Monday, March 14, 2011

State leaders and U.S. Education Secretary discuss governance issues

In a roundtable discussion on education governance Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commended the state’s governmental leaders for putting tough governance issues on the table and dealing with them openly and honestly on behalf of children.
“Governance isn’t going to solve all the problems, but it’s a starting point,” the Secretary said, speaking through a remote link from the nation’s capital. Listening and asking questions from Olympia was a panel that included Gov. Chris Gregoire, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, and several legislators who are involved in education issues.
Duncan acknowledged he did not know all the details of Washington’s governance issues, and he did not offer a blueprint for how he thought a state should structure its education governance system. However, he clearly was familiar with one point raised by Gov. Chris Gregoire in support of her argument for a single Department of Education—to provide state-level governance from early learning through higher education.
As an outsider looking in, Duncan said, he thought Washington has too many agencies dealing with education issues. “To have eight different agencies involved in education, I couldn’t think of a management guru who would draw up a structure like that from the ground up,” the Secretary said.
Superintendent Dorn, who has frequently been at odds with the Governor over her education department proposal, said that for him, the biggest education issue facing the state today are budget cuts. “We’re looking at cutting days, cutting budgets and cutting kids’ educational opportunity,” Dorn said.
Another panelist, Rep. Marcie Maxwell of Renton, said, “I would like to know how an overhaul of education governance will help with the daunting task of preserving funding for our schools.”
Duncan said the level of federal help provided to states through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is not likely to happen again, but he said President Obama has proposed adding $2 billion for education in his proposed FY 2012 budget.  Although obtaining funding at the proposed level will be difficult given the current budget challenges, “We have zero intention of reducing funding,” Duncan said.
Other remarks from the education Secretary:
·     If each state were an independent country and were compared with other nations, the state with the highest performing educational system, Massachusetts, would rank 17th. 
·         A U.S. education system that calls for up to six hours of primary and secondary schooling per day in a 180-day school year is based on a 19th Century agrarian economy and isn’t competitive with educational systems in other nations.
·         Schools in some parts of the country are taking advantage of the communication tools popular with young people today, such as using cell phones to make assignments and extend learning time for students.

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