The lack-of-wit and lack-of-wisdom of Arne Duncan

I became aware of Arne Duncan when I sat and watched his keynote address at the Teach For America 20 year alumni summit on February 13th 2011.  In that speech he made a claim about how he helped turn around a school in Chicago by firing the teachers and turning it into a charter school.  Researching this claim was my first in a series of blog posts ‘debunking’ miracle schools.

Over the past two and a half years I have immersed myself in the way education is being ‘reformed’ in this country and I am always baffled the way that Arne Duncan finds new ways to demonstrate how unqualified he is for any job in education, let alone U.S. Secretary of Education.  In this post, I’ll present six of my favorite examples.

“I see extraordinary schools where 95 percent of children live below the poverty line, where 95 percent are graduating, and 90 percent of those who graduate are going on to college.

This is from the September 2009 NEA Today magazine, in which Duncan attempts to answer questions from teachers.  Since then, the claims of the 90-90-90 schools (or 95-95-90 schools, in this case) have been challenged so much that we rarely hear about them anymore.  But Duncan didn’t just hear about them, but he apparently saw them with his own eyes.

“The vast majority who drop out of high school drop out not because it’s too hard but because it’s too easy.”

This was said in a television interview on October 31st 2013.  The sad thing is that he really believes this.

“if we had 95,000 good principals, we’d be done.”

This was in a Newsweek interview on January 30th 2011.  This is notable since it goes against the reformer mantra that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor.  This is the only time I’ve seen him admit that other in-school factors are very important, though he overstates this, for sure, saying that we’d be ‘done.’  Basically, he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to think.

“Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day.”

This is from an article by Jonathan Alter on June 3rd, 2011, two days after the publication of Ravitch’s influential ‘miracle school’ New York Times op-ed, which I’m proud to have helped her research.  Meanwhile, teachers who are aware of Ravitch revere her and flock to see her when speaks in their cities.

Is his point that class size does not matter, as he has said in the past?  110 kids in a room, and this picture of them stuffed in with no notebooks or seats or anything, is something to be angry about, not to celebrate because they are quiet when the teacher speaks.  The absurdity of his tweet is so tragic that it is almost funny.

“I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”

This is an old favorite from an interview on January 30, 2010, and needs no analysis.

Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments.


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6 Responses to The lack-of-wit and lack-of-wisdom of Arne Duncan

  1. Pogue says:

    Given his “experience”, I would imagine he often thinks about saying this…

    “Reforming education is like taking a half-court shot at the buzzer. If you miss it? Whatever. You miss most of the time, anyway. But, if you make it, then you’ve accomplished a miracle. We’re trying to accomplish miracles.”

  2. Michael Fiorillo says:

    You have to be extremely careful to not leave the “power” button on with reform-bots: they’ll confusedly emit catch phrases and buzzwords that will come back to haunt their programmers.

  3. Clyde Gaw says:

    Duncan will be remembered as doing incredible harm to American children and Public Education for decades to come…

  4. James says:

    The Haiti comment reminds me of a moment I had with my TFA Executive Director during ‘Induction’ — she had commented that one school was hosting two seventh grade classes in a music room, together, for lack of space. I suggested to her that ‘you can’t teach like that’ and her response, clearly unsettled, was: ‘Oh, you’d do it!’ Then I suggested that the (wealthy) tract home developers of Arizona have an obligation to finance the construction of school facilities sufficient for the new communities from which they profit building, her response: ‘Those builders pay a lot for schools’. Little did I know, at the moment, they were also some of the biggest fundraisers to TFA.

  5. mpledger says:

    What about this one…

    “It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,”
    Arne Duncan

  6. Pingback: A Top Ten of Duncan’s Inanity: Obama’s Basketball Buddy Drops Ball on Ed | Cloaking Inequity

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