Act like adults

Article Highlights

  • How should K-12 officials respond to the need to cut a fraction of one percent of K-12 spending? Like adults.

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  • K12 leader should make it clear that they're committed to using limited funds wisely and well.

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  • What to make of Duncan's distracting gaffe during #sequester.

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This piece is part of a debate on the National Journal's Education Experts Blog.

Sounding a lot like an anguished teen, Secretary Duncan has suggested that a 5.3% cut in federal education programs (which account for about 10% of K-12 spending) is devastating. Now, as memory serves, this is the same guy who (falsely) claimed in 2010 that districts had been slashing spending, "through muscle, to bone" since 2003. It's also the guy who brags that the feds provided more than $60 billion in K-12 stimulus in 2009, and another $10 billion or so in 2010 EduJobs dollars. To me, it all feels a bit like a lovelorn teen, gyrating from hysteria to euphoria.

K-12 has gotten north of $75 billion in borrowed stimulus funds in the past couple years...and is now faced with trimming about $3 billion a year in federal outlays. Horrors. How should K-12 officials respond to the need to cut a fraction of one percent of K-12 spending? Like adults. They should recognize that the feds can't keep spending borrowed funds at the rate we have been, appreciate the wad of federal cash they got in Obama's first term, and pledge to trim spending in smart ways. By the way: if K-12 leaders focus on making it clear that they're committed to using limited funds wisely and well, they may be pleasantly surprised by the response.

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About the Author


Frederick M.
  • An educator, political scientist and author, Frederick M. Hess studies K-12 and higher education issues. His books include "Cage-Busting Leadership," "Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age," "The Same Thing Over and Over," "Education Unbound," "Common Sense School Reform," "Revolution at the Margins," and "Spinning Wheels." He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog, "Rick Hess Straight Up." Hess's work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, National Affairs, the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and National Review. He has edited widely cited volumes on the Common Core, the role of for-profits in education, education philanthropy, school costs and productivity, the impact of education research, and No Child Left Behind.  Hess serves as executive editor of Education Next, as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, and on the review boards for the Broad Prize in Urban Education and the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. He also serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and 4.0 SCHOOLS. A former high school social studies teacher, he teaches or has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University and Harvard University. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Government, as well as an M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum, from Harvard University.

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