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Arne Duncan Focuses on the Lowest Performing Schools

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At a Brookings Institution event today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan put aside a lot of the rhetoric he's been pushing lately on the "Race to the Top" to focus on those languishing at the bottom.

He seems to want to direct our attention to a less-talked-about pot of money—the $3 billion in Title I funding that's set aside as school improvement grants for the lowest performing schools. Coupled with $1.5 billion in the fiscal 2010 federal budget, that means low-performing schools have available to them almost as much as is in the $5 billion Race to the Top fund, he told the packed crowed.

Duncan wants to target the lowest 1 percent of schools—those schools where student achievement hasn't improved in years—to be eligible for new staff and leadership. In fact, he seems intent on seeing 5,000 of the nation's worst schools closed and reopened within five years.

That may be an ambitious goal. After all, the new Coalition for Student Achievement (made up of leaders from the Broad and Gates foundations, along with other education advocates) declared that a measure of success would be whether 500 schools are closed by 2012.

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"But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There's so much talk about the system. And so little understanding."

-- Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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