U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan just spent three days on a bus, trekking through Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, cheering on teachers and administrators even as they push back on federal involvement in K-12 education.
“Folks are working really, really hard, and I could care less on the politics and ideology,” Duncan said on his bus ride from Nashville to Memphis. “I just want kids to be successful and have a real chance in life. And I think that’s what we’re all working together to see happen.”
Both Republicans and Democrats have soured on Duncan to some degree since Tennessee became the biggest winner of federal Race to the Top money, receiving more than $500 million.
Between Common Core, the related standardized test and new teacher evaluations, criticism comes from all sides. Senator Lamar Alexander – a former education secretary himself – likes to say Duncan’s department is becoming a “national school board.”
Asked if his bus tour could do more harm than good for those initiatives, Duncan laughed off the question. He also sidestepped questions about several controversial topics in Tennessee.
On charters vs. traditional schools:
“If we are serious about taking care of students and children, if we are serious about giving them every chance to meet their academic and social potential, we steer clear of those false debates, those false choices.”
On backing away from Common Core related testing:
“What I actually worry about is in some places students are being over-tested, redundant tests, and that doesn’t make sense.”
On performance of Tennessee’s new Achievement School District:
“Turning around under performing schools is some extraordinarily hard work, difficult, can be – frankly – controversial – but I think it’s some of the most important work going on in education today.”