Are Congress and the US Dept of Education doing a job for children or education?

January 26, 2011

Friday’s (Jan 21, 2011)’s headline reads “Education Secretary Arne Duncan proves a ‘tough grader’ in assessing Minnesota’s education programs.”


Arne Duncan is the US Secretary of Education, and he came to Minnesota to speak to the state Chamber of Commerce.  The article said “he particularly criticized complacency in Minnesota and in the nation’s education system.”  Wow.  Not in the book of how to get along with others.  And he is appointed by the President of the United States, so you know his message is approved by the White House.


What did he say to these top business leaders of Minnesota?  According to the article, “Duncan chided Minnesota leaders for not exhibiting a ‘sense of urgency’ about the trouble facing education. He urged business leaders at the event to continue steady investment in education and to get involved in shaping policy.”  Wow!  That’s pretty clear language.


The article said Duncan brought a sense of urgency and harsh honesty with him from Washington, quoting Duncan as he said, “The United States has a 25% high school dropout rate…and the number of people graduating from college has floundered while other countries have increased their rates monumentally.”

The article referred to his work to “move the Education Department away from its history as a “large compliance-driven bureaucracy.”  Did he like the United States major “No Child Left Behind” reform efforts that were supported by both Democrats and Republicans when it was adopted?  Nope. According to the article, “Duncan said the current structure is too top-heavy and punitive, where it should reward excellence and innovation. He called the act “fundamentally broken” and said certain provisions are “bad for children.”


With all this criticism, was there anything useful we can take away from his talk?  “We need to get Washington out of the way,” Duncan said. The article ends with “That sentiment trickles down from the state to the district level as well. Republican lawmakers in the House support more local control for districts.”


He was also harsh in speaking about the US Department of Education which he now heads. A headline article from covered the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) Project Directors’ Meeting, where Secretary Duncan made a surprise address, saying, “The education sector has been slow to transform how we do education.” He discussed the Department of Education’s aspiration to be a powerful engine of innovation, rather than a compliance-driven bureaucracy.  He acknowledged that Washington “doesn’t have all of the answers, and that many of the best ideas will come from communities across the country.”


He could be right.  Private schools have to be doing something right. Parents wouldn’t spend their money to send their children to private schools if their free government schools met their needs.  School choice initiatives continue to be viable education reform efforts, and I’ll be talking more about that in the weeks to come.

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Wednesday January 26, 2011 at 02:16PM

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