Duncan Urges Colleges to Help Underperforming Schools More

September 10, 2009

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged universities on Thursday to get more involved in helping to improve underperforming schools, by forming partnerships with local school districts, establishing charter schools, and improving teacher education.

In a keynote address at an education forum presented here by the University of Chicago, Mr. Duncan pointed to that institution's charter schools as an example and praised the university for not being an "ivory tower in the middle of the city."

In talking points distributed before his remarks, Mr. Duncan, who was chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools before joining the Obama administration, encouraged other colleges and universities to establish their own charter schools, develop better research methods to track the results of efforts to improve schools' performance, and create "a new generation of teachers" by providing more hands-on training and better support.

After Mr. Duncan spoke, a three-member panel continued the discussion of the role that colleges and universities can play in education reform.

"Not every university in the country should own and operate a public school," said Timothy Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute, which operates the University of Chicago's charter schools. But universities with programs in education or public policy should have environments where their students can "learn by doing," he said.

Charter schools and direct involvement with education-improvement efforts get at the central question of what a university should be, said Charles M. Payne, a professor in the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration.

Mr. Payne praised universities that do get involved with local schools for "taking ideas out of the classroom" despite the difficulties they might encounter. "Those universities who have tried to play a role in school reform have quickly found out they didn't know as much as they thought they knew," he said.

Both Mr. Knowles and Linda Darling-Hammond, founding director of the School Redesign Network at Stanford University, emphasized the importance of a long-term relationship between universities and school districts to create lasting improvements.

"If universities are to stay vital and not become obsolete … we have to learn by doing," Mr. Knowles said.