The One about Bullying, Threats and Arne Duncan...

The Secretary of State is supposed to be the nation's top diplomat.


The Attorney General is supposed to be the nation's top lawyer.

The Surgeon General is supposed to be the nation's top physician.

So why is Arne Duncan, the nation's Secretary of Education, behaving more like a schoolyard bully than like the nation's top teacher?

In the face of unprecedented opposition to his administration's program of standardized testing, with nearly 200,000 parents in New York State alone opting their children out of standardized tests that they perceive as not only unhelpful, but downright damaging, Sec. Duncan went on the offensive Tuesday, promising that if the states wouldn't force those children to take his tests, then he would:

"'We think most states will do that,' Duncan told an Education Writers Association conference in Chicago, according to Chalkbeat New York. 'If states don’t do that, then we [the federal government] have an obligation to step in.'


Duncan didn’t elaborate on what the federal intervention might look like. It could, however, involve labeling districts with too many opt-outs as “failing,” a status that places restrictions on how schools use federal money. This would in turn pressure state government and school districts to roll back parental opt-out rights.


Duncan went on to say: 'Folks in the civil rights community, folks in the disability community, they want their kids being assessed. They want to know if they are making progress or growth,' Duncan said."


First, everyone should be considered a part of the "civil rights community" and the "disability community," as these communities are made up of those who support civil rights and those with disabilities. The fact that Sec. Duncan is so clearly trying to "divide and conquer" is at best a very clumsy strategy, and at worst an obvious attempt to bully folks into feeling guilty or like bad parents for opting out.


Second, no teacher needs yearly standardized tests to know if their students are "making progress or growth." Just as parents don't need these tests to know if their children are growing. The people that teach and love these children are well aware of what they are learning, what challenges and successes they are encountering, and what strategies will work best to help them continue to grow and learn. Let's not pretend that a once-per-year multiple choice test will somehow magically provide some special sauce that will reveal what kids know and are able to do.


Finally, if this many parents are angry enough to opt their kids out of these tests in the first place, just how ticked off do you think they will be when the Sec. of Education threatens to force their kids to actually take the tests?


And, Mr. Duncan--have you ever really tried to force a child to take a test? I had a tough time getting my then 4 year old to put on his mittens in the morning. Good luck with that.


What Sec. Duncan doesn't seem to know--because he was never a teacher himself--is that the testing movement depends on the goodwill of the teachers and students involved. Without getting "buy-in" from teachers, parents and students there is no way this thing is going to fly. Let's say that Mr. Duncan "succeeds" in getting every child in the nation to actually sit down and take his tests. Does he really think that no child will look at those blank rows of bubbles begging to be drawn on and not start filling them out in the shape of a tree, or just color in every bubble on the sheet? And to think that these tests are supposed to be used to make high stakes decisions on whether teachers keep their jobs or not. No wonder that the American Statistical Association is on record as saying that Value Added Measures, a statistical approach that uses test scores to come up with building-level scores, is an inappropriate and invalid use of standardized tests.

The way to "fix" this problem is not by playing the heavy and threatening to force these tests on unwilling children and teachers. It's to listen to the opinions of those who have legitimate objections to these tests, and implement thoughtful reforms, such as...

  • limiting standardized testing to one time in grades 3-6, one time in middle school, and one time toward the end of high school
  • ensuring that test results will be shared with teachers so they can use them to improve instruction
  • guaranteeing that test scores will not be used to evaluate teachers--which these tests are incapable of doing with any degree of accuracy

So, Mr. Duncan, instead of posturing and threatening punishments, why don't you try doing what a real education leader would do--listen carefully to dissenting opinions, work together with your colleagues in the schools, and develop a better testing model that actually helps teachers teach and helps students learn?

Write a comment

Comments: 8
  • #1

    pamela nagler (Thursday, 23 April 2015 16:57)

    Threats like yours show how unresponsive the DOE has been to what parents really want for their kids. They don't want one size fits all educational solutions like standardized testing that don't deliver much diagnostic punch. They do want educational experiences that scaffold lifetime learning. Using bottom drawer language, you seem to think parents "should just suck it up", but parents are smarter than that - they actually expect some educational value out of their children's educational activities.

  • #2

    John Mercer (Thursday, 23 April 2015 19:17)

    Pretty sure Sec Duncan would not know the definition of many of the words on the NYS 6 th grade ELA test. But yeah, let's go ahead and test these kids so we know if they are growing.

  • #3

    Anna (Thursday, 23 April 2015 20:47)

    There must also be assurances that these tests will not be tied to "high stakes" decisions about the child such as whether he/she is promoted to the next grade or receives a diploma. Those so called Disabiity groups pushing this don't speak for all disability advocates. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/20/you-do-not-speak-for-our-children/

  • #4

    Melissa (Thursday, 23 April 2015 21:50)

    My child has dyslexia and taking tests will do NOTHING for him, educationally, mentally or socially. Sorry Duncan, my child will not be used for corporate profiteering.

  • #5

    Concerned Parent (Thursday, 23 April 2015 22:19)

    Go ahead and roll back parental rights to "opt out" their children from the state tests. I would love to see that happen. Parents will do everything in their power to protect their children from harm. The last thing they will worry about is how the federal government will place restrictions on school districts on how they use federal money. It's so sad that we have people in charge of our education system who don't know a thing about education, students, parents and teachers. What are school districts going to do? Retain my straight "A" son for not taking the test? I highly doubt school districts will have the authority to do that. Their hands are tied!!! Reality check Mr. Duncan.......school districts have no control over decisions parents make. Parents will do whatever they feel is best for their children. Stop bullying teachers and school districts. Stop blaming them for decisions we as parents make for our children!! They are doing the best they can with the little control they do have. Visit a school in a poor community sometime. Maybe you will learn something about your job!!

  • #6

    Theresa (Friday, 24 April 2015 00:05)

    In the midst of all the hype that is going on right now, please take a moment and reflect on what we are really trying to do- protect and advocate for our children, and ensure that they develop to their fullest potential in all areas of development. To be honest, my biggest concern at this point is that somehow all the focus of the opt out movement has been shifted onto the teachers. I am a teacher (thankfully, providing home-based services at this time, as I could never have in good conscience taught a curriculum based on developmentally inappropriate standards), and I am very concerned about what has been done recently in New York State. However, when I originally refused the tests for my children it was as a statement of objection to the common core- the inappropriateness of the standards, how they were being taught, and the subsequent changes to the tests- the fact that the tests themselves are useless and inappropriate led me to feel that it would be appropriate to use them as a tool to make my voice heard and to encourage others to do so. While the recent changes in teacher evaluations has made me more determined to refuse the tests, it is not the reason I am doing so. My children will always come first, as I feel it should be. Last year, when we did not have a lot of teachers vocal support (most that I spoke with were either repeating what they were told to say by superiors or being politically correct and not saying anything- intimidation can be quite effective at times, funny how the anti-bullying policies go out the window when teachers try to speak up) we were told by politicians and businessmen that the movement consisted of a bunch of white moms who didn't want their kids to look bad if they did not do well on the tests- totally ignoring our very valid concerns regarding the common core. This year we are going to hear how it is all about the teachers and how they don't want to do the work and are afraid of getting fired (this is not my opinion, but it is what I expect to hear- even though no standardized test is an accurate measure of a child's abilities, which I see every time I evaluate my students- but at least when I do so I write a report that shows not only the scores but also what the child's strengths and needs are, what factors may have influenced their performance, and parents can see specific questions their children missed). The bottom line is that we need to get the focus back on the core of the problem, which is the common core. All of these other things (the tests themselves, the changes to teacher evaluations, etc.) are damage being caused from the root up- get rid of the root and the other problems will go with it!

  • #7

    A MEMBER OF the so-called :"Disability Community" (Saturday, 25 April 2015 11:32)

    Speaking as a MEMBER OF the so-called "Disability Community:, it's garbage like this which makes me seriously think that (a) we were actually better off before ADA, IDEA and the rest, AND that (b) that we ought to repeal those laws. A caring teacher can do a hell of a lot more for a disabled child than Pearson's "put them into a box" mentality ever could, even without that box becoming a de-facto coffin of low expectations and limited opportunities.

    I'll go further -- Arnie Duncan is more despicable than the schmucks in the Klu Klux Klan because they only had, at best, a high school education, usually had never been anywhere more than 30 miles from where they were born, and truly "didn't know any better." Duncan's in DC, he has to have been to college, probably has a doctorate in something -- for him to support some of the ignorant things he supports is way beyond "ordinarily stupid" and approaching the level of being truly asinine.

    (NB: like "niggardly", :"asinine" is a legitimate (non-obscene/offensive) word (adjective) which doesn't mean what people think it does -- while the actual definition is more nuanced, I define "asinine" as "way beyond 'ordinarily stupid', taking stupidity to a dimension approaching infinity." Likewise, "niggardly" means "way beyond being merely stingy or miserly, again approaching the level of infinity."

  • #8

    Stealing Education (Sunday, 26 April 2015 07:53)

    i am a professional educator who endures the atrocities of common core and this evaluation system, so let's briefly touch upon the politician's answer to closing down public education and opening up for profit, charter schools, the heinous monstrosity called "Professional Growth Plan" or PGP. The development and completion of this PGP is a time-consuming drudgery, which was implemented in my school district four years ago. That year I taught 11th grade Language Arts, but the district did not want to give me the school-wide VAM; instead, they chose 9/325 students (over the course of three years) who failed the state-mandated re-take test and deemed that I, a National Board Certified Teacher, fell in the category, "Needs Improvement." At first, I was devastated, then I decided to fight back, so the district acquiesced and gave me the school wide VAM. You see, the VAM is a score earned off the backs of 9th and 10th grade Language Arts and Math teachers and their students, so all teachers (except Language Arts teachers) were given the gift of the SW VAM. They did nothing to earn it. Meanwhile, ALL 11th and 12th grade LA teachers were scored based on three years of data where none of the students who were successful in testing were factored into the equation because they had already passed the 10th grade test. Well, I fought the machine and won the SW VAM. Then I picked a fight with the evil mastermind behind the scheme. This year, the district implemented district-created End of Course Exams for every class, including weight-lifting, chorus, band, art...! Common Core and this monstrous evaluation system are evil twins developed by profiteers and politicians who have: A. No teaching experience B. No moral compass C. An unquenchable thirst for money and power D. The need to create a sequal to "A Brave New World" (If you have not read it I suggest you do.)In today's world, intellectual mining takes place through data gleaned from the testing machine. High-performing students are lured from their home schools in the form of glossy invitations from magnet/specialty programs; eventually, instead of having a variety of student intellects at public schools, the public schools are left with students who academically struggle or have other physical or emotional problems that need extra attention and modifications. (I truly believe these actions to be an insidious new form of segregation.) E. Finally, I called Old Scratch to confirm; these profiteers and politicians have standing reservations in Hell. May they all burn.

    Now, get off your butts and vote this American Mafia out of office.

    "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."