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Education groups, leaders weigh in on Duncan’s speech

Education Secretary Arne Duncan answers questions after speaking about the administration's priorities for education on Jan. 12 at Seaton Elementary in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

A range of interest groups and players are weighing in on U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's speech Monday regarding the Obama administration's priorities as Congress rewrites the main federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.

Here are some reactions from people with a stake in education policy:

Bruce Reed, president of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which supports charter schools, online learning and runs a program designed to develop school leaders:

“Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to put our nation on the path to educate all American children, not just the fortunate few. This morning, Secretary Arne Duncan reaffirmed the Department of Education’s commitment to that vision of equal educational opportunity. We applaud Secretary Duncan’s call for an updated law that holds all students to high expectations, provides teachers the resources and supports they need, and ensures all families have the high-quality public schools they deserve. This is no time to turn back. We will only achieve equal opportunity for all if we set high expectations for all.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in most large urban districts:

“On testing, we are glad the secretary has acknowledged that ‘there are too many tests that take up too much time’ and that ‘we need to take action to support a better balance.’ However, current federal educational policy—No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and waivers—has enshrined a focus on testing, not learning, especially high-stakes testing and the consequences and sanctions that flow from it. That’s wrong, and that’s why there is a clarion call for change. The waiver strategy and Race to the Top exacerbated the test-fixation that was put in place with NCLB, allowing sanctions and consequences to eclipse all else. From his words today, it seems the secretary may want to justify and enshrine that status quo and that’s worrisome.”

Jonah Edelman, chief executive officer of Stand for Children, an advocacy group that pushes to end teacher tenure and expand charter schools, among other things:

“Education Secretary Arne Duncan strikes the right balance between more resources, reform, flexibility and accountability. As a country, we must remain deeply committed to the promise of equity in public education as a civil rights issue, a moral issue and an economic issue. We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to update the law so that it provides all children with the education they need to succeed.”

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, the country's largest teacher union:

“We must reduce the emphasis on standardized tests that have corrupted the quality of the education received by children, especially those in high poverty areas. Parents and educators know that the one size fits all annual federal testing structure has not worked. We support grade span testing to free up time and resources for students, diminish “teaching to the test,” expand extracurricular activities, and allow educators to focus on what is most important: instilling a love of learning in their students. We must give states and districts the flexibility to use assessments they feel are best for identifying achievement gaps, rather than forcing them to live with a one size fits all approach that often ignores high needs children.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), a former public school teacher who represents Riverside and its surrounding communities:

“Study after study has shown that students learn the most when they are taught in a multitude of ways, and standardized testing takes away from those important learning methods and encourages educators to only teach to the test.

“While I do believe that the federal government has an important role in education and should continue collecting data on student performance, the current method of testing must be changed. We must also support teachers, invest in quality, traditional public schools, and close the achievement gap. Doing so would create an education system that is flexible, effective and more reflective of our national goals.”

Kris Perry, executive director of First Five Years Fund, which advocates for publicly funded preschool:

“...a wealth of cognitive and development research has proven over and over again that quality early childhood education has a profound impact on a child’s ability to walk into a classroom ready to learn and succeed. Brain scientists, educators, economists, and public health experts agree that the foundation for success begins at birth and is built through age 5. It’s time for the federal government’s most critical K-12 policy to adequately recognize that education starts well before a child steps foot in a kindergarten classroom.”

Elisa Villanueva Beard, co-chief executive of Teach for America:

“As an organization that prepares thousands of teachers each year to teach in high-need schools, and has helped prepare tens of thousands of teachers over the last two decades, we have seen first-hand the importance of a state annual testing requirement, as it provides us with one critical measure to help ensure that our students are learning and our teachers are providing high-quality instruction.”