U.S. Education Secretary: ‘Nobody Can Be Satisfied’ With Results of Wisconsin Public Schools

By Dan Joseph | February 23, 2011 | 5:40 PM EST

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) - U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told CNSNews.com today in a video interview that “nobody” can be satisfied with the reading and mathematics scores achieved by eighth graders in Wisconsin public schools, noting that “they’re clearly not what they should be.”

However, Duncan declined to pin the blame on teachers for the unsatisfactory performance of Wisconsin public schools, arguing that "we can point fingers lots of places" and that “everybody” from parents, to school administrators, to the local community, to the business community also needs to be challenged to make the public schools better.

In the latest round of National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests administered by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009, Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned an average score of 266 out of 500, and only 34 percent of those eighth graders earned a rating of “proficient” or better in reading. (Thirty-two percent earned a “proficient” rating and another 2 percent earned an “advanced” rating.)

In the NAEP math test, Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned an average score of 288 out of 500, and only 39 percent earned a rating of “proficient” or better. (Thirty-one percent earned a “proficient” rating and another 8 percent earned an “advanced” rating.)

Wisconsin public schools increased their per-pupil spending from $7,123 in 1998 to $10,791 in 2008. Even when adjusted for inflation ($7,123 in 1998 dollars equals $9,408 in 2008 dollars) that was a real increase of $1,383 in per pupil. Yet, the NAEP reading scores of Wisconsin public school eighth graders did not improve at all in that time frame (they scored 266 out of 500 in both 1998 and 2008); and the math scores of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders improved only marginally, rising from 283 out of 500 in 1996 to 288 out 500 in 2009.

CNSNews.com asked Duncan if he thought the low percentage of Wisconsin eighth graders who tested “proficient” in reading and math, despite the increased school spending in the state, meant the Wisconsin public schools had failed.

“I think in any state you have fantastic schools and you have schools in the middle and you have schools at the bottom,” said Duncan. “Nobody can be satisfied with those results. They’re clearly not what they should be.  I’ve visited some amazing public schools in Wisconsin. I’m sure they have schools that really struggle. Again, these are complex issues. Good schools need to be recognized and rewarded and need to learn from them and replicate them and bad schools need to be transformed."

As a followup, CNSNews.com asked Duncan if the teachers should be held at least partially to blame for the struggling schools.

“We can point fingers lots of places," said Duncan. "My goal is not to point fingers, my goal is to get dramatically better. So in struggling schools, how we challenge students themselves, how we challenge parents, how we challenge the community, how we challenge teachers, the principal, the superintendent, the school boards, the business community--everybody has to be part of that solution.  Everybody has to come to the table.”