“It’s hard to educate a kid that’s dead.” — Arne Duncan
I point out this quote, from an interview that Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave to my Post colleague Emma Brown, not for any profound insight that it offers but as a suggestion of what he may be doing when he leaves his post on Dec. 31.
Duncan, who is returning to Chicago, has long been an advocate of stricter gun laws. Speaking with PBS’s Gwen Ifill in December 2012, just after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 children and adult staff members dead, his eyes teared as he recalled people he knew from his past who had died from gunshot wounds. He then joined more than 350 university presidents to collectively urged Congress to approve stronger gun-control measures — and said he believed that federal lawmakers won’t take such action unless Americans from outside Washington apply the pressure.
In his interview with Brown, Duncan made clear that he will work on gun control in some way after he officially vacates the post he has held for seven years. He told Brown:
Education’s always going to be my life’s passion, I’m going to keep finding ways to do education, but it’s hard to educate a kid that’s dead. It’s hard to educate a kid that’s living in constant fear. So will this be a piece of what I work on? Absolutely. It’s a national issue, and, obviously, it’s particularly acute back home in Chicago. I can’t go home and not try and help. I don’t have easy answers, but I’m sure going to try.
There is no doubt that Duncan was the most powerful education secretary in the department’s 36-year-old history, so given his ability to move the needle on issues he thinks are important, gun-control advocates can look forward to his involvement in this cause.
Another takeaway from the Brown interview: He is going out defending his controversial reform policies, refusing to concede, at least publicly, that they were misguided in any way, as his many critics say. When asked about his successful push to get states to link student standardized test scores with teacher evaluations — an assessment method that experts say is invalid — he replied:
It’s been really hard to get right, and I think people are struggling with it. But I think it’s a really important struggle. They’re in the game, they’re trying. They’re going to make adjustments. But again, was what was happening before — was it fair, was it reliable, was it valid? Did it identify excellence? None of those things. So struggle is good.
What was happening before? Well, there were many bad evaluation systems and some good ones. Today, we have at least as many bad evaluation systems.
By now, he should know that before his reforms, there were places that did a fine job with teacher evaluation — without giving any weight to standardized test scores. These places, such as Montgomery County, Md., offered models that could have been used without plowing millions of dollars into experiments that experts say were flawed from the start. And he should know by now that the idea that test scores can identify excellence in teaching is wrong. Struggle is good? It can be, but struggle without purpose seems worthless.
Read the entire interview and see what you think.