Nobody Better Than Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan is expected to be announced as the next secretary of education later today. Freakonomics readers will remember Arne as the hero of our chapter on teacher cheating. He was head of the Chicago Public Schools when Brian Jacob and I were investigating how teachers and administrators were doctoring standardized test sheets.

With seemingly nothing to gain and much to lose, Arne embraced our results, even allowing us to do audit testing to confirm our hypotheses. Eventually, a handful of teachers were fired.

Since then, I’ve interacted with Arne a few times, and in a variety of settings. I always walk away dazzled. He is smart as hell and his commitment to the kids is remarkable. If you wanted to start from scratch and build a public servant, Arne would be the end product.

About five years ago, I joked with him that he was not even 40 years old and he had the second-best job in education. He had nowhere to go but down, since the only better job would be secretary of education.

For all his accomplishments improving schools, perhaps even more remarkable are his accomplishments on the basketball court: he and his buddies have won the national Hoop It Up Three-On-Three basketball championship on multiple occasions.

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  1. Geology Rocks says:

    Imagine that… a group of teachers hate their boss who allowed a group of economists the opportunity to hold members of their ranks accountable….. Never would of thunk that one.

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  2. misterb says:

    In the comments pointed to by B. Jackson(7), there was an accusation that Arne Duncan had fired over 2000 African American teachers. If that is true, it’s a serious complaint. Even if they were all under-performing (which seems unlikely), a group of that size should have been addressed with training and coaching rather than mass layoffs.

    The fact that Mr. Duncan is recommended by economists and reviled by teachers doesn’t seem like a good thing for our kids.

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  3. B. Jackson says:

    CPS stats show that there are ~9,000 African American teachers and Arne has allegedly fired 2,000 over 8 years, or 250/year. That makes 3% per year, which doesn’t seem astronomical to me.

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  4. Bild says:

    According to Duncan’s Wikipedia page, he played basketball against Duke teams that included Johnny Dawkins and Danny Ferry, and came off fairly well.

    Also, he spent a year researching his sociology thesis in inner-city Kenwood, Chicago. Although it was never published, it was nonetheless cited at least twice in the sociological literature.

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  5. Princess Leia says:

    All your friends are moving to DC. Are you, Steve? You have the hoops skill (pound for pound) and the paper behind your name, too. It might be fun. :)

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  6. B's Aunt says:

    Greg, I agree, being a teacher myself. Educating means educating, not endless testing, and at a high level of knowledge and process.

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  7. Tough Reformer Finally says:

    At last, Arne Duncan,a tough reformer, is going to be Secretary of Education. The Heavens have opened and there is much rejoicing. Duncan has shut down failed schools (and then reopened them successfully), has shown teachers the door who are not good enough for our kids, and cut bureaucratic staff so money can go to effective teachers and into the classroom. Duncan has pushed into the CPS the idea that our kids deserve the best teachers, best principals, and best managers and that we are never going to stop until we get every school and every classroom right so that all kids will be offered a great education. Tough is needed because the public school system has bred through its union-adults-first-mentality a culture of excuses to justify: a third of our minority children dropping out of high school, three-fourths of our high school graduates not being ready for college, and STEMS programs that are an embarrassment compared to the rest of the world. Darling-Hammond is a “Chicago Cub Reformer.” No matter how ineffective a teacher is she still loves them, no matter how many kids don’t learn to read, she won’t fire you. All you need is more training! No mattter how many kids drop out, it is still for Darling-Hammond a question of getting our teachers properly trained.

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  8. alexander russo says:

    actually, duncan had much to gain from letting you help find out cheats at the school level and then firing them – unless the cheating was happening at the central office, it was all icing for him.

    you are among a tiny few i know of who come away from talking with duncan impressed with anything but his enthusiasm.
    independent chicago education news, all day

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