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Secretary of education comes to town as state focuses on schools

Duncan talks to local group after federal impact discussion

The man who could be a hero to Oregon educators is coming to town next week.

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, will be the keynote speaker Wednesday night at the Oregon Business Association's Statesman Dinner, billed as the largest gathering of business, political, and civic leaders across the state.

Gov. John Kitzhaber helped to secure the visit, according to the association.

Last month, Kitzhaber announced that he'd been in talks with Duncan's office about requesting 'flexibility from specific mandates' related to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind. Congress failed to reauthorize and reform the law four years ago.

Under the new plan, spearheaded by Duncan, states must still maintain accountability but may do so through their own innovations.

In recent months, Oregon and other states have called for a reform of the law, which the White House has dubbed a 'quiet revolution.'

Impact of federal laws

Coincidentally, federal education laws will the topic of a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Portland on Tuesday night, the day before Duncan's talk.

A panel of local educators will discuss 'the impact of the federal government on the local education environment.' It's part of a broader effort by the League of Women Voters of the U.S., which has been studying the role of the federal government in education for the past two years.

The lineup includes:

• Pat Burk, a Portland State University associate professor in the Graduate School of Education. Burk was appointed to the post of associate state superintendent for federal programs in 2002 then chief policy officer for the Oregon Department of Education in 2003.

• Gwen Sullivan, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, will discuss the teacher's perspective. Federal mandates have been 'killing public education,' she tells the Tribune. 'The more they tell us how to do it, the more it gets lost.'

• Charlene Bassine, assistant principal of David Douglas High School, will discuss the way the way schools operate.

• Mark Hansen, a member of the steering committee of Portland Area Rethinking Schools, will discuss his organization's philosophies.

Opposition grows to 'reforms'

Not everyone's looking forward to Duncan's visit. A grassroots group called Oregon Save Our Schools is organizing a protest outside Duncan's speech at the OBA dinner.

Emily Crum, a bilingual kindergarten teacher, says the group is comprised of teachers, parents, students, and community activists who are 'calling for equitable funding for all school communities; an end to inappropriate, high-stakes uses of testing for student, teacher, and school assessment; teacher, family, and community leadership in education policy; and curriculum developed by and for local school communities.

'Unfortunately, the Obama administration is carrying on the worst aspects of the Bush education policies and pushing unproven, risky, and profit-driven 'reforms.' Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan dangle money in front of cash-starved state governments with their 'Race to the Top' program to demand corporate reforms including more charter schools - which, at best, perform no better than regular schools and often much worse- and more high-stakes testing that takes time away from true instruction, and have been proven by study after study to hurt quality education!'

The group plans to gather at 6 p.m. outside the Oregon Convention Center.