Education Secretary Duncan apologizes for Katrina comments

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; 12:35 PM

Education Secretary Arne Duncan apologized Tuesday for asserting that Hurricane Katrina was "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans," calling the remark "a dumb thing to say."

Duncan's apology on the MSNBC show "Morning Joe" came nearly four days after his Katrina comment began circulating in the blogosphere and two days after it aired on another cable television channel.

He had told TV One interviewer Roland Martin: "This is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that 'we have to do better.' "

The hurricane displaced thousands of students and teachers at the start of the 2005-06 school year and swamped many schools, causing widespread academic chaos. But in recent years, student achievement in the city has begun to improve.

Duncan said he was attempting to highlight that positive development. But he acknowledged Tuesday that the remark had backfired.

"I said it in a poor way, and I apologize for that," he told MSNBC. "It was a dumb thing to say. My point was a simple one -- that subsequent to that devastating, devastating tragedy, we've seen remarkable progress. And that school system has improved so rapidly it's been amazing to watch. And I just want to thank the teachers, the principals for their extraordinary commitment to the students there."

For full coverage, please go to

© 2010 The Washington Post Company