Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s children will attend the private University of Chicago Lab School, where his wife works.


Of course, everyone is free to send their children wherever they wish. What’s interesting about Duncan choosing this school is that it does not practice any of the policies that Duncan has promulgated. It is a progressive school, founded by John Dewey. No Common Core. No evaluation of teachers by test scores. No performance pay.


Duncan attended the prestigious University of Chicago Lab School. The teachers are unionized. President Obama sent his daughters there. Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his children there.


Julie Vassilatos, a parent activist in Chicago, notes that Duncan has chosen a school that is free of any of Duncan’s influence. This is how she describes the Lab School:


Lab is an excellent, well-resourced private school with a rich arts curriculum, small classes, entire rooms devoted to holding musical instruments, a unionized teaching staff that you pretty much never hear anyone suggesting should be replaced by untrained temp workers, and not one single standardized test until students reach age 14.


In other words, Lab School has to date experienced not one ounce of influence from Arne Duncan’s Department of Ed. Not one ounce of impact from his policies.






He’s choosing to keep his kids out of the system that requires nearly continuous standardized testing each year: three iterations of the PARCC, three of the NWEA MAP, the REACH Performance Tasks; the NAEP, TRC + DIBELS, mClass Math, and IDEL specially for littles; and EXPLORE, PLAN, COMPASS, and STAR for bigs.


I know, he’s told us, like a father, it’s okay. Our kids can do this. It’s what’s best. It’s challenging. What kind of message does it send our children if we object to a challenge? He’s gotten this narrative out far and wide, so that folks who don’t have kids in school now can often be seen saying things in newspaper comments sections like, “Why can’t these whiners just shut up and take the test?” or “What a bunch of weaklings! These kids and parents don’t have any spines anymore if they don’t want to take the test!”


You’ll note, in these kinds of comments sections, that it is always the test. As if there is one.


What those commenters don’t know is that the endless stream of tests, accompanying prep, and supporting curricula are low-quality dreck, and they have very little to do with actual learning. They do, however, have a lot to do with bubbling in bubbles and guessing what adults expect.


No, those commenters may not know how bad the situation is for public schools right now in terms of testing.


But Arne Duncan does. He crafted the testing policy and now calls it a civil right.


He’s choosing to keep his kids out of a system that spends so much time and money on testing that there’s little time left, and no money, for stuff that’s not on the tests: history, science, art, music.



If only Duncan wanted America’s children to have public schools with the same rich offerings as the Lab School. Public schools that didn’t have to waste time and money on endless bubble tests. Duncan knows what is best for his children, for Rahm’s children, and for the President’s children. Why isn’t it right for other people’s children? John Dewey founded the Lab School to see what was best for public education, not just for the children of elites.