Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arne Duncan as Education Secretary

Since October, over 16 teachers and administration members in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) have been arrested for possession of illegal substances. Local reporting has run story after story about the superintendent's decision to have surprise searches conducted in the teacher's parking lots on different campuses, and of bringing in sniffer dogs to aid in searches. Yet, in a display of some kind of aggressive defiance, or just utter stupidity, the arrests continue of employees with drugs on campus.

Yes, teachers are human. So are administrators. And, no, these do not represent the majority of employees of HISD. The majority of drugs found have been small amounts of marijuana and prescription drugs without proper documentation. The first arrest evolved from an anonymous tip. The rest have snowballed especially after the sniffer dogs were brought in for dramatic effect.

HISD employs over 28,000 people. It is one of the nation's largest school districts and the largest in Texas. Full disclosure - my son is a HISD high school grad, Class of 2008.

The worse part of all this, seems to me, is just how lacking in judgement these adults are. It's just stupid to be an adult responsible for teaching children in school while exhibiting blatant disregard for the law. Maybe they feel bulletproof as members of the all powerful teacher's union. The president of the Houston Federation of Teachers is writing a memo to be distributed to members "reminding them that possession of illegal drugs will end their careers," according to the Houston Chronicle. Yeah. Duh.

Today Barack Obama put forth the name of Arne Duncan as his choice for Education Secretary. This seems at first blush to be an interesting choice. Mr. Duncan is heralded as one who works with the teachers union in Chicago while implementing reforms pleasing to all parents. He's held the job of Chicago's top school official for seven years so there is a track record to check. He is a graduate of Harvard, as is Obama, and is known to play basketball with Obama. So, there's that.

Those supporting Duncan claim he's "improved student achievement, graduation rates and college-going rates in the nation's third-largest school system", according to The Wall Street Journal. The spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers is said to have a high opinion of him. and, Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, says Duncan is a proponent of charter schools.

Duncan's advocacy for charter schools alone, is reason enough for me to give the guy a chance. President Bush's choice of Rod Paige from HISD also was a proponent of charter schools and it was under his supervision that Houston took the first steps of opening them. A shining example of success in the world of charter schools is KIPP Academy. Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) has 66 schools now nationwide and 9 are in Houston. Initially elementary and middle schools, the program is now expanding into high school, too. Houston has one KIPP high school, opened in 2006. The program is using techniques such as a 12 month school calendar, Saturday classes, strict discipline, contracts with parents and students, and lots of positive encouragement.

Duncan does have critics, including current parents with children in Chicago public schools. Some say there hasn't been the improvements touted. Others point to his relationship with the teachers union which is looked upon as the biggest obstacle to reforms.

And, there is the connection of Duncan with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge program. Obama was the board chair from 1995-1999 and his relationship with William Ayers provided him with that opportunity. Ayers's curriculum in Chicago public schools were funded with authorization from Obama.

Time will tell.


Kris, in New England said...

"reminding them that possession of illegal drugs will end their careers,"

I nearly spewed my lunch on that one. Cuz it's not about the fact that possession of illegal drugs is ... illegal.

Obama will given cronyism a whole new look and feel - with people like Rahm Emmanuel, Eric Holder and Arne Duncan - all with questionable backgrounds and even more questionable associations.

Then again, that didn't stop Obama from getting elected POTUS.

That old Chinese curse is coming to the US - may you live in interesting times.

Donald Douglas said...

I'm sure Duncan will be a disaster. If he backs down on accountability, and pushed union issues, forget about improvements in education during this administration.

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