Top Ten Scariest People in Education Reform: #8 – Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education   22 comments

Arne Duncan:   U.S. Secretary of Education

Countdown #8

This is the third in a countdown series of introductions, a list of the top ten scariest people leading education reform in America.  For number 9 and 10 click here.

Before I begin,  let’s remember a few pesky laws that make it illegal for Arne Duncan’s Department of Education (as part of the Executive Branch) to tell any state what to do about any aspect of education.  States, not the federal government, hold authority  over education.  Period.

Under  1)  the General Educational Provisions Act (GEPA law) and 2) the U.S. Constitution, the Department of Education has zero authority.  You already know the Constitution gives states authority over education in the tenth amendment.  But did you know that federal GEPA  law  states this?

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system”)   Translation:  the Department of Education has no authority and nobody really knows why it exists at all.

This is, in some circles, common knowledge.

So topping the list of reasons that U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan is on the “Top Ten Scariest People in Education Reform” list is this: he’s doing the wrong thing –and he knows it.


“…We have tried to flip the traditional tight-loose relationship between the federal government and the states, where the federal government had been loose


“…We have pursued a cradle-to-career agenda, from early childhood programs through postsecondary graduation… [the] final core element in our strategy is promoting a career-to-cradle agenda.”

Part of that agenda involves the creation of a school-centered rather than a family-centered nation.  Duncan aims to make the schools the community center, to include health care clinics and after school programs and to extend school to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week.  He insists that America needs to extend learning time and says, “we have to learn to think very, very differently about time. I think our school day is too short.  I think our school week is too short.  I think our school year is too short.”

  • In a  June 2009 speech Duncan showed his aim to centralize power over education through tracking and data collection:

“[No Child Left Behind] let every state set its own bar and we now have 50 states, 50 different states all measuring success differently, and that’s starting to change. We want to flip that.”

“Hopefully, some day, we can track children from preschool to high school and from high school to college and college to career. We must track high growth children in classrooms to their great teachers and great teachers to their schools of education.”

Robust data gives us the roadmap to reform.” (Who exactly is the “us” in a country that constitutionally gives zero authority to the executive branch over education?)

  • In  2010 speech to Unesco Duncan showed how he  consciously –though illegally– grows the federal intrusion into states’ running of education:

Our goal for the coming year will be to work closely with global partners, including UNESCO”   —Wait a minute.  What business does UNESCO have in my state’s right to educate?   It’s  almost unbelievable that Duncan dares say this stuff out loud.  But it does get worse.

“Traditionally, the federal government in the U.S. has had a limited role in education policy.  The Obama administration has sought to fundamentally shift the federal role, so that the Department is doing much more…” 

Reread that quote. Then check G.E.P.A. law, above.  Really, Mr. Duncan?

Duncan has also admitted that the Common Core Standards were not state-led: “President Obama called on the nation’s governors and state school chiefs to develop standards and assessments,” he said, adding,America is now in the midst of a “quiet revolution” in school reform… To cite just one example, the department’s Race to the Top Program…” 

Quiet revolution is right.  Virtually no one knows what Common Core really is.

In the most ironic line, Duncan called Common Core assessments the tests teachers have longed for. Seriously, Mr. Duncan. “Teachers will have the assessments they have longed for“?  The truth is, teachers are lining up to sign a Dump Duncan  petition because –the petition states– Duncan coerces states into using high-stakes tests and student test scores in the evaluation of teachers, as well as using test scores as a basis for closing schools; Duncan excludes and demoralizes teachers and discourages creative pedagogy, instead pushing assessments and “teaching to the test.”

  • Most tellingly, we read Duncan’s Cooperative Agreement with the Common Core testing groups and we see even more micromanagement and data collection to come:

The Cooperative Agreement mandates that “the recipient [all the states under Common Core testing] will   …provide updated, detailed work plans and budgets for all major activities…  use and validation of artificial intelligence for scoring…. actively participate in any meetings and telephone conferences with ED staff…  collaboration with the other RTTA recipient… be responsive to requests from ED for information… Comply with, and where applicable coordinate with the ED staff … working with the Department to develop a strategy to make student-level data that results from the assessment system available on an ongoing basis… foster synchronized development of assessment systems”


Secretary Duncan altered longstanding federal privacy law (FERPA) and loosened its parental consent rules and redefined its key terms.  These alterations got his Department of Education sued by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, but for some reason, that doesn’t seem to be newsworthy.  According to Khalia Barnes, the lead lawyer on the E.P.I.C. case, they’ve had virtually no press on the law suit.

She also told me that few people realize that it’s not just children who will be hurt by the alterations to privacy law.  Any one, of any age, whose records are archived at any university that ever received federal funding, can have their data seen without their knowledge or consent.

The Department of Education has lied.  It said that the FERPA alterations would improve student privacy, while the opposite  is true.   The regulations exceed the agency’s legal authority and expose students to huge privacy risks. The new rules permit educational institutions to release student records to non-governmental agencies without obtaining parents’ consent. The rules broaden the permissible purposes for which third parties can access students records. The rules also fail to safeguard students from the risk of re-identification.

Not newsworthy at all.


Next, let’s look at the terms that our U.S. Secretary of Education has had  redefined  to better suit his purposes:

1) COLLEGE AND CAREER READINESS.   Did you know that ”college and career readiness” can now officially mean only one thing?  It means having the same standards as other states.   Odd!   Check it out on the website.

2) AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE – Did you know that an “authorized representative”  has been redefined by the Dept. of Education (without Congressional approval) to expand privacy exemptions that had previously protected student privacy under FERPA law?  And reinterpretations ”remove affirmative legal duties for state and local educational facilities to protect private student data.”  Yes, the Dept. has been sued over this.    Yet, ”authorized representative” can now mean anyone who wants to see student data, even “a contractor, consultant, volunteer, or other party to whom an agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions…”  A volunteer can be “authorized” to see personally identifiable data without parental consent.

3) EDUCATION PROGRAM – Did you know that Sec. Duncan’s redefinition of “education program” now ”includes, but is not limited to” early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, postsecondary education, special education, job training, career and technical education, and adult education, “regardless of whether the program is administered by an educational authority.” That last part is almost funny.  But not.

4) DIRECTORY INFORMATION – Sec. Duncan made sure it would be allowable to “nonconsensually disclose a studentnumber or other unique personal identifier” and that directory information could include a name; address; telephone listing; electronic mail address; photograph; date and place of birth; major field of study; grade level; enrollment status,  dates of attendance; participation in activities and sports; weight and height; degrees, honors and awards received; and educational institution attended.

5) BIOMETRIC DATA –  in the Dept. of Education’s definition of “personally identifiable information,” biometric data means a record of one or more measurable biological or behavioral characteristics that can be used for automated recognition of an individual. Examples include fingerprints; retina and iris patterns; voiceprints; DNA sequence; facial characteristics; and handwriting.  That one wins the creepy award.


Of all the reasons Secretary Duncan is scary, the cherry on top is his role in the Obama wealth redistribution agenda.  With the help of Congressman Fattah (PA) and Congressman Honda (CA) Sec. Duncan was an architect  of the wealth redistribution program known as The Equity and Excellence Commission, which is sliding under the public radar disguised as education reform.

Congressman Fattah explained what he and Duncan and Honda created: “The Equity and Excellence Commission I worked with Congressman Honda to initiate and that has been established by Secretary Arne Duncan will begin to close the gap in resource distribution between rich and poor…”  The commission presents “a big and bold new vision on the federal role in education by recommending transformations in school funding structures.”

While Duncan more often employs the term “social justice” than the term “wealth redistribution,” the documents of his Equity and Excellence Commission reveal that they are one and the same.  And Duncan does push for both.  At a University of Virginia speech, Duncan said:  “Great teaching is about so much more than education; it is a daily fight for social justice.”  At an IES research conference, he said: “The fight for quality education is about so much more than education. It’s a fight for social justice.” 

FYI, social justice means governmentally-enforced financial equality; it means wealth and property redistribution.

We are not talking about philanthropy, compassionate, voluntary giving.  We are talking about force.

22 responses to “Top Ten Scariest People in Education Reform: #8 – Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education

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  8. common core is wrong
  9. Arne Duncan did say there was a revolution in education, but he does credit state officials for it: “I’ve said that America is now in the midst of a “quiet revolution” in school reform. And this is very much a revolution driven by leaders in statehouses, state school superintendents, local lawmakers, district leaders, union heads, school boards, parents, principals, and teachers.”

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