As Arne Duncan, one of the longest-serving Secretaries of Education, announces his forthcoming resignation, observers are starting to reflect on his impact on education policy in the nation. Duncan will most likely be remembered more for his focus on K-12 education, not surprising given his background as the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, third-largest school district in the country. In that domain, he was known mostly for extending the Bush-era focus on accountability via testing. And it was that focus that led him to be reviled by many in traditional K-12 schools. As education historian and commentator Diane Ravitch wrote in the Huffington Post recently, “It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education.”
Having taught educational policy throughout most of my career as a faculty member, I would often start the course with the old saying, “Policy is like sausage – you don’t want to see either being made.” Just as most of us would not like to watch the sausage making process, for fear that we would find out what gets ground up and put into it, many of us – even those who consider ourselves “policy wonks” – similarly wish we could close our eyes as we watch the policy making process. As I write, there is a good example of sausage-making going on at the Department of Education in Washington.
The Department, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as its leader, has been pushing for more rigorous assessment of teachers and the programs that train them. This is a goal that is understandable and laudable; there has been much attention paid lately to the issue of teacher quality and how school districts can determine which are the most effective teachers and which are the least. Mary Kennedy, a faculty member in our Teacher Education program, edited a recent book on the topic – Teacher Assessment and the Quest for Teacher Quality: A Handbook. You can also read a briefing on the topic written by our Teacher Education program a few years ago.