‘Education runs on lies’

Aug 28, 2018 by

By Bill Evers –


By Arne Duncan

Simon & Schuster, $26.95, 256 pages

Arne Duncan’s memoir of his experience as U.S. secretary of Education under President Barack Obama draws you in because he acknowledges that K-12 education in America is built on a tissue of lies. His opening sentence is: “Education runs on lies.” But all too often he himself falls into misstatements, delusions and omissions of needed facts. Blinders made out of his beliefs block him from facing reality.

Mr. Duncan’s memoir contains valuable insights about the importance of good teachers, effective spending and accountability for results. But his beliefs — as opposed to sound analysis — lead him on several wrong paths.

He sets forth Progressive Education shibboleths — touting group work and cooperative learning. He mocks rote memorization (in truth, necessary for learning material like the multiplication tables). He eloquently praises drill and repetitive practice in basketball in one part of the book, while elsewhere saying we don’t need “rote knowledge” in education.

Mr. Duncan gets a key fact wrong. He thinks that in the years before the Obama administration there was a “race to the bottom” by states in what they expected of students. Because he gets this fact wrong, he says that the way to fix American education is a centrally planned “race to the top,” run from Washington. His Education Department supported Common Core, the national curriculum-content standards, as part of that central-planning effort.

In truth, a major pro-Common Core think tank, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, studied the question of whether there had been a “race to the bottom” and found instead a more benign drift to the middle.

Social scientists have long said that in a federal system of states, as we have in the United States, it is better for the states to act as laboratories of democracy and to be able to compete by offering different programs. Mr. Duncan himself correctly says that governors want their states to be more competitive. Common Core, however, tends instead to nationalize curriculum and dampens interstate competition that would come from different curriculum approaches.

Mr. Duncan says he wanted classrooms in El Paso, Nashville, Boston and every other locality to be on the same page. But his goal of national uniformity provoked a grass-roots backlash. As a consequence, Mr. Duncan’s dream of a national testing system — readily comparable and unified in terms of subject-matter content — has been shattered by states turning away from the national tests that Mr. Duncan’s Education Department subsidized.

Source: BOOK REVIEW: ‘How Schools Work’ by Arne Duncan – Washington Times

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