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.