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UPDATED: Arne Duncan Really Does Listen


If you think Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his staff don't read the comments on their ed.gov blog, then think again.

As part of Duncan's Listening and Learning Tour, which will take him to at least 15 states in town-hall style meetings on education reform, the department has launched an online conversation asking for comments.

A comment about raising academic standards from a high school world history teacher in Princeton, Texas—Kyle Brenner—must have resonated with the education secretary.

Enough so that Mr. Duncan called Brenner today to talk about his post. So if you leave a comment, be prepared to talk about it.

UPDATE: I reached Brenner by email today, and he indicated that he and Duncan spoke for about eight minutes this morning. And here's how the conversation went, according to Brenner:

He asked me my thoughts on raising standards and I told him that the best way to raise standards was to pay teachers more but require them to get a graduate degree similar to the of a lawyer or doctor. He agreed that teacher pay was a big problem and told me that they were working on some programs to reward excellent teachers and lower the debt burden for teachers. He then I asked me if I believed that teacher pay affected young people from joining the profession. I told him that I believed it did. Finally, we talked about student incentives for raising standards. I believe that we should find a way to reward students who excel by offering reduced or free college that way all students know that if they work hard they can go...he responded that they are still studying the situation and looking for a way to give student incentives.

This is very good news, and thanks to you, Michele, and to Mr. Brenner and Sec. Duncan for it.

This is exactly the kind of grassroots interaction on serious policy issues I think many people were hoping for. Let's hope there's a lot more of it going on -- now and in the future.

I had a different take on it.

Mr. Duncan's 8 minute chat with a poster on his blog is a good thing as far as it goes, but the media circus he generated gives me pause.

Had he wanted to comment, a quick note on the blog by Arne or one of his staffers would have served.

I suppose this provides anecdotal evidence that Arne listens.

I wonder if this is the handiwork of one of his flaks--Vander Ark/Ratcliff maybe? They like to drop notes into blogs, like this one over at The Perimeter Primate.

A few of us can still think for ourselves.

A charter school in Manhattan is experimenting with high teacher salaries to see if they attract teachers to low-performing schools and make a difference in academic achievement. The school opens this Fall. Salaries are said to go as high as $125K.

Read about it at:


Dear Dr. Duncan: All important advances in science and technology are made by brilliant individuals. It is necessary to cultivate our brilliant youngsters. No child left behind fails to do this. In fact NCLB is counterproductive in this matter. Teachers teach to the bottom of the class in order to raise their class averages on exams and they ignore the bright students, believing these students will get along on their own. For the U.S. to be leaders in science and technology, NCLB must be modified.

I suggest that for every class, the top 5 or 10 scores on an exam be averaged, and if the average score exceeds a predetermined level, the class score should be raised in order to give a significant boost to the teacher's evaluation.

Generous scholarships based on merit rather than economic need should be made available to students by competitive exams.

A crusade to make every student a college graduate will cause the colleges to reduce academic standards. It is foolish to attempt a college degree for all students because most students are not college material. The degrees for the slow students will be meaningless paper and so will be the degrees for the best students.

Because of political correctness, grade-school teachers insure that mentally-gifted minors are not taught more information than other students in their grade. This should be changed to insure that the mentally gifted do pull ahead.

Robert Seecof, PhD, MD

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