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Duncan Fields Tough Questions in Community Forum

Congress is moving slowly on renewing the No Child Left Behind Act (I think we can all agree the Senate has blown its Easter deadline). But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is still trying to get suggestions from the field, and grease the wheels for renewal, by holding community forums with lawmakers back in their home districts.

Today, for instance, he was at John F. Kennedy High School in Montgomery County, Md., along with Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry Weast, whose district was nominated for the Broad Prize in Urban Education in 2010. Also on hand: Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who represents the district in Congress.

The questions from the community were pretty tough.

*A parent noted that Maryland had won a federal grant in the Race to the Top competition and would use part of the money for tests in line with a nationwide push for common academic standards. She asked what would happen when Maryland's grant runs out. Who pays for the tests then? Duncan didn't answer her question directly. But he did point out that, thanks to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, states can now work together in developing tests and creating materials, which should save everyone some cash.

*A PTA member wanted to know how Duncan intends to use the new law to encourage parents' involvement. He told her that the department wants to see more communities make use of school buildings around the clock, using the facilities for activities that could help improve parent involvement, such as community events and family literacy courses.

*A former union advocate wanted to know if Duncan would like to continue the use of Praxis and other subject-knowledge tests to determine whether a teacher meets federal standards. He said he'd like to move closer to a system that considers teacher effectiveness, not just qualifications.

*In a really wonky question, one audience member wanted to know if Duncan would support moving education funding to the mandatory side of the federal budget ledger. Becoming mandatory is just about the best thing that can happen to a program. It means the money is there automatically, not subject to the whims of lawmakers and open to cuts. Duncan told her in a nice way that is unlikely.

Duncan has done literally dozens of forums across the country, including one in the Minnesota district of GOP Rep. John Kline, the chairman of the House education panel.

So why did Politics K-12 pick this one to cover, you may ask? Well ... Kennedy High School is close to our office.

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