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Duncan Looks More Like a Supporter Than Opponent of NCLB

December 18, 2008 1 min read

Alexander Russo takes issue with my characterization of Arne Duncan as a supporter of NCLB. He calls the Chicago Schools CEO and secretary of education nominee “one of the most vocal critics of the legislation.” But the examples he gives reflect Duncan’s criticism of implementation, not the legislation itself.

If you look at what Duncan has said about the law, he’s supportive. In July, he told the House education committee (according to a transcript that isn’t online):

As others here have said, the No Child Left Behind Act with a focus on accountability was a huge step in the right direction. The focus on subgroups is a huge step in the right direction.

Two years earlier, Duncan’s prepared testimony for an education committee hearing included the following:

CPS and NCLB clearly share the same goals. Over the past five years, we have worked to integrate our efforts with the requirements of the law. We want CPS policy and NCLB to re-enforce each other. This has been hard work for us. But the effort has been largely successful. ... Congress should maintain NCLB’s framework of high expectations and accountability. But it should also amend the law to give schools, districts and states the maximum amount of flexibility possible—particularly districts like ours with a strong track record of academic achievement and tough accountability.

In Russo’s mind, those statements don’t qualify as support for the law. Instead, Duncan’s efforts to push back against federal mandates make him a “vocal critic.” But one can fight the Bush administration’s interpretation of NCLB while still supporting the basic tenets of the law. For example, Duncan didn’t balk at offering tutoring to eligible students. He fought back against the feds’ interpretation that his district couldn’t provide that tutoring. He won concessions on that.

There’s a distinction that Russo doesn’t appear to make. Duncan (and many urban superintendents) support the law itself while opposing the way the Bush administration has administered it. When Duncan comes to Washington, he’ll have the tools to change that implementation. He’ll also have a significant say in the next version of NCLB.

In his role as education secretary, I see indications that he’ll use his influence to maintain NCLB’s accountability rules and exercise his administrative powers to change the implementation issues he doesn’t like. By the end of his time in Washington, I predict he’ll be seen as a supporter of the most important parts of the law.

As long as I’m making predictions, Alexander, how do you feel about the one you made on Aug. 11:

Anything could happen, but EdWeek's campaign blog leaps far out into the unlikelysphere with its notion that Chicago's Arne Duncan might be a leading candidate for EdSec under Obama ... The guy doesn't have nearly enough heft—or success—to make the cut. Even his supporters would admit that he isn't a charismatic or dynamic speaker. He doesn't really give Obama anything politically.

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.


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