More Perspectives On Secretary Duncan’s Speech To The “Mom Congress”

Last month, I wrote a post critical of Arne Duncan’s speech on parent engagement to the Mom Congress — see Arne Duncan Speaks To Mom Congress. Angie Miller, New Hamsphire’s Teacher of the Year, had her own critique of the speech that she expressed directly to Department of Education officials at a recent meeting of all the Teachers of the Year.

Melissa Taylor attended the speech and the Mom Congress, and had a much more positive impression.  I invited her to write about it here:

When I’d listened to Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan on NPR last year, I didn’t get a good impression – not at all. Mostly because he was cutting my favorite programs like RIF and Reach Out and Read, and also because I doubted that a non-teacher could understand what issues were really at stake.

I changed my opinion last month when I heard him speak at Mom Congress.

Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress on Education and Learning at Georgetown University invited Duncan to speak with the 51 delegates about parent engagement, among other issues, this past April of 2011. I attended representing Colorado where I live with my two kids and husband.

I found Duncan to be funny, self-reflective, and wanting the best for children.

First, Duncan shared his plan to double funding for parental engagement for Title I schools. The proposed increase comes out of Title I money and would jump from 1% to 2 %. “We have to invest more in parents . . .” he said.

Here’s the part I really liked. He revealed, “Our department has been part of the problem. We need to look at the best practices at a local level. We’re not going to know what the best programs are. This can’t come from Washington, it’s to come from the local level.”

Amen to that.

Duncan is all about “getting Washington off” your back– to give states and districts more flexibility to reward success and hold programs accountable.

Differentiation from the government, who would have thought!? I was impressed.

He added, “We want to put a lot of money in places that are doing a great job in engaging parents that improve student achievement . . . in meaningful and significant ways like higher graduation rates.” In other words, not feel-good programs that don’t have any impact on student achievement.

Duncan wants to shine a spotlight on success, programs that are raising the bar. He added, “I’m wildly optimistic because we have so many places that are beating the odds every single day.”

My fellow delegates and I listened as he gave us our marching orders – be informed. As parents, he said, we must be informed to advocate for our kids. We must be out there asking questions, understanding the budget, and helping make decisions.

“ . . . when we’re eliminating days out of the year, when states are eliminating or cutting back on early childhood, or cutting back on extra curricular, all those things hurt children, all those things hurt kids. That’s where you guys have to be out there pushing – not that any of these cuts are easy. There are smart ways to cut and dumb ways to cut . . . How can any educator look themselves in the mirror and say we should go to school four days a week? It’s a reflection of the lack of priorities, lack of values. Having you guys as advocates out there is very important. We are pushing these things but we are not going to solve the nations issues by ourselves.”

So, I asked myself, if our budget reflects our priorities, what do we value? As a country, you and I can probably answer that. But, let’s look at our schools, our districts, and our states and try to answer it at the local level. What do our states value? Our schools? What do I (you) value?

Listening to Duncan talk, I realized that I actually liked him. I liked him as a person. More than that, I liked him as a leader. But, as Secretary of Education he is not elected, nor can he make policy. So that’s where we must also be informed, get involved, and stay involved.

We must know about education initiatives and tell our Congress people what we want them to support.

I know I’m not as well-informed as I should be on legislation – not unless I get an email from one of the non-profits I support. Duncan made me want to be better informed, to stay current on legislation, and to keep writing my emails to my Senators and Representatives. More than that, want to be much more knowledgeable about the budget of my school and district. There’s a lot to learn but as a mom, that’s part of the job I took on when I had kids.

You can read more about what Duncan said on other issues like ECE and STEM on my blog, Imagination Soup. Also, you can hear his entire speech on YouTube.

Bio: Melissa Taylor writes about education-related topics at her award-winning playful learning blog, Imagination Soup, and for publications such as Scholastic Parent and Child,, Colorado Parent Magazine and others. She’s the Book Editor-at-Large for Colorado Parent Magazine, writing their book review blog, Bookmarkable and is a certified teacher with a M.A. in Education.

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