Arne Duncan charts course for next four years

Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan, in a press conference with the Council of Chief State School Officers last week, implied that he would continue as President Obama’s education secretary for another four years and would continue the course set in the last four years.

Duncan’s remarks to the CCSSO were his first scheduled speaking appointment since the election, although further clarification from the Education Department and from the administration are still expected in the coming weeks.

Saying, “We came out of the gates flying” in the last term, he added that he plans to “replicate that as much as we can.” Duncan suggested that the two main thrusts of the Education Department over the next four years would be to continue to use federal power to encourage state and district level educational improvement, especially through federal monetary incentives. Second, Duncan mentioned a new focus on principal preparation and evaluation.

In addition, Duncan stressed that re-authorization and/or changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which the No Child Left Behind Act is the most recent iteration, was up to the Congress and that the administration would move on with its agenda regardless of developments there. “We will lead, we will help, we will push, but Congress has to want to do it,” said Duncan. This middle-ground position does nothing to alleviate concerns of some that the department lacks a commitment to these laws, especially since it has given waivers to over 30 states.  Duncan was also ambiguous, stating no during the press conference and yes during an interview afterwards, on whether the Education Department might also grant waivers to individual districts in states which do not seek or receive waivers.

Other policy initiatives mentioned by Duncan included:

  • Title II grants, which are used for professional-development-type activities, federal School Improvement Grant dollars, and other programs
  • Improving early-childhood education
  • Making college more affordable and attainable

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