Duncan Does the Math On Education Budget

Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan on how he will monitor the use of the $100 billion in stimulus money to push for education reform and jobs. He says he will use "carrots and sticks" to make sure state's use these funds in a timely and effective way. Video by Gaby Bruna & Fan Bu/washingtonpost.com
By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

He may have tanked his tryout for the Boston Celtics, but as President Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan has hit

the jackpot: an unprecedented $100 billion at his disposal to try to turn around the nation's public schools. The 44-year-old career education administrator is juggling a lot of balls as he begins to parcel out stimulus money to the states, tackles the much-maligned No Child Left Behind reauthorization legislation, and figures out how to get rid of bad teachers -- and pay the good ones more. The 6-foot-4-inch Duncan met Obama in Chicago, where the two were pickup basketball buddies, and where Duncan headed the 600-school district. He says his family has made a quicker transition to his exalted role in Washington than he expected, and yes, his own children attend public school, in Arlington. But he won't say where he and the president play ball these days.

See video of the Arne Duncan interview, the transcript and the entire Voices of Power series here.

Romano: Did President Obama give you some specifics that he wanted you to tackle?

Duncan: He wanted the opportunity to drive up college graduation rates.

Romano: The education budget has been doubled, to $100 billion. Where do you start?

Duncan: First and foremost . . . we want to save hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs. . . . Secondly, we want to drive a very strong reform agenda. . . . Simply investing in the status quo isn't going to get us where we need to go.

Romano: Aren't you a little bit powerless, because the states are going to decide how to spend the money?

Duncan: Well, we're going to work very, very closely with those states, and we will give out over the next couple weeks billions of dollars. But we're going to keep billions of dollars here to really watch and monitor how states do in terms of implementing these reforms.

Romano: You are prepared to go around South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford [who has refused stimulus money] to get $700 million into the hands of those school districts?

Duncan: In a state where so many children aren't getting the quality education today and where there's so much unmet need, to turn away money for whatever political reason there might be doesn't make sense.

Romano: How many months a year should children be going to school, in your view?

Duncan: I fundamentally think our children are at a competitive disadvantage. The children in India and China who they are competing [with] for jobs are going to school 25, 30 percent more than we are.

Romano: One of the hottest issues right now is teacher merit raises, and how to get rid of poor teachers.

Duncan: You want to reward those excellent teachers or principals who take on the toughest of assignments. . . . And on the flip side, if teachers aren't -- aren't getting the job done . . . they need to find another profession. In some school districts, they actually have peer review, peer evaluation, and I would tell you where teachers are doing peer review and peer evaluation, they are very, very tough.

Romano: No Child Left Behind. Teachers have soured on [the Bush administration law]. They say that they're teaching to the test, that they have no room for creativity.

Duncan: What didn't work was this idea of 50 states . . . setting their own standards. . . . What they did is they were very loose on the goals, on the benchmarks, but very, very tight in how you get there. I think we need to reverse that. We need to have a tight, clear bar that we are all shooting for . . . but provide much more flexibility and the ability to innovate and be looser in how folks get there.

Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/voices-of-power to watch the full video interview.

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