How should we be grateful to Arne Duncan?


In 2001 the CTPF was nearly fully funded. By 2009, when Duncan left, it was only 75% funded.

Peter Cunningham, who once was Arne Duncan’s spokesman and now runs an education blog funded with $12 million dollars of Eli Broad money, claims (in a Tweet to my brother Mike Klonsky) that my brother – or maybe he means all Chicago teachers – should be grateful to Arne Duncan for CPS teachers’ high raises and their pensions.

Yet, how grateful should we (or they) be?

From the Chicago Trib, 1995.

(Paul) Vallas, who will submit his proposed $2.9 billion budget to the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees Monday, said he trimmed $161.8 million by reducing 1,700 central office staffers and trades workers; eliminating waste from special education and other departments; and gutting an elaborate program designed to network the district’s computers.

At the same time, he came up with $206.8 million in revenue by contributing less to the teachers pension fund; keeping some of the discretionary funds schools get for low-income students; putting 20 surplus properties up for sale; and shifting to the general fund monies that financed after-school programs at school fieldhouses.

When Duncan succeeded Vallas, he continued with the repurposing of funds that were intended for the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.

In 2001 when Duncan took over CPS, the CTPF was 99% funded. When he left in 2009 to become Obama’s Education Secretary the funding level had dropped to 75% according to the CTPF.

In 2010, Jason Grotto of the Trib reported:

With help from allies in Springfield, the Daley administration pushed to have the pension code rewritten so property tax money that normally went to pensions would go to Chicago Public Schools coffers. Under the old law, the district’s pension bill was slated to be $93 million in 1995. Instead, it paid just $10 million.

CPS officials went back to Springfield the following year and had the law changed again. This time, the district would have to put money into the pension only if the fund’s level fell below 90 percent.

For the next decade, the district’s contribution to the retirement of tens of thousands of public school teachers was zero. In all, the pension holiday cost the teachers fund more than $1.5 billion from 1995 to 2009, according to fund documents. The state was supposed to help soften the blow by contributing to the fund, but that never happened.

At first, the pension fund was able to make up the difference with investment income, thanks in no small part to an overheated stock market fueled by the tech bubble. When that burst in 2000, however, the returns fell. Together with the massive pension holiday and a string of benefits increases averaging about 6.4 percent a year, the pension’s funding level started slipping, fund documents show.


Peter Cunningham. You’re a communications expert. We are supposed to be grateful to Arne Duncan for his work on preserving teacher pensions.

Communicate, sir.



Lily Eskelesen Garcia. Duncan policies are indefensible.


NEA President-elect Lily Eskelsen Garcia and an amateur basketball player.

– Salon

Other than being unfair to individual teachers, does basing evaluations and school ratings on test scores hurt students too?

Using test scores is basically saying to educators, “Hit your number or you get punished.” Or even worse, “Hit your number in El Paso, if you’re an administrator, and we’ll give you a bunch of money.” That would encourage the administrator to use a push-out program for low-scoring students like those who don’t speak English. That’s what Lorenzo Garcia did as district superintendent in El Paso, and he is in jail now. He was the first person to go to jail for lining his pocket with bonus dollars because he could hit his numbers. And he made presentations about how you can “light a fire under lazy teachers to get those numbers up.” But what really happened is he would call individual students into his office to threaten and humiliate them with deportation if they wouldn’t drop out or transfer. He pushed out over 400 students in his high school. It was the El Paso Teachers Association that got the community together to talk about what was happening and to make sure that never happened again. That NEA chapter just won a national human and civil rights award for establishing a way for parents and teachers to alert the community when they see district administration engaging in unfair practices to students.

What does Arne Duncan think about this? Why does he still insist on basing his policies on test scores?

I spoke with Secretary Duncan yesterday [July 16]. He’s very upset with the NEA Representative Assembly’s decision to call for his resignation. We had a hard conversation. He was very straightforward with me. He felt he wasn’t being given enough credit from NEA for advocating for expanded early childhood education and greater access to affordable college. And it’s true there is no light between us on those issues. So he asked why we didn’t explain to people all the good things he has advocated for. I said I would send him copies of speeches I give where I’ve been supportive of the good things the Obama administration has done, and I’d give him position papers from the NEA addressing the need to work closely with his department.

So what’s the frustration for teachers?

Here’s the frustration – and I’m not blaming the delegates; I will own this; I share in their anger. The Department of Education has become an evidence-free zone when it comes to high stakes decisions being made on the basis of cut scores on standardized tests. We can go back and forth about interpretations of the department’s policies, like, for instance, the situation in Florida where teachers are being evaluated on the basis of test scores of students they don’t even teach. He, in fact, admitted that was totally stupid. But he needs to understand that Florida did that because they were encouraged in their applications for grant money and regulation waivers to do so. When his department requires that state departments of education have to make sure all their teachers are being judged by students’ standardized test scores, then the state departments just start making stuff up. And it’s stupid. It’s absurd. It’s non-defensible. And his department didn’t reject applications based on their absurd requirements for testing. It made the requirement that all teachers be evaluated on the basis of tests a threshold that every application had to cross over. That’s indefensible.

Read the entire interview here.

Arne’s rant. Truth, thy name is blogger.


The other day I was trying to get some information about the Illinois Teacher Retirement System from a TRS employee who clearly didn’t want to talk to me.

“I know who you are,” he said. “You’re a blogger!”

Whoa. Is that my identity now?

Thirty years of teaching, activism, union work, art work, ukelele playing. Most importantly ukelele playing. And it all comes down to being a blogger.

If you’ve been paying attention you’ve heard about Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s rant against education bloggers.

We’re either too inside or outside the beltway. I can’t remember.

Fortunately, many of the people in the real world outside the Beltway and the blogosphere have tuned out this debate. They are too busy actually getting the real work done. They’re focusing on students—whether they are three years old, 13-years old, or 33-years old.

Oh, right. The real world outside the beltway.

Where Arne resides?

There have been many good responses to Arne’s rant. Here, here and here to start.

I’m just moving on.

Arne Duncan’s secret Chicago “Clout to the Top” list.


Arne Duncan kept a Clout to the Top log.

Back in 2010 then Mayor Richard Daley denied their was a Clout to the Top list that allowed City Hall favorites special entry to Chicago’s selective admission high schools.


A secret log of clout-heavy Chicagoans seeking to help kids win admission to elite public schools was a complaint file, not a back-channel admissions process, Mayor Daley said today.

Daley said there was nothing wrong with former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan’s office maintaining such a log because “no favoritism” resulted from it.

“People are calling,” Daley said. “What do you do, just say, ‘No?’ Arne Duncan said you have to say something. Someone complained, ‘My child did not get in to this school. What can I do?’ He sent it to the principal to review, which is the right thing to do.

“You cannot hide it. It existed … There’s no favoritism, as Arne pointed out. Any complaint they had, he sent it right to the school … If people complained, you can’t just dismiss the complaint.”

Earlier this week Crain’s columnist Greg Hinz reported that GOP gubernatorial candidate and Rahm pal Bruce Rauner got his daughter into top-ranked selective admission Walter Payton High School through clout and Arne Duncan’s say-so.

The results of a Freedom of Information Action request by WBEZ’s education reporter Linda Lutton gives us a log kept by Duncan of the results of the requests made by clout-heavy pals.

Names of parents requesting admission for their children are redacted. The only names not redacted are those of elected officials, high-level school or city officials, or other individuals who forwarded requests to Arne Duncan. Requests coming directly from Duncan appear as “AD” on the log. Petitions from Duncan’s wife appear as “KD” on the log.  

Call the White House. A national campaign to stop Race to the Top.

Contact the White House weekly at 202-456-1111 on your state’s designated day.

Message: Give all students the same education your girls are getting! Abandon Race to the Top and stop privatizing public schools.


1. Alabama
2. Alaska
3. Arizona
4. Arkansas
5. California
6. Colorado
7. Connecticut
8. Delaware
9. Florida
10. Georgia

1. Hawaii
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5. Iowa
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10. Maryland

1. Massachusetts
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4. Mississippi
5. Missouri
6. Montana
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8. Nevada
9. New Hampshire
10. New Jersey

1. New Mexico
2. New York
3. North Carolina
4. North Dakota
5. Ohio
6. Oklahoma
7. Oregon
8. Pennsylvania
9. Rhode Island
10. South Carolina

1. South Dakota
2. Tennessee
3. Texas
4. Utah
5. Vermont
6. Virginia
7. Washington
8. West Virginia
9. Wisconsin
10. Wyoming

The Campaign for Our Public Schools. CNN reports.

President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his policies were the target of many of the letters.

About a month ago education historian and public school’s activist Diane Ravitch called on us to write President Obama on October 17th with our concerns about the direction federal education policy has taken during his administration.

400 people responded.

CNN reports:

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered his state of education speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., which was part self-review of his department’s goals and achievements and part campaign speech for his boss, President Obama.

But not all educators are ardent supporters of the president’s policies, and they are letting him know.

At about the same time Duncan was giving his speech, education historian and professor Diane Ravitch issued a call to teachers, administrators, parents and students to send letters to the president, expressing their sincere views on his education policies.

In her own draft of a letter to President Obama, Ravitch says, “Please, Mr. President, stop talking about rewarding and punishing teachers. Teachers are professionals, not toddlers.”  She also asks the president to “stop encouraging the privatization of education” and to “speak out against the spread of for-profit schools.” She adds “Please withdraw your support from the failed effort to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students.”

Teacher and education activist Anthony Cody volunteered to help gather the correspondence.  In 2009, Cody led the “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” effort and collected about 100 letters. That campaign led to a meeting with Secretary Duncan but no change in education policies.

This month, educators and parents sent correspondence to The Campaign for Our Public Schools website. On October 18, Cody compiled nearly 400 letters, almost three-quarters of these from educators. They were printed, bound and sent to the White House last week. Cody told CNN that “the level of frustration now is even higher” among teachers than it was three years ago.

K-12 is missing in action at the Democratic National Convention.

If you were watching the convention, even the gavel to gavel coverage on CSPAN, you would be hard pressed to hear anything that referred to the last four years of education policy coming out of the Department of Education. Or plans for the next four years.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss compares the 2008 Democratic Party platform with the 2012 version. The tiny section that speaks to K-12 public schools drops any reference to teacher participation in creating new models of teacher evaluation in the 2012 platform. They actually said there needs to be teacher participation when they wrote the 2008 version. Although apparently Arne didn’t bother to read the 2008 version.

Remember that the National Education Association was the first union to endorse Obama and our 200 delegates make us the largest organization of any kind represented at the DNC.

If you thought there was a debate over vouchers or charters schools, you wouldn’t know it by reading the Democratic Party platform. The words don’t appear.

There are lots of references to high standards and compensation for good teaching. In case you miss what they’re talking about, I guess that means the Democrats are against compensation for bad teaching. Or this is code for merit pay. Who knows?

I asked several friends if they heard Arne Duncan last night. Most said they missed it.

So here it is.


They didn’t miss much.

Oh. He did remind us to watch out for China because education is about jobs.

In case you thought education was about making sense of the world you live in. About living a life of meaning and inquiry. About seeing things through the different lenses that the disciplines of knowledge provide.

Ah. I know. That would make for a weird party platform.

Arts in education? Tell Obama, “No Duncan in a second term.”

Last week we received an email from my department chair with a link to a speech Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave at a Washington DC elementary school on April 2nd.

It is deeply disturbing that all students do not have access to arts education today.

These survey findings suggest that more than 1.3 million students in elementary school fail today to get any music instruction–and the same is true for about 800,000 secondary school students. All told, nearly four million elementary school students do not get any visual arts instruction at school during their formative learning years.

That means those children are not learning to play the recorder. They are not learning to draw self-portraits. They are not learning to play in the band or sing in the Glee Club. They don’t know what it means to take a role in the school play–or to put themselves in the shoes of another person who lived in a different time or place.

And unfortunately, the arts opportunity gap is widest for children in high-poverty schools. This is absolutely an equity issue and a civil rights issue–just as is access to AP courses and other educational opportunities.

I copied back my department.

The disgraceful part of this talk by Arne Duncan is his concern for the narrowing of the curriculum which has excluded the Arts, since no single person is more responsible for the narrowing of the curriculum than he is. His emphasis on test scores, accountability and core curriculum all have served to push the Arts to the far margins of schools concerns. Shameful.

My department chair wrote back.

My thoughts exactly. Talk about talking out your #*^^& .