WASHINGTON — Outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a speech before an audience last week at the National Press Club, announced a new policy to reallocate state correctional-funding dollars to raises for teachers in the nation’s most underprivileged districts.
In what were perhaps his most intentional comments to date on race, Duncan addressed the disparities in educational access and correctional patterns within a decidedly racial framework.
The secretary challenged educators and those to whom they answer to take “an unsparing look at our own attitudes and our own decisions and the ways that they are tied to both race and class.”
“In the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere, this has become a central discussion for many in America, and rightly so,” said Duncan, who on Friday—days after the National Press Club speech—announced that he’ll be resigning at the end of the year. “Those of us in education simply cannot afford to stay on the sidelines. Let’s recognize upfront that this is one of the hardest conversations that we can have in education.
“Suspensions, expulsions, and expectations for learning track far too closely to race and class,” Duncan continued. “Sometimes the facts must force a tough look inward. This is not just about explicit, obvious bias. Indeed, sometimes when a genuinely transparent moment of bias arises, the whole country stops and takes a breath. A child holds a clock and we see a bomb. But more often, it’s far subtler stuff buried in invisible privileges and expectations that we’re not even aware that we hold.”