Breakfast with Arne

Education Secretary Arne Duncan breakfasted with ed bloggers the other day. Michele McNeil summarizes on Politics K-12.

RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation highlights Duncan’s thoughts on class size.

Class size has been a sacred cow. We have to [put it on the table]. I have two kids. Given the choice between giving them a great teacher working with 28 kids or a mediocre teacher with 23, I’ll take the 28. Why not give the great teacher with 28 kids, $20,000, $25,000 more and give the rest [of the savings] to the district? Parents haven’t been given the choice. We need to have that conversation. Why don’t we have that conversation?

Rick Hess takes credit for the idea that “selectively raising class size” is different from “simple-minded calls for bigger classes.” (Andrew Rotherham has jumped on the bandwagon.)

Duncan said, “I’m not for collaboration for collaboration’s sake. Collaboration around the status quo is a real problem. . . . This is not about kumbaya.”

Asked about the standoff in Wisconsin, Duncan said, “You had a union that had been historically more intransigent, but was moving. You don’t want to hit them with a hammer.”

Dana Goldstein has several posts on the meeting.

I was invited but couldn’t make it, so I’ve got a brief meeting scheduled with Duncan next Friday, when I’ll be in D.C.

Actually, we’re flying to Baltimore to visit my stepdaughter and her family, which now includes Lillian Nicole (“Lily”), born March 2. I mentioned a week ago that my stepdaughter had made it through surgery without giving birth at 30 weeks. She made it to 31 weeks. Lily was two pounds, five ounces at birth but otherwise healthy. By the standards of modern medicine — thank you, modern medicine — Lily is only “moderately premature” and expected to go home in a few months or less.

About Joanne


  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    Blessings to your little step-grandbaby, Joanne, and I hope her mom is doing well.

  2. The point that raising all class sizes is vastly different from raising ALL class sizes is important. I’ve not heard of a system of raising class sizes selectively.

    I think the numbers they use are interesting- 28 versus 23. Where I teach the question is often how to simply keep the class sizes under 35 (or more). Is that a separate issue?

  3. Many many congratulations to you, Joanne, and your family… on the birth of Lily. What a blessing. Enjoy!

    Interesting piece–and I read Dana Goldstein’s blog on the meeting with Arne Duncan. I wish I’d been at that meeting, since apparently there was no mention of reforming special education. It’s time to do just that. Special education is the only entitlement program in our schools, taking up up too many filing cabinets and approx. 25% of school budgets. Set up as an adversarial system more than 35 years ago, it’s time to revisit it.

    Joanne, when you speak with him in Washington, if the issue comes up, I’d love to hear! And I’ll appreciate your telling him of my work.

    Have a wonderful visit in DC!

  4. Andrew White says:

    Duncan’s naive speculations on class size are of a piece with the so-called reforms Michelle Rhee instituted in the District: she had a stellar principal who was doing such a great job that she was forced to run TWO schools instead of one. Doubling the responsibility tore apart both school communities and led to reduced quality of management, and education quality tanked.

    But of course if she can’t handle 2 schools it must mean she’s a lousy administrator, right?

    A great teacher relies on a predictable class size, because her students can change radically from year to year. If you take away her control over class size, (with or without the raise) sooner or later you’ll see reduced effectiveness in the classroom. Which, at that point, will be entirely her fault and _not_ yours. for expecting her to produce too much.

  5. As I teacher, I love it when I have small classes.

    Larger classes create more noise and they’re less attentive.

    But, if we are concerned with test results rather than my preferences, we need to look at good research.

    A couple of decades ago, research was conducted on class size which indicates results that all teachers would swear couldn’t possibly be true.

    Trust what the research says and not what teachers would tell you.

  6. Were there any actual teachers invited, or just a bunch of right wingers who agree with his policies?

  7. Mike, I don’t think philosophy of education has much to do with being on the left or right.

    I do think the Democratic Party is still beholden to the status-quo loving teachers’s unions, so when it comes to real education reform, I think you’ll find more common sense from Republicans.

    Politically, I’m far to the left of Obama, and even Daniel Ortega for that matter. But when it comes to education, many Democrats just spew the CTA line so I listen to the Republicans with more interest. Even when I disagree with them, I find them much more open minded.

    Duncan is kind of a rogue thinker. It was brave of Obama to appoint him. Or maybe he just didn’t know what he was doing.

    But Duncan is right wing? I don’t think so.