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 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.”