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U.S. education chief: School turnaround ‘tough work’

U.S. Secretary EducatiArne Duncan speaks Thursday evening RadissMerrillville. Duncan is currently touring Midwest having been Detroit earlier Thursday. | Jeffrey

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks Thursday evening at Radisson in Merrillville. Duncan is currently touring the Midwest having been in Detroit earlier Thursday. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 9, 2011 1:47PM



MERRILLVILLE — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lauded state efforts to intervene in chronically underperforming schools like Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy on Thursday at the One Region One Vision conference.

“People need to look in the mirror and make the change,” Duncan said. “It’s time to stop the blame game. We’re all in this together.”

Roosevelt is one of seven schools statewide that entered the sixth year of academic probation under Public Law 221, and it will be run by turnaround operator EdisonLearning starting in the 2012-2013 school year.

In an interview with the Post-Tribune, Duncan noted his experience with several turnaround efforts in the Chicago Public Schools, where he was CEO from 2001 to 2008.

“Turning around low-performing schools is tough work,” Duncan said. “It’s not for the faint of heart, and there’s nothing easy about it. One of our elementary schools went from the lowest performing in Chicago to showing the highest improvement in Illinois.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who preceded Duncan at the podium, said he called Duncan on the day the state interventions were announced.

“He didn’t ask if it was popular,” Bennett said. “He told me, ‘It’s the right thing to do.’ ”

In his speech, Duncan stressed the importance of getting students ready to compete in a global economy.

“The world around us has changed,” Duncan said. “Education is the key to raising wages in the region. I’ve yet to talk to an employer who is satisfied with the skills of high school graduates and I hear the same concerns from college educators. Northwest Indiana needs to foster a culture that expects its students to finish high school and attend college.”

Duncan also stressed the necessity of fixing the federal No Child Left Behind law, which he called “broken.” He said that Congress hasn’t shown much willingness to pass a revised version of the law, so this month the Department of Education will roll out a waiver policy for states that agree to high standards and greater accountability.

“Right now, one child in one subgroup can cause a school to be labeled a failure, when the school is actually getting better,” Duncan said. “I can’t support that. I’ve never met a teacher or a principal who is scared of accountability. They just want it to be fair.”

Duncan described a situation that affected several local high schools. In particular, Munster High School failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress under federal law due to one special education student’s language arts score, so it couldn’t get anything higher than a “C” on the state accountability measure.

Duncan said that education is at a critical juncture in the U.S.

“Children only get one chance to get a real education,” he said.



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