Arne said what?

Thanks to Anthony Cody, who alerted me a recent post  to some surprising speech from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

According to this story in the Raleigh News & Observer, Duncan told a group of educators there that they should avoid teaching to the test.[emphases added]

We want to give every child a chance to discover their genius, what they’re best at.”

Otherwise, Duncan said, the nation won’t be able to keep up with technology advances being made in other countries. He also took aim at the emphasis on standardized testing as part of President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program.

 By “took aim at,” I take “discredited,” “disowned.”

But wait. How can this same man,  this Czar of the nation’s failing public schools,  money-changer-in-chief of the bribe-driven “Race for the Top [of test scores],” this same former C.E.O. of the failing,  outcomes-driven CPS, this advocate of merit pay for teachers–how, I say,  can this same man talk sensibly now about doing away with Testopian dreams of school improvement? Is this a temporary lapse of message which, like his use of the r-word, he’ll apologize for later?

Or have scales truly fallen from his eyes, allowing him to look beyond the machine to the very human crises in every working classroom? Will he alter our nation’s errant course and reform with humans beings at the center?  Time will tell.

In the meantime, I cannot resist using Arne’s observation that a learner’s genius needs time and space to develop under the guidance of capable teachers and in a non-test-driven, nurturing environment, as further evidence of my case against the current crushing English teaching class load (see 10 Feb 2010 post).:

  If you want kids to discover their capabilities, you must provide them room–there must be creative space in the midst of the curriculum; a test-centric curriculum does not allow it.  If we’re smart, we keep sensible standards-based assessments, but we allow as well for the growth of each child’s “genius,” nurtured by creative expression and media experimentation activities. These would be assessed as well, but in a way not conducive to numerical computation.

Here’s hoping that Arne has truly seen the light of educational reason, starts putting money where his mouth (it seems now) is, starts treating schools as the heart of a community’s life, which I believe it is.

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