Questions for Arne Duncan, Nominee for Secretary of Education

These are questions FairTest believes should be asked of Arne Duncan at his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education, to be held before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Tuesday, January 13.

1. During the campaign, President-elect Obama said, “We should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests.” He also said that we need to use “a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas.”

How do you propose that the Department help fulfill the goal of ensuring high-quality assessments of higher order skills that can replace standardized tests?

Some have said that when we use complex assessments, it means they will have to be scored locally because, like scoring student essays, they take human judgement. Other nations, including some that perform better than the US on international assessments, already do this. Will you pledge the department will help create balanced systems of state and local assessments?

2. President-elect Obama also said, “Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong.”

What would you do to change the current law, which study after study has shown will result in 70 to 100 percent of our nation's schools being labeled "failures"? How would you establish more reasonable, achieveable accountability goals than what NCLB does? How can the Department best work with states to improve those schools that most need assistance?

3. Since No Child Left Behind was implemented, the rate of improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests has slowed compared with the period starting in the mid-1990s. There has been no gain in reading at grade 8.

Has NCLB been part of this problem? How can the law be changed to re-accelerate improvement as indicated on NAEP and other independent measures?

4. President-elect Obama's administrative style has been compared with President Lincoln's willingness to have strong cabinet members grapple with one another to help the President set the agenda.   

How will you ensure that diverse views on the best ways to improve education for all, particularly low-income children, have prominent positions in the Department, rather than reflecting only one approach among competing views?


- The sources of the quotations from Barack Obama and his campaign are on the web at

- For more information on FairTest, see

- See FairTest's open letter to Barack Obama at

- The website of the Forum on Educational Accountability is; it contains the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind, now signed by 149 national education, civil rights, religious, disability, parent, labor and civic groups.