Secretary of Education Calls for Comprehensive Reform

During a speech at the Graduate School of Education on Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne S. Duncan ’86 said that schools should not limit the scope of their focus and support to a child’s life within the classroom.

“Educators should be attacking both in-school and out-of-school problems,” said Duncan to an audience that included Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester, Superintendent of Cambridge Public Schools Jeffrey M. Young, and President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association Paul F. Toner. Approximately 360 watched the address, part of the Askwith Forum lecture series, by simulcast on the Graduate School of Education’s website.

Duncan said that wraparound programs, which target students’ general quality of life, are an important way to improve standards of education, especially in poverty stricken areas.

As CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Duncan opened health clinics with dental and vision services for students. He said that these resources were an example of a program that was effective in improving the quality of life of children and young adults within the Chicago school system.

Duncan said that one of his heroes is President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoffrey Canada, who was recently announced as the recipient of the Ed School’s Medal for Education Impact.

However, Duncan said that support services are not enough to bridge the achievement gap and that the quality of schools themselves must be improved.

“The education challenges facing our nation are both massive and urgent,” Duncan said. He cited the statistic that one out of four American students does not graduate high school in four years or does not graduate at all.

Duncan cited a recent study led by Harvard economics professor Nadarajan Chetty, which showed that the benefits of a high quality early education  included higher salaries as an adult.

Duncan also addressed the issue of teacher evaluations, a system which many see as broken.

“Teacher evaluation should never, ever be based on test scores,” Duncan said.

Speaking about the No Child Left Behind Act, Duncan said that he would like to make changes to the education strategies that it put forth.

“No Child Left Behind was very loose on goals,” Duncan said. Instead of following this model, Duncan said that he would rather set up a system that holds schools to high standards, but gives states greater ability to attain those goals in the ways they see fit.

A small group of demonstrators outside of Longfellow Hall voiced their support for reassessment of the No Child Left Behind Act before the event.

However, some attendees said they felt that Duncan did not take many risks in his speech.

“He pretty much said what I expected,” Ed School student Kathryn E. Nestler said.