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Arne Duncan: It's Time For A Change

By David Rapp | September/October 2009

Speaking before an audience of district administrators in late August, Education Secretary Arne Duncan laid out his ideas about the need for innovation in education reform and the role of the federal government in that process:
“President Obama wants the United States to regain [its position] as the nation with the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. But the hard truth is that we cannot create a seamless cradle-to-career pipeline of college-ready students by continuing to do what we are doing now if we only do it just a little bit better.

“To meet the president’s goals, we need transformational change. The islands of excellence that now exist in school districts have to become the norm. The promising solutions that you have all created need to be brought to scale. And our existing market-based and political barriers to far-reaching reform have to recede.

“In a word, America’s schools need innovation. Educational innovation should not be confused with just generating more great ideas or unique inventions. Instead, we need new solutions that improve outcomes—and that can, and will, be used to serve hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students.

“Smart innovation and entrepreneurship are not the only way to dramatically accelerate achievement and attainment, but without them, we will surely fall short of our goals—and do a disservice to our children. As the president said in his inaugural address, ‘The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.’

“For much of the last century we have not cultivated a culture of innovation—or built the district-level systems needed to sustain a cycle of continuous improvement. Now we are on the cusp of a new era of innovation and entrepreneurship in education that was almost unimaginable a decade ago.

“But we still have a long way to go. And the responsibility for speeding that transformation lies not just in districts but at the doors of the U.S. Department of Education.

“I want the department to become an engine of innovation, not a compliance machine. I want the department to provide powerful incentives to states, districts, and nonprofits to innovate—but at the same time leave most of the creative thinking and entrepreneurship for achieving our common goals in local hands. The best ideas will always come from local educators, not from here in Washington.”

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