Former U.S. Education Secretary: Harsh words about education but hope from Parkland kids

Arne Duncan used to head Chicago’s Public School System and then went on to Washington D.C. to become the U.S. Secretary of Education during President Barack Obama’s administration.

He’s now got a new book out (“How Schools Work”) and his frank assessment of the public education system and many of its players is harsh.

Basically, no one seems to care.

In an interview that aired Sunday on “Face the Nation” — published in a transcript — Duncan said:

“We say we value education, but we never vote on education, we never hold politicians accountable (at the) local, state, or national level for getting better results, higher graduation rates, more people graduating from college.

We say we value teachers, but we don’t pay teachers, we don’t support them. We don’t mentor them the way they need, to do their incredibly important, tough, complex work. And then maybe the toughest lie, for me…. is that we say we value kids and we’ve raised a generation of young people, teens who have been raised on mass shootings and gun violence. And that simply doesn’t happen in other nations, so I don’t look at what people say.

I look at their actions, I’d look at their policies, I’d look at their budgets, and our values don’t reflect that we care about education, we care about teachers or that we truly care about keeping our children safe and free and free of fear.”

Duncan recalled the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, describing the killings as the “worst day of President Obama’s presidency.”

“None of us ever anticipated 20 babies and five teachers and a principal being slaughtered. And the fact that we got nothing done, zero in terms of gun legislation after that, is heartbreaking. I’ve been very pessimistic on that issue,” Duncan said.

At the same time, Duncan said the students from Parkland, where 17 students and staff were killed at South Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, “have given me a real sense of hope.”

“And young people—whether it’s in Parkland, whether it’s back home in Chicago…young people I’m working with here in D.C.— as I said earlier, we’ve raised a generation of teens on mass shootings, on gun violence. We have failed as adults and parents to protect them. And they’re saying they’re not going to tolerate it.”


Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.


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