“New Normal” Is Harsh Reality, Duncan Tells Principals

The “new normal” was the subject of a conversation for school leaders last week between Secretary Duncan and Dr. Gerald Tirozzi, executive director for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Dr. Tirozzi was interviewing Arne for NASSP’s online radio show and podcast. Their candid discussion centered on the very real choices that school leaders are being forced to make in the face of the reduced overall funding levels for education while our country’s economy recovers from a prolonged economic downturn.

As someone who spent seven years as a district superintendent, Duncan acknowledged that these are indeed the toughest financial times educators have ever seen. He also offered hope that the circumstances may provide opportunities to look to improve productivity and proficiency at the school level.

“What I’ve tried to be clear about is the wrong way to go about this: by cutting back in a manner that damages school quality and hurts children,” Arne said. He warned against such imprudent steps as reducing the number of days in the school year, slashing instructional time spent on task, eliminating the arts and foreign language classes, abandoning promising reforms, or laying off talented young teachers in the name of overall savings. Instead, he urged school and district leaders to focus on steps such as deferring construction projects, cutting under-utilized bus routes, lowering the costs of textbooks and health care, improving energy and efficiency in school buildings, and reducing central office personnel as more productive ways to cut costs.

The Secretary emphasized with Dr. Tirozzi and his listeners that NASSP members and all school leaders should look to minimize the negative impact of funding cuts, while increasing their focus on those improvement strategies where it can be demonstrated that they’re working.

“This is not a time for folks to throw their hands up,” Arne warned. “In fact, this is a real test of leadership for those within the education community.” You can listen to this conversation on NASSP’s website.

Karen Stratman-Krusemark, Associations Liaison, Office of Communications and Outreach
Ms. Stratman-Krusemark taught high school English in Mesquite, Texas, prior to joining the Department of Education.


  1. Mr. Duncan,
    I have been teaching for 25+ years and love my job. I am one of thousands of teachers that are in the profession because we love teaching and we care about our students. I am currently teaching in an at risk school district and the idea of cutting down on teachers and educational finances was a big blow to alot of us teachers. There are other options on how to save money but cutting down/back on professional teachers who have sacrificed their families year after year is not one of them. Universities and colleges have taken our hard earned monies and given us a degree after so many years of studying and now it comes to dead end. Financial cutbacks can be done through lottery, cigarrete, tobacco, beer taxes,etc… vs. cutting down on education! Take a look at how we the taxpayers are providing for unemployment and illegal immigrants all over the United States. Our schools are the future for preparing bright, smart, intelligent young men and women! Low income districts need your help in providing technology in the classrooms, textbooks, supplies, software, computers, renovations of school buildings, more classrooms, etc…….and the list goes on. I do not agree with cutting down on education to comply with financial sinkholes. There has to be other options ===please study your decisions carefully and find other options and not cut down on education.

  2. Mr. Duncan,
    What if a school district has made all of the recommended cuts and is still short the funds to keep their schools running? This is a reality in my district. The state has cut funds and the district taxpayers did not support renewing a levy. It seems as if your recommendations overlook that some districts face no other choice than to cut quality. It is aggravating to hear politicians continue to make the argument about fluff and waste and how we need to learn to do more with less. I do not work in a district with any extras. We have buildings in desperate need of repair. We have outdated technology that our tech department is maintaining on a shoestring budget. We were already making more with less when the most recent round of budget cuts came. There may be areas where the district can reduce costs, but not enough and not without discomfort. Schools did not cause the financial collapse on Wall Street, but they are being vilified. I do not think that the critics are taking a close enough look at what we do in our schools. We work hard and we get a lot right and we do it as frugally as possible. I do not think the problem in education is people wasting money. This taking out of schools is taking a toll on teachers. By the way, not only young teachers are talented. Many veteran teachers are great. They deserve to keep their jobs. In addition, you could go downtown to our district office on any day and see the people working as hard as the people working in the schools. It is an oversimplification to apply the same argument to every school in our nation and doing so is damaging to our reputations in our communities and our ability to successfully perform our jobs. We need the support of our community to assist make improvements and to pay for the costs as well. Everybody knows a person should not expect something for nothing. Everybody knows if it sounds too good to be true it is. Common sense informs us on those, yet we do not apply it to our argument about school improvement. Cut the fluff and do more with less just does not make sense as advice to our district. Your advice to avoid cutting quality is painful because of course nobody wants to sacrifice quality. We chose this profession because we care about kids. We would never want to provide less to any generation of children. I am worried about how the cuts to budgets across our state will affect the future generations in our state. School like health care is preventative medicine. Schools will find ways to save money as they always have, but I hope sooner or later I would like to hear a national leader defend our schools and regain the support of taxpayers to fund a vital resource to families and children in our nation’s communities. We can no longer afford political rhetoric that has damaged us so deeply that taxpayers will even not renew levies that they previously supported.

  3. Mr. Duncan;
    I am also s teacher where 85% of the population receives free lunch and breakfast. I agree with you. We can cut cost of textbooks if we choose wisely and make students accountable for textbooks they damage or lost. We can save money if we do not provide transportation to a student whose parent decided that she needs to take a course at the high school (1 mile down the road), when we know she can be succesful in our campus. We can save in buses when we do not provide transportation for a Saturday activity when only 3 kids show up (but we do pick them up and drop them off). I understand what you did mean, it is not cutting buses for field trips or competions, is plane an simple cutting under-utilized routes. And do not get me start with energy savings, I expend the whole summer in a 50 F classroom ,now it is winter time and my classroom is around 85 – 90 F. Can we saved energy? Of course, if we decide to do the right thing. What about central office personel? Just go downtown and check the Ad building, tons of people with nothing to do, all the education experts managing education with no classroom experience.
    Yes Mr. Duncan, I am a teacher and I agree with you.

  4. Mr. Duncan
    Would you also advise that students receive catsup for lunch as a vegetable? There are so many needs in our public schools and three of the areas that you advise cutting are medical care (school nurses,buses and textbooks). I work at a school where 95% of the student body receives free lunch and breakfast. Most of our students don’t have medical coverage, so the school nurse becomes their doctor and referral for medical treatment. Yesterday our middle school took a field trip to the Multnomah Co. Central Library by public transportation. I listened to pasengers complain that kids should ride school buses(no doubt your supporters). My students would have preferred school buses. There were 50 of us and our group had to be divided. It was cold and our students didn’t complain about the public transportation, they complained of the lack of money to provide our area with school buses. Last you speak of cutting textbooks,our school adopts textbooks every 3-4 years. And depending upon the adoption i.e. Science, Math, History, Language Arts…Teachers and students have to wait. Many teachers purchase books with our own money so that our teaching will stay up to date and our student will be aware of different ideas. Mr. Duncan you can not be as out of touch with inner city schools and students as you pretend. Is there a chance that you could visit one?

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