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Secretary Duncan Says Education Is Hurt by Politics
posted by: Alix | July 26, 2011, 03:35 PM   

With our nation's schools slated to begin in the weeks to come, education has been a hot topic among policymakers at that state and local level. This week, at an ongoing education summit hosted by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered some harsh remarks about not only the state of the Iowa school systems, but the overarching problems he believes our entire country's schools are facing.

Secretary Duncan said Iowa's schools are "slouching toward mediocrity." Once a leader in education, Duncan indicated the slide toward the middle in state rankings comes from a combination of "complacency, low standards, clinging to the status quo – and politics."

"I keep saying, frankly, I think politics has hurt education," Duncan asserted as he spoke to over 1,600 teachers and education policymakers. The Secretary indicated that education should not be a partisan issue, rather a non-ideological push to do the right thing for children.

His remarks about the politicization of education were received with thunderous applause, second only to his comments on providing universal preschool opportunities to Iowa's youngest children, an issue that experienced heated debate in their state legislature this year.

Secretary Duncan spoke of his Department's reform agenda, stepping away from a fight with unions, but indicating that they must be part of the solution. Duncan did, however, reiterate that clinging to the status quo is part of the overarching problem with schools across the country.

Among his reform goals, Secretary Duncan stressed that the teaching profession must be elevated, including making it possible for excellent teachers to make $115,000 by age 30 based upon performance pay measures. In his remarks, Duncan was hopeful that education reform could be accomplished in Washington, D.C. in the coming months, with real change to No Child Left Behind being the ultimate goal.

Although his speech was heavy on rhetoric and policy initiatives, Duncan did not comment on the financial burdens many states and localities are facing in starting a new school year. While Iowa is facing financial struggles of their own, there are districts across the country, including Memphis Tennessee Public Schools, who worry that budget constraints will delay their August opening. Clearly, finances need to be addressed in schools trying to keep their doors open.

Secretary Duncan's participation in Iowa's week-long education summit will set the tone for public education heading into next school year nationwide. While sobering budget realities and elements of policy initiates are debatable, the recognition that partisan politics should not be part of our overarching education discourse is encouraging at back-to-school time.

Hopefully in the school year ahead, education can emerge as a bipartisan issue with leaders from all backgrounds coming together for commonsense reforms and financial sanity.

What are your thoughts on Secretary Duncan's remarks? Should politics be left out of the education discussion?
Comment below.

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