Editorial: Duncan disregards own advice

Education Secretary Arne Duncan slammed Congress for ‘ignoring evidence’ and ‘distorting positions.’ It’s a criticism that could be applied to him, too.

It’s obvious from Duncan’s remarks that he still doesn’t understand his critics’ concerns.

In a Sept. 30 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that “too many [Beltway] inhabitants … are so supremely confident in their perspective that they have stopped listening to people with a different viewpoint.”

Does anyone else see the irony in this remark?

Duncan was arguing that education stakeholders from both sides of the political aisle need to come together to improve U.S. public education, and on this point, I would agree.

But he also spent a significant portion of his speech defending the Obama administration’s education policies in ways that suggest he, too, has stopped listening to his critics.

Consider the issue of poverty, and its devastating effects on schooling. Outside Washington, “people are not arguing in 140 characters or less about whether or not we need to fix poverty before we can fix education. That, like so many debates in education, is a false choice,” Duncan said. “Of course, we will keep fighting poverty. … But we can’t use the brutal reality of poverty as a catch-all excuse to avoid responsibility for educating children at risk.”

This is a “straw man” argument: No one who points out the clear correlation between poverty and academic success is seeking to “avoid responsibility” for educating kids. It’s obvious from Duncan’s remarks that he still doesn’t understand his critics’ concerns.

In a column written for eSchool News before Duncan gave his speech, Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, notes that “the models that states and districts were forced to adhere to by Race to the Top [RTTT] ignore the poverty factor.”

(Next page: Why Duncan is wrong on poverty … and other issues)

Dennis Pierce

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