U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at 826 Valencia in the Mission District, May 1, 2013.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan paid a visit Wednesday to 826 Valencia, the Mission-based writing nonprofit founded by educators and authors Níneve Calegari and Dave Eggers.

“This is [like] coming home,” Duncan told the volunteers, teachers, parents and children who were at 826 on Wednesday to participate in the tutoring program. He recalled that as a child he attended an after-school educational program founded by his mother in 1961 on Chicago’s south side. He later took a year off from college to work with young children in the program.

Duncan has spoken highly of the work of 826’s satellite centers around the country. In the past he has spoken with students at 826DC, the group’s Washington, D.C. branch, but this was his first trip to the flagship 826 site in San Francisco.

While in San Francisco for a conference of education researchers this week, Duncan made the rounds of Bay Area schools in an attempt to galvanize education-oriented groups and promote a new $75 billion early-childhood education program that he and President Barack Obama recently proposed.

In a keynote speech to the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco, Duncan addressed the ongoing debate over whether the focus on standardized tests distracts from quality learning.

“In some places there’s over-testing,” Daren Briscoe, press secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, told Mission Local. “But we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he added, referring to Duncan’s view that certain elements of standardized test are helpful in assessing quality of education.

Some educators have criticized Duncan’s education reform efforts for not fully addressing the negative consequences of what is sometimes called “teaching to the test.” Just this year, administrators at several schools in Washington, D.C., have come under scrutiny for allegedly cheating in order to boost their students’ test scores.

During his speech to the research association in San Francisco this week, Duncan stressed the importance of collecting more data on teacher training methods in order to meaningfully assess what works best.

“We know surprisingly little about the effectiveness and return on investment of professional development,” he said.

Duncan will visit a classroom at Everett Middle School on Thursday and discuss education strategies with administrators and community members. The secretary is also reaching out to the Education Writers Association, Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, and the philanthropy community while in the Bay Area.

Eggers, Calegari, and several 826 Valencia and 826 National staff and board members were present during Duncan’s visit to the Mission on Wednesday.

“We are excited to have Secretary Duncan experience 826’s programming and observe firsthand our vision of community volunteers and parents partnering to ensure the success of our children’s education,” said 826 National CEO Gerald Richards.

“826 National and its chapters are inspired by the Department of Education’s recognition of our programs,” Richards said.

Duncan was appointed education secretary at the beginning of President Obama’s first term, in 2009. Previously he served as chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools.

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  1. Wow, I’m really surprised and dismayed that 826 Valencia would host Arne Duncan, who is extremely hostile to public schools- in fact when appointed education secretary in 2009, his stated goal was to close 1000 public schools a year for 5 years, in favor of charter schools. And it’s interesting that you don’t mention his position in your article. He is part of the privatization movement that blames the complex problems of public education i.e. poverty, violence, underfunding etc. on teachers. What is 826 Valencia getting out of this?

    1. I’m not saying this isn’t true, but please provide a link or some sort of source for your claim.

      I think you are misunderstanding his position. I believe you’re thinking of the Department of Education’s movement to fix or, if necessary, close, the 2,000 “dropout factories” across the country.

      Here’s one of many statement’s on the issue:
      http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/statement-us-education-secretary-duncan-nces-report-examining-graduation-dropout

    2. I completely agree. Very disheartening to read this glowing review of Duncan’s visit.

      He could have been confronted head-on–by a group he respects–with the widespread damage his short-sighted, competitive Ed. policies (RaceTT etc) has caused.

      As a teacher and a mother, I am outraged — our nation’s focus on testing & blaming has sucked the blood out of education–nothing short of criminal.