By Michele McNeil, Education Week | http://bit.ly/TdIoxE
November 16, 2012 2:20 PM - Savannah, Ga. :: In his first major postelection remarks, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he will use his second term to continue to leverage education improvement at the state and local levels, with a new emphasis on principal preparation and evaluation. And, he made clear that if Congress isn't serious about reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which the No Chid Left Behind Act is the current version, then his department won't devote a lot of energy to it.
Duncan used his remarks today to the Council of Chief State School Officers to emphasize that his second term as President Barack Obama's education chief will focus on fine-tuning the work started during the first term.
"We came out of the gates flying" in the first term, he said, and he plans to "replicate that as much as we can."
Reauthorization is a top priority for the state chiefs. And during a Q-and-A session, they questioned his commitment to rewriting the law, especially now that the federal department can shape the accountability landscape through waivers.
Duncan said, repeatedly, that he did not want reauthorization to happen through a bad bill.
"We will lead, we will help, we will push, but Congress has to want to do it," said Duncan, who says he plans on staying in the Obama cabinet for the "long haul."
This is only the second public speech for Duncan since his boss was reelected to a second term. (The first one was a speech light on substance, and not on his public schedule.) The secretary, who has said he would remain for a second term if the president wished him to, has been mum—until now—about his own plans for education policy over the next four years.
Duncan reaffirmed his committment to using federal incentives as a lever for education policy changes. In his first term, that leverage came in the form of $100 billion in education aid from the 2009 federal economic-stimulus package, and later, from the announceement that the administration would grant waivers and flexibility from key parts of the NCLB law.
What leverage he will have for a second term, beyond overseeing implementation of existing efforts, is unclear.
Duncan said there would continue to be a focus on revamping the teaching profession, including improving principal preparation programs—an area he didn't think got enough attention during his first term. Later, in an interview, he said that renewed focus could come via Title II grants, which are used for professional-development-type activities, federal School Improvement Grant dollars, and other programs.
He offered more details in his remarks into what gains, and losses, are being seen in schools using the four turnaround models as part of SIG program, which he said will remain a focus in his second term. Though federal officials still aren't releasing the data to the public, Duncan said that two-thirds of schools are seeing gains in reading and math, with slightly better performance in elementary schools. But one third of all SIG schools showed no improvement, he noted.
And, he stressed that improving early-childhood education and making college more affordable and attainable would have a prominent place in his second term.
Some state chiefs, clearly concerned about just how much more involved Duncan would get in school improvement in their states, questioned his reach—from the recent Race to the Top for district competition to talk that he might pursue NCLB waivers for districts in states that, for whatever reason, do not get a waiver.
Duncan said during his remarks that while the majority of his department's time and money is spent with states, he did not want states to have "veto power" over districts that have their own improvement ideas.
"We do want to see innovation at the district level," he said. "I think it's important we play there."
And even though during his formal remarks Duncan indicated district-level waivers are off the table, he clarified in the later interview that even though the department's focus is on state-level flexibility, district waivers are very much still on the table.
There are obvious issues he will face in his second term—especially around (state) waiver implementation.
Already, Virginia and the department had to agree to a waiver do-over after the state's methodology—approved by the department—resulted in little closing of achievement gaps. Other states endured criticism for setting different school performance goals for different subgroups of students, something the department allows as long as the groups farthest behind academically make faster progress.
And, states and the department have come under fire for what some see as weak accountability for graduation in the approved waivers.
Waivers were made available as Congress stalled on rewriting the ESEA. So far, more than 30 states have earned flexibility from many of the core provisions of the NCLB law.
"We have 32, 33 different systems. Is that optimal? Probably not," he said to the chiefs.
Duncan's speech was to a group going through some transitions of its own. Gene Wilhoit, the CCSSO's executive director, is retiring—passing the torch to Chris Minnich, the group's longtime membership director. And one of the group's board members, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who helped create a separate group of "Chiefs for Change," was not re-elected. He did not attend the meeting, but his successor and the victor in that race, Glenda Ritz, did.
Arne Duncan Implies He Will Remain Obama's Education Secretary For Second Term
by Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post |
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks at the Time Summit On Higher Education on Oct. 18, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME)
Posted: 11/16/2012 1:22 pm EST Updated: 11/16/2012 2:20 pm EST :: After a week of speculation about the composition of President Barack Obama's second-term cabinet, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan implied in a Friday speech that he intends to stay in his position.
"Let me, first, sketch the outlines, or provide a mini-preview, of a second-term education agenda," Duncan told state education leaders at the Council of Chief State School Officers conference in Atlanta, according to prepared remarks provided to The Huffington Post.
Duncan had previously told The Huffington Post in September 2011 that he intended to stay for a second term if Obama asked him, saying that he hates working against a clock. Many expected Duncan, Obama's basketball buddy, to stay, but over the last week, representatives of the White House would not confirm the appointment on the record. Politico last week speculated that, should Duncan leave, former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee would be a leading candidate for the job. But nominating Rhee, a lightning rod in education policy, would signify a return to Obama's harder-line rhetoric on teachers. Education policy insiders dismissed such speculation as highly unlikely.
Duncan's first term has been marked by ups and downs with teachers and their unions. The administration spent billions on teacher hiring as part of the stimulus bill, a move praised by the unions for helping to minimize the trend of increasing class sizes post-recession. However, Duncan drew ire from the unions -- a loyal and active part of the Democratic base -- with the Race to the Top competition, which encouraged states to create more charter schools and evaluate teachers in accordance with their students' test scores. Duncan also essentially circumvented the thornier parts of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law by offering waivers to states that agreed to implement the administration's agenda.
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher's union, declined through a spokesperson to comment on the news that Duncan would stay.
Hari Sevugan, a Democratic strategist who now works for Rhee, tweeted that Duncan's staying is "great news."
Rhee herself lauded the news, but added that now Duncan has to make good on the promises made in his first term. "The signaling by Secretary Duncan that he will continue for another term is an enormous win for children," Rhee said in a statement emailed to HuffPost. "He deserves credit for keeping a focus on accountability while allowing for flexibility and innovation. But there's a lot of work to be done now to ensure high standards and accountability are preserved in NCLB waivers and reform, as well as administering Race to the Top grants to strapped districts -- especially with federal budget cuts looming."
As for what he is planning for the second term, Duncan said to expect more of the same. "Our basic theory of action is not going to change," he said Friday, according to prepared remarks. "Our job, in a second term, is to support the bold and transformational reforms at the state and local level that so many of you have pursued during the last four years."
Specifically, that means continuing "to provide incentives and supports" for states to implement the administration's favored reforms, which might be a tough haul, given the response at the ballot box to similar reforms during last week's elections.
The No Child waivers have proven problematic in some states like Virginia, which set different standards for academic achievement for children from different racial backgrounds.
"As states proceed with waivers, we can't let the perfect become the enemy of the good," Duncan said in his prepared remarks. "We can't let the utopian become the enemy of the excellent. And we can't let rhetorical purity become the enemy of rigorous practice and real accountability."
In response to questions after his speech, Duncan said that district-wide waivers from NCLB make no sense for him, ruling them out for the first time. (The superintendents of public school systems in Houston and Los Angeles had previously told HuffPost they were hoping for the opportunity to apply for such waivers.)
Duncan later walked back those remarks, telling Education Week in an interview that district-level NCLB waivers are still on the table.
This post has been updated to include a refusal to comment by Dennis Van Roekel, as well as comment by Michelle Rhee and Duncan's position on waivers.
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