Blog‎ > ‎

Arne Duncan: mixed legacy is right

posted Oct 6, 2015, 10:59 AM by Brian Baldwin   [ updated Oct 8, 2015, 7:04 AM ]
Word is finally out that Arne Duncan is leaving his post as Secretary of Education in a couple of months. This was a long time coming.  In general, many cabinet secretaries do not serve the entire duration of the president they are appointed under.  There are of course, many reasons for this.  The first of which is that staying in one job where you're "the boss, but not really the boss" is difficult for any length of time, let alone 4 years or 8 years. But also, there has been a tradition that many secretaries resign prior to the end of a presidential term has benefits for their second-in-command.  It usually means that the new person can put a fairly large-titled job position on their resume that they can use in their post-government years in a think-tank or consulting firm.  Duncan's successor John B King will do just that.

But, back to Duncan's legacy.  His two major policies and products of his term have been the introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Race to the Top (R2T) funding program. And both are related.

The R2T was an initiative that was borne of the TARP Act, following the economic disaster of 2008.  Money from TARP (over $4 Billion) was allocated to this program, which essentially was funneled directly to state departments of education provided that states would agree to meet certain criteria.  State proposals were submitted by nearly all states in a competition-like format, which were in turn scored against a rubric of benchmarks.  One of the benchmarks was the agreement by the states that would implement the CCSS to set high benchmarks and expectations in math and science for their students.

The CCSS have long been fraught with resentment, namely from parents, who both 1) don't understand the new methods of learning math, and 2) don't understand what was wrong with the old methods.  Combined with the new standards, there are high-stakes tests for the students that have been contemporarily linked to evaluative measures for teachers of these students.

My sense is that Duncan's legacy will be these two policies.  I'm not sure that the jury is still out.  They walked back into the courtroom long ago.