Paul Thomas here reviews many of the public statements of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and finds a common theme: the cause of low test scores is low expectations.


If only society, the schools, and parents had higher expectations, no child would be left behind, no child would ever get low test scores, children with disabilities would excel.


Embedded in this claim is the strange belief that poverty, hunger, homelessness, racism, and other social maladies have no effect on students’ ability to learn in school.


Thomas refers to a list of popular but misguided beliefs that Duncan loves to repeat because they support his narrative of blaming teachers, parents, and schools:


In a recent blog post, Jack Schneider identified 10 popular reform claims offered by the current slate of education reformers, including Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Duncan himself:

Claim 1: American teachers need more incentive to work hard….

Claim 2: Schools need disruptive innovation. The status quo is unacceptable….

Claim 3: The public schools are in crisis….

Claim 4: It should be easier to fire bad teachers. Tenure is a problem…

Claim 5: Schools need to teach more technology….

Claim 6: Teachers should be paid for results….

Claim 7: We need more charter schools…

Claim 8: We’re falling behind the rest of the world….

Claim 9: Teacher preparation is a sham….

Claim 10: Teachers only work nine months a year….


What do these claims have in common? First, each can be found repeatedly in comments made by Duncan, media reports, and the day-to-day assumptions held by the public. Second, each claim is misleading at best, and false at worst.


Obama’s USDOE and Secretary Duncan, however, use these widely accepted though false claims as partisan political distraction, rather than relying on evidence-based cases to target politically volatile and unpopular issues related to poverty, racism, inequity, and the short-comings of the free market. That’s not just a shame, it’s deplorable.


Thomas says that the U.S. Department of Education has a “twisted culture inside the USDOE—a culture that maintains a message of high expectations for students, teachers, and schools and thus diverts attention away from the more powerful influence of poverty and inequity in both society and schools.

Yet it seems increasingly evident that the only place where low expectations are the main sources of failure is inside the USDOE itself—specifically with the appointment of Duncan.” Duncan is not the only Secretary of Education who never taught, but he is the only Secretary with the arrogance to chastise teachers for their failures and low expectations, as if he knew how to do their job better than they do. Thomas writes that the USDOE is “a collection of appointees under Obama that lacks the experience, expertise and political will to lead the needed reforms facing U.S. public schools. Once the brief flurry of outrage passes, we must admit that the Obama education agenda will remain one of the greatest failures of the hope and change that Obama once promised.” So long as the USDOE continues to ignore the root cause of poor performance, none of their “reforms” will make any difference.