Poor Grammar, Tough Talk and Hyperbole

poor grammar

Speaking in Little Rock, Arkansas, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had this to say: “If it was up to me and the law allowed it, I would put out student attendance data and hold parents accountable. And while we’re at it, let’s put out funding and facilities data and hold school boards and politicians accountable.”

First of all, Mr. Secretary, it should be “if it were up to me” not “if it was up to me.” Not a big deal, but correct use of the subjunctive might be helpful if you is to lead us. (Or is it are to lead us?) Maybe you were (was?) misquoted.

I have had enough of all this tough talk about “data” and “accountability.” We live in a nuanced world. Of course we should use data. Too often, however, we are used by data. And “accountability” has become a euphemism for fixing blame (as opposed to fixing the problem). I wish the world were as simple as the data and accountability aficionados would have us believe. It’s not. Complex issues require (and deserve) thoughtful solutions, not clichés that make great sound bites but do little to bring us to a better place.

Secretary Duncan went on: “Let’s put out data on dropouts, college enrollment, college completion, loan default rates, and every other kind of data that can help us highlight our many remarkable success stories and help us better understand why too many of our children are unprepared and undereducated.” Talk about having your cake and eating it, too! I’m impressed by the audacity to put “our many remarkable success stories” in the same sentence with “too many of our children are unprepared and undereducated.” Even though the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, why direct comments toward a “reasonable middle” when you can pander to those who hold extreme views on opposite ends of the continuum?

Maybe you go on to define what “unprepared and undereducated” means. I’m not sure our students are either “unprepared” or “undereducated.” Hyperbole makes for great political theater, but I’m not sure it improves education.

Here’s another gem: “Why, in education, are we scared to talk about what success looks like?” Got to love that tough talk, even though it has almost nothing to do with reality. Has Duncan ever attended a staff development session or been in schools where teachers regularly sift through data as well as other valuable information and develop action plans to improve their performance? I’m not saying we’ve created the schools we want, but to suggest that educators are “scared to talk about what success looks like” is an absurdly unnecessary slap in the face of the countless educators who work diligently to improve our schools. We deserve better.