Arne Duncan’s endless supply of ‘game changers’

Arne Duncan (By Jacquelyn Martin-Associated Press)
Education  Secretary Arne Duncan                (By Jacquelyn Martin-Associated Press)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has something of an affinity for the phrase “game changer.” Just how much is chronicled in this post by Matt Farmer, a Chicago trial lawyer  and parent who is a member of the Local School Council at Philip Rogers Elementary School. This appeared on thethirdcity.org website.

 

By Matt Farmer

A lot of my friends are public school teachers. They’re scattered throughout the country, working in classrooms from New York to California. And as students head back to school, many of my teacher friends are already wondering how their local districts plan to “change the game” this year.

Talk to enough veteran teachers and you’ll get an earful about the annual roll-out of new initiatives and assessments that get handed down to them in August, only to serve as the educational “flavor of the month” until the following year, when those programs are supplanted by a whole new set of acronyms, benchmarks and buzzwords. (“I’ll take Rigor for $600, please, Alex.”)

Why, these teachers wonder, does the game keep changing?

Look no further than Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. School superintendents from Maine to Montana know that the 6’5” small forward from Chicago is “a big fan” of “game-changers,” so many of those administrators undoubtedly look to please the Big Boss by constantly changing the game in their own districts.

Unfortunately, though, so many things seem to “change the game” for Arne that it’s getting harder and harder for state and local school officials to figure out what game he’s even playing on any given day.

Think I’m joking? Let’s go back to 2010.

That February, Duncan called a proposal for increased funding of student loans “a real game-changer.” 

By mid-July, he deemed “shared standards for college-readiness…an absolute game changer.”   

His thinking had obviously evolved by the end of July, when he concluded that “the big game-changer is to start measuring individual student growth rather than proficiency.”

August, however, brought another epiphany. Duncan realized that the “big game-changer…revolves around the issue of teacher quality.” 

In September, he concluded that the “new [Race to the Top] tests will be an absolute game-changer in public education.”

And Duncan, like a lanky philanthropist filling the tin cups of educational panhandlers, continued doling out change in 2010.

In November, he hit Paris to address the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Arne changed the game so often during that speech his UNESCO audience needed copies of “According To Hoyle” just to keep up with him.

After noting that in “the knowledge economy, education is the new game-changer,” Duncan assured the crowd that the sweeping adoption of “common college-ready standards that are internationally benchmarked . . . is an absolute game-changer.”

The secretary of education then called a “new generation of assessments aligned with the states’ Common Core standards” a “second game-changer,” even though it was actually the third “game-changer” Duncan had offered the assembled UNESCO masses during that difficult-to-diagram, five-minute rhetorical stretch.

And Duncan hasn’t lost a step over the last three years, recently calling digital badges “a game-changing strategy,” while also noting that increasing Latino enrollment in pre-school “could be a huge game changer.”

I recently asked some of my teacher friends what they thought of Arne’s seemingly endless supply of “game-changers.” They told me to a person that the one “game-changer” they’d like to see come out of Washington, D.C. during the new school year would be the appointment of a Secretary of Education who actually has a background in education.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · August 26, 2013