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Thanks Arne!

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently visited the Seattle area to speak at the AFT Convention, campaign on behalf of Senator Patty Murray and address a crowd of students, teachers and education activists at Aviation High School in the Highline School District. Repeatedly, he said to call him “Arne.” “OK, Mr. Secretary, I will try,” was the typical reply.

He discussed the nation’s need for thousands more schools like Aviation High, new and easier ways to bring in talented math and science teachers from industry and called for bold and urgent action to turn around failing schools. He also talked about the tension between giving out money the old way — through a formula which rewards need and spreads the money thinly and evenly — versus competitive methods which reward results and risk takers.

He discussed the nation’s need for thousands more schools like Aviation High and for new and easier ways to bring in talented math and science teachers from industry and called for bold and urgent action to turn around failing schools. “The quality of applications is so high,” he said, “but the demand goes way beyond the resource.” Still, he was blown away with the amount and pace of reform activity underway nationally.

His observations certainly square with what is happening in our state and region. The Obama education agenda helped our growing education reform movements pass long overdue reforms and it seems everyone and his brother is involved in Race To The Top, Invest In Innovation, Promise or Choice Neighborhoods competitions.

I appreciated his visit here. When he spoke, I listened closely to his every word and, contrary to some who protested his visit, I did not hear him blaming anyone or point a mean finger. I did hear him call all of us to action.

At a time when people bemoan the lack of leadership and get discouraged by seemingly intractable problems, reflect for a minute on Arne — the straight shooter from Chicago. He and the President share a big vision — put the United States back on top of the world in postsecondary attainment by 2020. No excuses, no delay tactics.

Thank you, Arne — I mean Mr. Secretary — you are doing a great job and the country owes you big time.