Summarizing complex education policy in 140 characters is no easy task. But U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave it a shot on Wednesday, hosting a Twitter town hall that covered issues ranging from fixing the controversial No Child Left Behind Act to the role collective bargaining can play in boosting student achievement.
Duncan answered questions submitted by users of the popular social media service in a 40-minute session that was moderated by veteran education journalist John Merrow and livestreamed by the U.S. Department of Education.
Several Twitter users submitted questions about Department of Education plans to issue waivers to states seeking relief from onerous NCLB’s requirements in exchange for meeting certain conditions. Merrow asked Duncan whether these conditions, which are expected to be released in September, will amount to more Washington interference in local schools.
“Washington can never run public education — we can be a good partner,” Duncan said. “Education has always been and always should be at the local level.”
Duncan said the goal of NCLB waivers would be to provide more flexibility and autonomy to states that have set high standards and are focusing on preparing students for college and careers. He added that waivers were a “Plan B,” and said he’d still prefer that Congress pass a comprehensive overhaul of NCLB.
Federal education policy should continue to focus on assessing student learning, Duncan said, but schools need to stop narrowing curriculum and spending inordinate time drilling for high-stakes testing.
“It should be a tiny percent of what we’re doing,” he said, adding that the narrowing of curriculum and cuts to art, music, physical education and recess under NCLB had disproportionately harmed disadvantaged students.
Merrow, along with many Twitter users, challenged Duncan on his support for charter schools, which Merrow noted have a “spotty record.” Merrow added that states and local districts did not seem to be heeding calls by Duncan to close down low-performing charter schools.
“If they are very low-performing, they need to either be closed or turned around,” Duncan said.