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Why I Think Arne Duncan Has Just Made His Biggest Mistake


Education Secretary Arne Duncan is one of the few people who support the Los Angeles Times public release of data linking student test scores with individual teachers.

Even many who support the idea of incorporating “value-added” measures in teacher evaluations oppose the public release (see The Best Posts About The LA Times Article On “Valued-Added” Teacher Ratings).

During my nineteen-year community organizing career, we learned and knew that one cardinal rule of organizing is that you never burn bridges with the person with whom you’re negotiating. We knew that in public life, “there were no permanent enemies and no permanent allies — only changing self-interests.” However, we also knew that public humiliation could scramble that equation, so we might take it to the edge, but never over it. We did not want to burn bridges.

Secretary Duncan could have generated a lot of goodwill among teachers by attacking the Times’ decision to publicly disclose linked student test scores without backing away from his support of connecting standardized tests with teacher evaluations (even though studies his own Department have commissioned question the validity and reliability of those scores). But, instead, he supported their disclosure.

Of course, if Duncan doesn’t view teachers and their unions as groups he has to negotiate with, then, in his view, there is no problem in going over the edge and encouraging embarrassment and humiliation. Or maybe President Obama just has not gotten around to helping him understand the basics of organizing.

Either way, I wonder if his decision this week is going to haunt anything he wants to do in his remaining years as Secretary of Education.

What do you think?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Larry:

    You are right about Mr. Dunce, although I think his bigger mistakes are yet to come.

    As for his getting organizational tutoring from the President, I think he would be well-advised to look elsewhere, politics aside.

    No doubt, though, this is his biggest mistake so far.

  2. Biggest mistake? It’s in the running. When he agreed with the firing of all the teachers at Central Falls, that was a major insult to.

  3. With his comment about the LA Times article, I think the Secretary has crossed the Rubicon. It’s clear that “mean-spritedness” is a highly-regarded ed reformer strategy to force change on our education system, but, really, it’s crossed from mean to just plain wrong.

  4. If you look at his education (educated yes- but not in ‘education, pedagogy’- Arne Duncan has absolutely no background in education! How he got this position is beyond sensible so “it makes sense” that his decisions don’t make any sense at all!! He has no experience in any classroom of any kind- I think it should be mandatory that if you are Secretary of Education that you should have at least spent time in a classroom educating students…. Then, at least, maybe then some REAL change can begin to happen in education!

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