Duncan talks history not news to Education writers


For the past three days I have been in Nashville, Tennessee, attending the 67th annual Education Writers Association National Seminar which involved a non-stop series of sessions (that I am convinced is intended to make a reporter’s mind explode).

There were dozens of workshops and speakers and even a field trip. The one I took was to a Big Picture High School where there are no grades and limited classroom seat time. (more on that in a future blog).

We also heard from American Federation of Teacher President Randi Weingarten and from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who just a day earlier had put in an appearance at a Hartford magnet school. In Hartford he talked about the high cost of higher education and a plan to cut the cost by allowing high school students to take college credit before they graduate. Not a new concept.

In Tennessee, we were promised “news.” Instead, Duncan basically gave an audience of 500 journalists and Higher Ed folks a history lesson on Brown v BOE, which hit the big 6-0 last weekend.

Calling it the Civil Rights issue of our times, Duncan talked about the millions of children still not receiving equal educational opportunities. He largely blamed low standards (re: why a need for Common Core) and accountability (re: why a need to link student outcomes to teacher jobs).

“We have well documented achievement gaps and opportunity gaps but more importantly we have courage gap and an action gap,” Duncan said. “Until adults show the courage to close that action gap we won’t put children’s need first. We will simple continue to admire the problem.”

He urged reporters to ask hard question but the ones posed to him were deflected. He side-stepped ones asked about the Common Core, flawed teacher evaluation systems and over-testing. (There were several).

“If it’s too much, scale it back,” he said of tests. “But if we want our children to go to law school, or med school … they have to take a test.”

He pointed to Tennessee, first on the Race to the Top and Common Core bandwagon, that is beginning to see positive results.

Duncan was far more prepared when asked to list things he said would be the education legacy of the Obama Administration and his tenure: pre-school increases, higher high school grad rates and lower dropout rates, college attendance and completion rates.

More later about Randi Weingarten’s talk.


Linda Lambeck