Tag: Arne Duncan

Analyzing Arne’s Era and What’s to Come

Arne Duncan announced Friday that he is resigning as Secretary of Education, effective sometime in December. He will be replaced – sort of – by Deputy Education Secretary John King, who will not be put up for the permanent job but will be kept until the end of the administration in an “acting” – and Senate confirmation-less – capacity.

Of course, what Duncan has done as Secretary reflects what the Obama administration wanted, not what Duncan did on his own. Regardless who was ultimately calling the shots, though, Duncan presided over a period that has fulfilled some of the worst fears of anyone who has ever said, “It might be a bad idea to have a federal education department. They might start trying to run things.”

The overarching theme under Duncan has been huge consolidation of power not just at the federal level – alone blatantly unconstitutional – but in the Department itself.

Opt Out Tests If Child’s a “Mere Creature of the State”

The Common Core War, over the last few months, has been fought on a largely new front: whether students can be forced to take state tests – in the vast majority of cases, Core-aligned tests – or whether parents and students can refuse. It is perhaps an even more fundamental question than whether the federal government may constitutionally coerce standardization and testing generally, and with Common Core, specific standards and tests. The testing battle is to a large extent about whether a child, in seeming opposition to the seminal Supreme Court ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, is indeed a “mere creature of the State.”

The opt-out numbers are hard to pin down, though there is little question that some districts have seen very large percentages while others – probably the large majority nationwide – have seen few. It is also probably reasonable to conclude that the leader of the opt-out crusade has been New York State, where animosity toward the Core has been high since the state first rushed implementation and state officials, in an effort to calm things, actually inflamed them with a condescending approach to public engagement that launched weeks of recriminations. Last year the state saw an estimated 60,000 students opt out, which leapt to nearly 200,000 this year.

The root question, of course, is should students and parents be able to opt out without fear of punishment? And since punishment would be coming from a government institution – yes, that is what a public school is – that means without fear of punishment by the state. If children are, in part, creatures of the state – and Pierce did not say there is no legitimate state role in education – than punishment is legitimate. If, however, the public schools exist to serve fully free citizens, then punishment cannot be meted out for refusing the test; it is up to parents to freely decide whether or not their children are subjected to the tests.

The Contempt’s the Thing

There’s been much ink spilled the past few days over U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s defense of the Common Core, delivered as an obnoxious attack on white, suburban women. Proclaimed Duncan to a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers (one of the Core’s progenitors):

It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who – all of a sudden – their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary.

Much of the uproar over Duncan’s attack has been over his injecting race and sex into the Common Core debate, and that certainly was unnecessary. But much more concerning to me – and indicative of the fundamental problem with federally driven national standardization – is the clear message sent by Duncan’s denunciation of Jane Suburbia: average Americans are either too dull or too blinkered to do what’s best for their kids. The masses need their betters in government – politicians, bureaucrats – to control their lives.

Alas, this has been a subtext of almost the entire defense of the Core. Every time supporters decide to smear opponents primarily as “misinformed” or “conspiracy theorists,” they imply that people who are fighting for control of what their children will learn are either too ignorant, or too goofy, to matter.

Of course, there are some opponents who don’t get all the facts right about the Common Core, but supporters ignore that many of these people are just finding out about the Core. Unlike major Core supporters, many opponents – often parents and plain ol’ concerned citizens – haven’t been working on the Core for years. And even when opponents use such regretably over-the-top rhetoric as calling the Common Core “Commie Core,” they are ultimately making a legitimate point: the federally driven Core is intended to make the learning outcomes of all public schools the same – “common” is in the name, for crying out loud! – and in so doing, nationalize learning. At the very least, that’s not a move in the libertarian direction.

Ed Sec to Media: Get Those Common Core Critics!

In a bid to prove that Washington never tried to strong-arm states into adopting the Common Core, yesterday U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the American Society of News Editors that the media had better start attacking “fringe,” “misinformed,” Core opponents and their arguments.

Think about that for a moment.

Yup, seems like a self-defeating tactic to me, too. But it’s not the first time the secretary has launched into attack mode to show that Washington would never – ever! – get pushy on education.

Now, despite my fatigue with constantly debunking Core supporters on federal coercion, I was prepared to do a huge dismantling of Duncan’s speech. Thankfully, both for the public and my workload, one of those media types whom Duncan implied hasn’t been doing her job – Michele McNeil of Education Week – was, indeed, inspired to do some fact-checking by Duncan. Too bad for the secretary, it was on his claims. Among McNeil’s offerings:

  • “On a grading scale of 500 points, Duncan said adopting common standards and assessments was worth relatively little. ‘Did the points, and the dollars, matter to the states? Undoubtedly. But it’s not the only reason or even the most important reason why states adopted the Common Core,’ he said. In fact, adopting and implementing common standards and assessments was worth 50 points, or 10 percent. That’s the same amount of points allotted to a state’s plan for turning around low-performing schools. In a contest in which only a few points separated winners from losers, those points mattered—a lot. And it likely spurred states to actually adopt the standards; the first state adopted them in February 2010.”

Dear Arne: States Have “Unique Circumstances.” Please Coerce Uniformity

The Common Core curriculum standards, we’re all told, are “state led” and “voluntary.” So why are the Chiefs for Change – a group of Core-supporting state education chiefs – writing to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to oppose a moratorium on Common Core accountability?

On behalf of Chiefs for Change, thank you for your continued leadership and collaboration on education reform issues, especially as states across the nation work to raise standards and strengthen accountability….

Recently, some members of the national education community have advocated for pulling back on accountability in our schools. With the majority of states across the nation adopting new assessments – based on higher academic standards – in the 2014-2015 academic school year, it is important for state education leaders to communicate in detail how we will sustain strong accountability during this transition.

The members of Chiefs for Change reject any calls for a moratorium on accountability. This position overstates the challenge and undervalues our educators. A one-size-fits-all suspension of accountability measures denies the unique circumstances each state faces. We will not relax or delay our urgency for creating better teacher, principal, school and district accountability systems as we implement more rigorous standards. That is a disservice to our students and would undermine the tremendous amount of preparation our states’ education agencies, districts, schools and educators have contributed to this multi-year effort….

We welcome additional opportunities to work with other states and with our federal partners on strengthening accountability in education.

What the heck is going on here? If this is all truly state led and voluntary, why are the chiefs writing to Secretary Duncan? Doesn’t he have zippo to do with it? And if they are really worried about states having the ability to deal with their own, “unique circumstances,” why do they positively refer to the 2014-15 school year, when Common Core-aligned national tests – selected and paid for by Washington – are supposed to kick in? And if they actually want Washington to have nothing to do with this, why didn’t they just write the following letter, saving themselves lots of time and pixels?

Dear Secretary Duncan,

Please don’t get involved.

Your friends,

The Chiefs for Change

The almost certain answer to all of these questions is that the chiefs know that Washington, through Race to the Top and NCLB waivers, has been the key to Common Core’s spread, and they want the Feds to keep twisting states’ arms. But since few Americans want Washington controlling standards or assessments, they can’t just come out and say this. So they write an obtuse open letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education that talks of states’ “unique circumstances,” and decries a possible accountability moratorium without saying who would, or would not, enact it. And, ultimately, the intended message seems to be “thanks for pushing states to do what we want. Now don’t go wobbly on high-stakes testing.”

Thankfully, as the recent explosion of Common Core resistance is making clear, people aren’t being fooled by the rhetorical tap dancing anymore. They know this is federal, and they are tired of efforts to deceive them.

Arne Duncan, Less Than Zero?

Yesterday we laid out how, as percentages of total state education workforces, the Obama administration’s worst-case sequester job loss predictions are actually tiny. They’re so small they approach zero, generally clocking in at around 0.30 percent.

It seems, though, that even that number might be too big to fully capture the degree of fear-mongering by the administration. As the Washington Post is now reporting, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan actually has no evidence to back up the claim he made on Face the Nation this weekend that “there are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.” OK, he could point to one example – Kanawha County, West Virginia – but not without adding, “whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know.”

The big question now is, can we get the administration to cop to less than zero job losses? It might not be possible because, as trumped up as the sequester is, it probably will involve some job trimming. But it isn’t hard at all to see less than zero cuts when you put the sequester into historical context. As our by-now famous graphs make clear, for decades hiring in our schools grew well in excess of enrollment – a huge hiring boom. That means relatively minor cuts will, indeed, come out to far less than zero long-term losses. And considering that academic achievement was utlimately flat throughout the boom, much bigger cuts are clearly in order.

 

Anyway, thanks to Secretary Duncan – and the Washington Post – for making the job of exposing administration fear-mongering much, much easier.

Federal Irony Alert!

The nation’s biggest subprime student lender–your federal government!—has just called out private “subprime” lenders.

This morning the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and U.S. Department of Education released a report examining private student loans. It concludes that private lenders were out of control, just like all of Wall Street, before the “Great Recession” hit, a fact largely evidenced by high default rates. It was, the report argues, a part of the overall subprime lending debacle and it hurt innocent students.

“Subprime-style lending went to college and now students are paying the price,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a release accompanying the report.

What’s the report’s solution to the problem? Push people into federal loans to the maximum extent possible. After all, those loans have low, taxpayer-backed interest rates; generous repayment terms, including speedy forgiveness for anyone going into “public service”; and essentially no requirement that borrowers offer evidence of creditworthiness.

Wait—essentially no evidence of creditworthiness? Isn’t that subprime lending in its very purest form? Indeed it is, which is perhaps why the report offers no comparison of default rates on private and federal loans.

Basically, the report is pushing for even greater subprime lending, only with taxpayers on the hook rather than voluntary investors.

The report tries to further portray the fate of private lending as part of an exclusively Wall Street-driven recession by arguing  that a big drop in private lending between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 academic years was  entirely the result of private lenders suffering from the collapse of credit markets. No doubt that had a significant role, but the report somehow manages to not discuss numerous changes to federal law in the 2007-2010 time frame that pushed private lenders out of the way, including:

  • The College Cost Reduction and Access Act (2007), which set federal subsidized-loan interest rates on their halving path from 6.8 percent to the current 3.4 percent.
  • The Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act (2008), which increased unsubsidized loan maximums, reduced eligiblity criteria for PLUS loans (the only loans requiring some demonstration of creditworthiness), and offered federal money when guaranteed lending participants couldn’t get it through capital markets.
  • The reauthorized Higher Education Act (2008), which increased Pell Grant maximums, authorized forgiveness of up to $10,000 in debt for anyone working in an area of “national need,” and added new regulations for private lending.
  • The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (2010), which ended federal guaranteed lending in favor of federal lending directly from the U.S. Treasury

Fully private lending probably was reined in thanks to the recession, which is a good thing, with private lenders taking less risk when it didn’t pay off. But it is no doubt also important that Washington enacted many laws that made it much harder for private lenders to compete. The fact is the Feds can subprime-lend without any major concern about losing big bucks. It’s only taxpayer money, after all, and there’s always more of that! Plus the political dividends are sizable, enabling politicians to heartily and repeatedly congratulate themselves for “making sure everyone can go to college!”

That gets us to the next critical point: In addition to reinforcing the utterly discredited notion that the recession was all the fault of “greedy Wall Street fat cats,” a report focusing on private lending is just a distraction from the 800-pound gorilla in higher education: the federal government. At their peak in 2007-08, private loan originations were less than one-third the size of federal loans, and about one-fifth the size of all federal aid. Today they are slightly more than one-20th the size of federal loans, and about one-30th the size of all federal aid.

In other words, private loans are but bit players in a student-aid show dominated by Washington. It is super-abundant federal aid, not private lending, that signficantly fuels tuition inflation, enables dreadful college completion rates, and fosters a glut of degree holders. Yet it’s those same federal lenders who dare scold private companies and warn us about their subprime failures.

Oh, the irony!

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