February 2nd, 2010
04:40 PM ET
13 years ago

Education Secretary apologizes for saying 'dumb thing'

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/02/art.duncan.file.gi.jpg caption=" Education Secretary Arne Duncan apologized Tuesday for comments made last week."]Washington (CNN) - Education Secretary Arne Duncan has spent the last couple of days backpedaling from comments he made Sunday suggesting Hurricane Katrina was good for New Orleans' failing schools. But, while he's apologizing for poor word choice, his comments echo a truth spoken by many in New Orleans.

"It was a dumb thing to say and I apologize," Duncan told CNN Tuesday.

In a Sunday broadcast of TV One's Washington Watch with Roland Martin, Duncan was asked about the progress New Orleans schools have made since Katrina hit in 2005.

"This is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest," Duncan replied. "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.'"

Excerpts of the interview were released by the show on Friday. Shortly afterwards, numerous networks and newspapers picked them up, sparking the controversy that continued once the remarks were broadcast. Duncan called New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin Friday evening to explain what he meant, according to his office.

Duncan told CNN Tuesday he regretted what he said but insists the storm has motivated the city to reinvest in its children like never before.

"I said it poorly. And my point was very simple. Hurricane Katrina was a devastating, devastating tragedy. The progress we've seen subsequent to that has been absolutely remarkable. The teachers, the principals there are working so incredibly hard," he said.

"Almost all the students missed three months, four months, six months," he continued. "I talked to students who missed more than a year off school and yet they came back. And in a short amount of time, four years they came back, subsequent to the devastating tragedy, amazing progress. And I just tip my hat to the hard work there. I was simply trying to point out how impressed I am, the remarkable commitment and the sense of urgency."

Several Louisiana officials defended Duncan's remarks. Louisiana's Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said, "I know it's a strong statement, but it's actually quite accurate. It was a pathetic system before the storm."

Louisiana's superintendent of the Recovery School District Paul Vallas said, "local people have said that time and time again...."

Duncan has made several trips to New Orleans since becoming Education Secretary one year ago, and his most recent on October 15.

Monday the President released his proposed 2011 Budget, allocating a 7.5 percent increase ($4 billion) in Federal education spending. Duncan is using Federal dollars to promote state and local school systems to reform. He is also overhauling former President Bush's "Elementary and Secondary Education Act" better known as the "No Child Left Behind Act."

Filed under: Arne Duncan • New Orleans • Popular Posts
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Lori in St Pete

    What's the big deal? The mother of the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue said the same thing about the displaced ending up camping out for weeks in the Astro Dome, and nobody even blinked. Hypocracy, thy name is republican.

    February 2, 2010 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  2. El Kababa

    Grow up, people! This man said nothing wrong. Would he have stopped the hurricane if he could? Yes, of course.

    What he was saying is that every crisis is also an opportunity. Haiti's terrible destruction by a hurricane gives Haiti a chance to rebuild. World War II was an opportunity to reorganize Europe for the better. Japan is better off because of their defeat in World War II.

    Even these critics don't believe what they are saying. Their strategy is to argue and argue and argue and argue just to prevent progress.

    February 2, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  3. c spurgeon

    This is a good guy and he was pretty close to right when you consider the educational results prior to Katrina. Anyhow he said it was a dumb thing to say so what is the big issue..only on cnn.

    February 2, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. DRCinDC

    Katrina helped New Orleans just like an earthquake helps Haiti. Exposes to the world what a corrupt govenment does to the people is claims to represent.
    But unfornately just like what should be predicted for Haiti, the dishonest government in New Orleans takes new money just to help their "connected friends". and just like Haiti, nothing will change until the government changes. even their senators recognize it is little more than a welfare state.

    February 2, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  5. T'SAH from Virginia

    There is NOTHING wrong with Arne's statement because it's TRUE!! Just like it takes a disaster for Americans to come together as ONE – leaving their hatred behind!! LQQK @ 9/11!!

    If the LOCALS say that Arne's statement is TRUE and they do not have a problem iwth it – then the OUTSKIRTS 'Out of Towners" should mind their business and leave this alone. Jeez!!

    February 2, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  6. Obama Victim

    I heard someone say a dumb thing just today.....guy down the hall said..."I like Obama"....doesn't get much dumber than that

    February 2, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  7. Annette

    I agree with Mr. Duncan, that it was poor choice of words at the time. But given the totality of what happen in New Orleans pre- Hurricane Katrina, one can understand in this sense, why he would say it. Now, that he has made this statement, he has now established ownership of the problem and it is now his responsibility to fix the problem. No excuses!

    February 2, 2010 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  8. Mrs. S Callahan

    This a classic example of what was ugly turned to good...of course referring to the 'better schools' standards now afford to New Orleans....that is a gift for future generations. So, you can slide on this dumb comment...we get what you meant.

    February 2, 2010 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  9. gary davis harbor oregon

    back off he is actually right other than the deaths and damages of the area . from the storm new life springs 🙂

    February 2, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  10. Mesa Mick

    And the problem with this bare-knuckle accessment of the way schools in the state USED to be is ???

    Looks to me like somebody around here is straight talkin'...What, "You can't handle the truth" as the movie line goes...

    February 2, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  11. LacrosseMom(the real one)

    Oh boy.......... let's brace ourselves for outrage from the holier-than-thou-conservatives!

    February 2, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  12. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Gee... sometimes the truth hurts. The entire American education system SUCKS.

    When the emphasis shifted from learning to the 1960s mania for new school facilities, computers, and moronic and meaningless "learning" benchmarks, the system was doomed.

    Over the last 50 years, the quality of teachers coming out of degree programs has plummeted and the drop-out rates have climbed.


    February 2, 2010 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  13. Fitz in Texas

    Well, at least Education Secretary Arne Duncan has apologized. Something you don't hear coming from the mouth of many in this administration......oooops, sorry. I was wrong. President Obama does apologize to other countries because we here in America are such mean people.

    February 2, 2010 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  14. inofritzn

    OMG it's true! Stop all the PC stuff. If it's true then it's true. He didn't say he was happy katrina happened

    February 2, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  15. Pragmatic

    Old fashioned way of saying the same thing was to talk about clouds having silver linings ... or more recently ... that which does not kill us – only makes us stronger!

    Was just listening to a reprise of all the Bushisms ... the GOP was always up in arms defending Bush ... now they are always up in arms attacking everything else ... GOP didn't seem to mind Pastor Pat's hate-filled comments on Haiti and their earthquake ... GOP = full of hypocrites and double standards.

    February 2, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  16. Jake

    Truth be told and everyone knows what the education secretary said is the truth. But when you live in America where republicans are looking for every way to bring down this president, truth can be a bitter pill to swallow. Watch as people like Palin who can see Russia from her back deck in Alaska will start calling for Duncan's head. I am a proud fiscal republican but I am ashamed of this political game of lets wait and pound on when Obama slips. Lord knows that Bush slipped a ton and people around him. That is what got us into this financial mess we are in. Where are these republicans then. They had power and ran up the budget. Quite frankly we have to spend our way out of it and that also is the truth no matter how you slice it. You cannot create jobs, health care and other things without spending money. If poeple are working and paying taxes, we get out of this mess. If we don't spend to create jobs, no taxes are gathered, then we remain jobless and in deep mess longer than before. When cut yourself, do you leave the wound open for infection or you bandaid it up? In America we are afraid of the truth and it hurts when someone says things as it is. My republican fellows should back off and stop the fear mongering. Let this man do what he was hired to do and quite frankly none of these bunch of republicans can do any better, in fact they scare me and should scare all Americans.

    February 2, 2010 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  17. Obama - worse Presidet ever.

    The truth hurts, doesn't it?

    February 2, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  18. RealityKing

    Obama should "mandate" that politicians be required to send their kids to the inner city schools of their own districts. And that Arne Duncan send his kids to New Orlean's public schools.

    February 2, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  19. stevegee

    When will the incompetence of this administration end?


    February 2, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  20. ANGIE


    February 2, 2010 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  21. all the news that's fit to omit

    Funny, a Republican a few years ago was HAMMERED for saying something very similar to this and the sheep were calling for his head on a platter.

    This like Obambi and his special olympics remark, Rahm's FN retarded remark, Chris Matthews "I forgot he was black", Reids remarks, Biden's "clean and articulate" remarks etc, etc.

    Yep, LIBTARDS, can say anything they want and you sheep brush it off.

    I will see postings from the bleating sheep, saying I should be banned, bring it on bleating fools, come on "stuffit", I love schooling you frauds with uh, uh, uh, uh facts.

    February 2, 2010 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  22. I'm sorry, too

    This politically correct thing is too much.

    Regardless if you agree or disagree, people should be able to speak their mind. I'm tired of all the apologies....

    Unless it is Pelosi apologizing for her weekly stupid comments....

    February 2, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  23. KM

    The media needs to stop focusing on who said what and when. I don't care if it was a Democrat, Republican or Independent, we need to put this energy into solving problems instead of being the first to show who came up with the best sound bite.

    Yes he may have had a "dumb" moment and used the incorrect language to get his point across. But instead of addressing the failing schools that was in New Orleans, we're gonna spend all week talking about the words that came out of his mouth.

    February 2, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  24. Connie, NJ

    Get over it people, we will live. I know what he meant to say, and I think he's doing a fine job.

    What about Barbara Baby Huey Bush, who said the people staying at the Arena in New Orleans were living better than they would at home. Now that was stupid and dumb and a bit racist if you ask me.

    So Leve Duncan alone, he's a fine man and he deserves to move on from this–really.

    February 2, 2010 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  25. sensible Cape coral FL

    Why do our politicians always have to apologize for being RIGHT? The New Orleans school system was a total disaster. Now maybe some improvements can be made in the rebuilding process.

    February 2, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
1 2