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EDSEC: Where Will Arne Duncan Send His Daughter To School?

Narneduncan420x0 It's hard not to think of incoming president George Bush's 2000 pick of Houston superintendent Rod Paige right now.  Like Paige, Duncan comes from a big city with a success story that the national press failed to note was mostly a mirage. Like Paige, Duncan will soon find out that he will be a figurehead who answers to instructions from inside the DPC.  Like Paige, Duncan may find himself frustrated and outflanked by powerful stakeholders (Congress, Republicans, national  teachers unions) he hasn't really had to deal with before.

Looking back at Duncan's record, the specific moments that concern me the most include (a) last year year when Duncan went along with a cynical and failed Mayoral effort to link citywide gang violence with the school system -- even though little of the violence was taking place in school, (b) Duncan's stubborn resistance against NCLB transfers, tutoring, and accountability requirements that he will now be enforcing, (c) Duncan's insistence on closing buildings down for a year to turn them around, and (d) his failure to revamp the teachers contract, which gives annual raises but still calls for an extremely short day and short year.

Perhaps most important, Duncan failed to convince more white and middle class parents to send their kids to public schools, and failed to convince legislators to revamp the state funding system even during boon times and with Democratic control of the legislature and the Governor's mansion.  Duncan wasn't just a caretaker of the school system, but he certainly wasn't really all that bold or inspiring.  A mayoral appointee in a one-party town, there's not that much in Duncan's record to suggest he has been able to wrestle diverse factions into concerted action.  [
Note that the local teachers union is having a press event at 12:30 local time -- no word from them yet about what stance they're going to take.]

That being said, Duncan is a hard-working, good guy, nonconfrontational and non-ideological by and large.  I'm glad the selection process is over -- it had gone on too long.  Duncan doesn't make people crazy.  He's avoided stepping into unnecessary side debates, by and large.  And he's an underdog -- always being underestimated and usually exceeding expecations. 

Now we can start debating whether Duncan, who currently sends his daughter to public school, will transfer her to a DCPS school or to a private like Sidwell.

First Reactions to Duncan's Pick as Ed. Sec.
Education Week
Arne Duncan
Matt Yglesias
Arne Duncan For Ed Sec
National Journal

at jumped out at


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You know more about Duncan than I do but I don't see why the concerns you cite are a problem. Firstly, it makes no difference whether teens are killed or injured on the school grounds or off, or whether the deceased was currently attending school or not. They still have friends and families in the schools. The conflicts still wreck efforts to conduct class. Try conducting class discussions, for instance, when the students on one side of the room have family members who were killed by the family members of the students on the other side. What does it mateer whether the cycle of violence takes place at school, at the park down the street, or on the streets. I have four students (from different families) who recently saw their parent murdered. Does it make any difference to them where they witnessed it? It sure makes no difference for teachers trying to raise acaedmic standards when that is the last thing on the minds? And the same applies to students watching their parents die of cancer, heart disease, whatever. Duncan can't be blamed for highlighting factors that so far have made it impossible to raise high school performance in neighborhood schools.

Few school system have made NCLB transfers and tutoring work. And NCLB accountability is bogus. Chicapo produces unbelievably great research that should be helpful in revising the dysfunctional aspects of the law. And the Chicago Schools consortium is unparalleled in explaining where and why NCLB hasn't worked.

Everybody and their dog says we should lengthen the school day and year, but its incredibly expensive and not cost effective unless we do things differently during school. And that's an even tougher challenge. How much learning has gone in in high poverty secondary schools in Chicago or anywhere this December? How much learning goes on after lunch or after April? So i wouldn't blame Duncan.

The school closing and reopening is tougher. But how can you turn around the toughest schools without decisive moves, including the termination of teachers?
None of those issues can be tackled by overly combative leaders, or by leaders who think they have all of the answers.

PS. If we get affluent parents back into neighborhood schools, then we will really have reason to celebrate. For the next eight years, however, I'd be thrilled with incremental improvements.

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