|Former Ed Sec. Arne Duncan and his former assistant James Shelton at NewSchools Venture Fund Summit. Now both work for billionaire Mark Zuckerberg at the Emerson Collective.|
It's that time of year again, when the hedge-funders, corporate reformers and power philanthropists gather at the NewSchools Venture Summit to strategize about school privatization, charters schools and how to get the biggest bang for their edu-investment dollars.
Among the regulars at NSVF is former Ed Sec. Arne Duncan, who is now working for billionaire philanthropists Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan at the Emerson Collective.
As you might expect from EdWeek, Klein's interview questions are pretty softball; i.e., "What are you most proud of over your seven-year tenure as Secretary of Ed?" and "What do you see as your three biggest failures?" I guess she forgot to ask about his favorite color or his pick in the NBA finals.
To the first question:
Duncan ticked off three things: pouring $1 billion into early childhood education, an all-time high graduation rate (fact check on administration's role in making that happen here), and increasing Pell Grants.
Not on the list: The two K-12 initiatives he's best known for, the $4 billion into Race to the Top initiative and the $3 billion School Improvement Grant, both of which have yielded mixed results so far.To the second:
Duncan ticked off one he's mentioned a number of times before—not being able to get Congress to go along with an even bigger investment on early childhood education. The fact that so many of our children enter kindergarten behind means "we're just setting our kids up for failure from the start," he said.
He also mentioned that the Obama administration failed to get immigration overhaul done and, therefore, didn't give immigrant kids a path to citizenship. "We could not get our Republican friends to back that," he said.
And he brought up another missed opportunity, the failure to get meaningful gun control legislation done: "In our worst nightmare we never imagined we'd have 20 babies killed and five teachers and a principal."You see what he does here? It's an old politician's trick. Like when they're asked about their biggest weakness, they usually reply: "I'm much too sensitive to the needs of others" or "I work too many hours and neglect my own health."
With Duncan, it's more like, "I failed to get everyone else to do all the great things I wanted them to do." He's got a point. Even though he snuggled up to the Republican Congress, the racist and anti-union governors and the hedge-fund reformers, neither he nor his boss, President Obama, were able to reauthorize the national education law for seven years. And the Republicans refused to allocate the needed $75 billion for Obama's proposed universal pre-school program.
But, as Klein points out, Duncan is hush-hush when it comes to Race To The Top, his disastrous, autocratic move to force school districts into closing thousands of schools and replacing them with privately-run charters. Duncan also doesn't mention his role in doubling down on the Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind testing/teacher evaluation mayhem, from which the nation's schools may never fully recover.
Or as Klein notices:
Not on Duncan's list of failures? Two things that many other folks would probably cite: requiring states that wanted flexibility from the mandates of No Child Left Behind to tie teacher evaluations to test scores at the same time that assessments and standards were changing, and hugging the Common Core State Standards so tight that they became politicized.She might have also mentioned his failure to act on the widespread corruption among charter school operators. Or his abandonment of the fight against racial school re-segregation.
Klein must not have done her homework or maybe just forgot to ask Duncan about mayoral control of the schools. She should have remembered that when Duncan was first appointed, he made the expansion of mayoral control his number-one priority. He even threatened to withhold stimulus dollars from school districts that don't implement top-down mayoral control of the schools.
He went so far as to say:
"At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed," Duncan said. He offered to do whatever he can to make the case. "I'll come to your cities," Duncan said. "I'll meet with your editorial boards. I'll talk with your business communities. I will be there."Well, he's at the end of his tenure. The number of mayors in control has certainly not increased. Why not ask him straight-up? Arne Duncan, by your own standards, have you failed?