Education Secretary Arne Duncan wasted no time after Rick Perry’s entry into the presidential race in blasting the Texas governor over his education record, as Tina Korbe noted earlier this week. That confused Time Magazine’s Andrew Rotherham, the publication’s education columnist. Not only does Texas perform at the national average, it turns out that the students in Chicago — in the school system that Duncan ran before joining the Obama administration — perform worse than Texas. And when Rotherham questioned Duncan about the issue, it became clear that Duncan didn’t have a clue as to how his own students performed:
But what about the fact, I responded, that on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Texas’ fourth- and eighth-graders substantially outperformed their peers in Chicago in reading and math?
“I would have to look at all the details, but there are real challenges in Texas. And like every other state, they should be addressed openly and honestly as in Illinois, as in Chicago, and everywhere else.”
Confused? Me too, and I do this for a living. Overall, Texas students scored right around the national averages in reading and math on the NAEP. And according to an Aug. 17 report by the group that administers the ACT college-admissions exam, Texas high school graduates only narrowly trail national averages for college readiness. True, the national averages aren’t great, but Texas is right there with the pack. So why is Duncan dissing the Lone Star State? Its minority students outperform minority students in Chicago, albeit by smaller margins. And with a high school graduation rate of about 73%, Texas may be slightly below the national average, but it’s doing a lot better than Chicago, which only graduates about 56% of its students.
So it’s clear that not only does Duncan not know that Texas performs at the national average (whether or not one finds the national average acceptable), Duncan is apparently unaware that the school system he led is significantly worse than the national average. Let’s not forget that while Perry, as governor, has responsibility for the performance of the state government that has some responsibilities for school systems, Duncan was running the actual school system in Chicago. Despite this, and despite picking this fight himself, Duncan is entirely ignorant of the results of his own work and its comparison to Texas.
And Obama hand-picked the man who produced a 56% graduation rate result, and who started this argument without knowing the facts, as the man to run the federal government’s education bureaucracy.
And these people want to lecture Perry about education?
Duncan gets a good, solid F for this test.
Update: In 2008, just before Duncan got tapped for Obama’s Cabinet, Chicago Public Schools spent $10,500 per pupil. In 2009, Texas spent $10,314 per student, according to the US Census Bureau. Doesn’t sound like funding is the issue.