Even on a faraway beach, Gadfly turned gleeful at word of the president's speech last week, what with its clear call for states to "adopt world-class standards" and "stop low-balling expectations for our kids." In a recent interview with Newsweek's George Will, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan picked up on the theme. "We have been lying to children and their parents because states have dumbed down their standards," he said. "Sometimes, you have to call the baby ugly." But, considering the limits of federal authority in education, will the Obama Administration be able to back up the tough talk with real action? As the Economist observed, the president's plans for creating stronger standards "consisted largely of pleading with states and school districts--which actually run the show--to do a better job." Will shares the concern: "Duncan may be about to receive an education in the difficulty of defeating local inertia from afar." That's probably true--unless Duncan and co. are willing to use the stimulus funds to push states--rather than just plead with them--toward higher expectations.
"Calling the Baby Ugly," by George Will, Newsweek, March 14, 2009
"The teacher-in-chief speaks," The Economist, March 12, 2009