Education Funding

Q&A: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

By Alyson Klein & Lauren Camera — March 31, 2015 3 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has less than two years left in office with the Obama administration, and a number of big issues still on his plate, including school turnarounds, teacher evaluation tied to student outcomes, and a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act). Education Week Assistant Editor Alyson Klein and Staff Writer Lauren Camera sat down with Mr. Duncan on March 23 for an interview that touched on those issues and others such as testing, NCLB waivers, and the Race to the Top competitive-grant program.

What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of the conversation. (A few lines have been slightly paraphrased for clarity.)

Education Week: The waiver renewals you’re working on now will extend beyond your administration, and I know you’re hoping for a reauthorization of the law. But are you worried, if that reauthorization doesn’t happen, that you have opened the door to the next administration coming in and putting their priorities in place in exchange for getting out of the mandates of No Child Left Behind—for instance, expanding school choice?

Arne Duncan: We have tried to put our best thinking forward. ... I know we’ve done this imperfectly, but I think we’ve done a really good job. ... We try to, as best we can, have the principles of being very tight on goals, but much looser on how we get there, and we’re learning every day how to be a good partner. ...

The easiest [thing] to do would have been to not do waivers. And just [to have] lived with a broken law, and our jobs would have all been a lot easier here. But we would have hurt kids, and we came here to help kids, and we feel really proud of what we’ve done. ... Again, the law needs to be fixed. And if somehow the law isn’t, then you hope the next administration builds upon things we did well and corrects some things, does some things better. ...

Obviously, during your first term, standardized tests really formed a backbone of your agenda in policies like teacher evaluation and dramatic school turnarounds, and now you’re talking about paring back the number of tests. Did you have a change of heart here?

I think you’re, I want to say, misremembering. A big thing we did in the waivers from the start was to reduce the focus on a single test score. ... What we did was move away from proficiency, we moved to growth and gain, and what you see in so many state accountability systems is going way beyond a test score and looking at improvements in graduation rates and reductions in dropout rates. Some states look at college-going rates. ... And so, I think, we’ve been actually pretty consistent from day one that assessing kids annually we think is important, but it should be a piece of anything and just a piece, and these longer-term indicators we think are hugely important.

But you were the first administration to have a federal mandate to require teacher evaluation through test scores, and so that’s obviously taking high-stakes tests to another level.

I think, again, you’ve got to look at the context. We think the goal of great teaching is to have students learn; and to have student learning be a piece of teacher evaluation, I think, actually gives the profession the respect it deserves. ... Anyone who says that student learning shouldn’t be a part of teacher evaluation actually demeans the profession. ... And again, different states have done this different ways, so we’ve never said there is one way to do this but, yes, we have absolutely said that student learning is the goal of great teaching and great teachers, and that that should be a piece of [evaluations]. ... The real point is better support and feedback for teachers.

Race to the Top was obviously your signature program in your first term. But in some places it’s become a somewhat tarnished brand. Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina have either rethought or changed their standards or tests. And some states are making changes to teacher evaluation, Tennessee being an example. How much influence do you think the administration has in states that got this money, how much influence do you continue to have?

Influence isn’t the goal here. The goal here is increased student achievement, and you see, what I’ve said from day one, is that you see as much reform and progress in states that didn’t get a nickel as states that got hundreds of millions of dollars. .... The goal is raising the bar for all kids and seeing those gaps close.

Last question (asked off the cuff, after the official conclusion of the interview): You going to stick around for the end of the [Obama administration]?

(Laughs). Day at a time, baby, day at a time.

A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 2015 edition of Education Week as Q&A: A View From the Top as the Policy Clock Ticks

Events

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.
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
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

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

Education Funding More Federal Aid Is Coming for Schools Struggling to Buy Food Due to Supply-Chain Crisis
The $1.5 billion USDA infusion is the second in several months to help schools purchase food amid shortages and price increases.
2 min read
Stacked Red Cafeteria trays in a nearly empty lunch room.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding School Districts Are Starting to Spend COVID Relief Funds. The Hard Part Is Deciding How
A new database shows districts' spending priorities for more than $122 billion in federal aid are all over the place.
8 min read
Educators delivering money.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding The Political Spotlight on Schools' COVID Relief Money Isn't Going Away
Politicians and researchers are among those scrutinizing the use and oversight of billions in pandemic education aid.
7 min read
Business man with brief case looking under a giant size bill (money).
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding Here's How Schools Can Use Federal COVID Aid to Solve Bus Driver and Other Transportation Woes
The Education Department outlines districts' options for using relief money to solve nationwide problems in getting kids to and from school.
2 min read
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools and day care centers on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, in Ambridge, Pa.
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School in Ambridge, Pa., earlier this year on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools.
Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP