Saturday, November 10, 2012

Duncan’s Weighty Responsibilties

It’s not easy being U.S. Secretary of Education these days.

Back in the old days, before No Child Left Behind, the Secretary was basically a cheerleader with a bully pulpit. He or she ran a Department that oversaw many programs but had relatively little money and no authority to change what Congress authorized.

All that changed with NCLB. Suddenly, Congress declared that it was the judge of “adequate yearly progress.” It legislated the expectations for all schools. Now the federal government was in charge of crucial decisions about issues that used to belong to states and localities.

But as 2014 grew nearer and no state in the nation was on target to get to 100% proficiency–how could the schools have failed to meet their mandated deadline–Secretary Duncan issued waivers to states that agreed to do what he said.

Secretary Duncan, of course, knows how to reform schools. He did it in Chicago, remember, which is now a national exemplar of reform. It has been saved repeatedly, not only by Arne Duncan, but by Paul Vallas. Now it is going to be saved again by Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Rahm Emanuel.

Once Secretary Duncan issued waivers from NCLB, he was in a scary role. He is now dictating the terms of school reform for the entire nation! Don’t think this is easy. Not only is it a tough full-time job, but he is the first Secretary ever to struggle with this mighty burden.

Undaunted, he is now supervising a Race to the Top for districts, so he can run them too. They too will take the bait (re, the money) and fall into line.

Arne Duncan has the job of redesigning America’s education system. It’s one he has willingly assumed. Now he has four more years to make sure that every child in America is frequently tested, preferably beginning at age 3; that a vast federal data warehouse is built with relevant information about the test scores of every child and teacher; that privately managed charters take control of most urban school districts (using New Orleans as their model); and that every teacher knows how to raise test scores every year.

What a vision. What a burden. Arne Duncan can do it.

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