George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Arne Duncan and Rep. George Miller confer on the morning's news.

I want to update you on two incredible stories on the news that greeted me when I woke up this morning. I'm still in a state of disbelief.

Here's the first and most shocking.

In a hastily called surprise press conference early this morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that President Obama has issued Executive Order 13637, The Rescinding of All Federal Interference in Local School District Educational Policies.

Expanding on the implications of this for a room filled with stunned reporters, Duncan indicated that this would effectively stop all implementation of federal educational legislation, including Race to the Top. "We have found that this just doesn't work," said Duncan. "What's more, it has been counter-productive, creating stress and resentment on the part of educators that is interfering with the quality of teaching and with real learning. The President thinks," he noted, "and I concur, that it's time to get back to the real basic: creative quality teaching."

Responding to reporter questions, Duncan went on to indicate that this would not in any way decrease federal funding for education. He replied, "If anything, we want more funds provided, but we place our trust in local school districts to use the funds judiciously." He then concluded his remarks by saying, "We have the greatest faith in our teachers and their leaders. It's clear the carrot and stick approach just doesn't work. We now know that the best incentives are trust, support for faculty time to plan, and funds to help create exciting classroom environments."

Needless to say, policy makers in both parties are also shocked. Proponents of federally enforced standards have already called for a congressional investigation. As one prominent leader poetically remarked, "The President has turned the asylum over to the inmates!"

American Teachers for Change

I had barely recovered from this first report when I listened in disbelief to an NPR news bulletin that the two major teacher organizations, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have agreed to totally merge. The merger has been approved by Dennis Van Roekel, president of the NEA, and by Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. It has also been ratified by both organizations, operating through a ballot process that has been carefully screened from the media.

This news was surprising enough, but the real stunner was yet to come. At their joint news conference (what a day for news conferences!), Weingarten and Van Roekel announced that the first order of business for the new organization, now called American Teachers for Change (ATC), was to help implement a new approach to teacher evaluation in every district across the U.S. "There are two parts to this," noted Weingarten. "First, the voluntary end to tenure for teachers. Tenure will be no more." "And," added Van Roekel, "the nationwide implementation of peer performance review for teachers, with salaries tied directly to these reviews."

Astonished reporters bombarded the two leaders with questions. Responding to the question of whether the timing of this was tied in to the earlier Duncan announcement, Weingarten said, "Well, we have spoken with the President about this, but there was no deal." The ATC leader also responded to a question about an unconfirmed report that she and Michelle Rhee had been in a scuffle just before the news conference. "She wanted to share the stage with us," said Weingarten, "and while we were talking about that, she just slipped and banged her head. She'll be fine."

Although there are rumblings from some teacher leaders about impeaching both of the new co-leaders of the ATC, most teachers are still in a state of shock and trying to make sense of both of today's announcements.

By the way, today is April 1st.

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Mark Phillips's picture
Mark Phillips
Teacher and Educational Journalist

[quote]That took a lot of guts to play that April Fool's joke.[/quote]

Thanks Melanie, but it really didn't take much guts. I love to have opportunities to play the Trickster and April Fools is perfect for that. So I had fun writing it. I used to love doing that with students. It would wake them up!


Mike Morgan's picture

I consider myself to be someone who has a great sense of humor. But I consider Edutopia to be a place that I can count on to inspire me. You lead the way in making the most out of the hand we educators have been dealt. So what if we face a mountain of unfunded mandates? Let's be strong and let's be creative in solving the problems. I am exhausted at this time of year....even with spring break. I tried hard to appreciate your humor with this piece. After the first two paragraphs I had already considered googling this topic to see if there were other news reports I'd missed. But i started to figure out that something was fishy so i just skipped ahead to the end. Of course, I was right. You're playing a joke. And i'm not trying to blast you. But I didn't appreciate the comedic relief. I pray every day that this will happen. You just bummed me out more. I'm sure others find it in a much more light-hearted spirit than i do.

Mark Phillips's picture
Mark Phillips
Teacher and Educational Journalist

Thanks for your very honest and thoughtful response Mike.
I really understand and I'm truly sorry if my piece caused you even a few minutes of greater pain.

I had a somewhat similar response to a draft when I ran it by a close friend who is so tired of dealing with the craziness of her local school district's way of playing out some of our national craziness. I'm not sure my own daughter, teaching in a local urban district that is better at providing stress than support for teachers or students, might not have the same response.

Quite honestly, I often find myself angry and/or shaking my head in dismay at both local and national educational policies and the level of the debates.
But I still think we need to maintain a sense of humor which helps us detach and be more effective in dealing with his stuff. It is ghetto humor to be sure but I think it can help. My earlier Alice in Wonderland piece was in the same spirit, but that one didn't delude anyone.

The other reality, true very much for me as well, is that our sense of humor often deserts us when we most need it because the issue is just too emotionally laden.
I really did tread in some very emotionally laden territory for teachers.

And if many people had the response you did, then perhaps the joke hit too close to home to be at all funny. In which case, even if you're not at all blasting me, again I'm truly sorry.


Mike Morgan's picture

I'm certainly not upset in any sort of violent or pill-popping-inducing way. But i just thought i share my two cents. It's good to see that you're engaging in dialogue with folks who comment here. I can appreciate your perspective and I'm sure plenty of folks will appreciate the effort to bring some humor to these issues. I'll keep waiting for the morning when we wake up and see that our policy-makers have come to their senses. You and I are on the same side in this fight....that much i'm sure of.

Mark Phillips's picture
Mark Phillips
Teacher and Educational Journalist

[quote] I'll keep waiting for the morning when we wake up and see that our policy-makers have come to their senses. You and I are on the same side in this fight....that much i'm sure of.[/quote]

And I'll keep tilting windmills Mike! We 're clearly on the same side. Stay tuned for a column I'll write sometime this Spring or Summer that focuses on a new book by Nel Noddings. I keep needing to find the voices out there that really do see it clearly, partially to reaffirm my own sanity. She has the vision that almost none of our policy makers have.

Again, thanks for your openness and for your obvious real care about the challenges we're dealing with.


David's picture

Too soon! I'm sorry, but that is not funny. I'm not sure what you hoped to inspire with this piece. Perhaps it would be more appropriate in a publication such as the Onion, but this is a serious forum, and that was just not expected. I had to pause before finishing the piece to help my daughter, and in that time I felt such a sense of relief. Then I finished the piece, and now I'm back to reality. That was really mean, and I love comedy. Wrong place to make that joke my friend.

Mark Phillips's picture
Mark Phillips
Teacher and Educational Journalist

So sorry it caused you distress David. Please see my response to Mike below.
Some others shared your response. And I also got lots of emails from people who loved it. Both dark humor and hoaxes are a tricky territory. I think your response and some of the others also tell us just how deep some of the wounds are that teachers are experiencing. That concerns me more. So I am really sorry that you felt it was mean. That certainly was not my intent. Adding to the wounds is the last thing I wanted to do.

If you read my "Down the Rabbit Hole" column from some months ago, you will see that although I am very serious about educational issues, I do see satire and other forms of humor as appropriate. This may be a serious forum, but for me humor fits in a serious forum. Still, it is possible this one went a step too far. Perhaps I should have made it more absurd so that it would be clear it wasn't serious.

I hope you'll stick with my blog, for the serious, and hopefully helpful, columns coming over the next few months.

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