Federal

Arne Duncan Sounds Partnership Theme in Trip Through South

By Lauren Camera — September 12, 2014 6 min read
TENNESSEE: Mr. Duncan reads Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed to students at the Chambliss Center for Children, in Chattanooga.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Amid the backdrop of marching bands, pep rallies, and photo ops, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s 2014 back-to-school bus tour crystallized the Education Department’s intention to recast its role from one of a disruptor that prods states to take on difficult education policy overhauls to one of supportive partner in implementation.

The theme of partnership was center stage in all of Mr. Duncan’s stops on his seven-city, three-day trip that crisscrossed Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.

That emphasis comes in the last years of the Obama administration’s White House tenure, when Secretary Duncan has far less money to persuade states to adopt education policies he prefers and far less political clout on Capitol Hill. The strategic emphasis on collaboration also comes at a moment when some governors and state chiefs are critical of Mr. Duncan and the Education Department for what they see as federal overreach.

Indeed, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who is widely seen as a 2016 presidential candidate, recently accused the Education Department in a federal lawsuit of forcing Louisiana to implement the Common Core State Standards. And state education chiefs in Kentucky and Washington state have been slamming the administration over the strings attached to its No Child Left Behind Act waivers.

ALABAMA: U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., takes a selfie with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on a stop in Birmingham on his back-to-school bus tour last week.

To be sure, Mr. Duncan has always tried to paint the department as a partner for states and districts, and has more recently filled his staff with people like Deborah Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, who was vocal about her dislike of the Education Department’s overreach when she was the state superintendent in Ohio from 2008 through 2011.

“We’ve tried to give, be thoughtful, listen, and go back and forth,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview with Education Week on the bus as it headed down the Alabama freeway from Birmingham to Huntsville. "[Our goal is] helping people implement their plans of how they’re going to improve student achievement. I think we have to try and be a good partner and listen.”

While Mr. Duncan still has some carrots and sticks in the form of NCLB waiver extensions, penalties, and a few hundred-million dollars left in competitive grants, he said his focus has shifted mostly to ways the department can help states now that many of them have laid the education policy groundwork he wanted.

“It’s great to have high standards, we’re thrilled people adopted them, and it’s great to have the next generation of assessments,” Mr. Duncan said. “It’s great to have people thinking differently about teacher evaluation and support. But how we help people implement those ideas is important.”

Support Systems

One of the tour’s first stops landed the education secretary in Carrollton, Ga., at the Southwire Co., the country’s leading manufacturer of wire and cable used in the transmission of electricity.

With funding through the administration’s Investing in Innovation program, the company partners with the Carroll County school system to place low-income students in jobs, allowing them to earn wages while working toward a diploma.

“This is an amazing public-private partnership where young people from very, very tough backgrounds and very challenging circumstances are doing extraordinarily well by working and going to school and gaining leadership skills,” Mr. Duncan said.

The Southwire program is a prime example, he said, of how the department can partner with communities with strategic education plans.

The theme of supporting communities continued the following day, in Birmingham, Ala., as Mr. Duncan told a group of African-American students that adults are letting them down and asked them what he and President Barack Obama can do to provide better support systems to help them achieve their goals.

The roundtable discussion took place at the John Herbert Phillips Academy, the site of major civil rights protests. Secretary Duncan highlighted My Brother’s Keeper, an administration initiative to boost opportunity for boys and men of color.

“Whether it’s here in Birmingham or Ferguson, Missouri, ... we have young men—black, Latino—who have extraordinary talents, extraordinary gifts, and somehow we as a society have not let those gifts flourish,” Mr. Duncan said to the students, alluding to the recent police killing of an unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb. “Our job is to listen, and our job is to find ways to support you.”

My Brother’s Keeper, a $200 million program that the White House rolled out last spring, asks cities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, philanthropic foundations, faith leaders, and others to commit to helping students get a strong start in school and connect them to mentors and other support systems they might need to either find a good job or go to college.

“This is going to be a public-private partnership where we want to invest but will only invest where the local community is stepping in,” Mr. Duncan emphasized in his earlier Education Week interview.

Boosting Early Childhood

Later that day, at the Chambliss Center for Children in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mr. Duncan talked to parents about how the department is preparing to support states eager to increase preschool opportunities through its newest federal early-learning grant competition.

TENNESSEE: A student band performs during the education secretary’s visit to Oliver Middle School in Nashville.

“Our goal is to be a supportive partner and provide assistance as you need it,” he said at the unusual early-learning center that helps parents who are working or who are in school by staying open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year.

Last year, President Obama called on states to offer universal preschool for all low- and middle-income families. The newest $250 million early-learning grant is part of that effort.

The last stop on Mr. Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour took him to Cornerstone Preparatory Academy, one of 23 schools in the Achievement school district, Tennessee’s turnaround-school effort that is located almost entirely in Memphis.

Like many of the schools in that district, Cornerstone partners with various nonprofits that provide support services. Though it still ranks academically at the bottom of the state’s schools, it has benefited for the past three years from an infusion of money and increased autonomy, thanks to the state’s Race to the Top grant, the Obama administration’s signature competition.

Mr. Duncan conceded that the $20 million of the state’s $500 million Race to the Top winnings helped, but he quickly pointed out that none of the improvements could have been made without partnerships with organizations that provide wraparound services.

Cornerstone, for instance, partners with Christ United Methodist Church, the local community center and business-development organization, a nonprofit that helps the city’s refugee population, and others that provide mentoring services.

Mr. Duncan also stressed in the interview that he’s ready to help states solve problems that arise in the implementation of such policies and practices as standards, assessments, and teacher evaluations.

The most recent example of that, he said, is his offer to allow waiver states to delay the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.

“I think we have a tremendous ability over the next couple of years to really solidify the extraordinary progress and courage that we’re seeing,” Mr. Duncan said. “In a perfect world, I’d love to have another $100 million, but that’s not the world we’re in.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2014 edition of Education Week as Duncan Sounds Partnership Theme in Trip Through South

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Citing Educator and Parent Anxieties, Senators Press Biden Officials on Omicron Response
Lawmakers expressed concern about schools' lack of access to masks and coronavirus tests, as well as disruptions to in-person learning.
5 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, testify at a Senate hearing about the federal response to COVID-19.
Greg Nash/Pool via AP
Federal Miguel Cardona Should Help Schools Push Parents to Store Guns Safely, Lawmakers Say
More than 100 members of Congress say a recent shooting at a Michigan high school underscores the need for Education Department action.
3 min read
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the residence of parents of the Oxford High School shooter on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the Crumbley residence while seeking James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Biden Administration Lays Out Its Top Priorities for Education Grants
The pandemic's impact and a diverse, well-prepared educator workforce are among areas the administration wants to fund at its discretion.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington on Aug. 5, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a White House briefing.
Susan Walsh/AP