Duncan and DC Students Talk on NPR

Secretary Duncan at NPR

Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood

In an interview earlier this week on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” Arne Duncan discussed plans to provide regulatory flexibility to states seeking relief from the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) in exchange for enacting educational reforms.

Secretary Duncan Takes Questions on NPR

Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood

During the live broadcast, the Secretary explained to students in the audience and to host Neal Conan, that doing nothing is not acceptable, and that “where states are raising the bar, where they’re doing the right thing by children, we need to provide them greater flexibility, and we need to meet them half way.”

The Secretary said the best way to fix NCLB’s problems is for Congress to reauthorize NCLB. Yet, with the new school year just months away, the Department of Education is considering ways to provide flexibility for states and districts.

For most of the interview, Duncan took questions from District of Columbia students about Duncan’s support for arts education, his perspective on why teaching quality varies so widely, and his opinion about lengthening the school day. Duncan also answered questions from listeners around the country, including questions regarding how to best serve students with disabilities and over-use of standardized testing.

Listen to the  44-minute interview.

Read the transcript.



  1. I have been disappointed that the main “new ideas” to improve education are 1) make new and different tests 2) fire “ineffective” teachers and train the other teachers more 3) remove regulations from some schools but not others.

    School reform should be about improving conditions so that teachers can teach. Improve student health, decrease violence, and decrease poverty to improve student performance. Most of us are highly trained, amazingly dedicated, giving 200% and exhausted. We need to be released from so many restrictions, so much pressure to do everything, to do what we do best.

    If you will allow me, I would like to make an analogy. Would you use training and firing doctors to solve this problem in medicine?
    Teacher Responsibilities: Doctors must see 10 patients at a time with few breaks between groups. There are no longer assistants to help with scheduling, preparing needles or examining rooms. Doctors must do their own billing, research new diseases, repair equipment, maintain their computers, and prepare medicines.

    Teacher Expectations: Doctors must cure patients in 3 appointments regardless of the nature of the disease or injury. Those who don’t will be fired or reassigned. Twice a week after hours, doctors must meet with other doctors to plan the clinic build-outs, cutting edge medical treatments and business planning, keeping data on patient satisfaction, etc.

    After regular hours, doctors must remediate any patient having difficulties without reimbursement. New disease strains, epidemics and broken equipment are not acceptable excuses for not meeting federal medical standards.

    Would you expect quality medical care??

    This is what has been done to us as teachers, larger class sizes, less support, more needy students, less maintenance and administrative support.

    Today my tier one school was met with yet another school improvement “opportunity” to design and submit a SIG grant for our transformational process in one month. We have so many “training” sessions, meetings, data teams, small learning community collaborations, staff meetings, cabinet meetings, diversity team meetings, etc. We don’t have time to prepare our lessons, evaluate students work, improve use of technology and research.

    I fail to see how new better tests will have any impact on education. I wonder, if the solution is to remove regulations from some schools, who are all of those regulations benefitting anyway. Notice that charter schools and private schools have the least number of restrictions and mandatory testing; usually these schools are touted as superior to public schools.

  2. 100% Proficiency sounds nice, but what is proficiency? Another word for passing.
    The goal of NCLB was, and still is, 100% Proficiency.
    It is really a 66% in math and reading. Do you still feel like celebrating? NCLB gave us 15 years to get all of our students over this bar. How do you think we should celebrate once every child in America is certifiably mediocre? I do not believe it is a tragedy because some of our students do not achieve ‘proficiency’, but I do believe it is a far greater tragedy that no one found a better way to challenge our students.
    Every state gets to decide what they put on the tests, and proficient in Mississippi would not be proficient in Massachusetts.
    Sometimes a 63% is enough to pass, and sometimes you need a 73%, but the enitre focus, the way the AYP is calculated is right at that passing line that I have rounded off to a 66%.
    We should not abandon assessments. Countries who are doing a better than mediocre job of educating their students, even a poor country like Cuba, assess student performance. Our NCLB assessments mean very little because we have 50 different versions of the tests in 50 different states, given in different subjects, different years, different months of the year, and the level of difficulty varies greatly.
    We do need to replace NCLB.
    I recommend All-American Assessments.
    Invite educators from every state to develop them.
    Measure individual student improvement from year to year.
    Use a scale of 2000, for example. Give 2nd graders assessments in May to get a baseline in all 6 subjects. In May of third grade they will be assessed again.
    Matthew is autistic,and he is excelling in math, art, music. He is not being deprived of the subjects where he has real talent, and he will be expected to continue to make slow but steady progress in other subjects. 180 to 210 = +30
    Mark was allowed to be tested orally because of his dyslexia, and his comprehension was excellent. He was not given oral exams in 2nd grade. 180 to 310 = +130
    Luke scored high in all subject areas, but now he will need to be challenged or he will not continue to improve at this rate. He may be the one with real special needs! 360 to 480 =+120
    Juanita scored low in everything in 2nd grade as she had recently arrived in the US from Ecuador, and only Spanish was spoken at home. at the end of 2nd grade she attended summer programs in English, and she made excellent progress.
    180 to 340 = +160
    Although Juanita’s score is below that of Luke, she leads the class in improvement.
    We can evaluate the teacher of this heterogeneous mix, and we find an average improvement of +110. In 4th grade we can see if the students manage to ‘meet or beat’ their progress score. We can see if this 3rd grade teacher has done better than other 3rd grade teachers of heterogeneously mixed students.
    We give her a positive evaluation for challenging Luke, modifying testing format for Mark, making sure Matthew has time for courses he excels in, and for encouraging Juanita to improve her English in the summer program.

    • In answer to President Obama’s letter to me on Education.

      Education beyond the 12th Grade in America is not a right. But the funding should be distributed to the students to spend at the schools they attend (Each school by attendance at the end of the school year)and regulate the school’s administration, Not, the student or teacher

      160 Billion per year budget (stimulous included) would give each student (42 Million) $500 per day for the schools enrollment for a 9 month school year.

      Stop buying nonexistant education with tax and stimulous money.

      OBM could shurely handle the funding directly to the schools as efficiently as the DOE. Saving 5000 people on government payroll (tax burdens) Sending them back to their private sector jobs becoming tax payers.

      Simple things like changing the name “School” to “A learning Community” Would give a chance to develop HOW, WHO, WHEN, TYPE and WHERE a child gets an education.

      Your Congress Mr. President is discriminating against the American Citizen by calling newly elected members of Congress “Freshmen” They were and are Representing the Citizens of their states. and should not be judged differently by yourself or their members of Congress. This isn’t “School”.

      “A Learning Community” could easily be taught with multipal grade levels in one room with one teacher. The same as a first job where trainees and experienced workers are in contact with each other under one Supervisor or “Boss” each having specific duties and a common result.

      This format could lead to a New Birth of Education in Public (‘schools’)Learning Communities.

  3. The interview makes a number of great points and providing states flexibility will be key. Our charter academy (University Academy) has increased in meeting benchmarks, closed achievement gaps in reading and math and we have had 100% of our students graduate for 8 consecutive years and enter college Now we track them through college with a merit based pay plan as well. Having replicated this success now in 3 districts, I do believe meeting NCLB standards is very possible. Wednesday, I will be sharing how to replicate what we and many 90/90/90 schools are doing at the National Charter Conference. As a recent former traditional public school superintendent, I found the same strategies worked in that environment as well. Arne Duncan makes great points. In the end, to meet NCLB, it will be essential that the quality of focused high achieving leaders and teachers improve if the standards are ever going to be met consistently.

Comments are closed.