Education Funding Opinion

Five Questions for Arne Duncan

By Anthony Cody — April 29, 2013 3 min read
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On Thursday, May 2nd, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be speaking to a luncheon that is part of the Education Writers’ Association seminar at Stanford University. The event is oversold, so although I am attending the conference, I am not going to be at the luncheon. And since I am only a blogger, rather than a “working reporter,” I would not be among those allowed to ask questions of the Secretary of Education in any case. [His speech will be streamed live here, beginning at 11:45 am Pacific time on Thursday.]

Secretary Duncan will also be speaking at the American Educational Research Association conference in San Francisco on Tuesday at 3:45 pm. Some educators are organizing a protest of his speech.

There are plenty of questions that ought to be asked, and I offer these, in the hopes that perhaps Secretary Duncan might answer them in his speech, or if not, some working reporter might pose them.

Five Questions for Secretary Duncan:

Question One: We saw a list this week of special requests made by you and your wife on behalf of politically powerful people in Chicago who wished that their children might receive special consideration in gaining admission to elite public schools in that city. How does this sort of exercise of privilege comport with your contention that the quality of education one receives ought not to be affected by one’s zip code?

Question Two: You began speaking out about the need for greater test security almost two years ago. In recent months we have seen two very different scenarios play out. In Atlanta, dozens are behind bars for conspiracy to cheat. In Washington, DC, there is ample evidence of wrongdoing, but no thorough investigation has been done. Why has your office not demanded a real investigation? Has Michelle Rhee also received special consideration as a result of her political connections?

Question Three: You have long been a proponent of mayoral control of school districts, and the market-based reforms that most big city mayors have pursued. This has been carried out to the hilt in New York, Washington, DC, and Chicago. A recent report points out that the reforms enacted in these cities have not succeeded. Is it time for a reappraisal of mayoral control, and these market-based reforms?

Question Four: The Department of Education has been encouraging the creation of large data systems to collect and share unprecedented amounts of confidential and personally identifiable data of individual students and teachers with corporations and for-profit vendors. Do you support the right of parents and students to opt out of these systems in the interest of privacy?

Question Five from a teacher:
As anyone who has work experience knows, one problem of leadership is the extent to which leaders can become insulated from the impact of their policies. Certainly, there is less incentive to inform you about the flaws and failures in those policies than its successes. Can you describe the system you have in place for becoming informed about the negative impact of NCLB and RTTT on public schools and their mission? So that we understand the effectiveness of that system, would you describe the known negative consequences of your policies in depth? Separate from any information that you get from advisors and detractors, what questions do you have about your own policies that could inform the public regarding your own reflective practice? Finally, based on what you know about the negative impact of your policies in their current form, what kinds of course corrections have you considered to reform your reform?

What questions would you like Secretary Duncan to answer?

Continue the dialogue with @anthonycody on Twitter.

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