School & District Management

Duncan Hits Road, Hoping for Earful

By Michele McNeil — May 18, 2009 1 min read
32Duncan Listening 515

Arne Duncan has been a mainstay of the speakers’ circuit inside the Washington Beltway since taking the helm of the U.S. Department of Education four months ago, but now he’s taking his show on the road.

The rural community of Berkeley County, W.Va., was the first stop on a recently launched “listening tour” that will take the former Chicago schools chief to at least 16 states as he gathers ideas on how the department—and the Obama administration—should change the No Child Left Behind Act.

For the first 100 days or so of Mr. Duncan’s tenure as education secretary, he and his staff have focused mostly on the economic-stimulus package, which includes some $100 billion for education that the department must disburse and oversee.

But the next big agenda item is reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as NCLB.

“I want to launch a national conversation before we sit down and rewrite the No Child Left Behind law,” Mr. Duncan said at a May 11 speech in Washington.

The goal is for Mr. Duncan and President Barack Obama to be able to outline their plans by early fall, said Peter Cunningham, a spokesman for the secretary.

As part of his tour, Mr. Duncan last week was scheduled to stop in Vermont and in Detroit—earlier this year, Mr. Duncan said he “loses sleep” over the education students get in Detroit’s low-performing schools.

Other states targeted for potential events include California, Montana, Wyoming, New Jersey, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington D.C., Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Utah, and Alaska.

As he hopscotches across the country, Mr. Duncan is also focusing on workforce development and higher education issues. His West Virginia stop included visits to two schools and a community college.

“Arne hasn’t spent a lot of time in rural districts; he hasn’t spent a lot of time in community colleges. He’s really only worked in Chicago,” Mr. Cunningham said. “It’s important for Arne to be able to say what this really means to people around the country.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 20, 2009 edition of Education Week

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