Replace Arne Duncan with Secretary of Education Bill Gates

TAKOMA PARK, MD - MARCH 01:  Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks to students after reading the Dr. Seuss book 'Green Eggs
TAKOMA PARK, MD - MARCH 01: Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks to students after reading the Dr. Seuss book 'Green Eggs and Ham' at Rolling Terrace Elementary School March 1, 2013 in Takoma Park, Maryland. Duncan and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius toured the school in an effort to highlight U.S. President Barack Obama's proposals to expand high-quality learning opportunities as mentioned in his State of the Union speech. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The National Education Association annual conference approved a national campaign for equity and against "Toxic Testing." It seeks to end the "test, blame and punish" system that began under President Bush and which has grown worse under the Obama administration. As outgoing NEA President Dennis Van Roekel says, "The testing fixation has reached the point of insanity," The delegates then called on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to resign.

Hopefully the AFT national conference will do the same this month.

In a supportive and witty analysis of the stand taken by the NEA, Diane Ravitch observes that the replacement of Arne Duncan would be a "game-changer" in only one way. It would rid us of Duncan's continued use of the term, "game-changer." Whether he is advocating for test-driven accountability, his test-driven Race to the Top, or Common Core and its testing regime, these risky gambles are touted as "game-changers."

As Ravitch reminds us, any replacement "would have to be acceptable to DFER, Stand on Children, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the other reformers." And, that gets to the real reason why the Obama administration, which teachers and our unions helped elect and reelect, has spread the insanity to the point where schools are reduced to test prep factories. The Billionaires Boys Club in general, and Bill Gates in specific, are really in charge of our nation's education policy. We've had a "barrage" of weird ideas, based solely on the hunches of elites, and Arne Duncan coerced states into making them the laws of most of the land.

After Bill Gates was impressed by a briefing with non-educators pushing their pet theory on rewarding and punishing teachers, the strange idea of value-added teacher evaluations became the law in most states. After a similar and equally one-sided briefing on Common Core, those standards and their tests were rushed into place. In other words, when Gates has a hunch, Duncan makes sure that it is imposed on schools across the nation.

As Ravitch notes, "teachers would be thrilled to see one of the worst Secretaries of Education go away." But we could get someone worse. If Duncan resigned, President Obama would find another corporate reformer to implement the quirky policy preferences of Gates and the other billionaires.

So, I now recommend something that may seem to contradict last week's post, "Is It Time to Escort Bill Gates Out of Our Schools?" If Bill Gates would respect the principles that should drive our constitutional democracy and be willing to seriously study education research, most teachers would "re-welcome his foundation back into school improvement." But, that is unlikely so the chances are that "Gates and the other edu-philanthropists must be escorted out of our schools."

If Duncan would resign, however, we would have another option. We could demand that Gates put up or shut up. We could launch a grassroots campaign to draft him to serve as Secretary of Education.

Secretary of Education Bill Gates might confront the contradictions between his hypotheses on school improvement and reality. He might even recognize the impossibility of implementing value-added teacher evaluations and Common Core testing at the same time. He definitely would have to assume responsibility for retaining 3rd graders and denying high school diplomas to students who don't pass the college readiness tests that he forced upon them.

Secretary of Education Gates would have to deal with the litigation that his top-down micromanaging is producing. He, not Arne Duncan, would have to sign orders revoking the NCLB waivers because states don't fully comply with his testing mandates. Gates would have to testify in congressional hearings on high-stakes testing.

Like his predecessor, Secretary of Education Gates would still get to spout sound bites during carefully choreographed tours of selective schools that claim to serve the "same students" as high-poverty inner city schools. Like his predecessor apparently did, he could continue to ignore the evidence of how and why their RttT, School Improvement Grants, and Common Core policies have backfired. But, at least those official reports on the depressing outcomes of those so-called innovations would be addressed to him. He would have to assume responsibility for the "enormous collateral damage inflicted on too many students" that the NEA is protesting.

A Secretary of Education Bill Gates would be a real game-changer in one way. The outgoing Duncan has to say with a straight face that he believes in his test-driven, competition-driven policies and that he is not just doing the bidding of the billionaire. Duncan's replacement would no longer be able to deny the obvious truth that Bill Gates is running the Department of Education.