Arne Duncan in Atlanta: Perfect storm for reform

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan began his “Perfect Storm for Reform” speech to the National Black Child Development Institute Monday in Atlanta by recognizing his childhood tutor who was in the audience.

In Atlanta Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for a new focus on early childhood education. (US DOE)

In Atlanta Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for a new focus on early childhood education. (US DOE)

Nine years older than Duncan, Kerrie L. Holley was one of the South Chicago kids who attended the after-school math and reading program run by Duncan’s no-nonsense mother, Sue.

In attending the center from age 7 to college, Holley said he came to see Sue Duncan as a second mother. Her approach included having older kids at the center tutor younger ones.

Holley, a math whiz, said the bright, young Arne didn’t need tutoring.”That was a bit of an overstatement,” said Holley after the speech. “I was tutoring him in algebra when he was in the sixth grade.”

Both Holley and Duncan went onto big things from Sue Duncan’s program, which she began in 1961 and still operates today with her other son Owen.

Based in San Francisco with IBM, Holley was named an IBM Fellow in 2006, IBM’s highest technical leadership position.  And in 2004, Holley was named one of the 50 most important blacks in research science.

Many of his critics contend that the brainy Duncan only knows the world of the elite private schools that he attended, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and Harvard. But Holley pointed out that Duncan began coming to his mother’s center as a newborn and virtually grew up there, coming every day after school and learning and playing alongside South Chicago kids. Duncan saw firsthand the circumstances and challenges of the lives of children in poverty on a daily basis.

And Duncan told the audience of 2,000 that he believes those challenges can be overcome because he saw it happen many times in the children who attended his mother’s tutoring program. (There are some great testimonials on the center’s Website. Link is above.)

“Every child can learn and thrive despite poverty, despite problems at home, despite neighborhood violence,” Duncan said.

Tailoring his comments to the crowd of early childhood educators, Duncan said, “We need to get out of the catch-up business and it all starts with early childhood education.”

His announcement of new early childhood grants delighted his audience. He noted that while former Education Secretary Rod Paige had $17 million to disburse for education reform, he has $10 billion.

“But let me be clear, it is not enough to make the same investment in the same programs,” he said. The feds want innovation, quality and results, he said.

But how do you do that, asked an audience member, when dog catchers earn more than early childhood teachers?

“We need to pay more to keep that talent there,” Duncan agreed.

Duncan’s comments went from his early childhood agenda to college. (He wants colleges held more accountable for how many students finish.)

He reiterated his plan to overhaul the landmark No Child Left Behind Act, including not allowing states to set their own standards, which, he said, led to a dumbing down of standards in many states, including Illinois.

He wants comprehensive data systems that allow states not only to track student performance every step of the way, but track teacher effectiveness and relate it back to their colleges of education.

Duncan wants measures of student achievement beyond tests. He wants incentives to get the best teachers in the worst schools. He talked about the new law that gives loan repayment breaks to college graduates who enter public service, including teaching.

And he said that local systems have to lead the way. “The great ideas in education are never going to come from Washington.”

7 comments Add your comment

Ed Johnson

October 26th, 2009
5:19 pm

Herbert Kohl’s
“An Open Letter to Arne Duncan”


October 26th, 2009
7:08 pm

National Black Child Development Institute. Hmmm. I wonder if there is a National WHITE Child Development Institute.

Oh no. That would be racist….


October 26th, 2009
7:46 pm

He knows about the struggles of the underprivileged because he “saw” them? I’m not buying that.

He knows”‘every child can learn . . . despite poverty.” I’m not arguing with that, but he also witnessed this ‘learning and thriving’ at an after school program which probably means two things
1) the kids received tutoring/help in addition to school (not possible for a teacher to accomplish for 100+ students)
2) the kids were there voluntarily, which means they wanted to learn (not true of many students)

It also sounds like there was some individualized help going on (again not possible to reach many students individually on a daily or even weekly basis).

If we’re talking about funding programs such as these, then I’m tentatively for it; however, we cannot make this fall solely on the teachers’ shoulders, many of whom are already doing as much as they can.

Any thoughts out there on the concept of colleges being accountable for how many students graduate? When are people ever going to take responsibility for themselves?


October 26th, 2009
9:39 pm

One would think that most colleges would like to have quality graduates, but perhaps some just want to admit as many students as possible regardless of qualifications so that those students will continue to pay tuition for long periods of time?

It takes citizens forcing the power structure to make some real changes

October 27th, 2009
10:10 am

I agree with Lee! there is no need for a National Black Child Development Institute or a National White Child Development Institute.


We should be able to do that right? Why not, taxpayers bailed out wall street, gave welfare to auto makers, continue an unjust war at a cost of trillions and loss of life, billionaire hedge fund owners like Madoff and his buddies get away with billions.

Why can’t our current tax dollars better fund education and better fund health care. The US is dominated by greed at the highest levels. The government and others with economic and political influence use ISMS like race-ism, class-ism, sex-ism, orientation-ism, gender-ism, material-ism, age-ism, immigration-ism, mis-education-ism (OK I made that up), to divide the true power structure… THE PEOPLE.

Citizens need to organize grassroots groups and protest. That’s how change occurs… read the history of the USA. Power does not concede power unless force to do so by the very people be dominated.

N Ellis

October 27th, 2009
10:32 pm

Would you use a non medical person to reform a hospital? Then why does the secretary of education have no educational experience? I have visited hospitals but I would not have a clue as to its inner workings. Enough said.

Ed Johnson

October 28th, 2009
2:51 pm

Arne Duncan’s Chicago efficacy…

When Schools Close
Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools