Things I Know 266 of 365: I’m still not sure who’s informing education policy

Politics is applesauce.

– Will Rogers

Doing some work today, I had the recent Twitter Town Hall with Sec. Duncan hosted by John Merrow education correspondent for PBS NewsHour playing in the background.

At about the 7:30 mark, Merrow read a question:

Here’s a question that actually came up the first time, and the charge was that you didn’t answer it. Joe Bower, “What educators do you work with to develop your ideas and reforms?

Sec. Duncan started to list places he’d been to see the good work teachers and principals were doing.

Merrow wasn’t satisfied, so he pushed again asking for names. Sec. Duncan named some people in his office and some folks he’d met in Tennessee.

At 8:26, the exchange took a turn I rarely see in contemporary journalism:

Merrow: Okay, but again, I’m going to keep pushing you on this, because there’s a spectrum of ideas. There’s a sort of Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee camp, and there’s a Deborah Meier, Diane Ravitch camp.

Sec. Duncan: I listen to ’em all. I pay attention to ’em all. I’m not one who’s going to sit in a camp. I think that narrow mindedness is a real problem. I think there’s a host of ideas along the spectrum.

It’s interesting to me, John. I think so often people like to pit this person against that person. I just don’t see that that way at all. I love all those people you just mentioned. What I like about all of them is that they’re absolutely passionate about education. For me the battle’s not between those folks you named. The battle to me is with complacency. The battle is with a country that’s stagnating educationally and isn’t taking that next step. Am I going to agree with every single person every issue? Of course not. Are they all going to agree with me? Of course not. But what you have is a series of people who desperately want our country to improve and are working hard to get us there.

Merrow: Are there people who don’t listen to? You don’t believe in vouchers.

Sec. Duncan: It doesn’t mean I don’t listen to them because I don’t believe in it. I think it’s so critically important that you do listen to them. I think frankly it’s one of my strengths is the ability to listen. Listen doesn’t mean you agree. Listen it doesn’t mean you’re going to do it. I think the day I stop listening to anyone, particularly someone who doesn’t agree with me, I think that’s when you stop getting better. That’s when you stop improving…The day you start shutting down and not listening to different voices or different opinions, I think you lose a lot there. And, I hope I never get to that point.

At 10:00 Merrow relented. It doesn’t sound to me as though he was satisfied with the answer, but realized Sec. Duncan had given the answer he was going to give.

Listening in, I was more impressed with the exercise than the answer given. My time in school has tuned my perception of espoused beliefs versus enacted beliefs.

The interview progressed, and I continued with my work.

At just about the 14:00 mark, Merrow asked Sec. Duncan if he’d taken any flack for his comments from the previous Town Hall where he commented that 10 days of testing and test preparation were too much for a school. Sec. Duncan jumped in and said he still thought that was too much and that it was at the high end.

Marrow returned to his original question – had the Secretary taken any flack? “Is there anybody officially saying, ‘What are you doing interfering in this?'”

Sec. Duncan laughed it off a bit and said he didn’t think so. At the 14:00 mark he said, “I don’t pay attention to all the criticism,” and then clarified his position.

I kept listening.

It wasn’t until later that I realized something was rubbing me the wrong way. I went back to the video and listened to those first 14 minutes.

Here’s what I needed in those moments, and what I think Joe Bower was hoping for. I needed Sec. Duncan to talk about the ideas of the people he said he loved. It was a chance for a frank, informal conversation about the ideas of Joel Klein or Debbie Meier to which he ascribed. If I agreed or disagreed with what he said, that would be fine. What I needed in those moments was for him to say something.

Look back at the transcript. To a question for specific educators to whom the Secretary turns to develop education ideas and reforms for the country, the answer appears to be everyone. Four minutes later (and admittedly off the cuff) he says he doesn’t listen to all his critics.

Who does that leave?

It’s similar to responding to the question of what books he enjoys reading with, “I like reading all of them,” and then later admitting, “I don’t like reading the ones I don’t like.”

I am truly interested in which education minds are informing policy at the national level.

I am truly upset that I still don’t know.

(And a little worried.)

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