Inside the Mind of Arne Duncan

The popular parlor game these days is trying to figure our the inner psyche of our EdSec, Arne Duncan.  Anyone who is anyone is trying to read nuanced meanings into everything he says or does.  We scour over this internal emails to ED staff, his stump speeches, the groups he speaks to (and those he doesn’t), where is going on his listening tour (and who he will listen to), and just about every stop in between.

Today, though, we are provided with two interesting insights into what makes the good ole EdSec tick.  The first are his words themselves.  For those who missed it, Duncan spoke at the National Press Club today, riffing on a whole host of issues.  The “buzz” coming out of the event is that the EdSec is pro-charter schools, seeking to lift the caps on the number of such schools.  At least that is what has been filling up Eduflack’s Tweet deck this afternoon.   The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools is also making the full clip of the “pro-charter” remarks available here.  
The leading ladies over at Politics K-12 have a more detailed description of the high points of Duncan’s NPC remarks here.
Perhaps more interesting is Eddy Ramirez’ piece over at US News & World Report today, which takes a closer look at what Duncan did as head of Chicago Public Schools to help turn around the city’s true problem-child buildings.  We’re talking closures, firing entire staffs, and bringing in third-party organizations to run the schools.  In the piece, Ramirez reflects on Duncan’s recent remarks to turn around the 1,000 lowest-performing schools in the United States — just 1 percent of our total schools — we can “move the needle” and “change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children.”
The CPS experience is interesting, particularly when one factors in the large contingent of Gates Foundation and NewSchool Venture Fund alums currently running around the seventh floor of 400 Maryland Avenue.  But like most good pieces, the USNWR piece, along with Politics K-12 provides most parties their own view on the future.  Some see the future of charter schools.  Some see school management companies.  Some are even going to see the opportunity for the teachers unions to re-inject themselves into the process and demonstrate their relevance in school improvement efforts. 
Insight is in the eye of the reader.  But no matter how you look at it, it is safe to say that Duncan is not looking to defend the status quo.  Big changes are a comin’.  If not through economic stimulus, then through the policies and programs that are soon to follow.  Duncan’s built a great deal of capital these past four-plus months defending the economic stimulus package and serving as an Administration all-around go-to guy.  Those chits are going to come due soon.  And the EdSec is laying the groundwork for some new ideas and for some legitimate rockin’ of the ed policy boat.
     

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