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Not Insulted

June 5, 2011

As my school year is coming to a close, I try to stay connected to the developments in national education reform, but it is the developments here in South Central Los Angeles that have barely allowed me to keep my head above water.  Let’s just say that as a classroom teacher, I have a close and personal relationship with education reform policies, and can speak to them from experience.


So it was with curiosity that I noticed my twitter feed trending on the topic of Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, and Jonathan Alter these last few days.  A few simple clicks led me to the website of the original Alter article that basically attacked Dr. Ravitch’s Op-Ed about “miracle schools,” but the post went further by including an incendiary quote by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day

Hardworking teachers?

Is Arne Duncan speaking for me?

Is Arne Duncan speaking for the millions of hardworking teachers across the nation?

It would not be the first time that Mr. Duncan spoke off the cuff and showed the public a brief look into the true machinations of his corporate mind.  This is the same secretary that believed Hurricane Katrina was the “best thing to ever happen to New Orleans schools.”  Now Arne Duncan feels he can disparage the foremost expert on education history, using a personal attack to distract from the facts she brought to light.

Not a good move, Mr. Duncan.

You see, while trash-talking may be an effective method in the NBA, in academia it is perceived as a simple vehicle to distract from the debate at hand.  We the teachers, the academics, see through this.  Classroom teachers especially have fine-tuned their BS detection skills with years of experience working with adolescents.  Dr. Ravitch pointed out what few journalists have dared write about: how the schools hailed as miracles by the President and Arne Duncan have high attrition rates that render any assertion of celestial occurrences moot.

I work at a high poverty school.  My students join their parents at night to look for cans that they can recycle for small amounts of cash.  They do not have health insurance.  They don’t always eat three meals a day.  Many are homeless or in foster care.

Teachers at schools like mine are concerned that education reform policies are not helping our students, because threats of turnarounds, takeovers, and poor evaluations can’t make us work any harder or make our students any less poor.  Dr. Ravitch understands this reality, and recognizes that the true insult in this debate is the allegation that teachers like me are not working hard enough, or don’t believe enough in the potential of our students, because if we did, our schools would have miracles too.

I try to give folks the benefit of the doubt, and indeed an apology was issued after the unfortunate Katrina statement.  But I wonder if the Secretary understands that due to the competitive nature of Race to the Top in a climate of economic scarcity, people will not only say anything, but they will do anything to get those funds.  In other words, people will tell the feds exactly what they want to hear to get money for their schools.  This does not make it true.

The teachers are not going to stop reading.  They will not stop writing.  They will continue to share their expert opinions about education policies that land at their schools, policies formed without their valuable input. It would behoove the education secretary to read some of these blogs and talk to folks whose livelihoods are not dependent on the funds being offered by the federal government.  Perhaps then the words he speaks on behalf of teachers will ring true.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2011 9:32 am

    Duncan’s quote was as duplicitous and disingenuous as they come. I for one think the vicious Alter attack piece on Dr. Ravitch was conceived of as a vehicle for Duncan to take a cheap shot at a highly educated woman who has exposed Duncan for the fake, phony, and fraud he really is. It’s awfully easy to cloak unrealistic expectations as high expectations when you’ve never witnessed, much less experienced, the abject conditions of poverty and hopelessness.

  2. June 5, 2011 10:28 am

    In another one of the dozens of commentaries around Ed Policy World this morning, someone reflected that the incident is reminiscent of McCarthysism–the communist witch hunts of the 1950s, where scholars and public intellectuals were hung out to dry for producing evidence and discourse in opposition to the government.

    Buckle up. I think this is the first sign that it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

    Excellent piece, Martha. Thank you.

  3. Kristina permalink
    June 5, 2011 4:42 pm

    Thank you Martha! I am going to share this with my friends.

  4. Laureen Hunt permalink
    June 5, 2011 9:48 pm

    How hard is it for the president to find someone who has actually spent some real time as a classroom teacher to help develop education reform? He needs to admit he made a mistake(with Duncan), and put someone who understands what the current classroom is like, and what a teacher can and cannot do. Like most politicians, they hand pick select teachers who share their outlook, instead of asking the majority what they really think of the current education reform.

  5. Pattipeg S Harjo permalink
    June 6, 2011 5:13 am

    How in the world is Ravitch insulting me? Every teacher I know thinks she’s fabulous, and is representing teachers and education far better than Duncan or Gates or any of the other clueless reformers. Personal attacks are usually a sign of 1. desperation 2. intellectual paucity. I didn’t realize things were so bad for Duncan.

  6. Lianna Nix permalink
    June 7, 2011 1:12 pm

    You are so right…Control and intimidation do NOT make us care more, work harder, or “perform” better.

    They just drive up our frustration and fatigue factor, and then drive us out of the profession before we lose our remaining fragile minds.

    We in the trenches concur!

    -L Nix

  7. June 8, 2011 1:55 pm

    “The teachers are not going to stop reading. They will not stop writing.” And the teachers have support from the folks who care about this nation and what the current plan means to the future of the world. It’s not that I don’t love STEMs, it’s that STEMs Need Blooms:

  8. December 28, 2011 3:17 pm

    Thank you, Martha. As a hardworking, NBCT, I could not agree more!


  1. 2011 at InterACT – Martha Infante « InterACT

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