He's correct, of course, but his ideas about what to do have been researched and found wanting.
First of all, I have to be honest and admit that in my opinion, Arne Duncan doesn't deserve the office of Secretary of Education any more than Margaret Spelling did. Search out Duncan's biography and you'll find a couple of interesting things. (Read various versions of his bio here, here, here and here.)
First, the man is not an educator. He is a tutor, turned sociology student, turned professional basketball player, turned politician. As a young man, he tutored low income students for his mother's business. He never worked in a school as a teacher. He never had his own classroom with 25 or 30 third graders, or 150 9th graders during a seven period day. He never had to deal, as a classroom teacher, with other teachers, administrators, school board members, or parents.
He worked at his mother's tutoring business. He never went to a public school. He attended the University of Chicago lab school -- his father was a professor at the University of Chicago. He went to Harvard and majored in Sociology and Basketball. After a stint playing pro basketball in Australia he returned to Chicago and ran a tutoring business with his sister...eventually landed a job with the Chicago Public Schools...and found his way to the top as CEO.
He never attended a public school. He studied sociology, not education. He never set foot in a classroom as a teacher.
Duncan claims that Charter Schools are the answer, but Charter Schools, on the whole, don't perform any better than do public schools...on the whole.
The research found that 37 percent of charter schools posted math gains that were significantly below what students would have seen if they had enrolled in local traditional public schools. And 46 percent of charter schools posted math gains that were statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their traditional public-school companions. That means that only 17 percent of charter schools have growth in math scores that exceeds that of their traditional public-school equivalents by a significant amount.Part two of the Duncan/Obama plan is paying teachers on the basis of their students' test scores...i.e. Merit Pay.
In reading, charter students on average realized a growth that was less than their public-school counterparts but was not as statistically significant as differences in math achievement, researchers said.
As reported by the Economic Policy Institute, Adams, Heywood and Rothstein said,
...the use of merit pay systems based on quantitative measures is fraught with perverse consequences that often thwart the larger goal of improving the quality of services and outcomes...Merit pay schemes tend to pit people against each other, in direct contrast to the cooperation and collaborative atmosphere needed in a school setting. Making test scores the end all of education leads to corruption and "doctoring the books" as was clearly demonstrated during the administration of G.W. Bush. The "Texas Miracle" authored by Bush's first Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, turned out to be based on test cheating and pushing students out of school and onto the streets.
Indeed, "Rothstein’s work shows how even the best-intentioned attempts to create systems for measuring performance often subvert the goals and values of the firm or organization being measured."
Duncan's reliance on questionable methods for improving schools shows that he is, at best, unfamiliar with the research and at worst, purposely ignoring it. His lack of qualifications for and dangerous policies as the Secretary of Education calls into question the motives and judgment of President Obama who appointed him.
"I continue to believe that everyone who opines about education should first be required to spend several months in a public school classroom...Only that way can their writing have authenticity. It's called walking around in the other person's shoes." -- Walt GardnerOther sources:
Texas Merit-Pay Pilot Failed to Boost Student Scores, Study Says
Nine Myths about Public Schools
Top Ten Reasons Why Merit Pay for Teachers is a Terrible Idea
Merit Pay Could Ruin Teacher Teamwork
The Folly of Merit Pay