USDOE: When in a Hole, Keep Digging

The U.S. Department of Education ended 2014 with another (and predictable) reach into education reform, proposing new policy for teacher education.

Reviewing the reform initiative for NEPCKevin K. Kumashiro has drawn several disturbing (and predictable) conclusions:

This review considers the evidentiary support for the proposed regulations and identifies seven concerns: (1) an underestimation of what could be a quite high and unnecessary cost and burden; (2) an unfounded attribution of educational inequities to individual teachers rather than to root systemic causes; (3) an improperly narrow definition of teacher classroom readiness; (4) a reliance on scientifically discredited processes of test-based accountability and value-added measures for data analysis; (5) inaccurate causal explanations that will put into place a disincentive for teachers to work in high-needs schools; (6) a restriction on the accessibility of federal student financial aid and thus a limiting of pathways into the teaching profession; and (7) an unwarranted, narrow, and harmful view of the very purposes of education.

While acknowledging the nearly complete failure of this new USDOE proposal to reform teacher education is crucial, that may not be as important as also highlighting the pattern of ineptitude now shaping the Obama education legacy.

The elements of that legacy share several qualities that confirm my call for invoking the Reagan directive to abolish the USDOE:

  • Using federal initiatives and funding to leverage policy and practices in K-12 and higher education: Race to the Top, opting out of NCLB, tuition-free community college.
  • Endorsing, funding, and imposing policies, practices, and organizations that significant bodies of research either refute or reveal to be mostly speculative or no more effective than existing practices or structures: value-added methods of evaluating teachers, schools, or programs; new standards; new high-stakes tests; charter schools (and other choice mechanisms); Teach for America; third-grade retention based on high-stakes tests.
  • Masking social and educational root problems as well as “scientifically discredited” policy commitments behind Orwellian political discourse (utopian claims about teacher impact and educational attainment, parental choice; framing racist and classist structures [charter schools] and ideologies [‘no excuses,” “grit”] as “the civil rights issue of our time”).

Instead of identifying and confronting the social and educational inequity overburdening K-12 public education, schools, teachers, and students—and then promoting research-based policy addressing those inequities—the USDOE is content with maintaining the status quo of keeping the Obama education legacy at the bottom of a very deep hole begun by others and doggedly continuing to dig.

These facts have now existed well beyond a decade, and thus, are not about individual people (elected or appointed) or a political party.

This is a failed approach to government mandated instead of publicly funded universal public education.

The burden now facing the public is about both triggering the democratic process and embracing publicly funded universal public education as central to preserving that democracy.

The rhetoric and policy flowing from the USDOE are in the service of something other than either education in the name of democracy or the public good.

We all must shine light on those facts and demand different.


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