Secretary Duncan, Yes Your Power Does Have Limits

arne-duncanInteresting piece in Politico this morning entitled, “Arne Duncan schooled in limits of power.”  In a nutshell – his policies don’t seem to be working and his political capital is spent.

Here’s an excerpt:

But the agenda he began to advance in 2009 has now hit serious roadblocks, highlighting the limits of federal power over education. States are balking at reforms they pledged to implement in exchange for grants and waivers from federal law. An unprecedented $5 billion intervention in the nation’s worst schools has yielded incremental results, at best. A noisy opposition to Duncan’s reforms has emerged — and it only grew noisier this month when Duncan dissed “white suburban moms” for opposing the new Common Core academic standards because the tough tests made their kids look bad.

To top it off, there’s no clear evidence that Duncan’s prescriptions are boosting student achievement, though his backers say it’s still too early to tell.

Duncan still has plenty of ambition; he’s taking up several bold — and controversial — initiatives aimed at transforming higher education. Yet as his signature K-12 programs hit speed bumps, his legacy as a reformer is very much up in the air. Among the ways his reach has been limited:

— Duncan shrewdly dangled incentives to convince all but four states to adopt common academic standards meant to raise the bar for students. But he has no power to force states to adopt associated tests that the federal government has spent $350 million to develop. At least seven have dropped out and others are on the fence; analysts fear that without the tests as a common yardstick, states will be free to quietly lower the bar that Duncan has tried hard to raise.

First we reject the premise that states that reject the Common Core assessments will lower the bar.  The key sentence here – “there’s no clear evidence that Duncan’s prescriptions are boosting student achievement.”

His backers say “give it time.”  That tells me they knew going into this that the Common Core, among other reforms, were an experiment – as we’ve been saying all along.