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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jeb and Arne, together again

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Jeb and Arne, together again

Several months ago Jeb Bush publicly praised President Obama for selecting Arne Duncan as education secretary. "I think Arne Duncan has done a good job," the former Florida governor said in this CBS interview. Perhaps to return the favor, Duncan is now scheduled to deliver a keynote address at Bush's fifth annual Excellence in Action Summit later this month in Washington.

There's no real surprise in the Jeb and Arne show. Duncan has spoken at earlier Bush summits. Obama himself stood on a stage with Bush -- the architect of Florida's damaging corporate-style education reforms, which have become a model around the country -- and called him "a champion of education reform." This while Wisconsin teachers were protesting for their collective bargaining rights last year. And I wrote a few days ago that Bush's summit had also booked as a keynote speaker John Podesta, founder and chairman of the Center for American Progress, who was president Bill Clinton's chief of staff and and co-chair of Obama's 2008 presidential transition team.

There's nothing wrong, of course, with Democrats giving speeches at Republican-led events. That's not the problem. This is: the stubborn refusal of Democratic leaders who embrace the kind of school reform efforts linked to Bush to look at how those efforts actually work. In most cases, they don't. Many public schools around the country surely needed improvement before Jeb's brother, then-President George W. Bush, started No Child Left Behind and launched the era of high-stakes standardized testing, but the Bush-led reform movement has only turned many classrooms into test-prep factories and led to teachers being blamed for things over which they have no control.

Jeb Bush and Arne Duncan don't agree on every aspect of school reform -- Duncan opposes vouchers and Bush can't get enough of them, for example -- but there appear to be more points of convergence than disagreement. The continued public embrace by Democrats of traditionally Republican corporate-style reforms blurs the important differences. And make no mistake, the Duncan Education Department has taken the standardized-testing obsession of No Child Left Behind to new heights. It proposed regulations that would rate colleges of education in part on how K-12 students being taught by their graduates perform on standardized tests. It was bad enough when the department p...

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