There is no doubt in my mind that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cares deeply about disadvantaged kids. He deserves our admiration and respect for bringing a renewed sense of urgency to addressing America’s persistently failing schools.
His devotion to the hope of school turnarounds is rooted in very real and very painful experiences. When he closed a number of underperforming schools during his tenure as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, many displaced students were moved into similarly low-performing schools, and worse, inadvertently exposed to gang violence.
I’m certain this heartrending episode influenced him profoundly. I’m sure he committed himself to finding a better way to help boys and girls assigned to schools that weren’t working. I sincerely commend him for that sentiment and the passion behind it.
But this sentiment and passion also blinded him and his team.
Hence the tragedy of SIG.
Mountains of studies had clearly demonstrated over many years that the success rate of school-turnaround efforts was miniscule. The research showed that regardless of the intervention used or the amount of money spent, persistently low-performing schools stubbornly remained that way.
I will never know if the Department of Education simply hadn’t done its homework or if it had but believed that it could defy the lessons of the past. I suspect the latter was the primary culprit.
Slogans like “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” followed by a history-changing election, didn’t exactly infuse early Obama administration officials with...