Since Arne Duncan supports evaluating educators, Diane Ravitch grades his performance as education secretary: F. He fails respecting the federal government’s limited role in education and following the law, which bans the department from establishing a national curriculum. And there’s more.
Have the policies promulgated by Duncan been good for the children of the United States?
No. Most parents and teachers and even President Obama (and sometimes Duncan himself) agree that “teaching to the test” makes school boring and robs classrooms of time for the imaginative instruction and activities that enliven learning. The standardized tests that are now ubiquitous are inherently boring. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, teachers should teach with “creativity and passion,” but they can’t do that when tests matter so much. Spending hours preparing to take pick-the-bubble tests depresses student interest and motivation. This is not good for children. Yet Duncan’s policies—which use test scores to evaluate teachers and to decide which schools to close and which teachers to pay bonuses to—intensively promote teaching to the test. This is not good for students. Grade: F.
Do Duncan’s policies encourage teachers and inspire good teaching?
No. Duncan’s policies demean the teaching profession by treating student test scores as a proxy for teacher quality. A test that a student takes on one day of the year cannot possibly measure the quality of a teacher. (Officially, the administration suggests that test scores are supposed to be only one of multiple measures of teacher quality, but invariably the scores outweigh every other component of any evaluation program, as they did in New York City’s recent release of the teacher ratings.) Nor do most teachers want to compete with one another for merit pay.
Ravitch ends by flunking just about everyone. “It is hard to find any leader of either party who stands forthrightly today as a champion of students, teachers, public schools, and good education.”