Arne Duncan

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Around-the-web Wednesdays: The race to the top, or the race to nowhere?

by Elena on Dec 16th, 2009

duncan_blogSecretary of Education Arne Duncan made two significant appearances this week: one on PBS NewsHour -which has recently updated its format to include more internet-based features, like this conversation between Duncan and correspondent Hari Sreenivasan about the Department’s financial literacy initiative and, of course, Race to the Top- the other a town hall meeting on “elevating the teaching profession” Duncan held with teachers from the D.C. area. The webcast is long, but full of honest and thoughtful comments from teachers on the need for better certification programs, the need for scholarships and grants related to ESL students, and more.

The L.A. Times published an op-ed piece this week by Ben Miller, director of a Los Angeles non-profit that works to empower parents in the reform of public schools. Without participation from parents, Miller argues, how does California expect to attract Race to the Top dollars–which the financially unstable state desperately needs? In an even more incensed op-ed, Diane Ravitch, writes in her blog on the Ed Week website that New York’s efforts to prepare for Race to the Top–which she calls “the express train to privatization”–have come at public school students’ expense.

Finally, in higher education news, the Washington Post has a good piece on the civil rights investigation around gender distribution in American colleges. Women apply to and attend colleges and universities in greater numbers than do men; do admissions offices have the right to discriminate based on sex, if they want to keep things 50-50?

Secretary Duncan: Finish Line Nears for ‘Race to the Top’ [PBS NewsHour, The Rundown News Blog, 12/15/09]

Elevating the Teaching Profession: A National Town Hall Meeting with Arne Duncan [, Education News Parents Can Use, 12/15/09]

Put power over California’s schools in hands of parents [LA Times, 12/16/09]

The Race to Nowhere [Bridging Differences, Ed Week, 12/15/09]

Sex bias probe in colleges’ selections [Washington Post, 12/14/09]

categories: Arne Duncan, Ed Beat, wednesday


Media Monday: Secretary Duncan may not like Michelle Rhee, but the Wall Street Journal sure does

by Elena on Dec 14th, 2009

The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed today that marries two of education’s hottest topics: D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee and the Department of Education’s Race to the Top fund. The Journal claims that Secretary Duncan should more actively and publicly put himself in Rhee’s corner, since her reform efforts in D.C. parallel many of the Department’s alleged reform goals. Race to the Top funding will be given to states that prioritize pay for performance, charter schools, and tying teacher evaluation to student performance–all of which figure prominently in Rhee’s plan for D.C.

As you know if you’ve been following our coverage of Rhee, it’s the D.C. teachers’ union who most vehemently oppose her approach to school reform; it’s been more than two years since we started following Rhee, and her prolonged contract negotiations with the union are still unresolved. In many states, especially those with strong unions, it may prove difficult to get teachers on board with proposals for reform. The Journal writes:

The problem with this passivity is that union-negotiated collective-bargaining agreements are often the biggest barrier to enacting these education reforms. By not using their bully pulpit to back state and local reformers like Michelle Rhee, Mr. Duncan and President Obama are sending mixed messages, emboldening the opposition and jeopardizing their own education objectives.

The Journal’s unilaterally positive read on Rhee, whose reign in D.C. has been controversial, seems full of jumped-to conclusions. But it will be interesting to see whether the Race to the Top will produce replicates of the situation in D.C., as states and districts come up against union resistance, and whether Duncan’s position–”We generally don’t weigh in on local labor disputes”–will change.

To catch up on the ongoing negotiations between Rhee and the D.C. teachers’ union, watch our most recent coverage for the NewsHour, below, and listen to our interviews with Rhee and union president George Parker, collected here.

Who’s Got Michelle Rhee’s Back? [The Wall Street Journal, 12/14/09]

Two Years of Talks with Michelle Rhee & George Parker [LMtv, 9/21/09]


Media Monday: Why Texas won’t race to the top

by Jane on Dec 7th, 2009

If you hear someone worrying about a “federal takeover,” it’s likely they’re talking about the health care debate and the public option — but Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott is pointing in a different direction.

The US Department of Education is “placing its desire for a federal takeover of public education above the interests of the 4.7 million schoolchildren in the state of Texas,” Scott said last week. He was discussing the USDOE’s “Race to the Top” (RTTP), a federal education grant program, the first of its kind, with $4.35 billion in cash for winning states.

To be competitive, states must agree to enact USDOE sanctioned reforms, including participation in the creation of common standards. Only two states have elected not to participate, Texas and Alaska. According to Scott, who says Texas’ standards are already high, the RTTP amounts to coercion.

The “Race to the Top” is the federal government’s latest, and arguably most ambitious, foray into education reform. In a recent piece for the NewsHour, we asked where RTTP fits into the history of federal involvement in public education. Watch it below.

A Race to the Top: The History [, 12/03/09]

Texas Education head warns of federal takeover [Austin American-Statesmen, 12/03/09]

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Media Monday: Al, Arne and Newt

by Elena on Nov 16th, 2009

As we’ve mentioned, Secretary Duncan, Newt Gingrich and Reverend Al Sharpton have been visiting schools across the country together in an effort to look at school reform through non-partisan eyes. Yesterday, they talked about their findings and their visions for American education on NBC’s Meet the Press. Talk focused on teacher accountability, the value of charter schools, and the Secretary’s expectations for the Race to the Top fund.

Though he was perhaps the most clearly partisan in his opinions, Gingrich stood out for the clarity and specificity of his thoughts during this interview. Whereas Duncan said a lot of things we’ve heard him say before, all along the lines of “We all have to take responsibility…we all have to step up,” and whereas Sharpton made some basic, declarative statements about de facto racism in education and the achievement gap, Gingrich pushed his own education agenda. He said twice that he’d “like to have a Pell Grant for K through 12,” and he claimed that charter schools are a solution to the discipline problems in inner-city schools:

We have a friend whose daughter is now teaching in a school [in D.C.] where there have been 23 lawsuits this year over discipline in a school that’s fundamentally undisciplined.  And so teachers are told basically, “You can’t get enough control to teach.” And this is why, when you go out to the KIPP school and to other systems like that–and there are 82 KIPP schools in the country–they’re very structured.  The Mastery schools, very structured. These kids, for the first time in their lives, are being given discipline; and therefore, they can attract great teachers because they can actually focus on the kids.

Despite the vagueness of some of their answers, it’s impressive to see such seemingly mismatched political partners united in their concern for American schools. Watch the full episode below.

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Media Monday: BASIS Charter Schools [Ed Beat, 11/9/09]


Harlem Children’s Zone, 2.0

by Elena on Nov 12th, 2009

In 2010, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be giving out a total of $10 million in grant money to twenty potential “Promise Neighborhoods” across the country. Their use of the word “Promise” is a nod to the inspiration for the program–Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, and its Promise Academy charter schools. In order to receive grants, communities will have to propose plans for comprehensive community programs that replicate HCZ’s model and, ideally, match its success.obamacanada

“Changing the Odds: Learning from the Harlem Children’s Zone Model,” a three-day conference attended by upwards of 1,000 educators, municipal leaders, and non-profit workers, was held earlier this week in New York. Secretary Duncan gave a keynote address, explaining that grants would be competitive, and that communities must base their proposals on already existing systems of schools–money won’t be spent on good ideas alone.

The Harlem Children’s Zone has received extraordinary praise for the very real gains it has produced in reading and math achievement among students who attend Promise Academy schools. As the New York Times‘ David Brooks points out, “In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.”

But Harlem Children’s Zone has some advantages over its proteges, among them a politically savvy, high-profile leader and a $65 million yearly budget furnished by big sponsors (including the chairman of American Express). Without that kind of influence or cash, it’s unclear that other programs will be able to match HCZ’s explosive success.

Non-Profits Look at Harlem Children’s Zone and Ask: Only in New York? [WNYC, 11/11/09]
The Harlem Miracle [David Brooks, NY Times, 5/7/09]
In The Zone [Ed Beat, LMtv, 8/28/09]

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