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Duncan to Principals: Release Your Inner Warrior!

By Lesli A. Maxwell — July 17, 2009 1 min read
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In his campaign for turning around the nation’s worst public schools, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan this morning called for a cadre of “warrior principals.”

Speaking to principals from across the country, Mr. Duncan said that without strong leaders, any effort to dramatically transform the thousands of public schools that have failed for decades would be futile. He challenged the leaders to “take on the toughest job in America.”

“We need a team of warrior principals to leave the easier places and go into the most underserved communities with a chance to build a new team,” Mr. Duncan said to the roughly 350 principals who are in Washington this week for the annual meeting of the National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association of Secondary School Principals. Mr. Duncan said he would need to enlist about 1,000 principals a year, over the next five years.

The secretary has been pushing hard for turning around thousands of failing schools, and has already implored other groups of educators, including the charter school movement, to get involved in that work. Mr. Duncan also asked the principals to work on fixing the “broken” teacher evaluation system by developing evaluations that are “fair, thoughtful, but meaningful.”

The principals peppered him with questions that reflect a wide range of concerns among school leaders. One question, from the executive director of South Carolina’s principals association—who made the room roar with her joke about Gov. Mark Sanford’s peccadilloes—was about the secretary’s position on school vouchers.

“I’m a big fan of choice,” said Mr. Duncan, who said he doesn’t object to private philanthropy being tapped as a way for poor children to attend private schools. But government-sponsored vouchers, he said, “pull out one to two percent of children but leave the other 99 percent to drown. As a federal government, we have to be more ambitious than that.” The principals LOVED that response.

And, of course, Mr. Duncan used the school choice question as one more opportunity to push for turning around failing schools. “We have to save more than one percent to sleep well at night,” he said. “That’s why the turnaround effort is so important.”

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