Arne Duncan Answers Teachers’ Questions on the Role of Private Funds and Interests in Education

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education— a teacher on leave from my school for one year to help bring educator voice to the policy world— I recently had the opportunity to sit down with fellow teacher Lisa Clarke and Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss the role of private interests and public education.

Lisa and I asked Secretary Duncan questions we’ve heard from some teachers in recent roundtable discussions: Is there a corporate agenda at the U.S. Department of Education? Do philanthropists like Bill Gates and Eli Broad earn the right to make decisions with their donations to public education? This short video gives us a glimpse into how decisions are made and whose interests are taken into consideration.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

This is only the start of the discussion. Keep the conversation going in the comment section below and by using #AskArne on Twitter. To be continued.

Joiselle Cunningham is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2013-14 school year.


  1. This was propaganda plain and simple. This was not a discussion and these teachers were not exhibiting any critical thinking or any real discussion skills. There was no follow up, no “hmmm, well why….?” Such a crock.

  2. I have an important question for Mr. Duncan, from a public school teacher in Massachusetts. Will you please ask it, and post his answer here?

    Mr. Duncan, you say Gates has no place at the policy table. Can you prove that? Will you, right now, release my state, and all states, from Gates’ conditions and restrictions on any federal funds, grants, and waivers? That includes requirements for student data accumulation, test-score-based teacher evaluation, and Common Core implementation.

  3. Arne also thinks people are so dumb not to see all the ex-Gates employees with corner offices at The Dept. of Education: deputies, Assistant Secty’s, policy makers. We DO see how this works though!

  4. This unconvincing performance is merely the latest installment of the Department of Education’s exercise in duplicity. I am sorry that the Teachers felt obligated to participate in the ritual shaming of their peers, when the case is so clearly contrary to Secretary Duncan’s assertion, and it is so evident that they are serving as pawns in a public relations campaign meant to whitewash the facts of the matter: The reason that this version of the government’s meddling in education has been so much more oppressive than any previous attempt to belittle and enslave the teaching profession is simply the money behind it. When politicians and school administrators have that glazed faraway look in their eyes, you can be sure that it is because they have been purchased by a corporate interest, and no longer have the intention nor the capacity to listen or respond to facts that contradict the story to which they owe allegiance. Watch for it: It is there in each and every case.

  5. This was not free dialogue. These fellows who are dependent on Gates foundation funding would not dare to dig deeper into the real facts. Common Core was funded almost 100% by the Gates Foundation. Arne since you have never been a teacher or school administrator you should really take the time to listen to those of us in the trenches. Republicans and corporations have hijacked you and your agenda under the guise of choice and accountability. Just take a look at the expensive independent schools that children of these corporate heads attend. Do they evaluate teachers based on a false metric like VAM? Do they test and drill to the detriment of art, sports, music and science? Do they have class sizes of more than 20? Then why are you foisting this on public schools? Disinvestment (because of charter schools) and phony accountability will lead to the demise of the teaching profession and public schools in the USA. This will be your legacy unless you stop and really listen to real teachers, not fake TFA teachers and their alumni who don’t have the experience and knowledge to make well informed decisions about policy.

    • Republicans? You are so narrow minded as to blame one side. You are part of the problem. If you took the time to look at gates’ contributions they are to left leaning organizations, (i.e Clinton Global, and on and on..). You are naive to think its only one side…

  6. Yes – schools are under-invested and this has been designed by the policies associated with NCLB and now RTT. If the Gates Foundation’s does not have a seat at the table and their support is only to help education why not ask these “successful people” to “give back” and close the gaps in schools that are under-invested. That seems like what a philanthropic institute would do. Instead you chose to use the resources of these “successful people” to over-regulate the already under-invested schools, to demoralize public school teachers and to expand unregulated, publicly funded and privately owned and operated charter schools. This IS hurting kids and teachers, and your claim that this hasn’t been “your experience” is proof that you do not have real educators at your table.

  7. I would like to know what training Mr. Duncan obtained in order to lie so well. Bill Gates as is Duncan and Obama are following the direction of UNESCO. How come now one ever mentions the agreement Bill Gates signed with UNESDO in 2004 to deliver UNIVERSAL Education and to support the UNESCO Constitution with UNESCO writing the syllabus??? If you don’t think Common Core is a push to create global citizenship think again. In 1984 President Reagan withdrew the US from UNESCO because of their anti-western stance and the fact they were using US tax dollars to front Communist organizations. In 2003 President Bush reunites US and UNESCO (against a lot of opposition to do so) and in 2004 Gates signs his agreement with Communist UNESCO. Coincidence? I hardly doubt it. My personal belief about Gates……Gates is a businessman and a eugenicist. He even stated through the use of vaccines we could reduce the population by 15%. He and his wife co-hosted the eugenics conference in London in 2012. He is an evil man that wants to be the RICHEST most POWERFUL man in the world and he doesn’t care what he has to do to get there. And anyone that is affiliated with Gates is just as evil.

  8. So if states are free to use the tests they’d like, Arne, would you please send a memo right away to Commissioner John King in New York and let him know? John seems to believe that the Federal government is forcing him to give the tests. Maybe you’re not aware, New York’s tests aren’t working so well. There are crying kids, upset parents and demoralized teachers. The tests have cost taxpayers millions of dollars too.

    Arne, maybe you could also suggest New York (and other states) use the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking or something similar? Since “everyone knows” that creativity and innovation are what made and will keep the U.S.A. great, if a test has to be given, why not try to find out if our students are becoming more creative? In a fast changing world, creativity might be a good skill to encourage.

    On the other hand, if creativity tests aren’t given in Shanghai and Mr. Gates or one of his buddies didn’t pay to have the test developed and isn’t going to make more money when kids spend hours prepping for and taking the tests, this idea couldn’t possibly work. Plus, Mr. Torrance had a background in education, he wasn’t a businessman, so what would he know…

    Better keep going with those bubble tests, since the research the USDOE must have done would prove that these kinds of tests are a surefire way to inspire the imaginations of students and help teachers discover what’s special about each individual child. Really? You didn’t do that research? Why didn’t Lisa and Joiselle ask you that question? Shouldn’t a “highly effective” teacher be able to ask questions which challenge kids to think?

  9. This is pure propaganda with Arne Duncan trying desperately to convince teachers and the public that something we all clearly know to be true, is not true. Of course Gates, Broad, and others have a seat at the table! That’s how “investment” works. Investors absolutely get a say in the investment from which they stand to benefit/profit. The two Teaching Ambassador Fellows are aiding and abetting the corporate takeover of public education. Those two ladies should be very ashamed of their role in disseminating this misinformation from the corporate-led DOE. It’s money that now dictates federal education policy for the entire nation.

  10. Another snow job – but the facade *is* crumbling, and the public *is* learning, while Duncan digs his hole deeper and deeper….

  11. This is such a bizarre interview. Honestly, why are these the two teachers asking Arne these questions? They are in their ‘fellow’ positions at the behest of the USDOE! It’s such a propaganda piece. Anyway, everyone BUT Arne seems to know that Gates (and Walton and Broad and Zuckerberg blah blah blah) have their moneybag fingers on the scales of education policy right now. They seem to be ALL that is driving the current admin’s policies. It certainly isn’t educators (even though Arne says, “We listen to everybody.” Riiiiight)

  12. As mentioned so well already, every current education reform is based on a corporate model. The assembly line and profit margin parallels are obvious: data obsession and the means to arrive at a number, or a label; standardized testing, and subsequent scripting of curriculum; massive contracts given to test and curriculum development corporations. And, of course, millions in Race to the Top bribes which were dangled in front of states at the height of the recession to sell their souls for funding. Those who officially bought in were bought. Welcome to NY.

    All of this with schools still closing or struggling to stay viable, and the fact that our child poverty rate is among the highest in the industrialized world. The irony of this in the 21st century is unconscionable.

  13. Thank you to the teachers who posed these questions to Arne Duncan and gave the public this forum to share our feedback. I think the real question is why doesn’t it feel like Arne Duncan and the federal government are listening and responding to the concerns consistently being shared by parents throughout the country about the pieces of new education policy that are negatively affecting children? Federal Education policy changes may have good intent, but effecting positive new policy requires understanding and adjusting to the challenges that surface. There is just too much testing for young kids, and the testing being federal mandated has become more high stakes and more difficult too quickly. In NYS, students as young as 8 years old are mandated to take 3 days of approximately 90 minutes tests in ELA and then 3 days in math. This is not age appropriate for most 8 year olds and especially stressful for kids with special needs and English Language learners. NYSED tells us 3 days of 90 minutes in each subject are necessary to thoroughly tests the standards. The Federal government says these tests MUST happen every year in grades 3-8. Why not a compromise such as testing every other year, math one year, ELA the next? Or, RTTT required adopting the CCS, but how do you adopt standards that are intended to build upon each other year after year beginning in kindergarten, yet test students on the new standards a year or 2 after they are introduced? And not only tests students, but link teacher evaluations to the test scores as required by RTTT? My worry, which is being shared by parents across the country, is how children are feeling when taking tests based on standards they have not had time to fully learn. Why not allow states to suspend testing for a couple of years while students have time to learn the standards? And why not allow states to readjust their APPR plans to place less of an emphasis on test scores? Give them alternative solutions such as parent or student surveys to replace reliance on high stakes testing. I believe this should not be us again them. We all need to compromise, re-adjust and stop being so stubborn when it comes to looking out for the best interests of all children.

  14. These two teachers missed an opportunity to really press Arne Duncan for some real information on how corporate interests are behind the so-called ed reform. They clearly erred on the side of extreme politeness, gave him a pass, and denied us, as teachers, the opportunity to challenge him

  15. Patently absurd assertions that do not bear up to any scrutiny whatsoever.

    The Teaching Ambassadors are asking the right questions, but if they accept these bogus answers and smile, then they are being used as showpieces in a charade.

  16. this is entirely BS…. of course big money is making education policy….

    Gates’ people are embedded in senior positions within the DOE….

    and why does the DOE push Common Core, which is the brainchild of and funded by Bill Gates?

    why did Eli Broad in his 2009 annual report crow that the stars had finally aligned for him to be able to influence the DOE and national education scene, to complete his education reform agenda he’d been pushing for more than a decade?

    What about the sneaky addition of clauses into the budget bill two session ago, where TFA was given a wavier from NCLB conditions re teacher quality, and overnight it’s 5-week bootcamp ‘grads’ became “highly qualified”…

    If Arne disagreed with this underhanded move to de-qualify and de-professionalise the teaching corp, where was his public protest?

    Why is PEARSON invited to summits at the White House, to discuss policy changes to tertiary education?

    There are literally hundreds of other examples where the privateers are influencing, writing even, education policy – see ALEC working education policy legislation through the various states…

    How stupid do you think we are, Arne?

  17. I am sorry that you all accepted Arne’s contention that money does not buy a seat at the table. Really? Does he live in Washington? Could you not have presented him with specific examples of Gates’ power to buy into his agenda? Of course in a sense Arne wasn’t bought. His destruction has been willingly offered.

  18. I think it’s laughable for Arne to claim that Bill Gates & the Gates Foundation don’t have a seat at the table when he parrots almost everything he says and does. From encouraging private data collection and sharing, to pushing teacher evaluation based on test scores, to merit pay, to promoting online learning, the Common Core and national testing, and to criticizing efforts to reduce class size, almost every single one of the US Dept of Education’s policies comes straight out of the Gates playbook.

    • There are also the staff members who populate the USDOE that were previously with Gates or are associated with the foundation now.

      Gates has worked in the shadows for years through puppet, faux roots organizations but finally people are seeing what many of us have been calling out for several years, people with enormous amounts of money but little credibility when it comes to understanding public schools or education in general, are influencing what our children are learning and how they are learning it.

      Because the USDOE could not fund a push to influence curriculum in public schools due to laws put into place by wiser people, Gates stepped in and paid for the de4gelopmenmt of and the implementation of the CCS in every state.

  19. Absolutely they DON’T!!!!
    I know Bill Gates attended the most prestigious school in Western WA. I live two miles from that school. It’s predominantly white, upper middle class to filthy rich. The students there have parents who have no problem paying for music lessons, sports activities and other enrichment activities. They’re able to travel, further enriching their childrens’ education. These kids don’t have to worry whether or not they’re going to get breakfast, they’ve never experienced a relative being in jail or killed by gun violence. There are no students there with special education needs, no behavior disorders. Yet these are all present in the public schools. Bill Gates has no clue that these students even exist. To expect an autistic student who cannot even operate a mouse, to sit and take a computerized test, is ludicrous. If they want to donate money, it should be with NO STRINGS ATTACHED. Leave the educating up to the teachers. That’s what we’re trained to do.

  20. I have many questions and concerns around this topic. I think it is a growing public concensus that corporations and their “non-profit” foundations are in fact buy public policy around the issue of school reform. In addition, I think there is a growing concern that you and the Department of Education are in fact in the business of supporting this very endeavor. You indicated that states are not forced or tied to the testing or common core elements yet your Race to the Top money is tied directly to states adopting these very elements. So, it would seem a word game that states (who are starving for money) are not tied to these policies.

  21. I am very concerned that the Department of Education is providing public money to many poorly supervised private Charter Schools and taking away supports from public schools which have greater accountability.

  22. I’m sorry, this was not a “discussion”. This was two people giving Arne the floor to gloss over the real problem of privatizers/corporations co opting public education. Small schools? Gates idea (failure). LA iPad debacle? Um…let’s see was that about improving crumbling schools or money for big business? I wonder… Actually, no I don’t. And bulk buying tests saving money so more can go into the classroom?! Really!?! More like, if there wasn’t the QUANTITY of standardized tests that needed to be created to bolster the corporate-created Common Core, THEN money WOULD ACTUALLY make it to repairing schools, playgrounds, science labs and music programs. This video is PROPAGANDA for privatizing public education. And these two “teachers” are complicit in that.

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