Allow me to be blunt, probably one of my favorite selections to President Obama's Cabinent was Education Secretay Arne Duncan, partly because of his work in improving Chicago's schools, and partly because he hasn't been beholden to the Teacher's Uniuon, arguing instead for merit pay based on actual results. So the following coming from the White House may surprise some, coming from Duncan however, it doesn't surprise me.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Hurricane Katrina helped New Orleans schools
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010; 4:48 PM
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Hurricane Katrina "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans" because it forced the community to take steps to improve low-performing public schools, according to excerpts from the transcript of a television interview made public Friday afternoon.
Duncan's interview on "Washington Watch With Roland Martin" was scheduled to air Sunday and Monday on TV One.
The excerpts, e-mailed to reporters, quoted Duncan as giving an evaluation of the effect of the 2005 hurricane on the city's schools.
Martin was quoted as saying to Duncan: "What's amazing is New Orleans was devastated because of Hurricane Katrina, but because everything was wiped out, in essence, you are building from ground zero to change the dynamics of education in that city."
Duncan was quoted as replying: "It's a fascinating one. I spent a lot of time in New Orleans, and this is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that 'We have to do better.' And the progress that they've made in four years since the hurricane is unbelievable. They have a chance to create a phenomenal school district. Long way to go, but that -- that city was not serious about its education. Those children were being desperately underserved prior, and the amount of progress and the amount of reform we've seen in a short amount of time has been absolutely amazing."
Education Department spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya confirmed the accuracy of Duncan's quote.
In a statement e-mailed to The Post, Duncan elaborated on the comment: "As I heard repeatedly during my visits to New Orleans, for whatever reason, it took the devastating tragedy of the hurricane to wake up the community to demand more and expect better for their children."
Another excerpt from the TV One interview quoted Duncan on New Orleans educators:
"I have so much respect for the adults, the teachers, the principals that are working hard. I spent a lot of time talking to students at John Mack High School there, many of whom had missed school for six months, eight months, 13 months after the hurricane and still came back to get an education. Children in our country, they want to learn. They're resilient. They're tough. We have to meet them halfway. We have to give them an opportunity, and New Orleans is doing a phenomenal job of getting that system to an entirely different level."