Under Construction: Secretary Duncan Explains How the Education Department Is Promoting Reform

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty talk with students about their work in the auto shop at Weston Collegiate Institute.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty talk with students about their work in the auto shop at Weston Collegiate Institute.

Secretary Duncan travelled to Toronto yesterday to participate in a conference entitled “Building Blocks for Education: Whole System Reform.”

The event, which was sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Education, brought together experts from across the world to discuss how to use a small number of policies and strategies to improve schools across an education system.

In his remarks, Secretary Duncan had two messages: First, the Obama administration has an ambitious and unified theory of action that propels our agenda. And, second, while the administration has an ambitious vision, there are no silver bullet answers and we must continue to learn and refine our work supporting the work of states, districts, and teachers.

“Systemic change, in short, takes time,” the Secretary said. “Yet I am convinced that the U.S education system now has an unprecedented opportunity to get dramatically better—and that nothing is more important in the long-run to American prosperity than boosting the skills and attainment of the nation’s students.”

The Obama administration’s agenda is built around the four areas of reform that are the center of Race to the Top and other programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: college- and career-ready standards and assessments; improving the preparation, professional development, and evaluation of teachers and school leaders; building longitudinal data system that measure student growth over time and support instructional practice; and turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

Speakers representing several leading nations on education presented at the Toronto conference.

With funding from Race to the Top, 11 states and the District of Columbia are leading the way in reforms that are based on these building blocks. A total of 46 states created bold, comprehensive reform plans under the Race to the Top competition.

But Duncan acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t have all of the answers to help states.

He promised that the Department will revamp its technical assistance for states.

“We can never abandon our fiscal and compliance responsibilities,” the Secretary said. “But we are committed to establishing a different relationship with states—one more focused on providing tailored support to improve program outcomes.”

This was Duncan’s first official trip outside of the United States as Secretary. Before the conference, which also included speakers representing Australia, Finland and Singapore, he toured a Toronto high school that specializes in teaching students computer and manufacturing skills.

See the text of Secretary Duncan’s remarks.