by Christopher Paslay
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was recently caught telling politically motivated lies about Texas education.
Last week on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” Secretary Duncan criticized Gov. Rick Perry’s education record and attacked the performance of Texas schools by saying that “Texas has really struggled. I feel very badly for the children there.” Duncan went on to say that Texas had the lowest high school graduation rate in the country, and that there have been massive increases in class size and cutbacks in funding.
Duncan later reiterated his attacks on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program, insisting Texas public schools had low standards and a high dropout rate.
The only problem with Duncan’s facts, however, is that they weren’t facts at all.
Texas’ graduation rate has actually increased since Rick Perry took office. In 2009, Texas ranked 7th in a 26 state comparison of the only states reporting four-year on-time graduation rates. That year Texas’ on-time graduation rate was 80.6%. The Texas on-time graduation rate for 2010 is now 84.3%; the national average is 71.6%.
The idea that Texas class sizes have ballooned is false. In fact, class sizes have dropped since 2000-01, the year Gov. Perry took over office; the state ranks 37th out of the 50 states in education funding.
Texas schools also have very respectable standards. According to Education Week’s Quality Counts report, Texas is ranked 13th out of 50 states. Quality Counts also gave Texas an “A” in “Standards, Assessment and Accountability,” and an “A” in college and career readiness.
Rodger Jones, an Editorial Writer for the Dallas Morning News, blasted Secretary Duncan for his dishonesty. “We shouldn’t hear lies come out of the mouth of the nation’s top education official when he discusses the record of millions of students and dedicated educators. . . . Duncan should be ashamed for letting a political grudge interfere with the serious business of educating kids. He apparently can’t get over the fact that Perry didn’t want to play his Race to the Top game.”
Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott challenged Secretary Duncan’s statements as well. In a letter to Duncan, Scott wrote:
“I have read your recent comments criticizing Texas public education, and I am disappointed that you have never raised your concerns during any of our personal conversations. . . . Your pity is misplaced and demeans the hard work that is taking place in schools across Texas. Texas students are doing very well and in many cases outperforming their national peers. . . .”
Duncan’s off-the-mark statements even confused Andrew Rotherham, Time Magazine’s education columnist. Rotherham couldn’t understand how Duncan could criticize Texas schools when they not only perform at the national average, but fair far better than Chicago’s public schools—the city where Duncan was the former superintendent. Rotherham questioned Duncan about this issue, but Secretary Duncan was at a loss for answers.
“I would have to look at the details,” Duncan told Rotherham.
It’s quite concerning that the US Secretary of Education doesn’t know the basic facts about his own former school district. Even more troubling is how he mangled the information on Texas’ public schools. Whether this was politically motivated or done through sheer ignorance, Duncan’s ability to lead America’s children into the 21st century has clearly come into question.