Duncan’s task: Keep the spotlight on education

Quick, name three of the last seven secretaries of education (not including Margaret Spellings).

Outside the world of education, most people probably can’t—which says
something about the level of attention the general public typically
pays to the job, despite poll after poll that says we rank education as
one of our top priorities.

That could change under Arne Duncan, selected by President-elect Barack
Obama for secretary of education. The media—national and local—mobbed
Duncan and peppered him with questions after the announcement, mostly
querying him about his family and his friendship with Obama.
Undoubtedly much of the spotlight now shining on Duncan stems from his
appointment by a president who recently scored a historic victory. It
will be Duncan’s job to keep that spotlight focused on education for
the long term.

 

Click here to read full column. Quick, name three of the last seven secretaries of education (not including Margaret Spellings).

Outside the world of education, most people probably can’t—which says something about the level of attention the general public typically pays to the job, despite poll after poll that says we rank education as one of our top priorities.

That could change under Arne Duncan, selected by President-elect Barack Obama for secretary of education. The media—national and local—mobbed Duncan and peppered him with questions after the announcement, mostly querying him about his family and his friendship with Obama. Undoubtedly much of the spotlight now shining on Duncan stems from his appointment by a president who recently scored a historic victory. It will be Duncan’s job to keep that spotlight focused on education for the long term.

One task Duncan should take up right away: change the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which, despite its faults, shouldn’t be scrapped. Many educators complain that the law puts too much emphasis on standardized test scores, and there’s truth to that—raw test scores are an incomplete measure of how well schools are performing. Duncan ought to push for changes to let schools and districts be judged on year-to-year improvement, especially among kids with the lowest performance. (The Dept. of Education has already launched a pilot program on this.) Such a change would give schools a carrot to chase rather than a stick to avoid, particularly if the incentive is to work more with children who are struggling the most in school.

 

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