As promised, here's The Annotated Arne. Actually, this is Installment I -- annotating Arne is painful because it means reading and re-reading his drivel, his doubletalk and his lies.

Anyway, Installment I focuses on the "Class Size" question. I provide a "Translation" after Duncan's answer that I think, in all fairness, says what he really meant to convey.

More installments to follow.

[By the way: The question on class size was asked by a renowned teacher and education researcher, Elizabeth Word. Years ago, Elizabeth Word directed Tennessee's STAR study, which demonstrated conclusively that reducing class size to a maximum of 15 significantly improved student learning.  Duncan brushes her off without so much as a nod to the STAR study, leave aside her role in it.]

Jack Gerson

Class Size

I can teach 15 students much better than 30. When I directed the Project STAR class-size research program, I helped prove the value of small classes. What will the federal government do to reduce class size?

Elizabeth Word
Retired elementary teacher, Gallatin, Tennessee

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Secretary Duncan: Actually, what we’re most concerned about, right now, is class size skyrocketing. If hundreds of thousands of teachers got laid off, I think that would have been an education catastrophe for our country. If class size went from 25 to 40 and we laid off teachers, social workers, counselors, librarians—that would have been an absolute disaster. But due to this unbelievable influx of resources for education because of the President’s leadership in Congress, I think we’ve been able to largely stave off an education catastrophe and save a generation of children. 

Having said that, given how tough things are economically, districts are going to be hard pressed to lower class size at this point. I think many people would agree that’s an important thing to do. We have over three billion dollars in Title II money, and much of that is used in classroom reduction now. But, right now, we’re fighting the battle not to get worse, and trying to do everything we can to make sure that class size doesn’t go in the wrong direction. And, that’s a very real fear and possibility in some places.

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Translation: Actually, what we're most concerned about, right now, is shoring up the profits of the giant financial institutions. If bank profits don't recover, I think we'll have an economic catastrophe for the most powerful institutions and the most affluent people in our country. It's unbelievable that what with those big banks needing (and getting) an infusion of $13 trillion, we're still able to provide any money at all for education. You want class size reduction to 15? Be thankful we don't give you class size of 115. After all – big banks are too big to fail. Little kids – they're just the right size to fail.

Having said that, given how tough things are economically, we need to conserve our money for real innovation – like making teachers compete against teachers, and schools compete against schools. We need to identify the “bad teachers” and the “failed schools”, and how can we do that if we create conditions where all might succeed? And if all succeed, where's our justification for charter schools, for outsourcing, for privatizing?

No, we have another approach altogether. If you want any funding from this administration, you'd better get with the program and innovate. Change those state laws and ed codes: base teacher evaluations on student test scores; opt for merit pay; go for charter schools.

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Annotated Arne Part II:

Today's installment of The Annotated Arne takes up his "response" to a question about charter schools.

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Question: I have taught students turned away by our charter school. Almost all charters either fend off children with special needs, or push out students who don’t work hard, or require extra parent commitment. How is that a model for the rest of us?  Nina Romano, Kindergarten special education teacher, Somerville, Massachusetts

Secretary Duncan:  If that's going on, that's not acceptable. Let me start with that. But any good accountability agreement with an authorizer will absolutely be looking at those factors. And if schools are not doing the right thing, that would be a reason for that school to be shut down.

Translation: Of course, that kind of biased selection and push-out has been going on in Chicago. Situations of the kind you describe were rampant under my administration. But as documented in that Labor Beat video (http://blip.tv/file/2428857), I just lie about what I did to public education in Chicago.

Secretary Duncan: In Chicago, we had some of those complaints, so part of how we held charters accountable was tracking how many students didn’t make it through their school, who left. Not that we did it all perfectly, but we looked at special ed rates, retention rates, dropout rates. We publish this every year for every school.

Translation: I'll say anything to get by. Actually, because you didn't word your question carefully, I think I can slip through here without directly lying. Sure, we “'looked' at special ed rates, retention rates, dropout rates.” We "looked", but we didn't act. No, we went on our merry privatizing, charterizing way. (I said we weren't 'perfect', didn't I?) Even the Chicago business community complains that public education in Chicago did not improve under my stewardship (see Still Left Behind: Student Learning in Chicago's Public Schools; Civic Committee of the Chicago Commerical Club; June 1999 – http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2009/07/chicago_report.php).

Secretary Duncan: In Chicago, we were a 90 percent minority, 85 percent poverty district. The charters—surprisingly—were slightly poorer and slightly more minority than the district as a whole.

Translation: I worked like hell to give charter schools every advantage. More money. Better facilities. I let them push out kids who would've pulled down their test scores and graduation rates. And, as everyone knows but I still pretend I don't, they still couldn't outperform ordinary public schools.

Secretary Duncan: If charters are successful because they’re just working with elite kids or they’re putting out kids, that’s not success. These are not gifted schools. These are schools where admission should be by lottery, taking your regular public school student and serving them.

Translation: What I'm saying here is that ALL schools need to be charter schools. My buddy Joel Klein has announced that as his goal for New York City, and I'm letting you be the first to know that it's mine for the whole country. Sure, the evidence says that on average charter schools are outperformed by pubic schools. Do you really think that we care about all that performance hype? It's a means to an end, and the end is privatization.

Secretary Duncan: The goal is not more charters, it’s good charters. That means having a very high bar to entry. This is not “let a thousand flowers bloom.” You pick only the best of the best to do this work. Once you do that, you give folks real autonomy, and couple it with real accountability. And part of that accountability is serving every child.

Translation: Whoops. I said that backwards. Almost gave the game away. Of course, in reality we start out rigging the game to first identify “the best” and then declare that they're better – how else could I say charter schools outperform public schools? But I'm not copping to that. No, here's what I meant to say: you start with real accountability (that means standardized test scores, folks). Then you pick the best of the best (meaning, the ones with the highest test scores) and you THROW THE OTHERS AWAY! This is not “let a thousand flowers bloom”. We only let one flower bloom: there's only one way to teach and one way to learn, and that's kill 'n' drill.

NEA Today: What about the more subtle kind of selection, which I’ve heard someone describe as just having a grownup in their lives who was involved enough to choose a school. How can you compare results between schools where all the kids have that grownup, and schools where some kids don’t?

Secretary Duncan: I don’t have an easy answer for that. I will say there were children who attended charter schools who were homeless, where a teacher from their elementary school thought, this is a more nurturing environment, and put them in there.

So, you’re right, either they found the school or the school found them, or an adult in their life helped to do that. But to think that all the kids in these charter schools are coming from higher functioning families—that’s not my experience. Some of the most at-risk kids I’ve ever seen ended up in some of these schools. 

I’m a big believer in choice. I think New York does this: Every child applies to a school, whether it’s a charter or traditional school or whatever, so everybody is making a decision to go someplace. That does help to level the playing field and make the comparisons fair.

I’m a big believer in giving parents and students a range of high-quality options, and then following the data and finding out: Where we have long waiting lists, we need to do more at those schools. Where no one shows, and people move away, we need to close those schools. It lets everybody vote with their feet.

This works better in urban areas, where there’s more concentration of people, than in rural areas, where it’s obviously hard to get a choice.

I think we have to do more to empower families, particularly poor families, who have historically had very few options, if any. Create a menu of options, whether it’s math and science academies, or schools that focus on the International Baccalaureate, or the fine arts—we did single-sex schools—these are all schools of choice. No one is assigned.

If every parent can have four, five, six, seven great options, and let them figure out what’s the best learning environment for their kids—I think that’s unbelievably empowering. And it takes away what could be a legitimate concern: Is this really apples to apples? When you have real choice, it does make it more an apples-to-apples comparison. 

Translation: Blah, blah, blah. But, like I said a few lies ago, “this is not 'let a thousand floors bloom'”. I don't believe in real choice. At least, not for you. You don't get to choose. I tell you what kind of schools you'll have. Charter schools. And that, for once, is the truth.