"Sorry, Arne. I think this is just lip service."
That's one of the comments left on Monday for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's latest missive, "In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week: An Open Letter From Arne Duncan to America’s Teachers." The letter's on the official ED.gov site, and in it Duncan says he considers "teaching an honorable and important profession," and tells educators, "it is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society." As of this writing, there are only two comments on the letter on the official site (the other comment isn't complimentary, either) but from the reactions around the web, many educators don't seem too thrilled by Duncan's words.
In the 10-paragraph letter Duncan also recognizes the hard work teachers do with students in challenging situations, and says he wants "to make sure that the 3.2 million teachers in America’s classrooms are the very best they can be." He tells educators he wants to
work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking.
Part of the problem is certainly that many teachers aren't exactly feeling the "work with you" vibe. In the posting of the letter over at Education Week, the comments are copious and skewering. Commenter Rachel Levy wrote,
To put it simply, I disagree with the neo-liberal education policies you promote: merit pay based on test scores, accountability based on standardized test scores, standardization of the curriculum, a punitive approach to struggling schools, larger class sizes, and running schools and school districts as businesses. Nor do I share your preference for mayoral control, top-down reforms, and for the by-passing of democratic processes. I am also very disappointed by your allowing corporate interests and the uninformed opinions of a few extremely wealthy individuals to come before those of public school students and parents. There is solid research showing that the policies that you are implementing have not worked in the past, are not currently working, and will not work in the future.
Ouch. And there are more.
The teachers speaking out on these sites don't represent all educators, but given the outcry from many in the profession when Duncan didn't show up in Wisconsin to support the teachers being stripped of their collective bargaining rights, or when he applauded the mass layoffs of teachers in Rhode Island, Duncan's appreciation might be too little too late.
The big question for Duncan, and his boss, President Obama, is can the relationship with educators be repaired before they head to the polls on election day?