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Policy Expert's Response to SOS: Duncan Is Doing His Job

The SOS March in Washington is over, but Kevin Carey, the policy director at the Washington-based think tank Education Sector, is still in a state of confusion about what it was really all about. Participants expressed "a catalogue of broad grievances," he writes in The New Republic, but "the more the rally turned to education, the less sense it made."

For instance, writes Carey, activist Jonathan Kozol denounced Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for making American schools "more segregated by race today than they were when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1968." Kozol further accused Duncan of "working to restore the separate-but-equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson." Carey takes issue:

It's an incendiary charge that makes no sense whatsoever. Duncan had nothing to do with the decades of demographic change, economic dislocation, and failed urban policy that helped to produce de facto segregation in many public schools. Duncan is not Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion in a 2007 Supreme Court case that forbade school districts from combating segregation by racially balancing their schools. Duncan's crime, according to Kozol, is trying to ensure that the resulting segregated schools give their minority students a good education.

And Carey found it "surreal" that Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond chastised the Obama Administration in her speech for not paying enough attention to children's health care. "Health care!" says Carey. "Obama signed an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program for poor children 15 days after taking office. He gambled his presidency on the Affordable Care Act."

To be sure, Carey writes that teachers "have good reason to be angry" given that "K-12 education stands on the shrinking middle ground of the American labor market." He notes that the average inflation-adjusted salary for teachers went up 11 percent between 1969 and 2008, while the GDP per capita increased by 123 percent during that time. But his major gripe about the march—and the movement, for that matter—is that "specifics...weren't the order of the day."

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