The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Starr to Duncan: ‘I resent implication that we lifelong public educators are liars’

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post on Friday that talked about school reforms and praised both Tennessee and D.C. Public Schools for increased test scores. He wrote:

We don’t know all the reasons why students did better in Tennessee and the District in 2013 than in 2011. But it is clear that they shared a similar approach to bettering education — taking common-sense, but politically hard, steps to help students. Both are places where vulnerable students predominate; 73 percent of District students and 55 percent of Tennessee students are sufficiently needy to qualify for reduced-price meals.
There are important lessons here. What these two places also had in common was a succession of leaders who told educators, parents and the public the truth about educational underperformance and who worked closely with educators to bring about real changes. They pushed hard to raise expectations for students, even though a lower bar would have made everyone look better. And they remained committed to doing the right thing for children, even when it meant crossing partisan lines or challenging ideological orthodoxy.
To meet those higher standards, these leaders invested in strengthening the quality of classroom instruction and revamping systems for teacher support and evaluation. They ensured that teachers could use good data from multiple sources to identify learning gaps and improve instruction. They also sought ongoing feedback from educators and others.
These concepts — developing and supporting the people who do the most important work, using data to inform improvement — are what strong organizations do.
Yet these common-sense steps took uncommon courage.

Duncan has made similar comments before, repeatedly saying that “we must tell the truth” to parents and students about their achievement, suggesting that they have been lied to for some time. He said it here in 2009, for example, and here in 2010, here in 2011, here in 2012 and here in 2013.

This time, he got a response, in the form of a tweet on Friday from a school superintendent. The superintendent is Joshua Starr of Montgomery County, Md., who has been a critic of some of the standardized test-driven school reforms that Duncan has implemented as President Obama’s education secretary. This Washington Post story reported that Duncan recently advised New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio against selecting Starr as the city’s new schools chancellor. (Starr was offered the deputy chancellor’s job and turned it down.)

Here’s what Starr tweeted on Friday in response to Duncan’s op-ed: