‘You have a moment. Take it’

“I would urge you to be bold. … You have a moment. Take it, take it — seize it,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Mayor Michael Coleman and an audience that included members of the Columbus school board and Columbus Education Commission.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Mayor Michael Coleman

“Everybody has to step up and play a bigger role,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Mayor Michael Coleman. Photo by Shellee Fisher

During an appearance at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School, Duncan said the community should face head-on the challenges facing Columbus City Schools.

“For all the distress, for all the angst, for all the challenges, you could do something that could be not just great for the children here, you could do something that’s a model for the country. Think big,” Duncan said.

“There’s a huge sense of urgency. If it doesn’t happen now, I don’t know when it happens for this city and these these kids.”



Duncan discussed urban education in a 45-minute conversation with the mayor and KidsOhio.org President and CEO Mark Real. Here are other highlights of the visit:

What the mayor wants

Coleman laid out the five principles that he wants to see in a recommendations coming from the Columbus Education Commission:

  1. The entire community should provide a sustained effort to improve education. “It’s not just the school board’s responsibility. It’s everyone’s responsibility,” he said.
  2. All the school, civic, government and family efforts will need to be aligned to get the best results.
  3. Innovation must be a focus. “We need a driver of education in this city, to drive innovation for our kids,” he said.
  4. The school district needs checks and balances like other types of government.
  5. Education policies must be student-centered, not jurisdiction-centered. The question, Coleman said, should not be about district vs. charter schools.

Mayoral control

Coleman reiterated that he does not intend to take over the school district. Instead, Coleman said, his role is to focus the entire community on the kids.

“This whole discussion about mayoral control is divisive rather than uniting, and I think it’s distracting instead of getting to the real issues,” Coleman said.

Community involvement

In response to a question from the neighborhood group Southside STAY about the mayor’s role, Duncan said that control is a red herring but involvement is vital.

“If a mayor’s not putting the full weight of his office and all the city agencies behind this, I honestly don’t think urban school systems can do this by themselves,” Duncan said. But he said involvement doesn’t have to mean control, adding that all elements of the community have to help improve urban education.

“No one gets a pass. Everybody has to step up and play a bigger role.”

‘Hungry for change’

School board President Carol Perkins, who is also a member of the education commission, opened the evening by talking about the community’s willingness to help the district face its challenges.

“Our community is hungry for change and stakeholders through the community are well-positioned to make sure it happens,” she said. “I am confident that through hard work and collaboration, we will be able to transform our educational system and make Columbus a leading example.”

“The bottom line to all of this is this: Our children deserve better than what has been given, and it is our jobs to make sure that we do.”

Watch the video

The entire conversation can be seen here.

What’s next

On Friday, the commission will finalize recommendations on six areas and lay out a plan for implementing these changes.

The first four recommendations were reviewed by the commission on April 10. We’ll post the revisions when they are complete, but here are the initial drafts:

For a recap of the changes coming to these recommendations, check out our overview of the April 10 meeting. The other topics to be addressed Friday are:

  • Effective teachers and principals
  • High-performing neighborhood schools and more school choices
  • Implementation of all recommendations

For details of those proposals and other news, stay tuned here and to our Twitter feed,@ReimagineCbusEd.

5 thoughts on “‘You have a moment. Take it’

  1. Arne Duncan is product of the Chicago school system, which is arguably one of the worst in the Country. I can’t imagine why you would want any advice from him when the Chicago system is failing. It proves that this apparently is nothing more than a political game being played by the Commission and that you have no intention of fixing our schools. I can’t begin to explain how much this disappoints me. We had an opportunity to really make significant, positive changes to our schools but I see now that you are falling in line with a failing system that is outdated.

    • I agree with Heather. Columbus residents need to become more informed about what is happening with education in the major urban areas around the country that are following the advice of some of the corporate supported “education reformers”. It could be enlightening and make people think more critically about whether they want that model to be adopted in Columbus.

      • Well, I am still trying to remain hopeful – a lot of good people have put a lot of time into this commission, and the city has spent a good bit of money – I hate to think it’s all going to be for nothing – I agree with Duncan that there is a “huge sense of urgency” about this – I honestly think this may be our last chance to save our public school system. I also agree with the mayor, that we must have the involvement of the entire community, and I don’t see anything wrong with his “five points.”
        BUT – as always, of course the devil is in the details. What, exactly does it MEAN to have community involvement? A large segment, perhaps the majority of people in our city, have not been in a public school since they graduated – unless it’s been on a principal’s guided tour, which is sort of a dog and pony show. And, of course, I’m not blaming principals for wanting to present their schools in the best light possible, but in order to solve problems, we first have to show exactly what those problems are. I have been saying all along that decision makers desperately need input from classroom teachers, and while I think she’s doing a good job, it’s not fair to put the entire burden for this representation on Rhonda Johnson. I was happy to see some mention of establishing links with the business community, perhaps providing apprenticeships or internships for students. That is such a good idea – many of our students don’t have any idea what kind of career possibilities actually exist.
        I think the idea of expanding pre-K for all kids is excellent – but we must recognize that the benefits of those programs sometimes seem to disappear in middle school, when the hormones kick in and peer group becomes more important that parental influence. The mayor promised “sustained effort,” which is a good term – but how, exactly, is that going to happen?
        Most of the preliminary suggestions I’ve seem seem designed to help kids who are going to college. Obviously, that’s important. But where is the help for student who are not going to college? I’ve seen no mention of any kind of revival of vocational schools to teach kids skilled trades, where there are actually jobs to be had. Everyone in the community I have talked with thinks this is a necessary step, for our city, our state, and our nation.
        The interest in technology is good – there are going to be lots of jobs related to that – but I hope everyone realizes that it’s not a magic potion – kids still have to be able to read and do math.
        The most important areas I haven’t seen any recommendations for are curriculum revision, and re-establishing some classroom management policies and giving principal the power to enforce them. It’s not true of all our schools, but there are some schools where the behavioral issues complete impede the teachers’ ability to teach.
        Perhaps after the last meeting, recommendations and means for implementation will become more specific.

  2. Seems to me the root of the problem is Administration, some poorly educated teachers that really don’t give a “sh” about the educational importance of the children but just want to collect a paycheck with extended holidays and summers off. Excuse me? I was a successful manager of big retail business’ for 42 years. If my people did not perform they were analyzed and fired immediately if their performance was substandard. Some blame lies on the parents not demanding performance. But most blame lies on the administrators and instructors.
    Columbus could not even get their School Bus’ ready to transport students by school time. Why? Because somebody screwed up big time. Can’t get school bus’ running on schedule after 3 months off? You’re kidding me. Now issue 50 and 51. Everything is always about everyone needs more MONEY to fix the problem. How about we fix the real problem without increasing taxes again? You already get nearly 70% of Franklin county taxes from all property owners who have children or not. Mayor Coleman is shadowing the footsteps of Pres. Obama. It’s not my fault. Blame this problem on someone else. Whatever, typical Gov. and Politics without a resolve. Need money to pay for all the failures we created with lack of education. Who suffers? Duh!

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