaps on the court.

His risk/reward ratio isnt where he wants it to be, said Duncan, 50, who still plays, but recently broke a finger.

In a town where many like to talk, Duncan is regarded as a good listener. Arne is a great sounding board for the president, said Valerie Jarrett, the presidents close friend and adviser.

Duncans ties to the White House, combined with the presidents own interests, elevated education within the administrations domestic agenda. But as Washington has taken a stronger hand, those decrying federal overreach have multiplied.

Ive never seen both Democrats and Republicans want to curb the authority of the federal Department of Education the way they want to now, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Duncan has tried to straddle the deep national divide about the best way to improve public education, working between those who believe that competition, accountability and market forces are the best route and others who argue for heavier investment to address the many needs of poor children who are increasingly filling public schools.

[One in five school children are living below the poverty line]

To Duncan, that has meant expanding public charter schools; promoting higher academic benchmarks such as the Common Core State Standards in math and reading; holding teachers accountable for student progress as measured by test scores; enrolling more low-income children in preschool; and a desire to invest in wraparound services such as medical care, mentoring and family services.

Duncan has exploited two tools that gave him great leverage.

First, he got $4.3 billion from Congress money designed to prop up the economy after the 2008 recession and created Race to the Top, a national contest that required cash-starved states to adopt Duncans education policies to compete for a chance at a grant.

Then he focused on states struggling under No Child Left Behind, the 2002 education law that was due for replacement in 2007. Widely considered to be unrealistic, the law remains in effect because Congress has failed to rewrite it. Duncan began excusing states from its most onerous aspects as long as they adopted his education policies. Today, 42 states and Washington, D.C., hold these temporary, conditional waivers.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, calls the waivers convoluted.

Theyre temporary and conditional on them doing what the secretary wants them to do, said Kline, the author of a GOP alternative bill that would block the education secretary from making such demands of states. Thats a terrible, terrible way to do policy.

Washington state lost its waiver in 2014 after lawmakers rejected Duncans requirement that it use student test results to evaluate teachers, which experts increasingly say is not a reliable way to identify good and bad teachers. The state lost control over $40 million in federal dollars as a result.

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate education panel, opposed the waivers but said congressional inaction on No Child Left Behind gave Duncan little choice. He has had to administer a law that doesnt work, Murray said.

The increased federal muscle made waves.

It is about as top-down as you can get, said Weingarten, the AFT president. Its based on a theory of total and complete mistrust that teachers, parents, districts and states wont do right by children.

Under No Child Left Behind, states used test scores to judge schools. But under Duncan, they had to use student scores to evaluate individual teachers. Infuriated, the National Education Association called for Duncans resignation.

Conservatives have accused Duncan of federal intrusion, even violating the Constitution, especially when it comes to the Common Core State Standards.

The administration played no role in developing the standards, which were created by a bipartisan group of governors and state school leaders. But Duncan required states to adopt college and career ready K-12 standards generally understood to mean the Common Core if they wanted a waiver. And when it came to awarding competitive grants, Duncan gave extra points to those states that adopted college and career ready standards.

[How Bill Gates pulled off the Common Core revolution]

Forty-three states and the District quickly adopted the Common Core in math and reading. But boasts from Duncan and Obama about the speedy embrace fueled pushback against Obamacore among tea party activists.

The fight over Common Core became politically toxic, having less to do with the standards than with the idea that local communities had lost control over their schools. And the political battle has spread to Congress.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate education panel and served as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, has worked with Murray to draft a bipartisan replacement for the federal education law that would restrict the education secretarys authority to influence state academic standards, assessments or teacher evaluations.

Alexander praised Duncans ability and said they share the same mission: high standards, teacher evaluations and charter schools. We just have a different path to those goals, Alexander said. His is through Washington, and mine is through the states.

The conflict has made Duncan radioactive, said Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Hes reduced, in terms of what he can realistically accomplish in the time he has left.

Thats frustrating for Duncan, who recounted how one senator confided that he supported universal preschool an idea Duncan has been promoting for two years but would not publicly back any plan for the federal government to fund it.

Thats, like, my political lesson in Washington, Duncan said. Are you here to make a difference? .?.?. Or are you here to say youre a fancy senator?

Duncans zeal for education is rooted in his childhood. He grew up in the integrated neighborhood of Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago, where his father taught psychology. But he spent much of his time in neighboring poor, black North Kenwood, where his mother, Sue, founded a tutoring center before he was born.

Sue Duncan created a safe space in the inner city where children could find stability, academic achievement and opportunities beyond the streets.

Every day, I think about what she did on one corner of 46th Street, Duncan said. I try to take the lessons I had from the time I was a child and give more kids a chance in life.

Sue Duncan and her three children played pickup basketball at the University of Chicago, where Sue would sometimes foul a young law professor named Barack Obama.

Basketball and education became passions for 6-foot-5 Arne Duncan he played at Harvard and then professionally in Australia and they also dominated his conversations with Obama. When Obama was elected president, Duncan was running the Chicago public school system.

I definitely didnt want to come to Washington, Duncan said. I came here because my friend became the president. .?.?. And it was just this crazy, chance of a lifetime to try and have an impact.

He saw an opportunity to attack problems on a national scale, in a way that his mother never could.

That progress for the nations K-12 students has been uneven. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high, and dropout rates are down. But average math and reading scores for high school students have flatlined since 2008, and they improved only marginally among 9- and 13-year-olds, according to federal data.

One of Duncans greatest regrets is his failure to get Congress to invest $75 billion to create universal preschool for low-income children.

The tide, which ran with him early and especially because of the windfall in recovery funds that made Race to the Top possible, has now reversed to a degree, Henig said. Some of that might be attributable to overreaching on his part, but the backlash against Common Core, federally initiated testing pressures, etc., also has a lot to do with shifting partisan politics during a second-term presidency.

As Duncan tries to hold his ground in Washington and fight political pressures to reverse course, he maintains those ties to the young people around the country who inspire him to push on.

Christina Waters is working this summer for Chicagos WNBA team, thanks partly to Duncan. When they spoke recently, she confessed she was depressed because she was still chasing a bachelors degree at 24.

He told me that its okay, that everyone finishes on their own time, Waters said. He told me he was proud of me, and that just meant so much. And he just encouraged me to overlook any distractions.

He said just keep going.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Duncan required states to adopt college and career ready standards to compete for grants. While Duncan required states to adopt such standards if they wanted waivers, the adoption of such standards were not required for grants but gave states extra points in the competition for them. The story has been updated.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to povertys impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.


July 9, 2015 at 2:15 PM

By: Susan Ohanian


And now, to bring it full circle, Duncan's kids will attend his old alma mater, Univ. of Chicago Lab School.

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