School & District Management

Duncan at House Ed Committee: Little Detail on High School Improvement

By Catherine Gewertz — May 20, 2009 1 min read
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Education Secretary Arne Duncan spent the morning briefing the U.S. House’s education committee on his boss’ school agenda. But his testimony wasn’t overrun with details on their high school improvement strategy.

Duncan praised President Obama’s education vision as one that develops children “from cradle to career,” and mentioned that that includes giving them the skills they need to enter college or the workplace, whether they wish to become “a plumber, teacher, or business executive.”

Delivering on that goal will require increasing rigor in schools and making college more affordable, Duncan said. It will require tackling the dysfunction of high school dropout factories, as well as their feeder elementary and middle schools, he said.

He spent a lot of time talking about the college-affordability piece: boosting Pell and Perkins grants and work-study money, and expanding direct federal lending.

But there wasn’t much about how high schools will actually produce more students capable of getting diplomas, let alone thriving in college.

Duncan did say he was a “huge fan” of dual-enrollment programs, both to contain college costs by accruing credits while in high school, and to re-engage kids who don’t find high school challenging enough. He said he thought kids should spend more time in school, and that he worried about adolescent literacy. And I’m sure his passing reference to “rigor” was a nod to the need to beef up what kids learn in secondary school.

But how will high schools do that? What is the feds’ vision of effective high school reform? Maybe more on that another day.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.