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Duncan to Principals: Shouldn't Have to Sacrifice Your Lives For Job

Baltimore

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan yesterday told hundreds of elementary and middle school principals who are gathered here for a conference that they shouldn't have to fear for their lives on the job.

Duncan drew hearty cheers and whistles on the opening day of annual conference of the National Association of Elementary School Principals when he said he does not support arming educators as a way to keep schools safe from the type of armed intruders who killed the principal, five staff members, and 20 1st graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December.

He expressed exasperation with Congress, which has failed to pass any gun-control legislation since the tragedy in Newtown.

"You shouldn't have to sacrifice your lives for your job," he said.

Frustration with Congress was a major theme in Duncan's brief remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed with NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly.

As he does regularly now, Duncan apologized for the strains on education budgets brought about by sequestration. And he said there's little that his agency can do to take the sting out of those cuts. Call Congress, he advised.

When asked by Connelly about the continuing pressures that principals feel when it comes to the high-stakes attached to standardized testing, Duncan said he believes that the flexibility waivers states have received from the Education Department are moving in the direction of multiple measures of school success for which principals have been clamoring. He said any reauthorization of ESEA in Congress should include the types of accountability metrics that states agreed to embrace in exchange for waivers.

He also said districts and schools should "stay the course" on the difficult transition to the more rigorous Common Core State Standards. Surprisingly, to me at least, was that there were no follow up questions about the new standards and the new tests being developed with federal grant money to measure students' progress.

Duncan used his short time with the audience of school leaders to remind them that the Education Department is starting a principal "ambassadors" program, akin to what it has done with teachers since 2008. The applications for the inaugural class of principal ambassadors are due July 16.

He also highlighted the $98 million in funding that the Obama administration has requested in its fiscal 2014 budget to triple the current amount of federal money invested in professional development for school leaders.

While Duncan was billed as the conference's "special guest" for its opening session, the massive hall emptied out by at least half after Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, finished a rousing keynote speech. It probably didn't help that Duncan started talking right around 12:45, prime time for lunch.

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