Newly minted Education Secretary Arne Duncan has big plans for improving the nation's schools. His first order of business is drumming up support for a stimulus measure that includes an unprecedented $140 billion for education. The 44-year-old former leader of Chicago Public Schools says the money will modernize schools, help stave off teacher layoffs, and spur meaningful reforms. "The fact is that we are not just in an economic crisis; we are in an educational crisis," he says. "We have to educate ourselves to a better economy."Translation: We are going to continue the same diversionary myth that politicians have gone to for a long time to avoid responsibility and accountability for some very bad policy moves and to offer some semblance of doing something about the mess we are presently in by suggesting that schools are to blame for the economic crisis that was really caused by the Business Roundtable members who are running our education policy. That's ironic, isn't it.
The subsequent item on his agenda will be fixing the Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind law. His opinion of it: "I think we are lying to children and families when we tell children that they are meeting standards and, in fact, they are woefully unprepared to be successful in high school and have almost no chance of going to a good university and being successful."Translation: We have some harder tests in store for you guys, even though, if you are poor, I know, I know, you can't pass the ones that are being used now. And since most of the Business Roundtable agenda is currently aimed at taking over the high school curriculum, get ready for that because those guys are driving this school bus.
But Duncan is also interested in other people's opinions. He's meeting with the heads of the two national teachers unions and, if and when the stimulus passes, he plans to travel the country to gather input from school officials and families about ways to improve the federal testing law. Duncan also says he is in the market for ideas to rename the law.Translation: I want to cut a deal with Weingarten and Packer that makes it seem that they are not the losers that they really are, while making sure that the BR agenda of teacher pay based on test scores becomes the reality. I also want to conduct a PR campaign to convince people we are listening, blah, blah, blah, and having a contest to come up with a name for the reauthorization of NCLB will offer some lipstick that this pig in serious need of.
He discussed some of those plans in an interview with U.S. News. Below are highlights of that conversation.Translation: The desperation of states for money will make it possible for us bribe our way into new testing and curriculum requirements and to further the de-professionalization of teachers and principals via alternative certification measures. The $15 billion will make it possible, too, to push harder my agenda for corporate charter chain gangs that worked so great in Chicago's hoods.
On a federal stimulus for schools:
Duncan says a large chunk of the $140 billion destined for education will help states maintain and create jobs. "My concern is that hundreds of thousands of good teachers, not just bad teachers, are going to go, and that would be devastating," he says. "It is to no one's advantage if class size skyrockets or librarians get eliminated or school counselors disappear."
Duncan says the federal stimulus for schools would give him unprecedented leverage to innovate and improve schools. The stimulus provides for $15 billion in discretionary funds that he says he will give to states that agree to implement the following three pieces: expanding early childhood education, creating better student assessments, and improving teacher quality. "If we can bucket all these together and work with set of states with significant resources to make this happen, I think it's a game changer."
On fixing No Child Left Behind:Tranlation: We want to point out that urban schools are failures, obviously, in order to push for charters. But at the same time, we want to appear to be cognizant of progress in order to get the growth models introduced and accepted, which will be necessary to make the charters seem like they are working once we get them in place everywhere--in the cities, anyway.
As the former leader of Chicago Public Schools, Duncan lived through what he called the unintended consequences of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. Duncan supports the focus on accountability for student achievement, but he wants to make the law less punitive. "I know there are schools that are beating the odds where students are getting better every year, and they are labeled failures, and that can be discouraging and demoralizing," he says.
Duncan also wants states to adopt academic standards that are more rigorous and aligned with those of other leading nations. "The idea of 50 states doing their own thing doesn't make sense," Duncan says, referring to the current patchwork of standards and tests. "I worry about the pressure because of NCLB to dummy those standards down."Translation: Get over the idea of local control. Okay? We're going national with the test, which, of course, mean national with the curriculum. As my able predecessor so ably acknowledged, what gets tested gets taught--and there is nothing wrong with that if you have a good test.
Duncan says he is concerned about overtesting but he thinks states could solve the problem by developing better tests. He also wants to help them develop better data management systems that help teachers track individual student progress. "If you have great assessments and real-time data for teachers and parents that say these are [the student's] strengths and weaknesses, that's a real healthy thing," he says."Translation: We want to put in place a national reporting system so that we can track student and teacher performance in real time from anywhere for any time frame. Can you imagine! There is great company on the cutting edge of this technology that I gave a contract to in Chicago that I would like to scale up to the national level. Some call it surveillance--I prefer to call it instant accountability. Swoosh! String music!
Asked if he will push for passage of a new version of NCLB, Duncan says that he first wants to go on a cross-country listening tour and that he hopes that Congress will reauthorize a new version of the law late in the year. "Having lived with this, I have a good sense of what makes sense and what doesn't," he says. "But I want to be clear that I want to get out there and learn from people. And I think ultimately we should rebrand [the law]."Translation: When my old buddy, George, wanted to celebrate NCLB, he often came to Chicago. We knew PR when I was there, and we brought those marketing geniuses with us to Washington. But rebranding is crucial: How do you like, No Chamber of Commerce Left Behind? Has a ring, doesn't it? How about No Social Entrpreneur Left Behind? I love those guys, Gates and Broad.
Asked what he would call a new version of the law, Duncan answered, "Don't know yet. I'm open to ideas."
On higher education:Translation: You asking me about higher ed? I am trying to learn something about K-12. Give me a break. Is that with a t or a d in kindergarten?
Duncan did not offer too many concrete ideas on higher ed. He says community colleges will play a vital role for an extraordinary number of adults who need training for new jobs in the health, technology, and green sectors. That's why he wants to make sure that more students are prepared for college and leave college with a degree.
He says he will offer colleges incentives to graduate more students on time. "We need to get dramatically more of our students not just into college but through college," he says. Duncan also wants to remove barriers to college by making it easier for students to complete financial aid forms. "You need a Ph.D. to figure [the FAFSA] out," he says. "I think we have to simplify information and get information to students and families earlier.