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New Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: What It Could Mean for Kids

New Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: What It Could Mean for Kids

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Updated on Jan 15, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama has promised America a “new vision” for a 21st century education system, and the person he has selected to lead that vision is superintendent of Chicago schools Arne Duncan.

As Secretary of Education, Duncan will be tasked with turning around No Child Left Behind, closing the achievement gap, finding and retaining high-quality teachers for America's classrooms, and ensuring that graduates have the 21st century skills needed to compete in the global economy.

Obama says Duncan is well-equipped to tackle these issues head-on: “When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners. For Arne, school reform isn’t just a theory in a book – it’s the cause of his life. And the results aren’t just about test scores or statistics, but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job.”

Since 2001, Duncan has run the Chicago School District, the third largest in the country, with a focus on transforming weak schools, closing failing ones, and improving teacher quality. He is known as an innovative reformer, who has called for high quality education as the key to fighting poverty, strengthening the economy, and promoting opportunity. “It is the civil rights issue of our generation and it is the one sure path to a more equal, fair and just society,” Duncan says. “While there are no simple answers, I know from experience that when you focus on basics like reading and math, when you embrace innovative new approaches to learning, and when you create a professional climate that attracts great teachers -- you can make a difference for children."

As the political pundits debate Obama's latest in a series of bold appointments, parents and educators in the field are wondering what this will mean for America's kids. Here is where Duncan stands on the leading education issues of the day:

No Child Left Behind
Duncan has said he supports the law's mission of accountability, though more flexibility may be required. Some have criticized Duncan for what they call a heavy-handed approach to accountability in Chicago. Teacher's unions balked when Duncan closed schools in Chicago, replaced entire faculties, or forced staff to reapply for their positions.

But, Obama says, while some of these reforms are unpopular, the truth is that the status quo is not working for America's kids. “We cannot continue on like this,” Obama said. “It is morally unacceptable for our children – and economically untenable for America. We need a new vision for a 21st century education system – one where we aren’t just supporting existing schools, but spurring innovation; where we’re not just investing more money, but demanding more reform; where parents take responsibility for their children’s success; where we’re recruiting, retaining, and rewarding an army of new teachers; where we hold our schools, teachers and government accountable for results; and where we expect all our children not only to graduate high school, but to graduate college and get a good paying job.”

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