Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said today at Wakefield High School, where President Obama is set to deliver his back-to-school speech at noon, that the controversy surrounding the remarks has “absolutely not” undermined the president’s intended message of personal responsibility and the need for students to stay in school and stay focused. He said such controversies roll off him like “water off a duck’s back,” and said that one of the problems in education policy today is that we “focus on adult issues and adult drama,” instead of paying attention to the huge challenges facing school systems. (This is similar to what Duncan told Bob Schieffer on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday.)
Duncan stressed that watching the speech is entirely voluntary—students can watch in school today, online later, or not at all. As for the suggested lesson plans and classroom activities that some conservative critics have said violate restrictions against the federal government setting curriculum, Duncan said the lessons were put together by “some of the best teachers in the country”—participants in the Education Department’s Teaching Ambassador fellowship program. He conceded that some the original wording of those activities focused too heavily on the president’s goals and that the wording was modified in some cases to focus more heavily on students’ goals.
Before the speech, Secretary Duncan and President Obama planned to hold a round-table discussion with ninth-graders at Wakefield High School to listen to their concerns about their own educations. And he wasn’t the only cabinet secretary planning to visit a school—nearly two dozen cabinet secretaries and other high administration officials were expected to fan out today in support of the president’s pep rally.