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Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Arne Duncan is seen during a news conference in Chicago, Nov. 13, 2008. (AP)

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Chicago, where he was chief of public schools, on Nov. 13, 2008. (AP)

The U.S. secretary of education always has a big bully pulpit. President Barack Obama’s brand new secretary of education, Chicago’s Arne Duncan, has a big bully pulpit plus a huge pile of stimulus money — one hundred billion dollars — to shake up American education.

That’s historic. Today we’ll talk with the Secretary Duncan about his plans for America’s schools. About testing and charter schools, teachers unions and No Child Left Behind. About how he hopes to make American education competitive again.

This hour, On Point: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

You can join the conversation. What’s your question for Secretary Duncan, America’s education man of the hour?


Arne Duncan joins us from Washington. He was confirmed as Secretary of Education on Jan. 20, 2009. Prior to his appointment, he served for seven years as the chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools.

More links:

The New York Times has a good summary of the historic moment in which Secretary Duncan arrives. For a tough critique of President Obama and Secretary Duncan, see the Schools Matter blog. And The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on the D.C. voucher controversy and how it frames big choices for the new administration.

Jay Mathews, education columnist for The Washington Post, offers an up-close account of school reform in his new book, “Work hard. Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America.” He joined us last year for our ’08 campaign hour on the education issue.

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  • Mike

    The No child left behind was a utter failure, i hope he talks about how he is going to fix this, and fix the system that was set in place where schools with not enough funding are losing funding because of no child left behind and than given to schools that dont need the additional funding.

  • Karen

    Please ask Secretary Duncan what his vision of special education will be. Our district is planning to take the stimulus sped money and move the salaries of the specch pathologist, the OT aide, etc. over to that money to free up funds for regular education. Is this the purpose of the special education funds in the stimulus package. What about improving the special education services our children receive?

  • TSOL

    Please please please abolish No Child Left Behind. All it did was force teachers to teach to a test, rather than teach critical thinking.

  • Ben

    It is imperative that teacher salaries be raised substantially. I would love to teach – I received a full scholarship to UNC-Chapel Hill to do so – but I cannot afford to be a teacher. I think the appropriate question to ask is not, “How much should we pay teachers;” it should be “What is the cost of paying teachers too little?”

    Isle of Palms, SC

  • Stephanie

    In his exposition, Duncan made no mention of special education. We need to ensure competitive standards and an as inclusive as possible education for children with special needs. These children think differently, and many possess special gifts. Experts have acknowledged that the methods used to teach these children can be beneficial for any child. Teaching to these needs and integrating these children can increase diversity and creative thinking in the classroom to everyone’s advantage, from the school environment to adult society.

    Equally important for these and all of our children is arts education. Participation in the arts will keep our children inspired to learn, to work with others, to think anew, and develop beautiful souls. We do not want to raise a society of competitive drones.

    Thank you.

  • David

    Please abolish the teachers union. It has destroyed the education system.

  • G brown

    How can the most inclusive education system in the world be called uncompetitive?

    How can any European or Asian school system compete with our graduation rates at the secondary and high ed level?

    When we compare the diversified US system to any of the foreign unified systems that don’t have the same commitment to universal achievement, the smoke around the so called “crisis” is much relieved.

  • Lauren

    It is discouraging to hear that the K-12 wheel is just being reinvented again. The problem in public schools is not a lack of high standards, assessment tools or quality teachers. I attended public schools and taught in public schools. The biggest hurdle as a student and as a teacher was a sense of chaos in the schools. Students are distracted by a lack of discipline. Teachers and administrators have absolutely no control over student behavior. Compare this environment to public schools in other countries and the American students look like wild animals.

    Classroom size, school uniforms, discipline standards and parental involvement are the issues that need to be addressed, and they wont cost as much as fancy tests, standards coordinators, and computers.

  • http://www.flio.org Michael Shonka

    An international language training program has been developed called the Free Language Immersion Operation (www.FLIO.org). Our purpose is to send Americans to foreign countries, pay them to learn the language and culture, and then place them in bi-lingual positions. Over 90% of our students are learning either Spanish or French. We need bi-lingual speakers for global trade and security. How can we get funded? What programs can we apply for to address this need in our country?

  • Karen Heath – Bristol, CT

    How do you plan to address the needs of gifted children? For years all I have heard is that its an issue of money, all the while my child is the one being left behind. He is no less a special needs child than one with physical or mental challenges. I have watched my son go from an inquisitive fascinated learner to the proverbial underachiever because he is so unchallenged in school. The lack of services in public school forces parents of gifted students to seek out private education, if they can afford it, or magnet and charter schools, if available, which pull our children from their neighborhoods and force them to endure long bus rides and other challenges in order to get the education they need.

  • Donna

    I’m doing exactly what the President has asked. My family has turned off the TV and we read a lot! I have a child in kindergarten who is reading at a 2nd grade level. I was just in her class this morning and I don’t see how many of her peers are even ready for 1st grade. They are not interested in learning! Teaching should not be left to the schools alone. If this country is to look to the future, it is everyone’s job to teach a child. Parents need to do more than just drive their kids back and forth to school for learning.

  • Ian Ehrenwald

    Mr. Duncan, PLEASE stop saying “incent”. It makes me want to put a fork in my ear. It’s not a real word! I understand what you’re trying to say, but please get your point across using proper English. The word you’re looking for is “encourage”.

  • R.M.

    Parents are so important to the success of their children . Unfortunately they are children who’s parents are too overwhelmed and can’t help. I suggest having boarding schools which will have more supervision on these children’s studies …..

  • Christine

    I get frustrated when our school district talks about streamlining children, and balancing teams of children to assist in teaching each other. Basically, instead of having advanced classes for advanced children, we now are making sure that everyone gets the average education. There’s no word I hate as much as “average”. My son (a 6th grader) is a high honor student who struggles to be challenged every day. He has actually had to ask for more advanced work in mathematics because the rest of the work he already knew. What we are doing to streamline children is at the expense of others who aren’t getting challenged to meet their potential.

  • Michelle

    I beleive that this is the m ost important initiative of our time. I also beleive that if you ask anyone in our country if this is important the answer is absolutely. ALl of the initiatives, philisophical approaches presented by Mr. Duncan are on target. But as with all of the President Obama’s initiatives it comes down to Execution. How will Mr. Duncan change the culture of our lawmakers, decision makers, school administrations to make this happen. The pockets of success are everywhere — but it will boil down to LOCAL execution. How will he impact LOCAL change?

  • Julianne

    When will gifted children merit any attention? Our great universities are filled with foreign students (especially in the sciences) not US citizens. We are spending so much money to make sure no child is being left behind and our bright children are not given opportunities to forge ahead.

  • Sara

    The means of funding public education are fundamentally unfair. Primarily, funding from property taxes benefits children that live in stable communinities with strong property tax bases. This problem will only get worse as the housing crisis increases. We know people move to better school districts and they move out of worse ones. We know what is wrong as parents and we just don’t want to admit it.

  • Paula

    Tom is working very hard to get Mr. Duncan to speak in specifics. It’s not working. It makes one wish that Michelle Rhee was the Sec’y of Education. She may not be a politician, but she sure would tell you what she intends to do to clean up the education mess at a national level after she gets done in D.C.

  • William (Bill) Short

    I have been listening this morning around interviewing prospective students, so I apologize if this has already been addressed. I have hear the president state that among the goals for higher education will be not merely enrolling, but acutally graduating traditionally disadvantaged students from college. I have heard nothing about how that will be accomplished, but I want to point out that doing this is not mysterious. New York State, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have been doing just that for more than four decades. I serve as President of the New York State Higher Education Opportunity Program Professional Organization, and I know of none of my members who have been asked to volunteer their expertise. Our students are both educationally and financially disadvantaged; enroll in highly prestigious private and public institutions that otherwise would NOT accept them based on their transcripts and standardized testing; and then graduate at rates equally and frequently exceeding the all-student population. More than forty years of success in meeting this goal should be tapped.

  • http://cmahigh.com Ken Sharp

    I am the president of the parent’s group (LSCO) at Communication and Media Arts High School in Detroit. Can Mr. Duncan give his thoughts regarding the Detroit district?

  • http://gracefulonline.com Davis Murcia

    Finally, maybe some hope for our kids. There are various issues that need to be addressed. 1) Teachers are paid enough. I don’t know about other areas, but the NY public school system, starting salaries are $42k, which is a very good starting salary. Of course, not paid enough for teaching our children, and we have to factor cost of living. A teacher does not become a teacher for the money. 2) In addition, the reason these teachers are asking for more money, is because the cost of education here in the U.S. is outrageous. 3) ABOLISH NO-CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT – Teaching a child the test is useless, other than increasing a schools test passing scores. We have 18 year old students graduating high schools, barely able to read or do simple math problems. The BUSH Administration needs to be sued for it’s decisions and policies!

  • Jill Seaman

    Early Childhood Education: Very critical. Teachers must be qualified and be paid what public school teachers are paid. ECE teachers would be thrilled with public school salaries in most states(and the relative status).
    Child care/early education(no distinction should be made) has to be subsidized for quality, no room for profit. Again, the subsidy (per child allotment) for public education K-12 would go a long way for ECE quality.

    Money for training is often wasted due to turnover of staff, who cannot afford to stay in field. Ongoing mentoring and career ladder for staying in classroom and becoming master teachers.

    To Lauren, I have observed several classrooms in several states where there were no uniforms and there were large class sizes, but children were actively engaged in productive learning and there were no wild animals. Parental support and involvement and classroom management skills for teachers are clearly important.

  • Elizabeth

    As a former teacher, current school-based social worker, and daughter of two teachers, I see student behavior as one of the greatest obstacles to student success and the greatest contributor to teacher attrition, regardless of pay. Smaller classes could be one way of reducing the stress on teachers by enabling them to give students more individualized instruction and attention and reducing the likelihood of students disrupting the class because they are not getting their needs met. Family engagement is also crucial to promoting student achievement as it correlates to students’ motivation, homework completion and attendance. Students, families, and teachers all need greater support services- so here’s a plug for my line of work- school-based social workers and mental health resources, reduced caseloads for guidance counselors and family outreach coordinators. I think Geoffry Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone is a good model for a hollistic education model that we should strive for and will truly close the achievement gap.

  • Lucia

    Thank you Mr. Duncan for your strong support of charter schools and accountability. I know both can be improved upon and are not perfect, but as a parent of 2 public school children (neither of whom have been in charters), I strongly believe charter schools and accountability are the best things to have happened to public education. As you say, charters are public schools.

    Please do what you can to reform teacher accountability. We’ve had some wonderful teachers, but also some teacher who should have been removed years ago. Laying off teachers based on seniority and not performance and pay based on seniority but not performance undermine the teaching profession and weaken out schools.

  • Bryan

    How or even will reform such as the 45 reforms needed as suggested by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel be implemented. Today’s math had been reduced to a point where we have to import leading scientist and engineers. Seems pretty easy to say teach to mastery and forget spiral based, “feel good” math.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    More important than competition with other countries, I think basic literacy is important to make good US citizens who can make educated decisions about who to vote for by being able to read a variety of information sources (besides TV).

    Basic literacy is the basic building block of being a fully engaged US citizen.

  • Tim Rayworth

    With the climate change, dwindling natural resources, and rapidly changing community character accross the states, what role does education about the environment play in the Secretary’s plans for early education, K-12, and higher ed? Where NCLB focussed narrowly on a few content areas, how might that initiative be looked at to consider the value of an environmentally literate citizenry?

  • Stephen Gordon

    I understand Arne’s commitment and determination. But I wonder about his vision about the teaching profession. Does he see it as a craft whose members need to have a culture and community in their schools in order to get better? What kinds of professional development creates and supports teachers to become perceptive decision makers able to examine their pedagogy and students? For example, I work with the National Writing Project which believes that teacher can create knowledge that informs their craft, that teacher inquiry is one such professional development strategy. NWP has data about the effect of its approach to teacherdevelopment and how it results in student achievement. What professional devlopment methods and programs do you want to support.

  • Stephanie

    We are now 3/4 of the way through the show and we have heard very little accept that we will root out schools that are lying about the abilities of their students and we will make small modifications to No Child Left Behind. We have heard no vision of what school should really be like for our students. How will they learn? Can we think about retraining teachers? Train minds? Inspire and empower young children, not just test them to death on very dry skills that they have little interest or opportunity to apply.

  • Stephanie

    whoops, I meant “except” not “accept” (edit for the second line of my post above.

  • http://gracefulonline.com Davis Murcia

    Competing with students in China or India? Ya, that will be the day. Good luck! That’s a community change. Compared to the world, our children our ‘not very smart’ – this is coming from a parent, and I have to tutor my own child because I don’t like the level of education that he is taught at his school. Go ahead and ask your teenager if they know where Ecuador is? Students abroad will tell you the capital and a brief history of that country.

    American parents need to get involved. Stop worrying about how your going to make payments on that SUV (get something you can afford!), or which room your going to put that next Plasma. Americans need to worry about their children, first and foremost. Stop the materialism obsession.

  • R.M.

    Some teachers can’t afford to live in the cities in which they teach ..affordable housing is a major problem . There has to be subsidizing or rent control .

  • http://www.fonchik.org/wordpress Persephone Miel

    10:50 AM The Secretary of Education just made my least favorite grammar error!

    He said “my parents instilled (something or other, I was distracted by my grammar police anguish and forgot) in my brothers and sisters and I.”

    The end is near, brothers and sisters.

  • David Kahn

    As a current student in public high school, I would like to hear more about a different kind of ‘race to the bottom’: the rising inequality in the amount of money that is spent on low-achieving students rather than high-achieving students. I’m not opposed to the idea that we might want to spend more money per student on the least achieving students, but when schools are forced to cut advanced placement programs and end up spending 10, 20, even 50 times more per student on low-achieving students as compared with high-achieving students it seems clear to me that things have gone too far. The special education program in my school finds itself citing teacher:student ratios, since there are more of the former than the latter, while class sizes in mainstream and advanced placement programs continue to increase. Everyone seems to be able to agree on the desirability of rewarding high-achieving schools; what about high achieving students?

  • Lara

    I received a high school exam from 1898 that most college graduates couldn’t pass. What is happening to the QUALITY of education? My daughter’s 8th grade math teacher at an independent school said the kids are necessarily learning more, they’re just doing more work. This insane workload causes undue stress that doesn’t encourage learning (public high schools in our area have mandatory stress-relief classes!). The shift in the culture at schools in the Boston area- public, charter, independent — is forcing kids to live up to adult notions of success. Do the reforms Secretary Duncan propose take into account the inherent pressure that will cause more stress in our kids? Will they truly be learning to be inquisitive thinkers or paper pushers?

  • Terry Sinha

    I hope that Secretary Duncan will be looking at the programs of Geoffrey Canada in New York City. His Harlem Children’s Zone and Baby College have been very successful in meeting the needs of underprivileged children.

  • Roger Johanson

    One fundamental flaw in NCLB and the idea of incentives to adults for student achievement is that learning is an internal process – we can’t learn for our kids – they have to do it themselves.
    Some important evidence: 1. dropout rate is a vital signal that kids don’t see the value of what they are being told to learn. 2. 1970’s research on engaged time – students connecting individually with the intended content was highly predictive of student achievement. 3. Coleman report showed that effects of peers has a significant influence on achievement. 4. The documentary 2 Million Minutes is powerful evidence that the national orientation for learning is markedly different in our society than in China, India, Japan, etc.
    Sec. Duncan’s emphasis on communicating expectations is an important first step. But we need to wake up to the effects of culture on education. What will we as a nation do to create a climate for learning that youths will buy into to make high achievement likely? Poverty is important here but it’s naive to deny that culture and climate issues affect middle class and affluent kids too.

  • http://gracefulonline.com Davis Murcia

    No one addressed that little clause that the Bush Administration snuck in the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT….

    Facilitates military recruitment

    NCLB (In section 9528) requires public secondary schools to provide military recruiters the same access to facilities as a school provides to higher education institution recruiters. Schools are also required to provide contact information for every student to the military if requested. Students or parents can opt out of having their information shared, and educational institutions receiving funding under the act are required to inform parents that they have this option.[46][47] Currently, many school districts have a generic opt out form which, if filled out and turned in, withholds students’ information from college and job recruiters as well as the military.

    I have military recruiters harassing me to get my child to join the military and serve his country. I am a vet myself, and served in 4 different ‘wars’ – so I have no problem, and encourage military service. The problem… my kid is 15, and it doesn’t seem to matter. They want these teens to sign a contract stating that when they turn 17, they will join the military. And, they are now offering GED programs within the US Military for children who join before they are 18! So, they do not even care if these children have graduated high school or not. Sorry, NOT MY CHILD.

  • Marie

    How about a mandatory sixth-grade diploma? For the evaluation, begin with the end in mind. Determine what you want students to know (ask the right questions), give out the questions in advance and let them work towards a defined goal. If students, teachers, parents and the community know the goal, they can work towards it better than with unknown, random, multiple choice questions. Teachers can post website lessons around the questions; libraries and museums can gear programs around the questions, etc. Businesses will donate to known goals. Include a written 10 page research paper and book responses.

  • Chris

    Enlight of the current economic crisis, I would like to know how Arne Ducan is going to financially educate our future generations so we don’t end up in the debacle we have today.

    Middle and lower-class America is financially dumb!

    We deprive our children of financial education and wonder why people made the decisions they did to put themselves in the housing and financial crisis we are currently experiencing. Earmark the money and use the newly issued funds to FINANCIALLY EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN.

  • http://WBUR Sharon

    Wonderful show! My grandchildren spent a year living with me attending elementary school in the Boston Public School system. Lying about their academic progress was no benefit to any of us. My granddaughter later was diagnosed with severe learning disabilities though she was praised and past with high grades during her year with the BPL. Because my granddaughter is highly compliant [no disciplinary problems] and shows extreme effort her second grade teacher rewarded her behavior. The country school where she graduated from 6th grade was able to teach her to read with a whole slew of interventions and she now attends a wonderful Charter School where she is working at mastery levels! In Boston’s inner city, she’d be functionally illiterate by now. Please help the kids whose parents can’t move to the country or understand what teachers do to boost their “success” and justify their own incompetence. Teachers who LIE about classroom achievement by promoting failure are a huge part of the problem!

  • Suzanne Hall

    I find it disappointing that the new Secretary of Education does not use correct grammar. In one comment he said “work with parents and I” instead of the correct, “work with parents and me.” The use of incorrect pronouns (me and him are going to school instead of he and I are going to school) or (give the book to she and I instead of give the book to her and me)seems to be the norm these days among students, teachers, news reporters, everyone. Is correct grammar not being taught in today’s schools? Do teachers know correct grammar? Please, Mr. Secretary, use correct grammar and set a good example for students and everyone else.

  • Carolyn West

    The large amount of stimulus money for special education and Title I funds for poorer districts must be spent in the year beginning in September, ’09-’10 and the year after, ’10-’11. Cities and states in our area expect major budget shortages into ’12 and ’13 in most cases. So just when the stimulus money for these children is up and running, including additional staff, both cities and states will experience a financial cliff with all the stimulus finding over, and the tax revenues still down. Those new staff will be laid off and the programs unfunded or under funded when we are still in economic crisis. Some states and systems are planning on using the stimulus funding on things that won’t require continued support, rather on things that will be most effective because of the funding cliff. Two years is too short a period to do quality programs when we expect the budget hole to last a few years beyond. Please let states and cities develop plans for these funds for special ed and Title I for up to a 4 year period. The programs can be designed to be effective over that period.

    We’re hearing that many states have this problem. If the act needs to be amended to accomplish this, the ’09 omnibus bill would have the right timing.
    Thank you for considering this problem.

  • Jan Vogelgesang

    I think too many of our public education dollars are spend on equipping elementary schools with computers. My stepdaughters both attended Charlottesville Waldorf School for K-7. That school doesn’t incorporate computers in the classroom at all. There are NO computers at the school except for the ones that administrators and teachers use. Instead of spending time on keyboards, the kids learn how to bake bread, tend a garden, stage plays, work out math problems, learn about (and paint watercolor pictures of) Roman aqueducts, play string instruments. They learn to think critically and to problem solve, and their innate curiosity is nurtured. The learn how to use their brains, and if you can use your brain, you can certainly learn how to use a computer either at home or in high school.

    Computer time won’t help a kid much if his or her basic educational, emotional, and social needs aren’t being met. The funds that are spent on purchasing computers for grade schools should be diverted to areas such as teacher recruitment, development, and retention; smaller class sizes; music and other student enrichment classes; after-school programs; and sports; aggressive literacy programs; tutoring; an overhaul of the malnutritious school lunch system; cleanup of toxic school environs; and so on.

  • Roger Johanson

    The importance of early childhood education was briefly mentioned on air. So was the importance of reducing our dropout rate. Programs for middle school students should not be neglected (Arne Duncan’s initial suggestion).
    But we should look to the research on Head Start for inspiration. The payoff for money spent on Head Start was NOT in terms of academic achievement. (There was a positive but not long-lasting effect.) Yet for every $1 spent on Head Start, the nation saved $7 later. The primary ways this happened include 1) lower dropout rate 2) lower teen pregnancy rate 3) lower institutionalization rates (like imprisonment for violent and/or drug crimes).
    Clear messages – spend more on early childhood education. Recognize that higher scores on standardized tests will not be the primary payoff, and these programs are valuable even with no achievement benefits.
    Learning is its own reward. Learning is exciting and motivating. Preschool programs help infants to realize this and to value schooling.

  • june hamilton

    I listened with great interest to the discussion today with Arne Duncan, and my heart is heavy with dread as a result.
    The public school system is doomed because of the teachers union. I feel strongly that the billions of dollars accorded our new education secretary will be “ear marked” by the union and wasted, as in years past. Mr. Duncan successfully skirted around answering Mr. Ashbrook`s direct questions about it !!! Also, the quality of our state`s teachers colleges (Bridgewater St. for example) leaves alot to be desired.
    President Obama and his friend Mr. Duncan share an unrealistic, audacious agends to fix everything in America all at once, without a clue about the inevitable costs.

  • http://www.camillediaz.com Camille Diaz

    What’s the plan for Afterschool? A quality Afterschool Program can help with homework and increase students’ attachment to their school. That translates to better attendance, better learning, and higher test scores during the regular day but Afterschool funding keeps getting pushed to the end of the line.

  • David Wright

    Fascinating that such a brain-dead interview elicits such thoughtful comments. I’m tempted to nominate any of your commentators for Secretary of Ed. rather than Mr. Duncan. What is it about that job that turns smart people like Rod Paige and Arnie Duncan into such stupefying jabberers of platitudes, without a fact or a plan of action in sight? Maybe the principle of local control of schools has left the Dept. of Ed. without much to do.

    When host Tom un-stupefied himself long enough to ask a follow-up question, Mr. Duncan just danced off again into “We’ve gotta”-land. As in: “We’ve gotta make sure teachers are respected.” “We’ve gotta get parents more involved.” “We’ve gotta emphasize early education, and emphasize K through 12, and emphasize secondary education.” (He actually said that.) “We’ve gotta get the resources where they’ll do the most good.” “We’ve gotta make school exciting again.”

    I wanted to ask: Who is this “we” who’s gotta? And how exactly are “we” gonna?


    Please Arne Duncan, use correct grammar. You said “instilled in my brother, sister and I”. That is truly offputting from a Secretary of Education. More language care, please.

  • http://onpointradio.org Marjorie Soriano

    My first profession, general science teacher, Jr. High school, NYC ; today, adult ESL both in USA and Slovakia where I had taught ten years ago.

    Added to the comments above, addressing ‘ parent education’.— The president ‘got it right’. –parent participation . And I add, monies set aside for parent education on parenting and importance of education. And ignorance is passed from parent to adult child. They speak of no time and it being the job of teachers. That’s a difference between here and abroad. Parental values, the family mentality behind how kids are sent to school and what happens when they return is separate from money for schools. It’s the difference between asking ‘ what score they got in the football game’ and ‘how they did in math that day’. Add in ‘check out the swagger of the teen with pants half down, smoking’ and you realize that too many parents fear their kids,are at a loss for how to handle them . Many want to do better but don’t know how. Attending meetings with principals is being done in some schools very successfully if you happen to have caught “State of the Black Union’ last weekend .Where parents are working many jobs, social workers and teachers need to go to the projects or wherever, for community meetings. Parents MUST be taught or nothing can ever change.
    I haven’t heard one good word on No Child Left Behind in all it’s years–too much wasted time in testing and no uniformity between school programs,etc.
    Class size, finances for schools, the class of parents, boring teachers; lots of excuses for not learning — cultural values is more influential than any other factor. The immigrants from China/ Korea, India, Russia are top in our schools most don’t come here rich–back to parents’ values. My classes in the 40s were boring,my family poor, but my siblings and I are educated professionals. School and good grades were a ‘ supposed to’.
    charter schools/ public schools/ failing schools. If parent values encouraged self discipline in children, failing public school teachers would be able to teach. Probably charter schools wouldn’t have arisen. Charter schools –school and parents work together. Teachers have always and still do enter the profession for how they dream it will be. It’s paper work and discipline that discourage them from improvement courses and teaching innovatively; the time invested can feel useless.
    Yes, not to forget advanced students who need as many extras as the struggling ones. NYC used to have special schools in the arts and sciences for the city’s top students. Society today reaps the benefits of specialty programs whether set in entire schools or programs within a district.
    And it might help if the driving age were set higher as years ago. We need to give Sec.Duncan and our president time to pull it together. We are so many years behind they can only start with a goal and observe the foreign students.

  • Charlotte

    My neighborhood on the southeast side of Columbus, Ohio, is awash in children at risk. Many of these children are sabotaged by dysfunction and lousy parenting at home before they ever cross the threshold into the classroom. It’s hard to concentrate on Dr. Seuss when your mother is too drunk or too stoned to speak — or when an exhausted grandmother or grandfather has his or her hands full trying to compensate for parents in jail or on the street. What will Mr. Arne’s billions of dollars do to ensure that teachers, social workers, truant officers, and the courts finally work together EFFECTIVELY for these children? And speaking of faith initiatives, how much of this money has been earmarked to help ministers, priests, and nuns run after-school programs in neighborhoods like mine?

  • Marika

    What about the idea of a longer school day. Expanded Learning Time is being piloted here in Massachusetts and is showing a lot of promise. But as with all reforms, it only seems to touch kids and districts that are underperforming. Children in suburban districts miss out on so many exciting opportunities including ELT. So Secretary Duncan how can we make sure that opportunities reach every kid, not just kids who are struggling?

  • http://www.thenetworkinc.org David Crandall

    For the past forty years, my staff and I have worked to help schools get better. Perhaps the biggest contribution has been a writing program that is widely used by KIPP. We have worked with teachers and principals in schools all across the country as well as overseas. That experience gave me great confidence in the desire of the majority of teachers to improve their knowledge and skills so that their students could learn. Today’s challenge is even greater, especially in providing quality science education. Simply buying more computers and building science labs will be good money following bad without a much greater emphasis on quality professional development [PD]for teachers and school leaders. At present, as it has been for decades, if a school has more than three days a year for PD, it’s one in a million. Most PD is a waste of money and that which is well received stops with transferring new vocabulary but no new skills. Changing one’s mind is not the equivalent of changing what one does at the chalk face. Teachers need time to take significant new instructional practices on board, the space to make the inevitable missteps, support for reflecting on their experience with colleagues and refining their practice, sustained support from school leaders who also buffer them from the critics in the community who do not have a clue of how difficult a teacher’s typical day is. Money spent on bricks and mortar alone won’t touch what goes on inside. Significant change takes time but it is what happens between students and teachers, and yes, kids and their parents/parent proxies that really matters.

  • Joe B.

    The public schools are failing miserably. If Democrats are really for “choice”, then they should support school vouchers. This would allow parents to send their child to a private school that will educate their child, rather than a poor performing public school.

  • chris dorf

    Ahh, a school system modeled on a corporate model; oh joy.

    Are they going to train kids to be little company boys and girls. More yes men and women to advance the agenda.

    Give me a break!

  • Marion Carroll

    Does your committee understand that NOT EVERY CHILD BELONGS IN COLLEGE? Please think about the trade school option. Many teenagers are not ready to sit for hours listening to lectures, writing papers, filling pages with numbers – but they could be starting a good career as an auto mechanic, a handyman, a hair stylist… Those trades are hurting for recruits, and can lead to wonderful careers and lives.

    Remember that there are different types of intelligence. Let kids with more physical types of intelligence use them. When they’re older they may go back & explore the more intellectual fields that they’re not ready for as teens. Forcing them to study things they’re not ready for will just turn them off from studying all their lives.

  • Marion Carroll

    I’ve been having sad discussions with a friend who teaches high school science in NYC. She tells me the kids can’t even _read_. Kids don’t come to class, or to labs; they don’t do homework; they fail tests if they even show up to take them — and they laugh at my friend and tell her she can’t fail them, because – and this is TRUE – she will be fired if she doesn’t pass a certain percentage of her students.

    Teachers’ hands are tied by administrators who imagine that punishing teachers for students’ failure is the way to keep those students from failing. Instead, help teachers to teach things that kids were not taught in elementary school.

  • http://www.wbur.org Jesse Lorringer

    One thing that I noticed was missing was the issue of student loan debt and rising college costs. Despite increases in Pell grants that are targeted for increases in the President’s budget, what is the administration doing about helping students manage their debt. The massive amount of debt that students are incurring requires some assistance. With fewer job opportunities and other debt obligations, student loan borrowers need help. Are there plans?

  • Mary E. Hoettels

    Secretary Duncan,
    I have studied educational options for a long time as a parent of four. There is a very effective system of educations that is never talked about and that is private education, whether it be the Quaker boarding school that Amy Carter attended or the military boarding schools that children of the elite attend. The teachers need to be subject experts but do not need the credentialing that is required for public schools.

    Mary E. Hoettels

  • Ama

    Did no one else care that Sec. Duncan did not really answer a question? I only hope that was a result of nerves on the radio, (but I highly doubt that). This episode did affirm my respect for Tom though, as he really tried to get this guy to answer something. Since the election I have really started to re-affirm my hope in Obama (I lost some during the end of the primary), but this guy kind of made me nervous. He said nothing for an hour!

  • Charles S. Merroth

    Much was said by all participants about children as students but little was noted of them as human beings. Some comments illuded to discpline and the problems of behavior and attentiveness.
    It is time that schools have immersed themselves in training students as better parents and homemakers.A plan to accomplish this is an idea I am tooling with and I call it My Child:For a Better World. It consists of one additional course in the 7th and 12th grades(prospective parents)emphazing non-cognative education;how to raise kids from birth to pre-school, universal, uniform, and mandated for all. One more well coceived course in parental training For a Better World.
    Will our smart youth be scientists for peace in the world or for blowing it up? Love is lost in present education and can only be restored in the home by the parents. Let us teach them how?

  • Eileen Sullivan

    Listening to the conversation, I thought I’d comment on previously noted uses of the pseudoword “incent” or other grammatical errors, but I find myself fuming about the implication that as we baby-boomers retire, you will somehow be better able to remake teaching once we get out of your way… let’s hope there’s at least one baby-boomer left in each building to correct their grammar.

    Some of the most forward-thinking educators in my district are highly experienced people, whose impending retirement will leave a gaping hole in our educational community.

    Please don’t blame teacher’s unions and baby-boomers for the failures of education.
    Please don’t assume that incentive pay will solve the problem of education… who will teach the struggling students with developmental disabilities? Who will work with the students no one else wants? Who will “insent” the teachers who are sick to death of “all testing, all the time”.

  • Vern Ballard

    I’m dubious about No Child Left Behind, where there’s plenty of emphasis on the one hand of testing and school accountability and on the other for teacher and administrative incentives but very little on effective, civically-engaged parenting.

    Without better integration and engagement of parents in the development of our schools graduation rates will likely continue to linger around 50%. Bags of money and mobs of effervescent teachers will continue to revolve in and out of our schools to little effect if parents aren’t encouraged more fully engaged in schools.

  • Michael

    I am a college instructor. My concern is that this is really just going to involve throwing the public school system into the arms of the free market such that professional controls will take a back seat to consumerism.

    Who will decide whether teachers are to stay and improve or be “encouraged” to enter a new profession: professionals, or parents, who in my experience often exert the worst influence on their children’s education? Will first-year teachers need to go if parents decide that they are not serving their children well enough?

    Is it possible to have this conversation without using a term like “excellence” – possibly the emptiest term in American English just now? What does it mean?

    I tested extraordinarily well as a student, and even then I knew it was worthless. Should we not get rid of standardized testing altogether?

    Is this the end of the public school system and the introduction of an entirely market-based, service- and product-oriented system?

    Just now I am listening to a story about an illiterate kid “let down” by his schools. What were his parents doing about it? We just went through an eternity of presidential campaigning, during which “intellectual, university-educated” people were castigated for being out of touch with the “common values” of our country. Is the problem not rather a culture that does not value intelligence?

    Am I, a future college professor, destined to a career undoing all this damage, a vain attempt to take young consumers accustomed to blaming institutions for their own failures, and trying to turn them into responsible citizens?


  • chris dorf

    What is left our are several facts.

    1) There is a lack of meaning in the modern economic world. Economy is a MEANS to an end. but we live in a world that says that economy is the END. There is no meaning in living for accumulation of assets and consumption.

    2) Education is not testing remembering.

    3) If everyone is degreed, will the degreed cooks, sweepers, and other blue collar degreed peoiple make University wages?

  • Lisa Giljum-Jansky

    As a public school teacher and teachers’ union rep. I am concerned at the habitual painting of all teachers’ unions with the same brush. Can some teachers’ unions be bad for education? Yes. Are some bad teachers unintentionally protected by the teachers’ unions? Yes.

    But please consider also:

    Teachers’ unions work to safeguard good teachers from being taken advantage of.

    Teachers’ unions work to ensure nurturing learning environments that benefit teachers,and more importantly,benefit KIDS.

    Teachers’ unions work to provide quality professional development for teachers so we can improve our practice to benefit KIDS.

    Teachers’ unions give a voice to professionals who have devoted their lives KIDS’ but have little to know say in the decision-making processes and structures that affect those very kids.

    I could go on and on. I do not pretend to ignore the flaws of teachers’ unions, they exist and they hurt. However, I also cannot ignore the invaluable service they provide and rights they ensure.

    Does education reform have to take on a “for us or against us” polarity? Why can’t reformers work WITH teachers’ unions not for the sake of teachers but for the sake of kids?

  • Daniel Johnson

    Having better teachers and better facilities is only the beginning, it is about time the government starts pressuring parents to be 100% involved in their kids education.
    The future of this country depends on this and if you think gazillions of dollars is the answer THINK AGAIN.

    I grew up in France and i can tell you that parents there don’t rely on the government or teachers alone to educate their kids, THEY get involved on all aspects.
    The education system is just too soft in the USA.

    They can put you in jail in this country for not cutting your lawn yet no action is taken when a kid drop out of school.

    Where are your priorities America?

  • Lon C Ponschock

    blah blah blah blah blah. Duncan sure can rattle on in a monotone that hardly separates one canard from another.

    I listened to the whole show but did not read all the 68 comments here. I didn’t have to. During the broadcast all the palaver from Duncan never once addressed military recruiters in high school and lower grades and what were going to be the strings (as in No Child Left Behind) to keep military recruiters in a position of free access to youngsters. Please be aware that this is new. It has never happened before. Duncan in no way shape or form addressed the real danger of NCLP nor showed any evidence of eliminating the law or understanding what it does.

    It is my fear that this new infusion of monies will be another club that the armed forces can use to dictate policy on their school activities indefinitely.

  • http://dorispartan@gmail.com Doris Partan

    After 30 years Reading/ESL teacher, I want to go back and volunteer with programs at the bottom. Is there a registry? I worked in schools where teachers and principals lied to kids about their levels. ESL kids from poor countries were told they were fine when they read at Grade 2 after 2 years here even if they were middle school age. With strong strategies these kid need to make at least 2 years progress for each year in class and should be at least Grade 4 reading after 2 years here. It takes work but it can and must happen.
    Parents: I have 2 grand kids both age 5. One has a single mom who never reads at home and the other who already reads at K level from all the reading at home. The vocabulary level at K predicts the vocabulary level at Grade 6. How do we get these Moms involved? I want to start an Parent Outreach Reading program, give Stop and Shop gifts, compete with money prizes with other moms for the most books read, have library trips as a group to the free Library programs. Whatever works, try it. Ask these Moms what they suggest. Last comment Arnie did not mention Early Childhood programs as an answer to High school dropouts. Directly related! Get these toddlers, preschoolers, in a good enrichment program and they will graduate from high school – guaranteed!

  • http://dorispartan@gmail.com Doris Partan

    I would like to hear from educators, Moms, and Dads who have ideas about helping change what parents do and don’t do at home. What would these Moms like help with in order to be able to set aside time and to feel comfortable reading to their kids? Let’s help each other think about strategies for accomplishing this essential first step.
    Doris Partan

  • http://dorispartan@gmail.com Doris Partan

    Just had an idea- Arnie and Obama want to reward to great teachers. How about rewarding the great Moms, those that read, organize backpacks, meet with teachers, return notices, give homework space and time, turn off the TV and video games? Get the community involved – get gift certificates from GAP, Walmart, Target, MacDonald, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Closing the achievement gap moves the entire country forward from kindergarten through college and gives all kids an equal chance to Race to the Top! Doris Partan

  • http://dorispartan@gmail.com Doris Partan

    Which Moms to reward? It has to be Moms whose kids qualify for Head Start programs or Moms of the children who get Free and Reduced Lunch. Doris Partan

  • J Victor Milner

    After listening to Secretary Duncan, I am left with the disturbing feeling that he lacks a coherent new vision for education. He seems quite cognizant and of the scope and overlapping complexities of the problems in education. That conceded though, he displayed little evidence of the intellectual depth and wherewithal for visionary synthesis, I think, necessary to effectively address the complex ‘how to’s of addressing those problems. President Obama impresses me. He seems to have a truly practicable, yet revolutionary vision for the nation. I am saddened that he was unable to find a secretary with a comparable complementary vision for education.

  • J Victor Milner

    … oops! Disregard the ‘and’ after cognizant. That phrase should read, “cognizant of the scope and overlapping complexities of …”.

  • Mike

    Kill the teacher’s union and contracts that reward mediocrity.

    Also, let’s increase pay for excellent teachers. The kids deserve the best.

  • http://GCACharterSchool.org Peter W. Van Ness

    Thank you, Mr. Duncan, for your vision.

    You used the term Perfect Storm to describe the opportunity for reform. I am chair of a charter school founding group in Gloucester, MA where the Perfect Storm took place. Hearing you speak gives me hope that the reforms we seek may have a chance.

    Unfortunately, the powers that be in our city (mayor, school committee, district superintendent) have mounted a “Perfect Storm” of opposition to the reforms our charter will bring to Gloucester.

    Any advice?

    p.s., Thank you, Mr. Ashbrook, for hosting Mr. Duncan.

  • Glen

    Superb! However what about the students who do not go to college – never heard vocational students mentioned
    If everybody goes to college – who will fix broken things?

  • John

    What is required is less criticism and more practical solutions.

    Here is what we do, short term, find the most effective instructor in your school and copy everything they do. Everything from calendars, quizzes, tests, books, teaching philosophy, etc.

    Here is what we do in the long term, find the most effective instructors in the United States, study them, look for commonalities, and then distill their practices into a system that is easy to follow and implement. Standardize pedagogy, standardize books, keep standards high. I’ve written and entire blog on this:


  • Stephen

    I listened to part of the program and was dismayed to hear the same old administrative psychobabble. When did this man stop talking like a human being? I was angered by his affirmation that, although teachers deserved higher salaries, the deteriorating financial mess made it impossible at this time.

    When is the time? For how many economic seasons have we heard the same guff from our leaders? We can’t raise teacher salaries because we’re fighting a war, because we have to give tax breaks to the already-wealthy, because times are too good, because times are too bad. If not now, when, Mr. Secretary? It’s time to give teachers more than lip service and a pat on the back.

  • Bowen Paulle

    Amazing. No one is saying anything about the elephant in the living room: socio-economic segregation. Wealthy minority kids ususally end up in middle class schools, poor kids do not — even if they are “white.” About one out of every 23 high poverty schools perform well. Of course Duncan and Obama and Tom make sure that their own kids go to middle class (if not elite) schools, like the rest of us powerful adults. They know all this, even if they don’t talk about it.
    This omission is extra amazing because new forms of socio-economic desegregation are emerging–across the USA and beyond. I’m working on socio-eco desegregation in the Netherlands. Tom should do a show on this.
    Charters can do well, they can also flop. No reason, yet, to think Charter sucesses can go to scale. Every reason to think many more middle class schools can be created through “contolled choice” (i.e., what they have in Cambridge MA). Goal should be to expand access to middle class schools while learning from success as good charter schools and using new funds for school buildings in locations that will stimulate more socio-economic balance.
    Tragic that these basic points are not even issues for Tom, Arne, or the people posting comments. This could have been the perfect storm for reform. But what we are missing is the right vision and road map.

  • Mark

    Sorry, special education has grown to be a collosal and cruel joke. Seems over half the kids are special education now. There are kids in my child’s class who REGULARLY abuse other kids, to the point of stabbing them with pencils, but no one can do anything to the brat, cause he is “special education”. They actually have a full time “special ed” teacher who does the writing for one child – and that child is fine — because the child says he has trouble writing his letters. I know the kid well, he has stayed at our house overnight a dozen times. He is gaming the system and laughs about it. Special ed is a slippery slope that has grown far beyond its legitimate place.

  • Patsy Pendleton

    I agree with Karen from Connecticut: “America’s schools are not failing; students are failing.” Focus on the fact that most students are passing classes and getting an education. Most teachers are certified and qualified and are dedicating their time above and beyond the call of duty. Recently retired, I taught high school English for 37 years and have witnessed the change in student behavior as well as parental behavior and support. Today, the two most prevalent problems in America’s high schools are student absenteeism and self-discipline. Regardless of how well the teacher is doing his/her job, the student cannot receive an education if he/she is not in class or if he/she is not willing to accept the education. Parents are unwilling to support the educational process, and they are unwilling or unable to discipline their children. As I see it, there will be little educators or politicians can do to improve the educational process until the parents are willing to discipline their children and are able to instill in them the desire to learn.

  • Patsy Pendleton

    I agree with Karen from Connecticut: “America’s schools are not failing; students are failing.” Focus on the fact that most students are passing classes and getting an education. Most teachers are certified and qualified and are dedicating their time above and beyond the call of duty. Recently retired, I taught high school English for 37 years and have witnessed the change in student behavior as well as parental behavior and support. Today, the two most prevalent problems in America’s high schools are student absenteeism and self-discipline. Regardless of how well the teacher is doing his/her job, the student cannot receive an education if he/she is not in class or if he/she is not willing to accept the opportunity to learn. Parents are unwilling to support the educational process, and they are unwilling or unable to discipline their children. As I see it, there will be little educators or politicians can do to improve the educational process until the parents are willing to discipline their children and are able to instill in them the desire to learn.

  • Donna Amos

    I taught 8th grade for 21 years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I retired at the end of 1999. I am very concerned about just how money is going to fix problem schools. What are your plans for bringing today’s parents on board as necessary partners with teachers in the education process? Without parent support and a homelife which encourages children to study and focus and take learning seriously as their “job”, in preparation for their future…then, I doubt that throwing lots of money at problems will not work.
    I continually see my former students around town and have been honored to hear them tell me how something we read in class had stayed with them in their daily lives.
    I loved teaching school and want more than anything for our country to be number one in education in the world. But, to be honest, I feel that our society has declined and values are missing which are necessary to become an educated person.
    I wish you luck in your attempts to fix our schools.

  • https://www.createspace.com/1000252565SymbioticLiving Dr. Arnold L. Trindade

    The problems of education are so complex, and my field is science. Here’s an analogy: figure in the early days of learning surgery for a difficult diagnosis. How did this disease occur, how can my intervention promise safety and a cure: What is the genetic history of this patient ? Where is the proper causal agent, brain, heart, stomach, liver, spleen, intestine ? Who is in charge of feeding habits of this being? Where shall I begin ? What to cut, appendix, or fibroid, cyst, or dubious ovary sac ? Clues: Dewey, the child is the object. The parent knows the history, because involved. My surgical experience in medical training ? Am I able to do this operation. Can I support myself in this job? The answer, favor patient building, nation building, however unpleasant, from water, bread, milk, clean clothing, clean language, respect for rules of one’s body, others bodies (sexual) and final destiny: man is born to learn and work, as do the Thomson’s gazelles born to jump, spring across the Savannah. As birds born to fly. Do not say: No, No. not true.

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