The news tells us this week that Arne Duncan’s family is moving back to Chicago and his children are enrolling at the University of Chicago Lab School in the fall.
There, they’ll join the mayor’s children.
Lab is an excellent, well-resourced private school with a rich arts curriculum, small classes, entire rooms devoted to holding musical instruments, a unionized teaching staff that you pretty much never hear anyone suggesting should be replaced by untrained temp workers, and not one single standardized test until students reach age 14.
In other words, Lab School has to date experienced not one ounce of influence from Arne Duncan’s Department of Ed. Not one ounce of impact from his policies.
He’s choosing to keep his kids out of the system that requires nearly continuous standardized testing each year: three iterations of the PARCC, three of the NWEA MAP, the REACH Performance Tasks; the NAEP, TRC + DIBELS, mClass Math, and IDEL specially for littles; and EXPLORE, PLAN, COMPASS, and STAR for bigs.
I know, he’s told us, like a father, it’s okay. Our kids can do this. It’s what’s best. It’s challenging. What kind of message does it send our children if we object to a challenge? He’s gotten this narrative out far and wide, so that folks who don’t have kids in school now can often be seen saying things in newspaper comments sections like, “Why can’t these whiners just shut up and take the test?” or “What a bunch of weaklings! These kids and parents don’t have any spines anymore if they don’t want to take the test!”
You’ll note, in these kinds of comments sections, that it is always the test. As if there is one.
What those commenters don’t know is that the endless stream of tests, accompanying prep, and supporting curricula are low-quality dreck, and they have very little to do with actual learning. They do, however, have a lot to do with bubbling in bubbles and guessing what adults expect.
No, those commenters may not know how bad the situation is for public schools right now in terms of testing.
But Arne Duncan does. He crafted the testing policy and now calls it a civil right.
He’s choosing to keep his kids out of a system that spends so much time and money on testing that there’s little time left, and no money, for stuff that’s not on the tests: history, science, art, music.
And why would schools spend resources they don’t have on things that will not keep the wolf away? Why would schools sink time and money into music or geography if they are judged solely on test scores in reading and math, and will lose funding if their scores don’t show constant improvement?
So the district invests in what is required by the feds, and what pays. And hundreds and hundreds of millions are spent on reading and math testing and prep, and all associated accoutrements. Illinois paid Pearson, the Common Core curriculum and testing delivery giant, $160M for a 4 year PARCC contract. And that’s just one test. What about all the others? And how about the companies that produce the test prep, the e-games, the software, the hardware? The iPads that become obsolete every couple years? Most folks don’t know the wild extent of the profits generated for testing companies, nor the extreme degree of influence their lobbyists have over our federal legislators.
But Arne Duncan does. He set up the business relationships himself.
He’s choosing to keep his kids out of a system that is constantly on the edge of financial disaster.
CPS may not even open on time in the fall; it may be bankrupt. That’s due to lots of things–lack of mayoral priority and pension obligations that the state and the city don’t have the political will to uphold. But beyond those are other cash-draining and questionable priorities that come straight from the feds: staggering payouts for testing as mentioned above, and massive investments in charter schools that have yet to deliver anything in return.
You may not know all the complicated details of the stick and carrot (and stick) scheme that is Race To The Top, and what corners it requires schools to cut in order to win the race, or even place. You may not know how much public school money gets diverted to privatization.
But Arne Duncan does. He’s the one who tied school funding to test scores in the first place. He’s the one who has promoted charter schools like a pom pom shaking cheerleader for his entire tenure.
By now Arne Duncan knows too much to send his kids to public school. Even so, he remains committed to all the policies and reforms he imposed based on zero research. Nevertheless he senses, as every corporate education controller senses, that the education he prescribes for other people’s children isn’t quite right for his own. In the fall he’ll be sending his kids to just the kind of school he’s been yearning for–one blissfully free of his own influence.
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