Tag: Arne Duncan

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!

‘Say I Threatened You Again, And You’ll Really Be Sorry!’

Apparently, if you try to undo something the feds want you to do, they’ll slap you around until you confess they’ve never threatened you. At least, that’s how Education Secretary Arne Duncan rolls when it comes to national curriculum standards:

Following is a statement by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on a legislative proposal in South Carolina to block implementation of the Common Core academic standards:

“The idea that the Common Core standards are nationally-imposed is a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy. The Common Core academic standards were both developed and adopted by the states, and they have widespread bipartisan support. GOP leaders like Jeb Bush and governors Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and Bill Haslam have supported the Common Core standards because they realize states must stop dummying down academic standards and lying about the performance of children and schools. In fact, South Carolina lowered the bar for proficiency in English and mathematics faster than any state in the country from 2005 to 2009, according to research by the National Center for Education Statistics.

“That’s not good for children, parents, or teachers. I hope South Carolina lawmakers will heed the voices of teachers who supported South Carolina’s decision to stop lowering academic standards and set a higher bar for success. And I hope lawmakers will continue to support the state’s decision to raise standards, with the goal of making every child college- and career-ready in today’s knowledge economy.”

I don’t really need to go any further than the statement itself to prove that, contrary to “Fat Tony” Duncan’s protestations, it is not a “conspiracy theory” to say that the Common Core is “nationally imposed.” But let’s rehearse the litany one more time:

  • In 2008 the National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc.—the main Common Core architects—called for federal “incentives” to get states to adopt “a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts.”
  • President Obama’s $4.35-billion Race to the Top required that states, to be fully competitive for grants, adopt national standards.
  • Race to the Top contained $330 million that Washington is using to fund development of two national tests to go with the Common Core.
  • The President’s “blueprint” to reauthorize No Child Left Behind would make national standards the backbone of federal accountability.
  • To get waivers from No Child Left Behind’s most onerous provisions, a state has to either adopt the Common Core or have a state college system declare that the state’s standards are “college- and career-ready.” Of course, this came after almost every state had already adopted the Common Core.

Why is Duncan lashing out? Quite possibly, he’s reacting to a recent spate of research and commentary attacking the Common Core based on its highly dubious legality, quality, and odds of success. That South Carolina is considering backing out—though the Palmetto State effort fell short in a Senate subcommittee—might have pushed Duncan over the edge. I mean, how dare those people try to buck what Duncan and his boss were not in any way trying to get them to do!

Unfortunately, as failure in the South Carolina committee reinforces—and I warned last week—it is unlikely that many states will formally boot what they’ve already adopted. The time to fight to keep the Common Core out of states was before Race to the Top decisions were made, as we at the Center for Educational Freedom did. Of course, it was off most people’s radars during that crucial time because that was exactly what national-standards supporters wanted. And it’s what their ongoing dissembling about Washington’s heavy hand is intended to continue.

Thankfully, that strategy seems to not be working so well anymore.

Reality, Meet Education Policy. Education Policy, Please, Meet Reality!

Nobody wants to be the guy – especially the Congress-guy – who says that we need to cut education spending. Nobody wants to be the target of attacks from both the well-intentioned and politically opportunistic that they hate children, only care about “the rich,” or any of the other deviousness  that long ago snuck up behind reasoned debate, threw a rope around its neck,  and pulled it backwards.

That’s been proven again today.

If you address it honestly, it’s nearly impossible to deny that federal education meddling has been not just a failure, but a failure with all sorts of bizzaro tendencies. Just look at today’s big edu-news story: Several months ago, Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned that this year 82 percent of the nation’s public schools would be identified as failing under the No Child left Behind Act.  A lot of people smelled pure politics behind the pronouncement – the administration wanted to unilaterally issue waivers from the law in exchange for states adopting POTUS-dictated policies – and today the Center on Education Policy released a report finding that only about 48 percent of schools “need improvement” under NCLB.

Wait, 48 percent? Isn’t that still really high?

It certainly seems so, but who the heck even knows? Every state sets its own standards-and-testing regime and most appear to have gamed the system wildly to stay out of trouble. So are all our schools failing? Half? And what even constitutes failing? No one knows, and few politicians appear willing to talk straight about it. (Of course, most probably have no idea what should constitute math and reading “proficiency” – the law’s goal – to begin with. Indeed, it’s an extremely subjective designation for anyone to make, though some in Washington act like they pretty much know what it is.)

Obviously, no sane individual would ever construct a system like this. But politically, all this illusion and contortion makes sense: Every politician wants to be seen as the savior of our children, but never wants the abuse that would come with creating and enforcing high standards, or being honest about progress made – or not made – under his or her watch. So we get all this sound, fury, and when you compare spending to test scores, educational nothing: 

 

Now, you’d think just the sheer lunacy of federal education policy making would make it clear to all that Washington should get out of education. And if that didn’t do it, the abysmal track record absolutely would. But no: Today the U.S. House of Representatives – the legislative body supposedly full of angry, tea-guzzling Republicans – produced their FY 2012 appropriations bill. And by how much did they cut the U.S. Department of Education budget? 20 percent? 2 percent? No, a microscopic 0.2 percent! A $153 million quark out of a $71.3 billion whale!

While office holders are wrongly considered our leaders by some – they are, in fact, our employees – you’d hope they’d lead a bit by ignoring short-term political consequences and cutting utterly failed programs. But that would be the triumph of hope over reality; politicians are as self-interested as anyone else, and will generally do only those things that help them keep or gain votes. So what must happen is that the public gets intimately familiar with the sick reality of federal education policy and votes based on it. And that means those of us at Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, and others who know the truth, must do a better job of getting that word out and helping education policy to finally meet reality.

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