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Education secretary Arne Duncan: headmaster of US school reform

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"He's the most influential secretary that we've had since the Department [of Education] was created in 1980," says Charles Barone, federal policy director of Democrats for Education Reform in New York and a Democratic congressional staffer when the No Child Left Behind law was crafted during George W. Bush's presidency.

Indeed, says Chester Finn, who was an assistant secretary of Education under President Reagan and a K-12 expert at the conservative Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif., Duncan has rendered the Republicans "speechless" – and cooperative – because "there's nothing they want to argue with him about."

Ultimately, proponents from all across the political spectrum say, Duncan could help dramatically narrow achievement gaps and even bring the United States back to high standing internationally. Or, as critics such as the irked teachers' unions see it, he'll further devastate an already demoralized teaching profession and subject children to more of the high-stakes testing that's been sucking the soul out of American schools.

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