What does Sec. Duncan plan to accomplish before 2016?

Michele McNeil of Education Week recently sat down with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at his Washington D.C. office to ask him a wide range of questions about the goals of federal education policy in the time remaining before the next presidential election. Duncan stressed a few key issues:

  • the transition to new standards and tests (Common Core)
  • the debut of new teacher evaluations tied to test scores
  • the costly drive to expand preschool and
  • the overhaul of regulations that govern teacher-prep programs

Interestingly, the Education Department remains in the unique position of being frustrated by Congress’s inability to move new legislation and new funding forward yet also being able to take advantage of the delay to implement its policies through the waiver process. This means that Duncan, who refused to rule out the possibility that he might move on before the end of President Obama’s term, and the Education Department will likely have the chance to follow through on programs which have already begun but will likely have trouble accomplishing new policy objectives.

For this reason, it is no real surprise to hear that Duncan has made the first three issues on the above list top priorities. States are already in the process of testing out the new PARCC and Smarter Balanced computerized tests that align with Common Core, and this testing will begin fully next school year. Teacher evaluations aligned to these tests have been one of the key components of waivers granted by ED to most states across the nation. And various initiatives, including using money from an increased cigarette tax, have been planned, proposed, and implemented to expand Pre-K schooling.

But the issue that has had less progress to this point that Duncan sees as key is the overhaul of teacher preparation programs. When asked whether progress would take place on this issue, Duncan responded with, “They will get done. [They are] very important.”

Duncan also praised the work of the federal Race to the Top initiative, which he sees as having built a foundation for success that will continue into the future, even if there is no new federal money to bolster the programs. He also believes it is no surprise that the states which are making the most progress on education reforms are those that won RTT grants.

In terms of his legacy, Duncan said, “I don’t spend any time thinking about that.” Likely, it will take years after the end of his and President Obama’s terms in office to be able to gauge the success or failure of RTT and other federal initiatives since 2008.

To read more about the lengthy interview concerning the federal education policy agenda in the coming 2 years, please visit: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2014/04/arne_duncan_standards_teachers_legacy.html?qs=arne+duncan