March 9th, 2010
07:06 PM ET
3 years ago

Duncan, Bennett: NCLB caused standards to lower

Obama administration Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, discussed education reform Tuesday on CNN with former Reagan administration Education Secretary William Bennett, right.
Obama administration Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, discussed education reform Tuesday on CNN with former Reagan administration Education Secretary William Bennett, right.

Washington (CNN) – Modern education policy makes for strange bedfellows.

Current Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former Education Secretary William Bennett, agreed Tuesday that No Child Left Behind, a trademark initiative of former President George W. Bush, has caused some states to lower educational standards.

"We have dummied-downed standards," Duncan said on CNN's Situation Room. "It's our fault as adults. We've lowered the bar. We've had low expectations – not because it's the right thing educationally, not because it's the right thing for our economy. We did it because of political pressure."

Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer what he meant by "political pressure," Duncan blamed the previous administration's signature educational policy which created a regime of standardized testing as one of the major indicators of a school's success in educating kids.

"What we've seen under No Child Left Behind is – we saw many states actually reducing standards to respond to that political pressure. That's bad for children, bad for education. Wolf, we've been lying to children in our country."

Watch the interview after the jump:

The Obama education chief explained that the lower standards mean children are being told that they are meeting standards but end up barely able to complete high school and inadequately prepared for college.

"We have to stop lying," Duncan added.

Bennett, a conservative radio talk show host who served in the late President Reagan's administration, agreed with Duncan's critique. "Something like 15 to 18 states have lowered standards since [the passage of] No Child Left Behind," the Reagan-era education chief said.

Bennett added that the teachers' unions – longtime allies of the Democratic Party – have also exerted political pressure over educational standards.

"There is insufficient accountability," Bennett said referring to the resistance teachers' unions have shown to some educational reforms.

Later in the conservation, Blitzer asked Duncan if education policy might be one area where the administration could find common ground with conservatives.

"This is the one issue where all of us, regardless of politics and ideology, all of us, feel a huge sense of urgency," Duncan said.

He added, "This is the civil rights issue of our generation. There is also and economic imperative."

Once again, Bennett appeared to agree with Duncan.

"As I've said, we have our disagreements," Bennett said. "But, you know what? He's gotten into fights with the right people. As an old Irishman I think that's a pretty good sign."

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Filed under: Arne Duncan • Bill Bennett • Education • The Situation Room
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. James Monroe, Wiggins, Mississippi

    Obama is the guy who caters to the teacher unions who fight every effort to improve education. Obama also fights charter schools in black areas where the educational standards are lowest, because this is what the unions want. Teachers do not want to be held accountable for their failure to educats the children. Obama talks a good game but he will never take the hare steps necessary to basically change opur educational system. Consequently, the low income children in the slums of America will continue to be shorted when it comes to education.

    March 9, 2010 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  2. Dumb goes way back

    The problem started by in the 90's with this whole Gifted and Talented school problem. If they can't read, write and do basic math, they should not be doing art, music, drama, sports......

    Basically they should never make it to High School without the basics.

    Parents also should be held responsible. My mother had me doing the basics before I went to public school. Parents need to take more of a role in their childs education, more than just going to Sally's Play or watching Billy's recital. Forget the weekend sports, hit the homework.

    March 9, 2010 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  3. rob

    I would like to hear Bennet's reaction to this piece. It seems a bit one sided in that the standards are being lowered to keep the lousy schools and teachers employed.

    March 9, 2010 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  4. bs

    May God have mercy on each one of us !!

    March 9, 2010 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  5. Indy

    Uh Huh they were trying to dumb people down so that the republicans could continue to destroy the country with hopes no one would notice. Maybe they were trying to get Americans dumb enough to believe the likes of Sarah Palin is smart enough to run for high office.The good thing is admitting to the problem and dealing with properly and that is quite refreshing to see. I am sad to say that Republicans will do everything they can to stop the Democrats from doing the best thing they can because they want failure and I truly do not believe they would have the courage to do the right thing.

    March 9, 2010 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  6. stop the nonsense

    As someone living in Los Angeles, I have to ask- how hard can it be to correct problems in our schools?
    As the second largest school district in the country I can see an semi-easy fix for the problem. thate the schools in a given area and start reforming them elementary to High school from top to bottom. Forget trying to do it all at once. Do it by area so that at least 5-18 years olds can have a sound education in their neighborhood.
    The private school I went to had fallen on such hard times recently it was scheduled to close. They brought in a new principal that took a true interest in the shool and today its one of the finest schools around- again.
    It takes teachers, administration and parents to care and to be made to care ( or they are gone) for education to work.

    March 9, 2010 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  7. Obama the Arrogant Liar

    the teachers unions are dumbing down our kids to get more money, but than again they too are products of public education...Dumb and the soon to be dumber.

    March 9, 2010 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  8. m smith

    Well at least they admitted it. So now let's see if they can work togeather to improve our schools. Something the president has been argueing for from day one.

    March 9, 2010 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  9. Steve- Illinois

    That's the D.C. logic! The schools refuse to hold themselves accountable. Kids were graduating that couldn't read! NCLB get's passed, the schools decide it's easier to "teach to the test" than it is to actually teach the subjects. The States decide to "dummy down" their tests so their incompetent school systems can pass. And this is the fault of NCLB? The standards in the beginning were so low almost half the kids could FLUNK, and the schools still had trouble meeting the standards!
    Want to see how well the education system was doing with no standards? Just look at the results for the first few years!

    March 9, 2010 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  10. Trish Gorham

    The correct answer as to why 16 year olds in other countries score higher than American students is that ALL of our students take these tests, but lower achieving students in other countries have already been diverted to a vocational, rather than an academic track, and they are not included in the testing.

    The 4th and 5th graders score at the same level because the students have not been separated into tracks yet, so ALL their students are compared to ALL our students.

    Ask about the standards in other countries. They do not include the vast number of standards in each grade level that we do. Most have fewer standards that the students have TIME to master.

    Ask about the preparation time provided teachers in other countries compared to the U.S.

    Ask the right questions!

    March 9, 2010 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  11. ED FL

    Bennett was as big a flop as drug head as he was as education head.Long after it became self acknowledge and known he spent his time and money in Vegas as a boozer and gambler. Now he thinks he is a specialist in everthing. He is a typical right winger whose main missionis money and good times at the expense of the less fortunate.

    March 9, 2010 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  12. Trish Gorham

    Class size doesn't matter?

    I challenge Bill Bennett to even stay in the same room with 35 six year olds for 6 hours, much less teach them something.

    Class size doesn't matter to these people, except, of course, his kids' school. I'm sure they had low class size.

    Ask the right questions!

    March 9, 2010 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  13. Todd D.

    Why is it that when we discuss failing schools, we never make mention of the KEY ingredient to student success--good parenting. Admittedly, teachers matter, but instilling the importance of education must come from the home in order for success to take place in the classroom. Furthermore, maybe success shouldn't be measured by the results of bubble-dot tests. Performance based authentic assessments should be used so that every student can show what they can do.

    March 9, 2010 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  14. Dennis in AZ

    The first leadership hurdle the Dems need to overcome is to reset their agenda in order to have any credibility in governing. Jobs should have been priority one, Education priority two, Stimulus should have been off the table completely, and Healthcare should be sitting in the middle of the bus, not the front seat. There are now economists out there who are claiming a "depression" would have been less harmful to the American economy than this Recession. Generally, when you mess with a free-market economy, it messes with you right back. Saving Wall Street was a huge mistake, but understandable based on how far the Big Banks and Big Finance have their hooks into the entire electoral process–Cities, States, and Federal government.

    March 9, 2010 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  15. Ruth

    Well what did you expect? After all, George Bush had a hand in it. Need I say more?

    March 9, 2010 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  16. gcole

    Looks like the kids were left behind. Way to go reps, keep the masses down.

    March 9, 2010 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  17. T'SAH from Virginia

    A mind is a terrible thing to WASTE... Think of all the minds wasted as a result of NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND. In reality – most of them were because all they learned about is SOL!!!

    I watched my kids grow up and now I am watching my grandkids grow up. I also looked back to when I grew up. The kids today do not do projects – like we used to. The science fairs are gone!! Compositions and current events are unheard of. Remeber we had to clip articles out of the newspaper and write about it??? None of that exists anymore.

    PLEASE DO SOMETHING ABOUT OUR EDUCATION!!!!

    March 9, 2010 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  18. D.

    Exactly, " no child left behind" has become "everyone is behind" in some places. Here is yet another "political correctness" contribution to advancement of humanity!

    March 9, 2010 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  19. Old Farmboy

    Why is it, that pretty near everything falls back to the Bush administration? Do you know what the problem with education in our country is? It's us. The parents. The teachers. We have turned into such a self centered, don't whip my child or you go to jail society that it's starting to show. We let our kids get away with anything. Why, you ask? It's because they can. I went to school with the board of education. It was about 16 inches long and 4 inches wide. It hurt like hell when it hit my butt. But you know what. I sat up and paid attention. Now it's a "Stop or I'll say Stop Again" mentality. I taught my child respect. I taught my child to honor the wisdom given by adults. Don't blame the Bush administration for your own short fallings. If you want to point a finger. Look into the mirror and point it at yourself.

    March 9, 2010 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  20. Sgt. Flagg T. McLiberty, Superpatriot

    All NCLB does is herd kids through the system like cattle.

    This, of course, is extremely useful for the GOP, since without stupid people there would be no one to buy their "death panels" and "socialism" crap.

    March 9, 2010 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  21. Squigman

    Well duh. Who touted no child left behind ? Could it have been "W" ? I wonder why a program, concieved, implimented, and supported by the nations least educated president, didn't just do wonders and by pass the blunders ? Gee, I just don't get it.

    March 9, 2010 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  22. Flipper

    May I remind the current Education secretary of the HUGE ROLE played by the late Edward Kennedy in shaping the NCLB bill and pushing it through Congress.

    Of course the partisan & intellectually dishonest Duncan conveniently forgot to blame Kennedy for the shortcomings of NCLB.

    March 9, 2010 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  23. chuck

    William Bennett truly is an expert on lowering standards.

    March 9, 2010 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  24. Joseph

    Arnie, don't blame NCLB and Bush for your Chicago's problems. You must set a standard and student must set a goal for themselve. You will achieve nothing if you do not have a standard and goal at schools. If you abandon affirmative action policies, kids will know there are no longer short-cuts, unfaired advantages or benefits based on your skin color, gender, ages, and religion. They will study hard to compete and excel. Once they see somebodies took shortcuts and perform poorly and still jump in front of you to get into "Columbia and Harvard", they will loose motivation and give up their "HOPE" and "CHANGE"..

    March 9, 2010 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  25. Shelly

    Legacy of the Bush/Cheney administration.....thousands of our uniformed men and women dead; trillion spent on an unjustified war; deregulation of finance companies leading to the economic disaster;massive deficits multiplied by tax cuts for the rich;and putting our middle class families and our children on the BOTTOM of their to do list! The GOP has NO respect for the hard working labor and middle classes and continues to create a large disparity between the lower middle class and the wealthy.
    Simply put, they hate you if you are an educated, decent, hard working middle class American.

    March 9, 2010 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
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