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A Conversation with Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education

Speaker: Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education
Presider: Joel I. Klein, Chancellor, New York City Department Of Education
October 19, 2010
Council on Foreign Relations



JOEL KLEIN: Wow, what a terrific turnout. So let me welcome you to today's CFR meeting, advise you to turn off -- not to put on vibrate, but to turn off all -- of your devices so that we don't have any interference with the sound system.

This session is going to be on the record.

It's now my privilege to introduce a friend and a colleague, Secretary of the United States (sic), Arne Duncan. You have his biography. It's an extraordinary biography. He graduated Harvard magna cum laude; he was co-captain of the basketball team, first-team All American as an athlete scholar; went to Australia, where he played basketball for several years, and then came back and went into the family business.

In his family, the family business is taking care of children who are underprivileged and who face challenges. He's one of America's leading public servants, leading educators. His heart and his passion for K-to-12 education will become apparent to you in a very few minutes.

I will just say the work that he and President Obama have done under Race to the Top have had a greater impact on transforming K-to- 12 education than anything, I think, in the modern era. And, as importantly, it has become actually a sexy topic.

That's why we're here today. Please welcome my friend, Arne Duncan.


EDUCATION SECRETARY ARNE DUNCAN: Thank you. Well, good afternoon. I'm really honored to be here today, and it's great to be back before the Council on Foreign Relations. I'm looking forward to a great discussion, and I'll keep my remarks pretty brief. I'm looking forward to a great discussion afterwards.

I want to talk today about my article in the forthcoming "Foreign Affairs" on education and international competitiveness, and then turn over the discussion to my good friend and moderator, Joel Klein, who's the extraordinary chancellor here in New York.

His smarts, his passion, his tenacity, are an example for all of us of what courage and leadership can do to help children fulfill their tremendous academic and social potential. I could tell you I've learned a great deal from Joel over the years, and New York is incredibly lucky to have him leading your efforts to create a world- class school system. And I'm going to continue to do whatever I can to support his efforts. Please give Joel a huge round of applause.


I also want to thank "Foreign Affairs," which has pre-released my essay specifically for today's event. I welcome the opportunity to talk about the relationship of education and international competition, because this is a subject rife with misunderstanding.

In a nutshell, my message is that policymakers and voters have treated international competitiveness for too long as a zero-sum game. The success of other nations at increasing educational attainment and economic competitiveness has been assumed to be America's loss. The belief that another country's gain in economic competitiveness is America's loss is a remnant of the Cold War mentality and a protectionist ethic. It stems from a worldview in which prosperity depends on a state's ability to preserve a finite amount of goods and human capital.

I want to suggest to you today that enhancing educational achievement and economic viability, both overseas and at home, is really more of a win-win game. It's an opportunity to grow the economic pie, instead of just carving it up.

On the whole, education and economic competition can produce enormous benefits, both for the United States and the world. The U.S. reaps rich benefits when educational attainment rises, both from an influx of well-educated immigrants and from rising demand for American products from better-educated populations overseas.

Let me begin with a story to illustrate how the world is changing.

Last November, during his trip to Asia, President Obama sat down to a working lunch with South Korean President Lee in Seoul. In the space of a little more than a generation, South Korea has developed one of the world's best-educated workforces and fastest-growing economies.

President Obama was curious about how South Korea had done it, so he asked President Lee, what's the biggest education challenge you face? Without hesitating, President Lee replied, "The biggest challenge I have is that my parents are too demanding."


That anecdote makes us chuckle, but it also makes us wince a little bit. I wish -- I wish my biggest challenge and America's biggest challenge was that too many parents were demanding academic rigor. I wish parents were beating down my doors demanding a better education for their children now.

President Lee, by the way, wasn't trying to rib President Obama. He explained to President Obama that his biggest problem was that Korean parents, even his poorest families, were insisting on importing thousands of English teachers so their children could learn English in the first grade instead of having to wait all the way until second grade.

That's the reality. That's the reality of what U.S. schoolchildren are competing against in the global economy, and it is a reality that many parents, lawmakers, and voters in America still have not yet fully grasped.

In practical terms, globalization means that U.S. students will have to compete throughout their careers with their peers in South Korea, Canada, China, European countries, India and other rapidly developing nations. This race to boost educational attainment and economic competitiveness is a race that, being brutally honest, the United States today is losing.

Just one generation ago, we had the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. Today, in eight other nations, including South Korea, young adults are much more likely to have college degrees than here in the United States. In South Korea, 58 percent of young adults have earned at least an associate's degree. In America, just 42 percent of young adults have achieved that same milestone. In many other developed countries, the proportion of young adults with associate's or bachelor's degrees soared over the past 15 years. Here in the United States, we simply flat-lined. We stagnated. We lost our way, and others literally passed us by.

The performance of U.S. students compared to their peers in other high-achieving nations is a critical benchmark of career and college readiness in today's knowledge economy. Unfortunately, the academic achievement of American high school students can be described as mediocre, at best. On the 2006 PISA results, 15-year-old Americans ranked 23rd out of 30 OECD nations in math and 25th in science. Fifteen-year-olds in Canada today, on average, are well over one school year ahead of their U.S. peers in those same subjects.

Just as troubling, about one in four -- about 25 percent -- of high school students in the United States drops out or fails to graduate on time. That's almost 1 million students each year leaving our schools for the streets. That is economically unsustainable and is morally unacceptable. As all of you know, high school dropouts today are basically condemned to poverty and social failure.

Last year, McKinsey and Company did a quantitative -- sorry, a quantitative analysis of the economic impact of having failed to close achievement gaps in the United States in the 15 years that followed the release of the landmark 1983 education report, A Nation at Risk.

McKinsey found that if students in states that scored below average on the NAEP exam had improved over the past 15 years so they merely performed at the national average, America's GDP would be 3 (percent) to 5 percent higher today, or between 425 billion (dollars) and $700 billion richer. The McKinsey Report concluded that the nation's achievement gaps have imposed -- and this is a quote -- "the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession."

One of the more unusual and sobering press conferences I participated in last year was the release of a report by a group of top retired generals and admirals that included General Wesley Clark and Major General James Kelly. They were deeply troubled, as I am, by the national security burden created by America's underperforming education system. Here was the stunning figure cited in the generals' report: 75 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 to 24 are unable to enlist in the military today because they have either failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit. Three-quarters of our nation's young people can't think about the military. So, to borrow a phrase from the space race, yes, Houston, we have a problem, and it's a big one.

Yet there's a paradox at the heart of America's efforts to bolster international competitiveness. To succeed in the global economy, the United States will have to become both more economically competitive and more collaborative.

It's no secret that in the last decade, international competition in higher education and in the job market has grown dramatically. As Thomas Friedman famously pointed out, the world has flattened. Companies now digitize, automate and outsource work to the most competitive individuals, companies and corporations.

In the knowledge economy, the opportunity to land a good job is all but gone if you drop out of high school or fail to get any college experience. That's why President Obama has repeatedly warned that the nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.

Yet more international competition has also spawned more international collaboration. In the knowledge economy, education is a public good, unconstrained by national boundaries. From 1995 to 2005, immigrants started a quarter of all engineering and technology companies in the United States, including half of those in Silicon Valley.

Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, was born in Moscow, but educated in the United States. In 2000, immigrants constituted just 12 percent of the American workforce, but they accounted for nearly 50 percent of the country's Ph.D.-holding scientists and engineers.

Even when products are manufactured overseas, U.S. entrepreneurs are well positioned to benefit through innovation. One study found that while Apple outsourced abroad the manufacture of the video iPod, 55 percent of the product's $299 retail value was captured by American companies and American workers. Most of the iPod's value, it turns out, lay in its development and design. It was the Apple engineers who figured out how to combine the device's 451 prefabricated parts into a prize commercial product.

It's no surprise that economic interdependence brings new global challenges and new educational demands. The United States cannot dramatically reduce poverty and disease, develop sustainable sources of energy, fight terrorism or curb climate change unless we collaborate with other countries. Those partnerships require American students to develop better critical thinking abilities, cross-cultural understanding and better language skills. They will also require U.S. students to strengthen their skills in science, technology, engineering and math -- the STEM fields that anchor innovation in a global economy.

Now, American workers would plainly be better off, in comparative terms, if they lead the world in educational attainment, rather than lagging behind. And that's why President Obama has set a bipartisan goal that America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world a decade from now, in 2020.

Yet it is important to remember that advancing educational attainment and achievement everywhere brings benefits not just to the United States, but around the globe. In the knowledge economy, education is the new game-changer driving economic growth.

"Education," Nelson Mandela says, "is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." From Indonesia to Pakistan to Kenya, education has immeasurable power to promote growth and stability.

It is absolutely imperative that America seize the opportunity to help Haiti build a stronger school system from the ruins of its old, broken one, just as our nation coalesced to build a much better, fast- improving, vibrant school system in New Orleans after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. From devastation, beautiful flowers can absolutely grow, and crisis does present opportunities for transformational change.

Educating girls and integrating them into the labor force is especially critical to breaking the cycle of poverty. It's hard to imagine a better world without a global commitment to providing better education for women and youth, including the 72 million children today who do not attend primary school.

And don't forget that a better-educated world will absolutely be a safer world too. Low educational attainment is one of the few statistically significant predictors of violence. Ultimately, education has always been the great equalizer; it's the one force that can consistently overcome differences in background, in culture, in privilege.

As Ben Wildavsky writes in "The Great Brain Race," in the global economy, more and more people will have the chance to advance based upon what they know, rather than who they are.

Now, it's true that not all will share equally in the benefits of a knowledge economy. College-educated workers will benefit the most. That makes the president's 2020 goal, the goal of once again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world, all the more central to building U.S. competitiveness. That goal is the North Star for all of our administration's education reform agenda. Reaching that goal is, admittedly, ambitious. It will require a transformation of the educational system here. It cannot be achieved through tinkering or modest improvements in both high school graduation and college completion rates.

To meet the 2020 goal, our department projects that an additional 8 million people will need to graduate from institutions of higher education over the next decade. Those numbers would represent a 50 percent jump in college attainment rates, with 60 percent of young adults earning degrees by 2020, compared to just 40 percent today.

So what are we doing to ensure our nation develops the best- educated and the most competitive workforce? In the coming decade, the United States has the unique opportunity to reverse its declining economic competitiveness. The recovery act, the stimulus package enacted by Congress in February, 2009, included nearly $100 billion for education -- the largest investment by the federal government in history.

This year, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act freed up $40 billion for Pell Grant scholarships for low-income college students over the next decade, simply by ending subsidies to banks that historically broker student loans. We raised that $40 billion without going back to taxpayers for one dime. That's the biggest increase in student aid since the days of the 1944 G.I. Bill.

We also granted $2 billion to community colleges to help them produce millions of additional graduates. And community colleges, I think, have long been an unrecognized gem along the education continuum.

As essential as these expanded federal investments are, reform is never just about more money. The United States also has an unprecedented window for reform because courageous state and local leaders have taken the lead in collaborating on problems that experts claimed were too divisive to resolve. Their commitment and innovation have been simply breathtaking.

I've said that America's in the midst of a quiet revolution in school reform, and this is a revolution very much driven by leaders in state houses, state superintendents, local lawmakers, district leaders, union heads, school boards, parents, principals and teachers.

The first such transformation reform is the voluntary adoption by 36 states and the District of Columbia of the state-crafted Common Core Academic Standards, which measure K-to-12 students' readiness for college and careers. For the first time in history, states will apply rigorous internationally benchmarked standards for math and English to more than three-quarters of all U.S. public school students. For the first time, a child in Mississippi will be evaluated with the same measuring stick as a child in Massachusetts. This will end states' insidious practice of dumbing down standards to make students appear proficient who are actually far from being either college- or career-ready. We have to stop lying to children and stop lying to parents about our educational progress, and start telling them the truth. The Common Core Standards are an absolute game-changer in a system which, until now, set 50 different goal posts for success.

A second transformational reform is the department's $4 billion Race to the Top program. Race to the Top challenged states to craft concrete, comprehensive plans for reforming their education systems.

The response to Race to the Top has been absolutely extraordinary. Forty-six states submitted applications and the competition drove a national conversation about education reform. Thirty-two states changed specific laws that posed barriers to innovation, including right here in New York, where caps on charter schools were raised.

Every state which had laws on the books prohibiting the linking of student achievement to teacher evaluations, every single state removed those barriers. And even states that did not win awards now have a state roadmap for reform hammered out, and many, many are moving forward.

The government cannot revitalize education and the nation's economic competitiveness alone. Business, higher education institutions, philanthropists, local leaders and parents must all do their part to prepare U.S. students to compete in the knowledge economy.

The truth is that American educators have a lot to learn from foreign competitors about how to rapidly accelerate educational attainment, how to reduce achievement gaps and elevate the teaching profession as a whole.

In the next four to six years, our department projects that up to 1 million new teaching positions will be filled by the next generation of teachers, as the baby boomer generation retires. And as the study by McKinsey and Company points out, the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.

Yet the McKinsey study also documents that the U.S. lags far behind top-performing nations such as Finland, Singapore and South Korea in recruiting young people with strong academic backgrounds to be teachers. In those high-performing school systems, all -- 100 percent -- of the teacher corps is recruited from the top third of each year's academic cohort. In the United States, by contrast, less than a quarter of new teachers come from that top third of students, and only one in seven new teachers in high-poverty, high-needs schools come from that top third. In the nations that are out-educating us today, the caliber of new teachers is a critical national priority. The United States needs to similarly elevate the teaching profession, which is why we have launched a national teacher recruitment campaign. Our ability to attract and retain great teacher talent can transform public education in our country for the next 25 to 30 years. It is a once-in-a- generation opportunity. And you can learn more about that campaign at

The goal, simply, over the next five years is to take a giant step forward in developing the finest teaching force in the world, especially in high-needs schools and high-needs subject areas.

If America accomplishes all of this ambitious agenda, strengthening U.S. competitiveness will still require a sea change in attitudes. To sum up, international economic competition should not be seen exclusively as a threat. Instead, it should be a healthy inducement to learn from and to collaborate with other nations.

Thinking of the future as a contest among nations vying for larger pieces of a finite economic pie is a recipe for protectionism and global strife. The economic future of the United States rests not only on its ability to strengthen its education system, but also on citizens in other nations raising their living standards.

Ultimately, expanding the educational attainment everywhere is the best way to grow the pie for all. The virtuous cycle, not the vicious cycle, is the pathway to prosperity.

So for these three reasons, America urgently has to transform what we're doing educationally. This is an economic imperative. We have to educate our way to a better economy. This is a national security issue, if our armed forces are to remain the best in the world.

And finally, transforming education is the civil rights issue of our generation. A child only gets one chance to get a good education. Simply put, if you can sit at the front of the bus but you still cannot read, you are not yet free.

Many years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King explained in his powerful letter from Birmingham jail why the civil rights movement could not wait. America today cannot wait to transform education. We've been far too complacent and too passive. We have perpetuated poverty and social failure for far too long. The need is urgent and the time for change is now.

Thank you so much.


KLEIN: So thank you, Arne. And you paint a pretty grim picture of where we are in public education today. My problem is it really has that deja-vu-all-over-again quality to it. In 1983, in A Nation at Risk, we talked about a rising tide of mediocrity, said if a foreign power had imposed this on us, we'd likely view it as an act of war. Two things have changed from A Nation at Risk. We've doubled in real dollars what we spend on K-to- 12 education, and I think it's indisputable we're more at risk now than we were in '83.

How can that happen? What are we doing wrong where we're spending all this money and we're not getting results?

DUNCAN: We're spending it on the wrong things. And I think the opportunity we have, without talking about the litany of reasons things didn't get better, I think we have this fundamental chance to break through. I think we're approaching the tipping point of the country. I think great leaders like you and others are demonstrating that all children can learn. There are more examples of success today. For all the challenges I talked about, we've never had so many high- performing, high-poverty schools; we've never had so many examples of great teachers and great principals making a difference in students' lives.

I think the country's finally starting to believe that every single child can learn. And I think, for those past 15, 20, 25 years, I don't think enough Americans actually believed that every single child could be successful academically.

KLEIN: So let's talk about that. Because there are people in this room who've said this to me. You know, it's poverty. It's family. All of the other -- we've heard that for a long time.

How much is that a factor in achieving the kind of outcomes you're talking about?

DUNCAN: I think the biggest battle you and I face every day is less an intellectual one, and it's more for people's hearts and minds. And those folks that believe that poverty is destiny or that children of color can't learn have been a huge part of the problem, have been a huge barrier to transformational change for a long time.

And I was fortunate to grow up, as many of you know, as a part of my mother's after-school program in the south side of Chicago, a desperately poor, violent community. And because of her and other people in their lives, the young people I grew up with went on to do amazing things. So I've seen, literally from the time I was born, that with real opportunities, real guidance, real long-term support, every single child can be successful.

Does poverty, does violence present some real challenges? Absolutely. You need longer school days, you need the best teachers, you need wraparound services, you need to make sure children are fed; if they can't see the blackboard, they need eyeglasses. But if you put in place those building blocks, there are absolutely no excuses why children can't be successful. We have, again, schools all around the country -- I've been to hundreds of them -- that are, you know, 99 percent minority, 95 percent poverty, with 95 percent graduation rates and 90 percent of graduates going on to college. So where we still have dropout factories that have 50 (percent), 60 (percent), 70 percent dropout rates, how do we allow that to happen? How do we allow that to persist?

KLEIN: So a good friend and colleague of ours, Michelle Rhee, was just involved in the D.C. election, and Mayor Fenty lost. And I think a lot of people thought the takeaway was that if you're a tough, really strong reformer, that your political future is in jeopardy.

What do you think we can learn from what happened with Fenty and Rhee in D.C., and what do you think we can do differently?

DUNCAN: I -- I reject that notion. And I'm not the political pundit here, but if you looked at any polls of the D.C. voters, basically universally everyone said the school system got better.

That school system was an absolute catastrophe. They had a huge amount of money; academic achievement was horrendous. And thanks to Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee's courage and leadership, that school system is dramatically better today than it was four years ago. Long way to go; not there yet, but I'm actually very hopeful about where that system's going to go, because of the foundation they laid.

And so anyone who thinks the voters rejected, or didn't think the schools improved, I think that's fundamentally misreading what happened there.

KLEIN: Tell us why you're -- and the president are such big supporters of the charter schools. Charter schools are very -- certainly here in New York -- are controversial. They're controversial inside the Democratic Party.

But you -- both of you have been really unflagging on this. Why?

DUNCAN: I don't understand the controversy. Charter schools are public schools. They're our children --

KLEIN: My job is to make it controversial, you know? (Laughter.) I mean, this isn't Chicago. This is New York. We live on controversy here.


DUNCAN: Charter schools are public schools. They're tax dollars. They're our children. They're accountable to us. Great charter schools are a huge part of the solution. Bad charter schools are part of the problem. I've challenged the charter school community to be much more active in closing down non-performing charter schools.

But it's interesting. As I, again, travel to 42 states and go to high-performing, inner-city schools, a hugely disproportionate number of those schools happen to be charter schools. So there's something magical, there's something right there. And where we're seeing success, we need to replicate it, we need to learn from it, and the last thing we need to do is stand in the way of giving children a chance to break these cycles of poverty.

KLEIN: So you -- you talked a lot about hiring new teachers in the years ahead of us. At least for me in New York, and many of my colleagues, our greatest fear right now is we're going to look at layoffs. The money from the stimulus package goes away this year, and we're projecting maybe 5,000 or more layoffs.

In most school districts, as you know well, you're required to lay people off based solely on seniority -- the last hire, first fire. And I just want to know, is that conscionable to do it that way when we know we're hurting children if we do it that way? And if it's not conscionable, what can we do? What can the federal government do to address that?

DUNCAN: Well, we're starting to see these places where we're getting these fundamental breakthroughs. So for those that have been following the news in the L.A. school system, there's a potential agreement between the ACLU and the school district that looks at how you terminate teachers, in tough budget times, very, very differently. And I think that's a -- you know, they're still working it through in the courts, but I think there's a lot of merit there.

And what, Joel, you and I worry about so much is that when you have these layoffs, it's always the children in the toughest communities who lose the teachers, have the greatest turnover. And the students who need the most stability, the best teachers for the long haul, get exactly the opposite.

And if we're serious about closing what I call the achievement gaps, we have to close the opportunity gaps. And a big part of the opportunity gap is getting the best talent, the best teachers, the best principals, to the children and communities who need the most help, and keeping them there for the long haul.

KLEIN: But isn't that -- the way you frame it as a civil rights issue of our time, isn't that precisely -- the kids with the greatest needs get the fewest choices, and they also end up systematically getting the least-qualified, least-effective teachers, whether it's in math or science or other subjects. And isn't that really the guts of how we haven't lived up to Brown versus Board? DUNCAN: Yes. Yes. To put it simply, yes.

KLEIN: That's all.


DUNCAN: And let me -- so that's the challenge, but let me talk about what's changing. So, you and the others are doing some really innovative work. We were just at the Broad Prize finalists, and one of the Broad Prize finalists is Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, as a school district, is starting to systemically move their best teachers and best principals to their chronically underperforming schools. And they're seeing dramatic results.

And so historically, there've been almost no incentives and lots of disincentives to get the talent where you need it the most. They are, as a district -- not just one heroic teacher or one charismatic principal -- they are systemically putting their best talent where they need it.

I was out there visiting them a couple weeks ago, talked to a phenomenal principal, one of the best principals in the system, who was going to retire. Had an opportunity to go work in one of the toughest schools; some people thought he was crazy. He says the best thing he ever did -- it was really an interesting line -- he says, "the most moral and ethical work I've ever done in my career."

And what we have to do in education is make that the capstone of careers. Not going to the wealthy areas, not going to more affluent, but going to the inner-city, the rural communities, and that's how you demonstrate your skill as an educator.

KLEIN: All right. Now, I'd like the members to join this conversation. I'll call on you. Wait for the microphone. Identify yourself and your affiliation -- and please do that; otherwise I have to interrupt you. And also, the speeches go to the secretary; all of you get a chance to ask a question, concisely, so that we can move the discussion. There are already a lot of hands up.

Right here in the front.

QUESTIONER: My name is Dan Rose. I'm affiliated with the Harlem Educational Activities Fund.

Sir, you opened your remarks with a comment on Korean parents. What steps are feasible to encourage American inner-city parents to demand more for, and more from, their children?

DUNCAN: That's a great question. It's one that we really struggle with. I will tell you one thing we have to do a better job of is listening to them. And if you haven't seen the movie "Waiting for 'Superman,'" I would encourage you to watch that. And you can take lots of different, you know, views of the movie.

For me, the most compelling thing in the movie was the desperate hope of poor parents to get a better education. And they were willing to do anything they could to help their child -- work three jobs, travel 40 minutes away from work to go to a better school. We have huge numbers of parents who desperately want something better who are trapped in a difficult situation.

How we awaken them politically, how we engage them to drive the kind of change, I haven't seen, frankly, anybody do that well. And I think that's a -- that's a challenge and an opportunity that the country has.

But anyone who thinks that poor parents don't care or don't want the best for their children, you can't watch that movie and continue to have that -- that misperception.

KLEIN: Back there.

QUESTIONER: Alberta Arthurs. Back to the question of charter schools, and "Waiting for 'Superman'" raises that as well.

One of the things I think has become unfortunate in this whole, very significant debate, is that public schools and charter schools seem to have been set up as opposites in the mind of the general public and also amongst private funders.

I'm sure this is not what you had in mind when you voiced support for alternative forms of education, but what can we do to break down that dichotomy, which depresses the public schools, is very bad for teachers in the public schools?

DUNCAN: Well, again, this is factually incorrect. And so I think the more we just tell the truth -- there's no spin here, you know? As I said earlier, charter schools are public schools, accountable to us. Our tax dollars, our children.

What I think many people have thought historically, frankly, is the idea of giving families choice. And I think public school systems have had monopolies. Those monopolies didn't function well, as most monopolies don't, and the only people who could opt out were the wealthy.

And I think -- I just fundamentally think that, you know, what works for the children of the wealthy probably works for the children of the poor. And the wealthy in our country have had multiple options -- public, private, faith-based schools, for a long, long time. Empowering poor parents to have those kinds of options is hugely important. And I think getting people to understand that these are all our children. There's no -- you know, there's no tension here, no competition. These are our children, public schools. We need to support them as such.

KLEIN: You've got to frame this debate in terms of good schools and poor schools, not in terms of charter. That's a political argument. And in this city, there are 40,000 people on waiting lists for charter schools right now. Why would we take that opportunity away from them, I find baffling. Because of Arne and Race to the Top, we're able to lift the cap.

Right here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Stephen Kass, Carter Ledyard.

How, Mr. Secretary, can you attract and retain the very brightest young people to become and stay teachers if their performance will be seen to be graded by standardized test results, rather than the broader kind of critical thinking, language abilities and other qualities that make a truly educated student?

DUNCAN: You can't. And so anyone who thinks that a teacher's evaluation should be based upon one test result fundamentally doesn't get it. And I've said from day one that you need multiple measures.

Where we're at as a country is interesting. Anyone who says 100 percent of a teacher's, you know, evaluation or pay should be based on a test score is wrong. What we've had as country is the opposite. We've had zero percent of a teacher's evaluation based upon student learning.

And I learned a lot coming to Washington. One thing I was stunned is we had these laws. We had laws on the books in states that prohibited the linking of student achievement and teacher evaluation. It was absolutely -- laws on the books. So we got all those eliminated.

But any evaluation of any teacher, any principal, you or I or Joel, always requires multiple measures. You need to look at a number of things.

But as a piece of that evaluation, looking not at students' test scores, but looking at their growth and gain, how much do they improve each year, I think has to be a significant part of that evaluation.

KLEIN: Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm --

KLEIN: Tell him who you are. QUESTIONER: I'm John Brademas. Before coming to New York University, I was a member of Congress for 22 years and on the Committee on Education. And there I wrote the International Education Act to provide federal funds to universities for the study of other countries and other cultures.

To what extent, in your view, are universities in the United States adequately providing education about other countries?

I yield back the balance of my time.


DUNCAN: (Laughs.) Thanks for all your leadership. I think, obviously, there'd be a real mix there.

Some would be doing a fantastic job; some would be doing much less.

I will say one thing I love; it's almost become the norm now that undergrads go overseas for six months or a year to study abroad. That was sort of a rare thing when I was in school. Seems like the majority of students today are doing that. So I think there's more of an international awareness than ever before through those kinds of opportunities. How much they're teaching, I think, would vary.

I worry about the lack of foreign language that's being taught at the university level and having that next generation of teachers come back. Our students should be learning Arabic; they should be learning Mandarin. We just don't begin to have enough teachers anywhere in the country to give young children those opportunities, and that's something we want to work on.

KLEIN: (Inaudible) -- in the back, right there.

QUESTIONER: Eugenia Kemble, Albert Shanker Institute, and I'm a member of the Council. I want to ask you a question about research and about early childhood education.

Most of the reforms that you've put forward, there are huge debates in the research community. The one on evaluation of teachers using test scores, even with multiple measures, because many states are going as high as 50 percent; the one on charter schools -- "Waiting for 'Superman'" aside, which does not present the research on this.

But there is one issue that you left out of your list, and that is early childhood education. We know that the cuts were made from 3 billion (dollars) to 1 (billion dollars) in ARRA, that your early learning grant program was cut.

If there's one piece of an education agenda that has sound research agreement behind it, it is the importance of the preschool years. And who knows; if some of this research is right, we could be cutting out a lot of what we do after the preschool years.

And I just wonder if you -- this was on Obama's agenda all during the campaign; it seems to have dropped out. And I'm just wondering; I'm hoping that you're planning to do something with this in the reauthorization of ESEA. Can you talk about this? DUNCAN: Yeah. It hasn't dropped out at all. We're actually requesting $300 million in our FY '11 budget to invest in early childhood education.

As you know, our department has not historically been a player in this area. I think we've been part of the problem, and we want to step up. And we think we can get support both from the House and the Senate to do that. So we want to invest in a major way. As you know, we wanted a couple billion dollars as part of the health care act; it didn't happen. But if we put $300 million on the table, that would go a long way.

What you also may have seen recently is we're working in real close partnership with HHS, which didn't always happen before. And they're actually challenging Head Start providers not just to perpetuate the status quo, but where we're not getting good results, asking folks to do some things differently. So it's not just more money. Trying to be more efficient and effective and strategic with existing dollars.

So what they're doing on the Head Start side and our 300 million (dollars), hopefully, will help to dramatically increase both investment and quality in early childhood education. And I agree, it's arguably the most important thing we can do.

QUESTIONER: Frank Weil, Abacus & Associates.

What have you found to be the distinguishing characteristics between charter schools that have succeeded and charter schools that have failed? They all have more or less the same platform, but they do seem to have considerable differences.

DUNCAN: I'd go back to Joel's point; it's a great one. It's not charter schools; you know, it's any school. Good schools -- you know, it's good schools versus bad schools. It's not charter versus charter or traditional versus charter.

Good schools do a couple things. They have extraordinary teachers who absolutely in their heart believe that every child can be successful. They work much longer hours. This takes more time. They're there longer during the week. They're there on Saturdays, there on Sundays, there over the summer.

They build a culture of high expectations, where students are talking about going to college from the earliest days. I was in a charter school startup in Florida two weeks ago. Their Kindergarten room isn't Room 101; it's Spellman College, because that's where the teacher went to school. It's just -- you know, just minor things that don't cost a nickel.

So, a culture of high expectations, extraordinary talent, and a lot harder work is what makes the difference. It is not rocket science. KLEIN: In the back, right there.

QUESTIONER: Chris Isham, with CBS.

Your department has proposed a number of regulations on the for- profit colleges which are not being applied to the nonprofit colleges. Aren't you kind of creating a double standard there, and doesn't it penalize the lower-income students?

DUNCAN: Well, Congress only gave us authority to look at the for-profits, so that's our realm. And we're looking at this very, very closely; we're taking our time on it. We received more than 90,000 comments and we're going to read them all, and trying to really --

To me -- and I actually equate the for-profits to the charters. The vast majority are doing a great job. When we talk about the president's goal of leading the world in college graduates by 2020, we desperately need the for-profits to help us get there. The vast majority are doing a really good job of helping disadvantaged students and families get back on their feet and retrain and retool.

You do have some, however, that are abusing taxpayer dollars, that are being very misleading in what they're doing and actually increasing debt in sometimes insurmountable ways with disadvantaged families. And so we want to try and strike the right balance, really support the ones that are doing a great job of helping the country.

But those that are really abusing the situation, which we as taxpayers are 90 percent of the investment, we want to try and nip that in the bud.

KLEIN: Gentleman right in front there -- right there.

QUESTIONER: David Heleniak, Morgan Stanley.

Missing from your discussion today has been the category of people who may be most responsible for what happens in our schools, and that is school boards, which we in New York learned were deplorably unqualified. That's true around most of the country. There are obviously some exceptions.

What, if anything, can your department do with respect to identifying and promoting quality school boards to achieve the aims you're after?

DUNCAN: It's a great question. It's a challenge; we have 15,000 school districts and 15,000 school boards in the country, and very uneven quality.

I've met repeatedly with the National School Board Association and attended their conferences. I think so much in the movement you're seeing as a country -- higher standards, college- and career- ready standards, better assessments -- they've actually been helpful in supporting us. So that's a move absolutely in the right direction.

I struggle sometimes in elected versus appointed school boards. And, you know, giving someone like the mayor here the authority to build a school board and hold him accountable for results, that's controversial. That's hard.

I think that is hugely important, particularly in big urban areas like New York, like Chicago. Detroit, I've been working hard to try and get them to that same point. And so it's not just whether you have a school board or not, it's sort of what's the nature. Who's accountable there.

And, you know, the honest answer is we're going to continue to have, whether it's 10,000 or 15,000 school boards, we have to better train them. I would urge many members of the business community to run for the school boards -- we haven't sort of talked about that -- but getting folks with a different set of skills, whether it's HR, whether it's finance, that's been missing in school boards. And getting folks of -- you know, from your company and others to step up and be part of the solution I think is a big part of the answer.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.) Collette Mazzucelli, Center for Global Affairs, NYU.

Given your emphasis on the need for collaboration, already at the high school level do you see best practices in the use of new technologies to bring American students into the classroom learning with our international students?

DUNCAN: Oh, it's not even -- I see with my daughter in the second -- in third grade, where they're starting to do Skype with children in Mali. So it's been fascinating. They love it. It's absolutely engaging, gives a whole different sense of how you study history and how you study, you know, world geography. So I think we can't do enough of that.

We haven't talked about it enough today. I think technology is going to be an absolute game-changer, a great equalizer, whether it's inner-city urban or rural. Giving students access to AP biology and chemistry and marine biology when it's not offered is hugely important. Linking up with students in other countries.

I visiting one classroom not too long ago where they were -- had an ongoing relationship with students in Egypt. Wonderful relationships, real excitement on both sides. I think those are powerful, powerful learning tools. I don't think we can do enough of that.

KLEIN: (Off mike.)

QUESTIONER: George Klein, chairman of Manhattan High School for Girls. You talk about the need of revolution, which the president speaks about and you and our chancellor and our mayor. Why don't you speak about the role of unions at all? I haven't heard one mention here, either by you -- and the chancellor keeps talking about it, but nothing is said about the role the unions have played and what needs to be done.

And the second part of the question, with the need for revolution like the film showed, why won't there be more of a demand for school choice and why won't it be that one day there's a revolution against public education, leading maybe to a tremendous demand for vouchers and school choice?

DUNCAN: Well, so take the second one first.

My only challenge on vouchers is that when I ran Chicago Public Schools, that we received about, you know, $8,000 per child. Where a child -- on average. We had many children that were, you know, $22,000, based upon special needs. No one's ever interested in taking those children. And if it's just, you know, choice for the elite few, that to me leaves the vast majority to sink.

So my answer is where you have chronically underperforming schools, let's not save three or four children from that community; I think we should be much more ambitious. If a private sector philanthropy wants to do that, I support that 100 percent.

But we're putting -- Race to the Top, we talked about it the whole time, that's $4 billion for the country. We're putting $4 billion behind the bottom 5 percent of schools to turn them around. And I don't want to save three and leave 500 to drown. I'm not going to sleep well at night.

We can -- if we start as a country to turn around these dropout factories, these chronically underperforming, we're going to transform opportunities for their children in their communities forever. So that, to me, is the much more immediate, urgent -- save every single child, not just save a few.

Sorry, what was the first part of the question?

QUESTIONER: About the unions.


DUNCAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah, unions --

KLEIN: Listen, he's only entitled to one question, so you --

DUNCAN: No, no, no, no, no. No, it's important. And I put unions in the same book, in the same category as charters, as school boards, as superintendents, as the Department of Education. All of us have to change. All of us have to do some things very differently. There are -- unions are not monolithic. I'll give you one example. Diane Donohue, the head of the NEA in Delaware, has been stunning in her courage, stunning in her leadership. And she's doing things there -- it's one of the reasons they were one of our two first Race to the Top winners. They are doing things that would have been unimaginable other places, in saying we're going to put children first and we should be in the business of not accepting failure and making sure every single child has a chance to be successful.

There're starting to be a series of contracts emerge. D.C. is fascinating one. Baltimore's working on some great stuff. I was in Hillsborough -- Hillsborough County, last week, in Florida. They're doing great stuff. There's a series of contracts emerging that I think are game-changers.

What we want to do, and we've talked about this publicly, is we're actually going to convene a national summit early next year -- bring in school board chairs, bring in superintendents, bring union leaders and figure out which districts are willing to tear up contracts and do some things in a very different way that are good for children and good for adults.

And so it's just like these high-performing, high-poverty schools. We now have the sprinkling of fascinating contracts. And what's really interesting, where this is working -- it didn't quite happen in Baltimore; it will -- the vast majority of teachers are voting for these deals. In Hillsborough County, it was 96 percent of teachers voted to pass that contract. New Haven's doing some interesting things; that was 95 percent. D.C., 80 percent. This is what great teachers are looking for.

KLEIN: All right. Now, we've reached a point, actually, and I'm told if we don't stop at 2:00, the place blows up, so I've got to get a wrap. (Laughter.) Wait -- what I'm going to do is I'm going to call on a few people so that you can wrap the whole thing up. I just --

Before I do that, I want to not just thank for being here today and sharing with us, but I really do think you're looking at an extraordinary leader in this country who is transforming K-to-12 education. And let me tell you, George, whether it's unions or anything else, none of these issues are hard (sic). What this man has the courage to do is speak truth to all of us and say the game's got to stop so that the kids can succeed. And I really admire you for that, Arne.


All right. Get your hands -- right here. You'll be next. Get her a mike. Get him a mike. Sure -- (inaudible).

(Cross talk.)

DUNCAN: (Inaudible) -- nice to see you.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Arne. Jamie Metzl with the Asia Society. Nice to see you.

A quick question. In your remarks, in your "Foreign Affairs" article, you frame around the issue of competitiveness. In your Q and A, a lot more has been around the issues of equity. Obviously, there's enormous overlap between those issues.

But could you talk a little bit about in what ways are those different? I mean, if we do really well for educating the top 75 percent of American students, we may be -- it may be a less just society, but we can possibly compete very well internationally. Maybe not as good as we otherwise might, but is that the problem or is -- are we failing overall?

KLEIN: All right. Now, he's got the question. We've got a lot of people here who want to --

DUNCAN: Yeah, so quickly --

KLEIN: Wait, wait. No, no --

DUNCAN: We'll get them all? All right. I'd better take some notes.

(Scattered laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Carole Artigiani, from Global Kids, and I do also want to say thank you for all the work you're doing on behalf of children.

One of the things I haven't heard much from you or the administration is the need to address the reality that most of our children and our now-adults have very little knowledge of world affairs, of civics, of their rights and responsibilities as citizens. And I personally know, for example, public schools were created to prepare citizens.

I wonder if there's more willingness to invest in making that real.

KLEIN: All right, the gentleman in back with too much white hair.

(Scattered laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Chancellor. Jay Kriegel. Regarding extended learning time, what's your goal and the reasonable expectations for longer school days and a longer school year?

KLEIN: All right, Ann.

QUESTIONER: Ann Tisch, founder and president of the Young Women's Leadership Network. I hate the thought of you being gone in two years, but it is something that we have to consider from time to time.

And if that should happen, what mainstays or infrastructure or reforms have you put into place that will outlast you?

KLEIN: All right. I've got time -- the gentleman on the aisle and then --

QUESTIONER: Peter Wolff. I'm wondering, of all the -- is there an issue you're not dealing with now, that we're not focusing on as urgent, that's going to come back and bite us in 20 years that maybe should be being dealt with now? Might it be pensions, might it be something else, what should we perhaps be worrying about now that we're not worrying about?

KLEIN: (Off mike) -- and then -- (word inaudible) -- you'll get the last one.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Amy Rosen, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

DUNCAN: Hi, Amy.

QUESTIONER: So, Mr. Secretary, you just began the question and answers by saying you were optimistic about the real chance for education reform now because of increased understanding of the American public. And in fact that's good timing, since reauthorization of ESEA is about to begin, but it's also about to begin right after the bipartisan -- after the midterm elections.

So my question really is do you think there's a hope or a prayer that we can actually have a bipartisan debate, which we get to have once a decade, in theory, on these issues?

KLEIN: All right. You've got three minutes to answer them.


DUNCAN: All right.

One, Jamie's -- this has to be about education for every single child, so 75 percent doesn't get us where we need to go. So our dropout rate has to get to zero. Students today that drop out are basically condemned to poverty and social failure. So this has to be about helping every single child fulfill their potential of college, careers. Graduating from high school is a starting point, not an ending point. So unequivocal on that.

Second, well-rounded education. That's one of the biggest complaints I've heard about NCLB. Some things have been very good about it. One of the biggest things I've heard everywhere I go is a narrowing of the curriculum.

So yes, reading and math are fundamental, foundational. Civics, science, art, dance, drama, music, P.E., recess. I'm a big fan of recess. We want to put a billion dollars in our budget behind what we're calling the well-rounded education. So civics is a big part of that. Foreign languages we didn't talk enough about, but we have to -- we have to do the basics, but we have to broaden out. Not just at the high school level, but elementary as well.

Extended learning time. You know, 12, 13, 14 hours a day, three meals a day if you have to; seven days a week, 12 months out of the year. I actually think we should have more public boarding schools. I think there are certain children that we need to have 24/7 if we're serious about ending cycles of poverty and social failure.

And there's a great one in D.C., SEED and others are working on it. But the answer should be whatever every child needs. And five days a week, six hours a day, nine months of the year doesn't work for virtually anyone today. We are losing the economic -- India and China, they're going to school 25, 30 more days than us. We're losing that battle for our children. So we have to fundamentally change that.

First of all, we're going to be here for the next six years, whoever was worried about that. (Laughter.) So let me just -- (applause) --


DUNCAN: -- but for the next -- I mean, I think as country we'll never go back to having 50 different standards. That was a third rail. You couldn't do that. This idea of having one standard, college- and career-ready for every single child, not dumbing things down, I think we've crossed that.

We have this next-generation much better assessments, which we didn't talk about, coming behind that. Those are game-changers. And I think this idea of focusing on teacher talent I can't emphasize enough.

Those countries that are out-competing us, every single one of them are systematically getting their highest-performing graduates to go into teaching. That doesn't happen in this country; that's what we have to change. We have to elevate the profession. And again, if we do it well over the next couple years, we change public education for the next 25, 30 years. It's a generational shift, so a huge opportunity there.

The other thing that I think we're changing through Race to the Top and other things is rewarding excellence. In education, we've always just fed the beast. We've always just perpetuated the status quo. We've never shone the spotlight on excellence and put resources behind that. It's a different way for government to act.

It's hard for Congress. It's not about everyone bringing home the bacon, but I think it's the right thing for us to be doing. And frankly, other parts of the government should be doing the same thing.

What are we not worrying about? We're worrying about lots of things, so -- (Chuckles.) Pensions are absolutely an issue we haven't hit, but I think -- you know, my biggest thing is if we can get the right teachers, the right principals in front of the children who need the most help, that to me is the crux of this thing.

And the final thing, ESEA reauthorization, whatever happens in the upcoming election in two weeks, I'm absolutely convinced that we can reauthorize. We want to lead early in the new year. We want to put it in the president's State of the Union Address. And I think if there's no other issue that folks can agree on, it's absolutely education.

We've been working very quietly, extraordinarily well with House and Senate leadership, bipartisan, bicameral. George Miller's been phenomenal. Lamar Alexander's been fantastic. And I think everyone -- you know, everyone's going to need a win. People are sick of Washington not doing anything. Everyone's going to need to accomplish something. I can't think of anything better than to come back around education in the new year. And we're absolutely laying the groundwork now to do that.

KLEIN: This has been a terrific discussion. Let me thank the members, and Arne, let me thank you.

DUNCAN: Very welcome. (Applause.)







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