Ed Chief Gets Reprieve

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Although his is hardly a controversy-free federal agency, Obama Administration Education Secretary Arne Duncan got off fairly easily in a live interview with Judy Woodruff of PBS.

The Administration has granted waivers to states which voted for the president from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. In other words, they can collect money from the NCLB kitty without doing anything for it, like displaying higher graduation rates or standardized test scores.

Nonetheless, Woodruff steered clear of the questionable waivers in an Atlantic magazine forum on Jobs & Economy of the Future on March 27, 2012. Instead, she asked him, “Has the challenge facing you gotten easier?” “We have 2 million high-skilled jobs we can’t fill,” Duncan claimed. That even skilled workers are joining the ranks of the unemployed did not seem to occur to Woodruff. Perhaps she doesn’t know any.

She also asked him “Don’t teachers need rewards other than salary?” “Absolutely,” he replied.

As well, she hit him with some hardballs such as:

  • “What role do you thing that technology should play?” Answer: “We need great technology and great teachers. We’re spending one billion dollars a year on textbooks. We should move to digital.”
  • “What needs to be done at the federal and state level to make higher education more accessible?” Answer: “Shared responsibility.”
  • “Does the administration have a good relationship with higher education officials?” Answer: “Oh, fantastic.”

Despite this barrage, Duncan did make some surprising admissions, none of which elicited follow-up questions from Woodruff. For instance, he complained that “We spend $40 to $50 million on prisons. Nobody questions that but early childhood education gets debated.”

There was a tough question from the audience, followed by a stunning response from Duncan. “What are we doing to punish bad teachers?” a young man asked.

“We have to move them out,” Duncan said. “The unions have been courageous about this.”

“They say, ‘we have to move them out.’” If they are working feverishly to accomplish this goal, they are doing a great job of keeping it a big secret.

Nevertheless, Duncan trusts them. For example, he stated that, “We wouldn’t give a grant to a state unless a union was participating.”

Woodruff claimed to Duncan that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum had to “walk back” his comment that the president was “a snob” for setting a goal of universal college attendance to the exclusion of other careers. If anyone has any evidence of the former Pennsylvania senator walking backward on this broadside, please send it to us. Woodruff supplied none.

Still and all, before she brought up the senator’s name at the Newseum conference, it was Duncan who appeared to be taking a short stroll from his boss’s stated goal of college for everyone. “We are making sure that every high school graduate is college- and career-ready,” Duncan said.

With stints at CNN and NBC on her resume’, Woodruff certainly qualifies as a veteran journalist. Yet and still, her session with Arne Duncan was, to put it mildly, not all that incisive.

You can contrast it with writer Amanda Ripley’s expert handling of the education czar.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.