Education Secretary urges stakeholders to put aside ‘rhetoric and disrespect’ and come together to improve schools
[Editor’s note: In a Sept. 30 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged education stakeholders to move “beyond the Beltway Bubble” and find common solutions for improving the nation’s schools. His remarks are published in their entirety here.]
In what seems to have become an annual ritual, I’m here again today to report on the state of education in America. What I can tell you after nearly five years in Washington is that the public narrative that you hear inside the Beltway and online doesn’t reflect the reality I see in classrooms and schools all across America.
This town, which so often thinks that it’s somehow the center of the universe, is, instead, an alternative universe.
Here you have some members of Congress who think the federal government has no role in public education—not as a backstop for accountability, not as a partner in enforcing laws and expanding educational opportunity, and not as a supporter of innovation and courage.
Inhabiting this bubble are some armchair pundits who insist that our efforts to improve public education are doomed to fail—either because they believe government is incapable of meaningfully improving education, or because they think education reform can’t possibly work since the real problem with schools is that so many children are poor.
In blogs, books, and tweets, some pundits even say our schools are performing just fine and that fundamental change isn’t needed. Or that we have to address poverty first before schools can improve student achievement.
At the opposite extreme, other commentators declare a permanent state of crisis. They discount the value of great teachers and school leaders, and they call for the most disruptive changes possible, with little heed to their impact on children.
Too many of the inhabitants of this alternative universe are so supremely confident in their perspective that they have stopped listening to people with a different viewpoint.
Instead of talking with each other—and more importantly, actually listening to each other with respect, with humility, and with a genuine interest in finding common ground—many of these people are just talking past each other. They are ignoring plain evidence and deliberately distorting each other’s positions. And they’re clearly not focusing on children and students; they’re focused instead on false debates.
(Next page: ‘Courageous reforms’)