Arne Duncan was on 'Face the Nation' but didn't have to answer any tough questions

Duncan does The Duncan on 'Face the Nation' and gets away with it.

In Chicago, Arne Duncan had a lot of rehearsals for his life doing verbal backflips and lying to the public. Above, on July 15, 2008, Duncan waits behind Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (hands outstretched), while the mayor announced that Chicago's school finances are in such great shape that the school system can afford to forego a routine tax increase. Duncan is standing in front of people who were at the time the school system's top financial officials (left to right behind Daley): Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan; Chief Financial Officer Pedro Martinez; Budget Director Elizabeth Swanson; and Chief Administrative Officer M. Hill Hammock. Daley's stage setting for major media events always includes an American flag and a special podium which is usually set up to make the mayor look taller than he is. Daley's media event with Duncan and the school's financial officials took place while the economy of the USA was beginning its free fall and foreclosures in Chicago had reached an all-time high in most of the city's 50 wards. But once it became clear to Daley that the banks which provide some of the major support to his administration were also the city's major residential homeowners, Daley ordered the school board not to raise property taxes. Duncan and the school board's top financial officials went along, joining Daley in the claim — in July 2008! — that no tax increase would be needed to get Chicago's school's through the coming school year. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, was interviewed on Face the Nation September 6, 2009. Anyone familiar with the way Duncan did the media in Chicago will recognize the performance. A handful of one liners and clichés, repeated over and over. One or two major talking points. More lies. The main difference between the National Duncan now working as U.S. Secretary of Education in Washington, D.C. and the Chicago Duncan who worked as CEO of CPS until last December is the required "Praise for my Boss" moment.

In Chicago, Arne Duncan was programmed to repeat praises for his boss, Mayor Richard M. Daley, every 15 to 20 minutes (more often if the interview of show is shorter than a half hour).

He's been reprogrammed for the national stage and now repeats the same kinds of praises for President Brack Obama that he used to give to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. On September 6, the lies began at the beginning of "Face the Nation" and didn't have to come from Duncan, but from Duncan's host. Bob Schieffer, the host, introduced Duncan as having “compiled an impressive record of achievement as head of the schools in Obama’s home town of Chicago,” without taking a look at any of those so-called "achievements."

Less than nine months ago, Arne Duncan (above at the December 17, 2008 Chicago Board of Education meeting) was still "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools. December 17, 2008, was supposed to be a big day in Duncan's life. His picture and story were on Page One of The New York Times because President Barack Obama had just announced that he had appointed Duncan U.S. Secretary of Education. But at the Board meeting itself, Duncan ran into another reality check, when more than a dozen teachers and dozens of students, organized by CORE, took the podium to criticize how Duncan had sabotaged their schools, and how his policies had undermined the education of thousands of students. Duncan's teacher bashing was legendary by the time he was called out at his last Board meeting. In the photo above, Duncan is snarling at Jesse Sharkey, a teacher from Senn High School, who had just criticized Duncan's performance. A few minutes later, Duncan left the room, because, many said, he was so angry that he could no longer control his temper. Unless Arne Duncan is surrounded by light weight reporters asking puffball questions, he quickly runs out of clichés and carefully rehearsed talking points. Even something as simple as a question about Swine Flu can fluster Duncan, who tries to hew strictly to a script he has carefully rehearsed. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In Chicago, thousands of people have been asking "Sez Who?"

The beginning of the Face the Nation Duncan talk was about the controversy over President Obama's planned speech to the nation's students, to be aired on the first day of school in most school districts, September 8, 2009.

At first, Duncan seemed to be pretending that he had better things to do than worry about the major political and media flap that had ensured. Someone had programmed him to utilize the word "silly." Duncan said that the Obama speech — to be played in the nation's schools that is causing some controversy — is purely voluntary. So when it is played in school, kids do not have to listen. Strange message from a Secretary of Education to tell students they do not have to listen to a speech by the President of the United States in a government setting (a school) played during class time. “I don't spend any time on the silly stuff,' Duncan then added, calling the protests about the Obama speech 'silly stuff' and repeating a cliché he used to use in Chicago — 'laser like.'

Pause. When in doubt, Duncan moves into a well rehearsed cliché. Right on schedule, we were back with "laser like."

"I try to stay with a laser like focus [left out in written report] on improving what's going on for our nation's children,” he said.

Less than three months before he would be named U.S. Secretary of Education by the newly elected President Barack Obama, Arne Duncan spoke about how Chicago's scores on the Illinois State Achievement Tests (ISAT) had gone "up" again because of the great work of Mayor Richard M. Daley (standing behind Duncan with arms folded). At the time Duncan delivered his remarks about the latest "up" in Chicago's standardized test scores on September 15, 2008, Duncan had no remarks in his speech about the fact the "dumbed down" tests were creating better scores on the ISAT and that by telling students they were doing well school and political leaders were "lying to the children." For all of his seven years as CEO of Chicago's public schools, Duncan was ready to tell the children their scores had gone "up" whenever the mayor who appointed him under Chicago's version of mayoral control ordered up a media event such as the one above. Only after he became U.S. Secretary of Education and began working off the Obama administration's scripts did Duncan discover that school and political leaders like the CEO of Chicago and its schools had been "lying to children" on tests like the ISAT all along. Substance photo and caption by George N. Schmidt.Pressed about the televised speech and the protests, Duncan continued using the word "silly."

"That's just silly," Duncan told Schieffer. "They can go to school and not watch. It's just going to be an 18-minute speech. That doesn't make any sense. … Schools can do this. They cannot do it. They can watch it during the school day. Children can watch it at home with their families. They can watch it a month from now. They can never watch it. It's purely voluntary." The secretary said his department doesn't pay any attention to the recent attacks.

Duncan on "Are you ready for H1N1 flu?" the show continued.

Duncan's first response was too glib for the subject: Cough in your sleeve — No mandatory vaccinations; School closings a last resort because the continuity of learning is so important; Outbreak of common sense is what we really need.

You could tell what he had rehearsed, from "laser like" to the phrase "outbreak of common sense." The schools of the USA could become incubators for the worst flu in decades, and Duncan has a glib one-liner. There's nothing like "common sense" when something is very very complex. Arne Duncan may be a man of many words, but most of them will be carefully scripted and rehearsed.

When Bob Schieffer got more precise, Duncan quickly changed tone but was still stuck with certain phrases. Schieffer asked about 2,000 students with influenza-like illness at Washington State University. Duncan answered, "...use common sense and do the right thing..." "We're prepared for the worst," he continued. "Yes, you have to be prepared. Again the more the school is a part of the solution, the more the schools become vaccination centers, the more we help solve this thing. That's the right thing for us to be doing."

The chart above was displayed for the media to photograph at the press conference featuring Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan on September 15, 2008, at Chicago's Ella Flagg Young Elementary School. During the years Duncan served as CEO of the nation's third largest school system, standardized test scores in Chicago always went "up" and reporters who questioned the mayor's claims were either ignored by Duncan or (in one dramatic case) shouted down by members of the cheering section the mayor had brought along for the media event. From the first year Daley was in control of Chicago's schools (1995) tests scores for Chicago were always "Trending Up" (the title of the annual report for the first three years under mayoral control). Less than one year after Duncan proclaimed that the "up" in the chart above was absolutely true, Duncan told Face the Nation that such claims are now "lying to children." Substance caption and photo by George N. Schmidt.Schieffer then went into questions about "No Child Left Behind," the controversial program of former President George W. Bush. According to Duncan, the Bush education program was not bad because it had too much reliance on standardized testing, but because the tests were not hard enough on the student. Duncan may even be suggesting more tests — but "better" ones.

Duncan on NCLB and Accountability: Race to the Top: With Unprecedented resources has to come Unprecedented Reform; Track students even in college; We challenging everyone to do better; We need National Standards; Illinois Standards have been dummied down; Stop lying to children...

Duncan continued with his talking points, adding in the required Praise for the Boss line, "...thanks to this president’s tremendous leadership and Congress’s support, as you said, $100 billion in new money for education is now available..."

He quickly added that even $100 billion is "... never enough in this tough economy... You know, you’d love to do more. But what we did is we staved off an education catastrophe. Thanks to the money in the Recovery Act. We would have had hundreds of thousands of teachers who were going to be teaching, starting last week and this week, who would have been out of jobs, teachers, social workers, counselors. We would have seen class size go from 25 to 40. I’m just so thankful we staved off that education catastrophe..."

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced on September 15, 2008, that Chicago's test scores on the ISAT tests had again gone "up" and cited the "up" as proof that school reform under mayoral control, which began in Chicago in 1995, was working. The chart at the right in the above photograph was typical of the charts that were prepared for the annual announcement that test scores in Chicago's elementary schools had gone "up", a regular feature of Chicago's media landscape. Standing behind Daley in the above photograph was 29th Ward Alderman Ike Carothers, who was wearing a wire at the time and later pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. Between Daley and the chart is Ginger Reynolds, who at the time was the "Chief Officer for Research Evaluation and Accountability" at Chicago's public schools, and as such in charge of preparing the annual charts documenting "up." Five months after the above photograph was taken, Daley replaced CEO Arne Duncan with a new CEO, Daley protegé Ron Huberman. Huberman promptly forced Reynolds to resign without explanation, at the same time Carothers was pleading guilty to federal bribery charges. Reynolds was the first of more than 30 top school officials who were forced out in what has become known in Chicago as the "Huberman Purge" of 2009. Within ten months after Arne Duncan left Chicago to become U.S. Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, the majority of the school system's top executives had been purged by Duncan's successor. Substance caption and photo by George N. Schmidt. "A number of things need to change," he continued. "First of all, it's desperately underfunded. ... A big problem with No Child Left Behind is they are very, very tight on how you get to your goals, very loose on what the goals were, nationally. ... That is fundamentally backwards and we want to turn that on its head."

“In many states, including the one I’m from, in Illinois, due to the political pressure," Duncan said, "those standards have been dummied down.”

Finally, Duncan got around to a central theme coming out of the Education Department now — "lying to children." What are the lies? Claims for success in Chicago when there was little or none? Charter schools that were never held accountable while Duncan was head of Chicago's schools? Using so-called 'standardized' tests to measure everything from children and their teachers to whole schools (but not charter schools)? No. According to Arne Duncan the "lies" America has to worry about are test scores that lull children into thinking they are proficient when Arne Duncan insists they are not.

“In too many places I think, Bob, we are — honestly, we’re lying to children,” Duncan added, “And let me explain what I mean. If a child hears they’re quote-unquote 'meeting the state standard,' that child, that parent, the logical assumption is, they’re going to be on track to be successful. But in way too many places around the country, children that are meeting that standard, because the bar is so low because it has been dummied down, they’re barely able to go to high school — to graduate from high school and they are totally inadequately prepared to be successful in higher education. That has to change.... We have to stop lying to children.”

Along with President Obama, Duncan wants to revamp U.S. public schools by using federal funding to force states to ease limits on charter schools. But a recent Stanford University survey in 15 states found that 37 percent of charter schools offered worse education than children would have received in traditional schools, and most are no better, despite claims that their innovations would immediately make everything better. "I've said repeatedly I'm not a fan of charter schools, I'm a fan of good charter schools," Duncan said, ignoring the fact that he was willing to establish dozens of charter schools and never hold any of them to the same accountability standards he was forcing on the remaining public schools.

"Where they're working, let's do more of them, let's replicate them. There are some extraordinary charter schools around the country. "Where they're not working, they're second-tier or third-tier, let's be honest about that and let's close them down."

Schieffer never asked Duncan how many charter schools he closed down in Chicago, versus how many true public schools. Or on what basis.

“We need to seek charter schools and traditional public schools and these are all public schools, these are all our children, these are all our tax dollars,” Duncan rambled to a close on the charter schools question.

Let's do a preliminary commentary (with a hope that readers will use substancenews 'comments' and maybe also ask 'Face the Nation' to face the facts when it's puff balling Arne Duncan):

The Duncan logic is to experiment on the nation's children without proven results by opening and closing schools without any regard to the effects mobility, attrition and instructional consistency have on a child.

Using standardized tests — while making them harder.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (above, center rear) poses with children at the Ella Flagg Young Elementary School in Chicago after hosting the media event at which school officials announced that scores on the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests (ISAT) had once again gone "up." Daley routinely used school children for publicity photos like the one above, never mentioning the unusual fact, obvious in the above photo, that more than half the public schools in Daley's Chicago were segregated and 100 percent African American 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education said "separate is inherently unequal." Daley's media events were also an opportunity for local politicians to add to their store of photos, although in the case of Chicago 29th Ward Alderman Ike Carothers, who shared the media spotlight with Daley that day, it was an odd moment. At the time of the September 15, 2008 media event, Carothers was wearing a federal wire as an informant in a U.S. Justice Department probe of corruption in Chicago politics. Five months later the Justice Department announced that Corruthers would plead guilty to federal bribery charges. Carothers received consideration in sentencing because of his cooperation with the feds, but none of the tapes released at the time of Carothers' guilty plea contained conversations with Mayor Daley or Schools CEO Arne Duncan. Substance caption and photo by George N. Schmidt.Much of what the nation heard on Face the Nation was the Chicago Plan. There was no plan to increase funding, no plan on equity in education, no plan to target at-risk populations except to close schools, no plan to increase academic performance except to close schools, no plan to protect school children from the sine flu, no plan to increase post-secondary performance, just sound bits without any concrete implementation timelines. But a major plan for more privatization through charter schools that can do anything they want without scrutiny.

Now the whole nation can see what has been happening in Chicago:

No Plan, No Regard and No Sense for common decency for children just more lies.

Quick Recap: Listening to the President of the United States in a televised speech in school is voluntary, there will be no teacher cuts or class size increases, will not close schools due to international pandemic (life or death) but will close schools if they do not perform to dummied down standards and last but not least no more lies.

Those who want to go back over Duncan's performance may want to use the references below.


Duncan: Obama Aims to Motivate Students

CQ Transcript: Education Secretary Duncan on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’

New Stanford Report Finds Serious Quality Challenge In National Charter School Sector

On H1N1: "We're Prepared for the Worst"

2,000 students at US university report H1N1 flu symptoms

School Address Is "Purely Voluntary"

For a recent Chicago video see Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a critical video by Labor Beat at

And check out both Labor Beat and CORE through the Big Links to the right on the Home Page. 

Final edited version of this article posted at September 11, 2009, 1:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


September 7, 2009 at 8:04 AM

By: SharonSchmidt

Thank God I didn't have to watch it.

Thanks for the report, John. I can read it, but if I had to listen to and look at Duncan spouting this stuff I think I would have gotten sick.

September 7, 2009 at 2:27 PM

By: Jeremiah

And we're supposed to cheer about these lies and liars?

We should be sad. The immense hope that a year ago was sweeping across the country has been destroyed in one year -- and by the man who brought us together, Barack Obama. Mr. Obama did not have to put Arne Duncan in charge of the schools, but he did. Mr. Obama did not have to turn the economy over to the men who destroyed it out of their own greed, but he did. Mr. Obama did not have to lovingly embrace two foreign wars for Imperial Reach... But he did.

And now on "Labor Day" Brother Obama did not have to join the ranks of scabs and sellouts who have broken their promises to hard working men and women...

But he has.

Hubris is the word best used here. Tragedy is what we're witnessing. The tears of millions in Grant Park and beyond that November night were tears of joy, with Ode to Joy ringing as the theme song.


Thanks, Substance, for the reminders.

Arne Duncan's lies weren't born the past nine months. They were well known across Chicago long before Mr. Obama ignored them to give Duncan this promotion. When Rich Daley told Arne Duncan what to say, Arne Duncan's only question was when to say it, and how many times. Like the old: "Jump, dog!" "How high, master?" Was there ever a test score "increase" that Arne Duncan didn't stand beside the mayor and hail to the rooftops?

And now to admit that all along Arne Duncan was "lying to children"?! Will he come back to Chicago and apologize to all those teachers whose lives he destroyed, all those children whose lives were ruined?

This is sick.

But the sickness is really from Duncan's fellow Harvard alumnus, Barack Obama.

No matter how soaring the rhetoric, if it's lies it's lies, and the person mouthing the words is a liar. Obama's spiritual ancestor did not fill the Gettysburg Address with bullshit, but with straightforward truth. Today, the country has Arne Duncan!

What arrogance, to believe they could say anything and get away with every lie they broadcast, as if simpler folks could never see or hear beyond the Ivy League lies and the eternal smiles that tried to sell them.

Soon we will all be longing for a simpler time, and simpler lies.

Many of us thought we had elected an alternative to George W. Bush and the Bush Republican agenda. Not Bush "lite" — without the malaoproprisms.

Maybe we'll even be nostalgic for the silly platitudes of "No Child Left Behind" and George W. Bush himself (Yale, then Harvard? Our first "CEO" President?). After all, Chicago was always a host to Bush and his education people, even before we got to the Harvard-greased lies of Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, and the rest of that crowd.

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