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Commissioner's School Visits

Visit by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

April 7, 2009

Bruce Randolph School in Denver was the setting for a visit from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who was joined by U.S. Senator Michael Bennet.

Duncan and Bennet first met with about 200 students and answered a broad variety of questions, then headed upstairs to the library to gather with a broad spectrum of leadership from state government, school districts across the state and statewide education organizations. The main topic was school funding through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, particularly how the state should position itself for the competitive process called “Race to the Top.”

Secretary Duncan made it clear that successful applications will be those that commit to aggressive, dramatic reform of public schools. He spelled out that states have to submit proposals covering four areas: a strategy for boosting low-performing schools; a plan to adopt internationally benchmarked academic standards; a plan to provide teachers and principals with real-time data about individual student progress; and a plan to build a system that identifies each educator and provides information to be used in improving teacher quality and effectiveness.

Bruce Randolph School Assembly

“All I care about is, are schools getting better?” Secretary Duncan told the students. “Are more students graduating? Are more students taking AP classes? Are more students going to college?”

In a variety of ways, Duncan encouraged states to “challenge the status quo.” Only a limited number of states will receive the funds, he said, and it will be those states that are “really ready to push the envelope.”

I believe Colorado is in a prime position to submit a successful application for

Race to the Top funds. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • We are already exploring synergies with other states as we consider partnerships and look for opportunities to build on mutual strengths.

  • The 2008 CAP4K legislation provides for P-20 alignment of standards and data systems. Even prior to the CAP4K legislation, the state board of education had already authorized a revision of all 13 model content standards, which are being benchmarked against international expectations.
  • Under the Innovative Schools Act, schools and districts have been provided the opportunity to improve student outcomes with greater autonomy and flexibility in academic and operational decision-making. The first two schools that applied (from Denver) won unanimous support from the state board of education.
  • Senate Bill 09-163, the Accountability Alignment Bill, focuses on our approved Colorado Growth Model and would align conflicting accountability systems into a single system intended to meet state and federal requirements. As Secretary Duncan said he expects to see in applications, this bill will allow the department to take bold steps to reform chronically underperforming schools. (This bill is still pending but appears to have strong, bipartisan support.) Also, the National Governor’s Association has awarded Colorado a grant to support the development of a comprehensive school turnaround strategy.
  • House Bill 09-1065, if passed, will allow for the development of an educator identifier system that will provide information to be used in improving teacher quality and effectiveness.

On the last point, Duncan was straightforward about his expectations. Attract the best and brightest candidates to the teaching profession, he urged, build incentives that lead them to the schools where they are needed the most, and find a way to keep them working with the most needy students.

On every topic, the secretary urged educators to “change the national conversation.” Too often, he said, the current system “perpetuates inequities.”

At the department of education, we could not agree more—and we know full well that a broad spectrum of state leaders will work together to craft the best application possible. Stay tuned!

Click here to watch the exchange with students at Bruce Randolph.

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