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Duncan Holds a (Somewhat) National Town Hall on NCLB

By Alyson Klein — September 16, 2009 1 min read

So, remember that listening-and-learning tour that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan embarked on to get a sense of what Americans think of the No Child Left Behind Act? Well, he took the tour to the airwaves (sort of) earlier this week, holding a national town hall meeting that was televised in many places. Check it out online here.

There wasn’t much said at Tuesday’s event that was new to me. The criticisms he heard of NCLB were important, but relatively predictable (too much testing, too much focus on the core subjects at the expense of physical education, art, and other interests).

And Duncan’s answers were similar to what he’s said on those topics before. He wants tighter control from the federal government on what states’ goals should be, but would like to consider how there can be more flexibility in how they get students there. (Is that attitude evident in the guidance the department has put out so far, dealing with Race to the Top Fund and other programs? Discuss.)

When it comes to teachers, he thinks student achievement data should be part of the equation in measuring effectiveness, but he also said that it doesn’t tell the whole story. Principal observations and peer feedback counts too, he said.

“We need a menu of options,” he said.

Duncan took questions from folks in Hillsborough County, Fla., school system, which includes Tampa. The superintendent there, MaryEllen Elia, recommended national standards, to allow for better comparisons across state lines.

“Amen,” said Duncan.

Interesting factoid: Duncan did not have a TV in his house growing up. Instead, his parents read to him and his sibilings from classic literature, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Huckleberry Finn, and Moby Dick. Makes me wonder if his own children have a television.

Speaking of TV, despite lots of help from the U.S. Department of Education, I had a tough time finding a place to watch live on television. It’s not clear that the event was broadcast in Washington, D.C., or in parts of suburban Maryland, for instance, just a few miles from where it was being taped in Shirlington, Va. Although Duncan said the program was being broadcast on 800 stations nationwide, I guess mine wasn’t one of them. I suspect that’s at the discretion of local providers...there probably wasn’t much the department could have done about it.