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Showing posts with label Arne Duncan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arne Duncan. Show all posts

Monday, March 14, 2011

Education Secretary Won’t Say Where Constitution Grants Authority for US Department of Education

Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, would not say where the U.S. Constitution authorizes the federal government to be involved in primary and secondary education. 

On Thursday after a House subcommittee hearing, asked Duncan, “The Bill of Rights says that powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved to the states and the people. With that in mind, Mr. Secretary, where specifically does the Constitution authorize the federal government to be involved in primary and secondary education?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ed Secretary: States ‘Dummied Down’ Standards Because It ‘Was Good For Politicians’ Seeking Re-election

When speaking before Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan charged politicians with “dummy-ing down” state education standards under the No Child Left Behind Act to increase their chances of being re-elected.

“Historically in our country, I think particularly under the current law, No Child Left Behind, lots of states dummied down standards,” said Duncan at the National Action Network’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day prayer breakfast on Monday.  “They reduced standards. Why? Wasn’t good for children; wasn’t good for education; wasn’t good for the country -- was good for politicians.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

Governor Sanford Applies for Stimulus Funds "Under Duress"

Governor Mark Sanford has submitted the following cover letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan after being ordered by the South Carolina Supreme Court to apply for stimulus dollars. It is little consolation to know that truth is the daughter of time; for in a short time Governor Sanford will be tragically vindicated when Obama's policies have destroyed America's economy and caused ruin and widespread suffering.

Dear Secretary Duncan,

By order of the South Carolina Supreme Court, I am submitting the attached application for South Carolina's portion of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. In doing so, however, I'd offer a few observations.

First, it's important to state one last time for the record what a monumentally terrible idea I believe the entire so-called stimulus act is, and why in particular utilizing this money as our General Assembly has done is ultimately going to cause more harm than good.

In simplest form, this stimulus represents forcing taxpayers of tomorrow to pay for government services of today. No matter how well-intentioned it may be, borrowing from future generations who have no say in the matter is to me wrong, and strikes me as being akin to the same "taxation without representation" that led to the formation of our Republic more than two centuries ago. We will never solve a problem created by too much debt with still more borrowing, and in fact will exacerbate our problems in the long run by devaluing the dollar, rendering any short-term stimulus moot.

Compounding the problems brought by this destructive federal policy was the way it was implemented by our own legislature in South Carolina. At a practical level, once the stimulus passed this is what my stand against spending the $700 million in question was all about - I believe there will be less employment and opportunity as a result of the restructuring forgone, and the spending incurred, due to spending this money. The leadership of our General Assembly - and in this case with the indirect blessing of the federal Administration - made base state spending reductions across education and law enforcement agencies and backfilled those reductions with federal stimulus dollars. As a consequence South Carolina will face up to a $1 billion budget hole when these stimulus dollars dry up in less than twenty-four months. That frightening budget reality is compounded by the fact that having federal money available has provided yet another excuse for our legislative leadership to forestall long needed changes to our government structure and operations - changes that would have yielded better results from the government we already pay for. An example of this is the TERI program which was put in place years ago to reward excellence in teaching. After its passage a court decision came down that said it couldn't apply to just teachers, but instead to every state worker. Rather than producing its intended result of keeping great teachers on the job longer it became a financial windfall to every long-serving state worker, by allowing them to retire twice and reap the financial rewards of doing so. It created more than a billion dollar financial hole in our retirement system, and were it not for the financial windfall the federal government sent this way this is the year that long overdue changes to things like the TERI system would had to have occurred.

We'd all like to have unlimited dollars to fill the very real needs that exist in our state, but we have to do so on both a state and federal level in the context of what is sustainable - because by spending unsustainably, we will only make our problems worse. In this regard the Obama administration’s financially reckless advocacy of borrowing nearly fifty percent of every dollar being spent in Washington is being exported to state like South Carolina. In the long run I believe it is a financial certainty that this will hurt schools, teachers - and more than anything students who will be paying these debts.

Second, I want to be clear that while I'm signing these documents under duress, I have no ability to promise that many of the mentioned conditions and guarantees will indeed be met. For example, this application requires the state to "take actions to improve teacher effectiveness and comply with federal law to address inequities in the distribution of highly qualified teachers between high- and low-poverty schools"; to "establish a longitudinal data system"; and to "comply with all of the accountability, transparency, and reporting requirements that apply to the Stabilization program."

Our General Assembly may or may not choose to meet those conditions at a later date - I have no way of knowing if they will, and no way of compelling them to do so. In reviewing this application, for me it again highlighted the absurdity of ramrodding federal dollars into the states when I suspect more governors than myself have little ability or wherewithal to say with certainty that these and other conditions under the law can, or will be, carried out. In this case it makes something of a mockery of the law itself given the conditions that were supposedly to be a part of receiving these monies.

Finally, I would appeal to you in your capacity as Secretary of Education to look beyond this idea of money being a cure for all that ails education in our country. I join many others in continuing to believe that we ought to have a diversity of educational choices that fit with the diversity of different young people in our country. We need to give children real options for exiting schools that have consistently failed despite more and more money. We need to work toward expanding the establishment of and access to charter schools. We need transferability options under federal laws that expand educational choices not only in the public sector, but in the private sector as well. My administration would certainly welcome a chance to work with you on these fronts, and I hope to do so in the near future.


Mark Sanford
Mark Sanford

Monday, April 6, 2009

Democrats and Poor Kids

From Review and Outlook
The Wall Street Journal

Sitting on evidence of voucher success, and the battle of New York.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan did a public service last week when he visited New York City and spoke up for charter schools and mayoral control of education. That was the reformer talking. The status quo Mr. Duncan was on display last month when he let Congress kill a District of Columbia voucher program even as he was sitting on evidence of its success.

In New York City with its 1.1 million students, mayoral control has resulted in better test scores and graduation rates, while expanding charter schools, which means more and better education choices for low-income families. But mayoral control expires in June unless state lawmakers renew it, and the United Federation of Teachers is working with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to weaken or kill it.

President Obama's stimulus is sending some $100 billion to the nation's school districts. What will he demand in return? The state budget passed by the New York legislature last week freezes funding for charters but increases it by more that $400 million for other public schools. Perhaps a visit to a charter school in Harlem would help Mr. Obama honor his reform pledge. "I'm looking at the data here in front of me," Mr. Duncan told the New York Post. "Graduation rates are up. Test scores are up. Teacher salaries are up. Social promotion was eliminated. Dramatically increasing parental choice. That's real progress."

Mr. Duncan's help in New York is in stark contrast to his department's decision to sit on a performance review of the D.C. voucher program while Congress debated its future in March. The latest annual evaluation was finally released Friday, and it shows measurable academic gains. The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides $7,500 vouchers to 1,700 low-income families in D.C. to send their children to private schools. Ninety-nine percent of the children are black or Hispanic, and there are more than four applicants for each scholarship.

The 2008 report demonstrated progress among certain subgroups of children but not everyone. This year's report shows statistically significant academic gains for the entire voucher-receiving population. Children attending private schools with the aid of the scholarships are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who did not receive vouchers. Voucher recipients are doing no better in math but they're doing no worse. Which means that no voucher participant is in worse academic shape than before, and many students are much better off.

"There are transition difficulties, a culture shock upon entering a school where you're expected to pay attention, learn, do homework," says Jay Greene, an education scholar at the Manhattan Institute. "But these results fit a pattern that we've seen in other evaluations of vouchers. Benefits compound over time."

It's bad enough that Democrats are killing a program that parents love and is closing the achievement gap between poor minorities and whites. But as scandalous is that the Education Department almost certainly knew the results of this evaluation for months.

Voucher recipients were tested last spring. The scores were analyzed in the late summer and early fall, and in November preliminary results were presented to a team of advisers who work with the Education Department to produce the annual evaluation. Since Education officials are intimately involved in this process, they had to know what was in this evaluation even as Democrats passed (and Mr. Obama signed) language that ends the program after next year.

Opponents of school choice for poor children have long claimed they'd support vouchers if there was evidence that they work. While running for President last year, Mr. Obama told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that if he saw more proof that they were successful, he would "not allow my predisposition to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn . . . You do what works for the kids." Except, apparently, when what works is opposed by unions.

Mr. Duncan's office spurned our repeated calls and emails asking what and when he and his aides knew about these results. We do know the Administration prohibited anyone involved with the evaluation from discussing it publicly. You'd think we were talking about nuclear secrets, not about a taxpayer-funded pilot program. A reasonable conclusion is that Mr. Duncan's department didn't want proof of voucher success to interfere with Senator Dick Durbin's campaign to kill vouchers at the behest of the teachers unions.

The decision to let 1,700 poor kids get tossed from private schools is a moral disgrace. It also exposes the ugly politics that lies beneath union and liberal efforts across the country to undermine mayoral control, charter schools, vouchers or any reform that threatens their monopoly over public education dollars and jobs. The Sheldon Silver-Dick Durbin Democrats aren't worried that school choice doesn't work. They're worried that it does, and if Messrs. Obama and Duncan want to succeed as reformers they need to say so consistently.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Obama Picks a Moderate on Education

From The Wall Street Journal

The president will ultimately decide whether to take on the teachers' unions.

Barack Obama picked Arne Duncan only partly for his skills on the basketball court. As secretary of education, he will be running one of the administration's most important finesse games.

The CEO of the Chicago public schools and the ultimate diplomat, Mr. Duncan rises to the rim at a moment when teachers unions are, for the first time, facing opposition within the Democratic Party from young idealists who favor education reform. They want to recapture what should always have been a natural issue for Democrats: helping underprivileged kids get out of failing public schools.

Considering the reviews from the right and the left, you might be confused about whether Mr. Duncan is a signal that Mr. Obama's administration is lining up behind the reformers or supporting the status quo. Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor (and über reformer) Michelle Rhee endorsed the pick, as did President Bush's Education Secretary, Margaret Spellings.

But Mr. Duncan also has fans among traditional Democrats, whose main interest is keeping the teachers unions happy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the choice, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised that he would enjoy a speedy confirmation.

So what should we make of Mr. Duncan? One promising clue comes from a group called Democrats for Education Reform, part of the growing voice for reform in the party. DFER is known to cheer Democrats brave enough to support charter schools and other methods of extending options to parents. Joe Williams, the group's executive director, predicted that Mr. Duncan will help break the "ideological and political gridlock to promote new, innovative and experimental ideas."

In Chicago, Mr. Duncan is credited with laying out plans to close 100 underperforming public schools. Fans also note that he helped raise the cap on charter schools to 30 from 15.

But his record is short of miraculous. Why have a cap on charter schools at all? And the teachers unions extracted plenty of concessions, including a ban on new charters operating multiple campuses.

Mr. Duncan is certainly no bomb thrower. His role instead will be to harness the entrepreneurial spirit of young idealists in the party, like DFER and the tens of thousands of young people who join Teach For America each year. This group, which continues to attract highly skilled young people, is fast creating the new Democratic elite in the education arena while challenging the education establishment.

At forums during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, several big-city mayors lined up with reform principles against union demands. Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., said that "As Democrats we have been wrong on education, and it's time to get it right." Washington, D.C.'s Adrian Fenty, a strong backer of Ms. Rhee's effort to negotiate tough terms with the unions, remarked that the politics of school reform are changing fast.

At one DFER event last year, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. used the word "monopoly" -- a major affront to teachers unions -- to describe failing schools. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third ranking Democrat in the House, is another important convert to the idea of more parental choice in education.

It's all a bit delicate, which makes Mr. Duncan Mr. Obama's man for a good reason. He's known for a flexibility that allows him to float between the traditional Democratic strongholds and the new wave of reformers in the party. With proper implementation, Mr. Obama could accomplish on education reform what President Bill Clinton did for welfare reform -- taking a previously Republican issue and transforming it from within the left.

But unions aren't about to slink off into the sunset. If they're losing some of their clout at the national level, they maintain their grip locally. In many places, teachers angle to usurp the language of the reformers while pushing their own agenda. Thus "merit pay" has been twisted into a system that bears little resemblance to the original concept of paying teachers for teaching kids successfully. Instead, it has become pay-for-credential, offering salary bumps for continuing education and other qualifications, with no anchor to proven results in the classroom.

Mr. Duncan is a reformer at heart, if one who works collegially within the system. But in the end, much will depend on his boss. Whether Mr. Obama is an artful fence walker or a real agent of change -- on schools or anything else -- is a mystery the coming year may finally clear up.

Ms. Levy, based in Washington, is a senior editorial writer at the Journal.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chicago School Reform Could Be a U.S. Model

From The Washington Post
By Maria Glod

CHICAGO -- At Cameron Elementary School west of downtown, most kids don't know the alphabet when they start kindergarten, nearly all are poor, and one was jumped by a gang recently, just off campus. But the school this year posted its highest reading and math scores ever -- a feat that earned cash bonuses for teachers, administrators, even janitors.

City schools chief executive Arne Duncan, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for education secretary, pushed that performance-pay plan and a host of other innovations to transform a school system once regarded as one of the country's worst. As Duncan heads to Washington, the lessons of Chicago could provide a model for fixing America's schools.

"Obama chose Arne Duncan for a reason, and part of that reason is the experimentation that Duncan has done in Chicago and his real attention to data and outcomes," said Elliot Weinbaum, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. "Duncan's willing to try new things and see if they work, hopefully keep the ones that do and drop the ones that don't. I expect that experimentation to continue on a national scale."

With a 408,000-student system, smaller than only New York's and Los Angeles's public schools, Chicago has become a laboratory for reform in Duncan's seven-year tenure. Officials here court new charter schools, teacher training is being reinvented, and some low-performing schools have been shuttered and reopened with new staff. Officials are also offering some students cash for good grades and seeking proposals for boarding schools. In addition, Duncan backed a plan to start a gay-friendly high school. For the most part, the changes came with little organized opposition, except for some skirmishes with the teachers union.

Duncan, a longtime Obama friend and basketball buddy, helped shape the incoming administration's education platform. As education secretary, he will be Obama's point man for carrying out the No Child Left Behind law and negotiating revisions with Congress. Through regulatory power, federal funding and a pulpit he can bring to classrooms nationwide, Duncan will be able to push for changes in schools.

Duncan, appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2001, has shown unusual longevity for a big-city school leader, cultivating ties with unions, nonprofit groups and other stakeholders. The wide-ranging reforms he has pushed appeal to struggling school systems and highly regarded suburban districts looking to boost performance. Many educators in Chicago say Duncan's efforts have upended school culture, building a record of progress, although the high-poverty system has far to go.

"This is no utopia. It's no Candy Land," Cameron Principal David B. Kovach said one day this month. "But teachers enjoy their job more, because they are learning and getting better at it, and the kids are able to do things that they weren't able to do before."

Across the city, educators point to improvements. At Noble Street College Prep charter school, every senior graduated last school year, and the class logged nearly $2 million in college scholarships. The flexibility given to independently operated charter schools means a longer school day, with a class dedicated to helping seniors complete college applications, navigate financial aid and write résumés.

At the National Teachers Academy, another Chicago school, Erin Koehler Smith did a better job teaching fourth-graders to estimate centimeters and meters with help from a mentor teacher. Next year, the former theater major and other trainees will take on classes of their own in struggling schools.

Little more than half of Chicago students graduate on time. But since 2001, fewer students are dropping out and more are heading to college. The number taking Advanced Placement classes has tripled. Chicago students lag behind the statewide average on Illinois tests, but the gap has narrowed.

Cameron's Kovach said the 1,040 students at the red-brick schoolhouse come from a high-crime, high-poverty area in West Humboldt Park. Teachers, worried about the safety of neighborhood parks, agreed to work an extra 20 minutes each day to ensure that kids can have recess and to maximize class time.

"Our kids come in two steps behind," Kovach said. "We can't control what happens to them on the outside -- drugs, gangs, an incarcerated parent."

Cameron Elementary is using powerful tools to jolt teaching and boost achievement: money, coaching and collaboration. With the overwhelming approval of teachers, the school last year began a performance-pay pilot program now in place at numerous city schools. Much of the money for the program has come from a federal grant and private foundations.

Teachers earn extra cash for taking on additional responsibilities and are judged in a series of evaluations. Entire staffs get bonuses when state test scores rise. Slightly more than 50 percent of students passed the latest state reading exam, but the trend is up. The gains meant about a $1,000 bonus for most teachers, about $250 for janitors and $625 for the principal.

Teacher Erin Montana, 33, fresh out of education school and a three-month student teaching gig, took over a class in chaos two years ago. Students cursed, fought, even threw desks. "Every day I came in thinking I was doing the worst job ever," she said.

One afternoon last week, Montana's fifth-graders huddled quietly, reading a story about a boy who destroys a neighbor's garden in a vegetable-throwing fight. The students then built "story mountains," identifying characters, plot and theme.

"They trash Mr. Bellavista's garden," said Shanygne, 11, a slight girl with a ponytail. She scrawled the sentence on a Post-it note and added it to her "mountain."

Montana, crouching to check the group's progress, pointed to a picture of the glum boy. "What do you think is happening here?" she asked. "Do you think it's important?"

Eleven-year-old Shawnell, nodding at her teacher, began writing that the boy "felt sorry because he looked at the garden and the mess he made."

Montana said the isolation of her first year has disappeared. Her class is well-behaved, thanks partly to her growing experience and partly to advice from colleagues, including the "doing the right things raffle" she started at the suggestion of a mentor teacher.

Teachers meet weekly to discuss the best way to reach kids. Master teachers pinpoint where students fall short, study research and script lessons to target weak spots. They try lessons on a handful of kids, and when they find an approach that works, the school takes it to all kids.

"It's not like pulling something out of a book," Montana said. "We know that it's really thought through specifically for our kids."

Washington area schools have launched experiments similar to Chicago's. Charter schools are multiplying in the District, and D.C. schools are trying cash incentives for students. A Fairfax County initiative bumps salaries for some teachers who work a longer year and take on extra tasks, such as coaching colleagues. Pay for performance is underway in Prince George's County, tying some teacher bonuses to test scores.

What sets Duncan apart, education experts said, is his willingness to embrace a range of reforms and his ability to work with people who hold diverging, often conflicting views on how to fix schools. He has straddled the reform divide: On one side are advocates of dramatic shake-ups and tough accountability, and on the other are teachers unions and some educators who want more flexibility, support and money.

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart said that the union clashed with Duncan when he closed failing schools and replaced staff but that school and union leaders teamed up on performance pay. "He had my home phone number," Stewart said. "He always returned my calls, and I returned his. You can't not talk when you need something done."

Consensus-building will prove critical as Congress considers an overhaul of the 2002 education law, which spotlighted the failings of schools as well as deep rifts among unions, civil rights groups and education advocates. From his on-the-ground perspective, Duncan has praised the law's "high expectations and accountability" but pushed to give credit to schools that make gains even if they fall short of state academic standards. He also has called on Congress to double federal funding over five years.

The next challenge is reaching agreement on a new blueprint for school reform. Obama has said he wants to add $18 billion in annual federal education funding (equal to nearly a third of the Education Department's $59 billion discretionary budget), reduce high school dropout rates and improve math and science education. He also has vowed to double federal funding for successful charter schools to $400 million a year and promote alternative teacher training.

"There will be disagreements, but Duncan's personality is going to minimize the negativity," said Jack Jennings, president and chief executive of the Center on Education Policy in the District. "You get a feeling of somebody who is willing to listen and be open to ideas."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama Picks Duncan for Education Secretary

In selecting Chicago's schools chief Arne Duncan to be the ninth United States Secretary of Education, the President-elect has made a good choice, relative to some of the alternatives.

Duncan, unlike South Carolina's Inez Tenenbaum, has actually focused his efforts on results, not on mere compliance with the rules and regulations. He is a proponent of charter schools, alternative schools, public school choice, and has not hesitated to close schools that failed. According to the website of the Chicago Public Schools:
  • Elementary test scores hit an all time high with more than 65% of students meeting or exceeding state standards – our seventh consecutive gain.
  • Over the past five years, our high school students have gained twice as much as the state and three times as much as the nation on the ACT test.
  • Over the past five years, the number of CPS high school students taking advanced placement classes has more than doubled.
  • The graduating class of 2008 received a record $157 million in competitive college scholarships.
  • The number of teacher vacancies at the start of the school year hit an all-time low of 3%.
  • All time high first-day attendance of more than 93%.
  • A record 34 new school openings.

Mr. Duncan appears to bridge two factions of education policy within the Democrat Party -- the labor union faction concerned with ensuring teachers have the best compensation and job security with the least amount of accountability for results, and a new network of urban reformers headed by New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. Klein's Education Equality Project has challenged "entrenched impediments to real reform, focusing on teacher quality and pay; accountability for results; and maximizing parents' options."

Unfortunately, the
U. S. Secretary of Education has no authority to effect change at the state and district level except by using federal funds as a carrot and a stick. This has resulted in the current administration opting to throw even more money at education than did the Clinton administration, with little to nothing to show for the "investment."

As a Democrat with close personal ties to the President, a record of accomplishment in a large urban district, and with the opportunity to soon preside over the reauthorization of The No Child Left Behind Act -- or whatever the next mutation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 will be called -- Mr. Duncan could do what a Republican Secretary has not -- bring about fundamental, systemic education reform through moral suasion from the bully pulpit he will soon occupy. If he does that he will far exceed his eight predecessors in the job and make an enormous change for the better in the nation.