Monday, November 22, 2010

It's the DOE Policies that Stink, Not the DOE People

I'm still at work on some bigger pieces, particularly on TFA, charters, and teacher quality.

In the meantime, this Education Week article entitled "Friends to Teachers at the U.S. Department of Education" written by Jonathan Eckert and Jason Raymond caught my eye when it was published a couple of weeks ago. Eckert and Raymond were two of eight teachers working at the Department of Education in the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Program. I remember thinking that since lately I'd had such negative associations with the Department of Education, to the point that I was considering jumping on board with George Wood's idea of eliminating it, it was good for me to read this, to get some sense of the folks working at the Department of Education and what their perspectives might be, so that I don't jump off the cliff into over-simplifying the education reform debate into "good" and "evil" sides.

I filed it away and forgot about it until today when I read Anthony Cody's post on his blog for Teacher Magazine. Anthony described a disappointing and thus far fruitless process he had gone through to collect feedback (in the form of letters) from teachers to present to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Cody also offers a persuasive critique of teacher outreach materials and programs offered by the Department of Education under Duncan.

Cody's post apparently had been written in response to the post of another teaching Ambassador Fellow and fellow Teacher Magazine blogger, Patrick Ledesa, who had written in support of the people at the Department of Education and in support of the original article. Ledesa acknowledges the problems with some current policies and says that
"we as teachers have the right to be angry about the simplistic portrayal of the problems in public education" 
but that that anger must be channeled productively and in a more informed way. The main point of the authors of the original article seemed to be that in the bureaucracy of 4,300, they were surprised and heartened by the
"remarkable number of smart, passionate, hard-working people who were genuinely concerned about the needs of teachers and students." 
I don't think that any of us, including Cody, who are frustrated with N.C.L.B. and Race to the Top would deny that. There are always dedicated people with sound ideas who work for the government. My father was one of them. He worked at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare before it was split up and he worked at the Department of Energy for many years after that. He was a dedicated civil servant who liked the people he worked with and who was genuinely concerned with the ramifications of his work, and so were many of his co-workers. But that doesn't mean he agreed with all of the policies coming down from the top or that he even had anything to do with some of them.

What Cody is targeting are the policies from the top that are wrong-headed and not the intelligence, intentions, civility, or dedication of the bureaucrats that administer and study certain programs that are in the fine print. The point isn't that Department of Education workers, including Secretary Duncan aren't dedicated and smart, it's that Duncan's vision and policies aren't smart and they won't work. Furthermore, I'm sure he's darn nice to career educators when he interacts with them and he says that teachers are valuable and that he respects them, but time and time again his other public statements, his policies, and his choice of advisers don't reflect that.

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