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Friday, January 14, 2011

U.S. Secretary of Education, on eve of MLK holiday, calls on Wake school board to honor diversity

Posted by on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 at 10:24 AM

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
  • Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, thinks the Wake County school board majority's moves are "troubling" and "backward" in a society still striving for racial equality. He said so yesterday in a letter to the Washington Post. The letter was in response to the Post's story earlier in the week relating how "tea party" Republicans have taken charge here with policies that threaten school integration.

John Tedesco, who frequently speaks for the school board majority (or lately, for the majority minus Debra Goldman), often references Duncan's support for charter schools and other innovations as somehow supportive of Tedesco's anti-diversity opinions. They're not. Duncan offers them as methods to improve FAILING BIG-CITY SCHOOL SYSTEMS LIKE THE ONE HE USED TO LEAD IN CHICAGO.

Wake's schools, of course, are not a big-city system and are not failing — facts that never deter Tedesco, however, from claiming some policy kinship with the Secretary of Education.

Hopefully, Tedesco will refrain from doing so after this letter from Duncan to the Post:

America's strength has always been a function of its diversity, so it is troubling to see North Carolina's Wake County School Board taking steps to reverse a long-standing policy to promote racial diversity in its schools ["In N.C., a new battle on school integration," front page, Jan. 12]. The board's action has led to a complaint that has prompted an investigation by our Office for Civil Rights, but it should also prompt a conversation among educators, parents and students across America about our core values.

Those core values, embodied in our founding documents, subsequent amendments and court rulings, include equity and diversity in education and opportunity. In fact, on Monday we celebrate the life and leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose movement for racial equality inspired a nation and brought us closer to the more perfect union envisioned by our founders.

In an increasingly diverse society like ours, racial isolation is not a positive outcome for children of any color or background. School is where children learn to appreciate, respect and collaborate with people different from themselves. I respectfully urge school boards across America to fully consider the consequences before taking such action. This is no time to go backward.

Arne Duncan, Washington

The writer is U.S. education secretary.

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