Monday, November 22, 2010

Bam! Pow! Whomp! Sec. Duncan Knocks It Out of the Park

Arne Duncan spoke at an American Enterprise Institute event last Wed (the 57-minute video is posted at:, and Rick Hess liked what he heard:

Lord knows, I've been pretty critical of the Secretary of Education on various counts (see here, here, here... you get the idea). So, let me give him his due. Yesterday, the Secretary weighed in on the pressing need to start spending school dollars smarter in one humdinger of a speech. Duncan touched on every important issue, pulled no punches, and modeled the kind of responsible tough-mindedness that we need from our leaders (full disclosure: the speech was delivered at AEI and I hosted--you can view the speech and subsequent Q&A here).

Department wordsmith David Whitman crafted a masterful speech, which the Secretary delivered without batting an eye. Duncan opened by saying flat out, "I am here to talk today about what has been called the New Normal. For the next several years, preschool, K-12, and postsecondary educators are likely to face the challenge of doing more with less... [This] can, and should be, embraced as an opportunity to make dramatic improvements... It's time to stop treating the problem of educational productivity as a grinding, eat-your-broccoli exercise. It's time to start treating it as an opportunity for innovation and accelerating progress."

Straight up, this was a speech unlike any I've ever heard a Secretary deliver. Duncan said resources are limited, embraced the need to make tough choices, urged states and districts to contemplate boosting some class sizes and consolidating schools, and didn't spend much time trying to throw bones to the status quo. He laid out the bleak revenue picture ahead and then waded into ways that states and districts can save bucks without taking stupid steps like "reducing the number of days in the school year, slashing instructional time spent on task, eliminating the arts and foreign languages, abandoning promising reforms, and laying off talented, young teachers."

The Secretary also finally struck a useful note regarding the stimulus and Edujobs--one that, whatever one thinks of these bills, many of us have been urging him to say for quite a while. Duncan said that the bailouts, while he thought them necessary, were a finished chapter, and that states and districts now need to focus on getting their houses in order. In other words, states shouldn't count on coming back to the D.C. bailout drawer. A little late for him to say this, to my mind, but better late than never.

Duncan made clear the financial drag of the status quo, saying, "The factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century. Today, our schools must prepare all students for college and careers--and do far more to personalize instruction and employ the smart use of technology. Teachers cannot be interchangeable widgets. Yet the legacy of the factory model of schooling is that tens of billions of dollars are tied up in unproductive use of time and technology, in underused school buildings, in antiquated compensation systems, and in inefficient school finance systems."


Bam! Pow! Whomp! Sec. Duncan Knocks It Out of the Park

By Rick Hess on November 18, 2010 9:08 AM | 10 Comments | Recommend

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