Michael Barber and Margaret Spellings discuss the state of elementary and secondary education in the United States.
CHARLES LANE: I guess it's time to start. Thank you all for joining us. My name is Charles Lane. I write for The Washington Post. And I'll be -- I guess I feel like Charlie Rose -- (laughter) -- and I'll be hosting today -- although I'll try and speak in complete sentences. (Chuckles.)
We're here to talk about education within the United States, but very much in an international context. And -- (phone rings) -- actually, you've anticipated one of my little directives here. Please turn off -- (laughter) -- I'll just -- I'll just get right to that one and then come back. Please, kindly, turn off all cell phones and other electronic devices.
Now, back to the previously scheduled announcement. This meeting is part of the council's 90th anniversary series, "Renewing America," which examines how policies at home directly influence the economic and military strength of the United States and its ability to act in the world. And I'm sure all of you would agree -- and your presence here suggests that you would -- that the subject of strengthening our educational system for people kindergarten through 12th grade is very definitely on the list of issues we need to talk about as we think about strengthening the U.S. and its capacity to deal with the world.
Accordingly, we're being joined virtually by CFR members around the world, and around the country too, who are participating via teleconference, so I'd like to welcome them. And unlike many meetings here, this one is not not-for-attribution; this is on the record. So feel free to gossip about it as soon as you leave. (Laughter.) And I'm sure you'll find much worthy of comment and gossip from our two very distinguished speakers here. Let me just briefly introduce them. They're probably familiar to you.
Way over there on my right -- not ideologically, but just physically --
MARGARET SPELLINGS: But maybe. (Laughs, laughter.)
LANE: -- maybe ideologically, too -- is Margaret Spellings, who right now is president and CEO of Margaret Spellings and Company; who's probably better known to all of us as the former secretary of education, and prior to that, of course, domestic policy chief within the last administration's White House -- previous administration's White House. And she is a member of the independent task force the council has going right now on the very topic of our discussion today, U.S. education reform, national security -- and national security, "Education and U.S. Competitiveness." I'm told that their report will be out sometime next year; but when, I can't say exactly.
And then, of course, closer to me is Michael Barber, who was formerly a chief adviser on delivery to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. And now, it was explained to me, he wasn't in charge of making sure the mail got around -- (laughter) -- but rather, he was the fellow in 10 Downing Street who made sure that policies actually got implemented once they were made.
And we were joking that we could use a chief advisory on delivery at my house -- (laughter) -- but he says he's not available.
MICHAEL BARBER: (Laughs.) My wife wouldn't recommend it. (Laughter.)
LANE: Since leaving the government he -- of England, or rather the U.K. -- he is chief education adviser at Pearson LLC, correct?
And with that, I'll tell you a little bit about our format. We're going to have 20 to 30 minutes of guided conversation here. And then when we're finished with that, we'll open it up to questions from both the people here in the room and from those of you who are joining us by teleconference.
And so to start -- let me refer to my notes here for a moment -- I wanted to go first to Michael. We were talking a little bit in the green room about the kind of historical -- didn't want to go too far back in time, but if you could sort of give us a sense of the trajectory of U.S. performance in K-to-12 education. This is an area in which the United States really, in historical terms, is an innovator in the Western world. But I think it would -- it's widely believed that it has been overtaken, partly because of the advances of others and the deficiencies of our own system. But I'd like to hear you sort of give us your sense on where we stand -- where we have come from, and where we stand now.
BARBER: Well, yeah, I mean, it's an important question. Before I say that, just can I -- can I just congratulate the CFR for getting into this issue. I think it's great to see education as an issue of national security, of foreign policy, as well as economic and domestic policy. And I think the 90th anniversary series, this is a central topic for -- to America's role in the 21st century.
But if you -- if we go back in time, the U.S., from the moment of its foundation actually, was ahead of the game in public education. The Founding Fathers saw public education as a key part of building a successful society. It was associated in their minds with creating a successful democracy. At the time when New York state, for example, introduced public education, in 1812, the British didn't get there until 1870. So as America expanded across the continent, it did introduce pretty much universal public education, ahead of pretty much all of Europe.
And then it got another boost in the Theodore Roosevelt decade, and the progressives became more effective, higher quality. At the same time, it was building successful universities in the early 20th century. And then it got a further boost in the 1950s with Brown versus the Board of Education, and the so-called "Sputnik moment" when America realized it had to match the Soviet Union in science and all of that.
And if you -- if you -- and people have done this -- if you look at the impact of that on America's economic performance, it was a very, very significant reason for America's 20th century economic leadership. And it went right through, even into the decade that's just finished.
But then what you see is, from the late '70s onwards, a kind of plateauing of American performance, as a whole range of other countries begin to accelerate their performance, catch up and, in the last 15 years, overtake it. And it's not necessarily that the U.S. has got worse; it's just that other countries have accelerated past it.
And then -- and then the other thing that has been a big issue for the U.S. all the way through the last 30 or 40 years is the whole equity thing. Even if your average performance is going up, the range around the average in the U.S. -- actually, and similarly in the U.K. -- has been far greater than in many other countries.
So I'd say the history shows that leadership in public education is associated, often with long time lags, with leadership in economic performance. And leadership in economic performance is strongly related to your power and influence in the world, so that's a big issue. And the fact that in the last 25 or 30 years the U.S. has been falling behind will have economic consequences, not just now, but for 20 or 30 years. And that's why it's important, as Margaret did when she was secretary, that people put this on the top of the agenda for governments and really try and address those fundamental issues.
LANE: Well, Margaret, speaking maybe about that last two to three decades that he's referring to where we kind of plateaued, maybe you could give us a little bit of the -- of the details that demonstrate the lagging performance or the slowing down of excellence in performance of the United States, and relate that to the performance of other countries.
SPELLINGS: Yeah, I would love to do that. And I want to echo my gratitude to CFR for raising this issue as part of your national agenda because it is so critical to all of us in this global knowledge economy.
Before I get into that sort of last three decades or so, I also want to say that this has -- this matters so much more because of the changing nature of the workplace and the -- and the economy. I mean, the day and time when you could make a good living off the sweat of your back, you know, is long since past. And so high levels of literacy and ability to cipher are critically important, and more so.
In addition, as our country has gotten more poor and more diverse, the work has gotten harder. So I'm certainly no apologist for the public schools by any stretch, but you know, more demands from the economy, work getting more difficult vis-a-vis the population we're serving -- and that has contributed to this flatline. Obviously, we saw women leave the teaching profession for opportunities in medicine and law and every other thing, being the secretary of education or whatever. (Laughter.) And I think clearly, that has taken its toll as well.
So there's a variety of reasons for that. I'll talk about the last, you know, three decades or so and what we've tried to do about it and what it kind of represented in terms of a sort of a structural shift in public policy in education. About, you know, 25, 30ish years ago, the nation -- famous Seminole nation risk report came out and said, basically, we stink. And it caused governors and states and localities to really start to focus more on this issue. As you know, unlike Europe, we are a highly decentralized system with 16,000 local school districts, obviously, 50-plus governors and, you know, just a very, very decentralized system with nine or 10 cents of the dollar coming from Washington and the rest coming from states and localities, which will factor into, I think, our discussion as we think about the proper state and federal role and the calibration of that.
But in any event, governors started to get serious about it. And to make a long story short, a few pioneering governors like Governor Jim Hunt, a Democrat in North Carolina, Governor George Bush in Texas, his brother in Florida, among others -- many governors started to embrace locally this, let's set some standards, and let's have some accountability, i.e., assessment around those sorts of things. So the conversation shifted away from just how much do we spend in the name of equity and all the myriad school finance lawsuits that were percolating around the mid-'80s or so to not only how much do we spend, but how are we doing by the -- by the students.
Our federal commitment for the last 40 years since the federal role in education was defined at all, prior to the creation of the department itself, when it was Health, Education and Welfare -- some of you look old enough to remember those days -- has always been on the needs of poor, minority and disabled students. I mean, that is the robust yet discrete, you know, point of entry for federal policymakers. So this recent history of standards, accountability, measurement, more transparency and more commitment to the achievement gap and bringing the bottom up, as Michael just alluded to, has been what the last, you know, at least couple of decades as it's related to state efforts, but clearly in Washington, the last 10 years as part of No Child Left Behind. So that's kind of a summary of how we got here.
LANE: I just want to say I am old enough to remember the old Department of HEW. (Laughter.) But I don't look old enough -- (laughter) -- to remember.
SPELLINGS: No, you don't.
LANE: At least I think -- that's what I like to think.
Well, let's go to this point about this whole sort of quirky state/federal system we have here. This is -- you know, in its own, I would say, rather general way, to be kind, has been an issue in these many Republican debates now, to abolish the Department of Energy -- or sorry -- well, I can't remember all the departments they want to abolish. (Laughter.) But abolish the Department of Education, I think, was on the list.
SPELLINGS: He remembered that one.
LANE: And the impulse there is to relocalize education. And I think, you know, taken seriously, that reflects some legitimate frustration with the red tape, the bureaucracy and so forth. But I'd sort of like to ask each of you the degree to which you think it's possible, since we're talking about something that is an element of international and national -- or rather, national strength on the international stage, we can make the kinds of reforms we're talking about in a -- you know, in a system that, for better or worse, is going to be so decentralized and whether -- or whether we need some kind of fundamental shift in the distribution of power there. Michael, you want to take a stab at that?
BARBER: Well, personally, I think it would be a disaster to abolish the federal role in education at this moment of all moments. And let me give -- let me give a few reasons why.
One is education policy and thinking and analysis and understanding and data is globalizing. Increasingly, countries are comparing their performance. I turn down weekly invitations to chair or facilitate conversations between various ministers about what to do about their education policy. I've accepted ones in Hong Kong and Japan and here in the -- in the last year or so. There's a constant dialogue now with a really good evidence base on what to do about education policy. And I think Margaret was -- (inaudible) -- she's one of -- one of the first secretaries to really get -- take that data seriously and begin to think what it meant for the United States. And Arne Duncan has certainly built on that in a very effective way. So just at the moment when, around the world, everybody is looking at everybody else and saying, what can we learn from you, for -- to lose the federal role, that would be a big mistake.
Secondly, I just want to reinforce two things that Margaret referred to. One is the job we're asking the schools to do is different from the job we asked them to do in the 21st century. In the 21st -- 20th century -- sorry -- we said educate the mass of the population to a basic level and an elite to a high level. Now we're saying we want everybody to achieve high standards, as is every other country. That's a different job. It's a tough job to do. And the equity role that was created in the 1960s for the Department of Education in Washington is a key element of achieving that.
And thirdly, going back to the history, I mean, local control was fantastic as the U.S. expanded across the continent in the 19th century. It was a kind of perfect model. You create a school district, you raise the money, you build a schoolhouse, the kids go to the school. That's perfect. But at a time when you need equity and you need high standards, you do need a federal role, and actually, when you get to the state level, you need the states to play a bigger role than they used to play in relation to the districts. So the -- it's the -- it's the more aggregated parts of the system, the state and the federal thing, that can drive equity into the system in a way that, if you have local control and local tax raising, obviously, you're going to get huge diversity in the tax base, in the quality of the schooling and all the rest of it.
So I think right now would be a very, very bad mistake to lose the federal role, actually, just when the combination of No Child Left Behind and the legislation that Margaret took through and then Arne's work since then has actually given the federal government a stronger role and a more effective role than it's ever been. So this is the right moment to persist with that, not to -- not to do away with it.
SPELLINGS: Well, needless to say, I appreciate those comments and agree. I think this whole, you know, red tape thing and bureaucracy is just a red herring and is a smoke screen for, basically, excuses by adults to cut against or mitigate the goals of No Child Left Behind, which says we're going to get kids to grade level by 2014.
So if you're a parent or a grandparent, if I came home to you and said, listen, we think we can get Suzy on grade level by 2014, you'd have your child or grandchild out of the school that day because you want your child doing grade-level work while they're in that grade. And this idea that we think other parents want less for their kids is what my former boss used to call the soft bigotry of low expectations. So I think as we debate all this who's-in-charge stuff, the thing that's happening is we're ignoring, you know, this moral and economic and national security imperative to educate many more kids to much higher levels.
I just want to tell everybody right here and right now, on the record, that there is no federal law against closing the achievement gap or raising student achievement. And when I was in office and said, states, please come to me and tell me what it is that is impeding your ability to innovate, to create, to serve kids better, you know, it's a goose egg. They don't -- you know, there isn't anything because the investment is fairly small. The role is fairly discrete. It is about assessment and transparency. And I would just say as a counterpoint that, you know, we've tried the other approach for 40 years. This is the period that Michael talks about, this flatline, which is put the money out and hope for the best. And so if we're serious about educating more kids to higher levels, we got to have data, we have to know who's failing and who's succeeding in what.
And you know, we know today that, you know, half the schools produce, you know -- I mean, 13 percent of our schools produce half the dropouts. I mean, we can drive to them; I can send you a list; we know who the principal's name is. That's because of No Child Left Behind. So you can't cure a problem that you don't fully understand.
So I just think this is all a game or a smoke screen, and what I'm worried about are the politics around this where it's -- it -- fascinating politics actually, because it's what I'll call the federalist Republicans -- the Department of Education abolishers, you know, my kindred folk -- (laughter) -- teamed with the unions and folks who represent adults in the system, versus the business community and the civil rights community. And so you know, unlike many issues, it makes for some really interesting politics. (Laughter.) And I think, you know, the unions -- I mean, the business community and the civil rights community carried the day 10 years ago, and it's very much at risk today.
LANE: Well --
SPELLINGS: The Senate passed a bill out of committee that basically guts accountability, and this is very much current.
BARBER: Just one more refinement I'd like to build on that, and while we're mentioning former bosses, my former boss, Tony Blair, says that the big issue of the -- of the 21st century is whether societies are open or closed, not whether they're left-wing or right-wing or whatever; it's whether they're open to the world or closed. And having a federal Department of Education that is scanning the world, finding out what's going on and working out what that means for the United States, in alliance with business and other leaders of the society, must be part of being an open society.
If we believe, as all the data says, that education is going to be an even bigger factor in determining economic success in the 21st century than it was in the 20th century, it would be absolutely lunatic to abolish the Department of Education now and lose America's role in that big international debate.
LANE: Well, I want to go to your -- what both of you feel about this issue of accountability, assessment standards, which Margaret has flagged. And obviously, there is push-back among those to whom these standards would be applied --
LANE: -- and who see them not as an opportunity, but rather more of a threat to whatever interests they may protect. And I don't know; this is anecdotal based on my own experience with kids in public schools, but to the list of interest groups you mention, I might even add a good many parents --
SPELLINGS: Mmm hmm, absolutely.
LANE: -- who are concerned that somehow, they only teach to the test and so forth. Can we find a formula that is both valid in an area, which, you know, somewhat like health care; we spend a lot of money on, but there's a certain unquantifiable element to what good performance is -- can we find a formula that is going to work for most people and that will be effective and widely accepted and promote the kind of reform that you're talking about?
SPELLINGS: So here's the story on No Child Left Behind. This law says test students one time a year in reading and math and report that data, that information, in a disaggregated way -- in other words, Hispanic, African-American, poor, et cetera. And so what has happened as that's been implemented is, you know, rather crude measures, pencil-and-paper tests, et cetera, that are high-stakes to the adults and beget sort of a feeding frenzy of, you know, kill and drill and some of these things.
What I think we're going to see -- and Michael is, God willing, going to be a part of this and is a part of this -- is a refinement and a -- and a -- and a greater sophistication in the assessment industry, using technology so that testing is more transparent, more facile, more immediate, more useful to the practitioner and on and on and on, so that as kids engage with the content, we just -- you know, we find out, hey, Michael didn't get that long division ®MDNM¯concept, and we got to go back and reteach. So it's sort of immediate real-time feedback.
And -- but we are not going to serve that mission or demand for that with reducing the power of accountability and assessment. If we say, let's just, you know, do it if you can, if you feel like it, whatever, it will not happen. This pressure of the system in every school for every kid has been critically important.
LANE: On that very point, if you wouldn't mind, Michael, could you give us your perspective on how that works -- since we're trying to do a little international up here -- how that piece works in other countries? Are they -- do they have the same hang-ups about tests and standards that some people have here?
BARBER: Well, that -- the -- some of that debate happens around the world. But let me just take a couple things. One is -- one of the things I learned when I was in Downing Street was -- dealing with various professions, not just educators -- is that there's a kind of iron law of accountability, which is that professions are in favor of all the other professions being accountable, but not their own. (Laughter.) So that -- so the -- if you say to the police, should we publish the results of schools, they say, absolutely. And so what about police forces? I don't know; it's too complicated. (Laughter.)
And then -- and so of course when accountability comes afresh, that is a -- feels like a threat, and it is a challenge, but actually, what you also find is when people go through that, the data begins to inform their practice, and the same people who oppose accountability are usually in favor of evidence for -- evidence-informed policymaking. But it's the data that tells you what the -- what the policies are working, which schools are doing well, which policy implementation is working and which isn't.
So the data that underpins policy and the system is really important, and it comes from the accountability mechanisms. As Margaret says, tests are getting more sophisticated, and the, you know -- (inaudible) -- and she's not about promoting that -- is doing a lot of research at the forefront of using modern technology to assess in valid, reliable and more sophisticated ways than was possible even 10 years ago. So I think we will -- the debate is not about whether you test or not, it's what kind of tests and how you use the information and how you get it to have impact in the classroom and the school and at the system level.
So of course there's controversy about tests around the world, but the -- you know, your president is in Australia today, or he was yesterday. They are introducing for the first time --
LANE: We don't know what day it is in Australia right now. (Laughter.)
BARBER: For the -- for the -- for the first time in Australian history, which is a federal country, there's an -- there's going to be a national curriculum. They've had a debate about that. They're testing all Australian children ages 7, 9, 11 and 13. They're publishing the results. You can go and look at the website called MySchool. You'll be able to compare any Australian school to any other school. They've done that in a federal system. It's not been without controversy. It's still controversial, but actually, they're going through with that. And that is the broad trend in countries like the U.S.
In the U.K., tests have been very controversial. Like Margaret, I've got the scars on my back from defending these things. But again, that -- nobody in England is talking about abolishing tests or sort of reverting to 20 or 30 years ago. So this is controversial, but it's also fundamental to progress.
LANE: Well, we've just -- Margaret, go ahead.
SPELLINGS: Well, I was just going to say one thing, and this is what's at risk now. Testing is here to stay, and transparency is here to stay. The question becomes what are the consequences when failure occurs, OK. And so in the law as it is written today, it says, you know, after multiple years of low performance, some things need to happen. And I think without that -- those consequences, it's sort of just information, right? And I think the power of accountability is that, you know, threat of change. We cannot sit here and delude ourselves that, you know, half of our minority kids in this country -- and if you're from Texas or Florida, California or New York or Illinois, that matters, or lots of places -- are getting out of high school on time, but all of the schools are successful and good. It just is -- (chuckles) -- it doesn't add up.
I would like to continue this interview all day, but unfortunately, or fortunately, these folks get their say, too. So we'll move to that part now. And I guess the drill here is that you have to wait till a microphone -- for a microphone. And then when it's your turn, please identify yourself and your affiliation. And interestingly, I'm going to try and manage this iPad to pick up questions from all over the world and see how well I was educated by the system. (Laughter.) I wouldn't place any high bets on it.
But anyway, who would like to ask the first question? We have a person here in the front, please.
QUESTIONER: Diana Negroponte from the Brookings Institution. I want to bring up the use of this testing within Latin America, where there is clear acceptance of the focus on engineering, math, sciences, but in producing critical thinking among students, presents a threat, a threat to the established status quo. I'd like your ideas on how one might overcome this perceived challenge or threat.
SPELLINGS: Well, I'll start quickly and just open it up so that Michael can comment about the new work that's going on in these things.
As I said, you know, assessment has really been in its infancy, and we have done, you know, kind of an OK job with valid, reliable instruments that test basic math skills and basic reading ability. But we've not been very good at testing critical thinking, creativity. You know, obviously, other subjects can be assessed and are in many states and are required by many states. But I think this is part of this refinement and more sophistication of assessment. And you know, I'm a "what gets measured gets done" kind of gal, and we can and are figuring out how to do that. And so I think it's just a matter of time before we -- before it gets there.
BARBER: Yeah, I agree with that. And I just wanted to add to that the -- I mean, first of all, don't underestimate the connection and overlap and actually integral relationship between literacy and critical thinking. You know, being literate, being able to read, understand, comment on, debate, argue about a piece of text, which is literacy, is actually a big part of critical thinking. So it's not a totally separate field. That's one -- that's one thing. So the more children learn to be literate and to achieve high standards in reading and writing, the more likely they are to do critical thinking.
And then as I was saying earlier, there are developments in testing where you can get into some of those things. Just to give you one example, for the PISA, which is the OECD comparisons in -- last time in 60-odd countries, but it'll be even more by 2015 -- we are engaged in developing tests partly in -- sorry, in science, which is, relatively speaking, straightforward, but also in collaborative problem-solving, which is not straightforward at all. How do you -- how do you test collaborative problem-solving? Well, we don't know the answer to that, but we're looking for the answer to that. And on-screen, online testing opportunities give you ways of getting into some of those debates.
So I think we'll see sophistication in the testing areas that will enable people to get into critical thinking, creative thinking, collaborative thinking, divergent thinking, deductive thinking, all of those things which are critical to being successful in the 21st century.
LANE: Gentleman back there.
QUESTIONER: Hi, I'm Daryl Soong (ph) from the embassy of Singapore. And thank you very much for your comments.
Secretary Spellings, you mentioned the consequences when failure occurs. I'd just like to ask about the consequences when success occurs and how that can be used as a way to improve better-quality teachers and draw better people to the teaching cohort. Is it -- you know, I guess using my country as an example, we give performance bonuses for teachers. We -- and we try to make sure that teaching is a prestigious profession that the top graduates go into. I was wondering what your thoughts are on how that would work in America.
SPELLINGS: Absolutely. I am a big fan of linking performance of kids to rewards, and evaluations of teachers. And that notion has been, obviously, controversial. We started a pilot program called the Teacher Incentive Fund during the Bush administration. And God bless Arne Duncan and President Obama, they dramatically increased funding for it. And it is very much coming online. It was, you know, a battle royale to pass the thing in the first place, but I think it's gaining acceptance. Clearly, foundational things like high-quality assessment that is aligned to the curriculum, that's timely, useful, valid, fair, all of those things, is absolutely essential before you start evaluating human beings and their -- and their pay around those things. But I think we're starting to see some of that.
You know, the dirty little secret in the U.S. is if you are -- if you have a Ph.D. and lots of experience, you're at Creampuff High teaching the most advantaged kids. If you're brand-new and struggling, you're likely trying to do the most challenging work in our system. And we have got to align our reward systems, as other industries and enterprises do, so that the people who do the hardest work and get results make more money than the people who have very little to do.
BARBER: Just two comments I have. Well, first of all, what Margaret just mentioned on the Teacher Incentive Fund is a good example of the continuity between two different administrations from different political parties.
BARBER: And that's an example that the U.S. needs more of across the policy spectrum -- (laughter) -- actually because it's really going to make a difference. It's one of the things that makes me very optimistic about America's next decade at a time when not everybody's optimistic.
But the second thing I want to pick out from Singapore -- and it's great that you're here -- is there are two messages, I think, from the -- in addition to the one Margaret's commented on from Singapore for the U.S. Obviously it's a totally different -- you know, it's a -- it's a small island, very, very successful compared to a continental country, but two things that I think are relevant for the CFR and the audience here.
One is really thinking, over the next decade and beyond, where America's going to get its teachers from and what kinds of people it's going to recruit and how it's going to do that. There are things that Singapore does, that Finland does, that we began to do in England in the last decade, that are really relevant, and it's very, very important to get a talented teacher workforce. And teachers' pay is part of that, but it's only one part of it. So that's one thing.
And then the other thing that they do incredibly well in Singapore is train and develop the next generation of principals in a very, very systematic way.
If you're in the embassy here, I guess you are turned down from joining the teacher profession -- (laughter) -- but I -- but I -- but I may be wrong.
LANE: There's no personal questions allowed. (Laughter.)
SPELLINGS: Can I -- Chuck, do you mind -- I -- just add -- want a quick thing to that. And Michael's absolutely right. We have to stop the -- we don't use time and -- everything about education has been reformed except how we use time and how we use people.
BARBER: Right. Right.
SPELLINGS: And one of the things that we need to do is start thinking about -- which has made -- one of our things that's made our higher education system so successful is this idea of adjunct faculty.
You know, we -- this is how we treat professionals in education: You have to come, you know, 185-plus days a year; you have to have been prepared in this one-size-fits-all sort of way. I mean, the idea that, you know, NASA scientists who are, you know, 55 years old can't come into our schools and teach in the fall semester, but not in the spring. Or -- you know, we just have to get a lot more creative with how we bring talent from our communities into our schools in ways that are not this one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter, you know, kind of food-chain approach to getting educators in our schools.
BARBER: You know, actually when I was at McKinsey a couple years ago, we did a report on the -- I think we called it the "talent gap" in America's schools. And some of the data in there about what young teachers think about their prospects for their career is alarming because of the situation that Margaret described.
You go in and we asked them things like, what do you think of your chances of being recognized and being promoted if you're successful? And they're really anxious about it. How do you think your -- you know, is talent -- the recognition of talent a big part of what happens in your daily life? No. So there are big things that need to be changed about the management of people in the American education system. And Singapore has lessons, not just for the U.S. but for all of us actually.
SPELLINGS: Mmm hmm. (Affirmative.)
LANE: We'd better go to another question. We have someone here in the front.
QUESTIONER: Hello, I'm Curtis Valentine with MarylandCAN, the Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now --
SPELLINGS: Wow. Good. Bravo.
QUESTIONER: -- state-level education policy reform. As you know, the NAEP scores came out a few weeks ago. America only made up one point over the last two years in math and reading. And my question to you is, how do we inject a sense of urgency in state legislators to push for policies that will close the achievement gap?
SPELLINGS: Well, for sure we don't need to get rid of participation in the National Assessment or -- and accountability. I -- and there's a lot of pressure to do that, because we just said, you know, we can't or we don't want to or it's too hard.
You know, we have started to turn the corner a little bit. We've made more improvement, as you know, in math than we have in reading. Math is easier to control and to teach and to get a result around in a school setting than reading is. Reading, obviously, is affected by a lot of other variables, like the home and print and language and so forth. So we have made some progress.
How do we light the fire of urgency? You know, that is my -- probably my biggest frustration. You know, if we said to parents, half the school lunches served in our cafeterias today are tainted, people would be in an uproar. But the fact that half the kids -- and minority kids are getting out of high school, nobody seems to care too much.
And I think we have to make it personal to all of us. What does it mean for the future of our economic prosperity as a country? What does it mean for our civic democracy? What does it mean for our national security? And that's what CFR, God willing, will do in this report.
LANE: I think it's actually true that the lunches are half-tainted. I don't -- (laughter) -- based on what I've seen in the cafeteria.
SPELLINGS: But they're not poisonous; they're not going to kill you -- immediately. (Laughter.)
LANE: Was that you -- yeah.
QUESTIONER: So my name is Lana Sol (ph), and I actually work at the Department of Agriculture.
LANE: Oh, no! (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: And on that point, it would be great if Congress would get on board with feeding our kids healthier things, too.
But I wanted to turn to, as you get more data and more understanding of where you do see success, whose job is it to take those successful models and a lot of the kind of science part of what we're learning about what works in education and to push it out and to make sure that schools are using it? You know, you have very successful models in our system, but you don't see them spreading like wildfire, actually impacting the large -- you know, scaling up to where it's actually getting to a lot of the kids. So where does that responsibility lie and how can we really help increase the innovation in our systems?
BARBER: Well, maybe an international comparison or two would be relevant here. I mean, in most countries, the national government thinks that's its job, to -- increasingly to be aware of what's happening, to be aware of why that country compares as it does to other countries, to learn the lessons from that and do things about it.
When I was first in the Blair administration -- I think this is probably true largely around the world, but it's certainly true for us -- is in the late -- in the late '90s, when we got international comparisons, our main concern was the next day's headlines. And I'm not -- I'm not proud of that, but that's true.
BARBER: But now, when the international comparisons people come out around the world, governments really focus on, what are the lessons? How do we -- how do we find out what this sort of international benchmarking lessons mean for our system? And that is largely the national government.
But in countries like Canada, where there is -- where the federal government really doesn't play a role in school education of any kind -- the provincial leaders do that, and they do it province by province. But the provincial leaders also meet regularly and debate education policy across Canada. So although the federal government doesn't have a locus in K-12 education, that there is a lot of dialogue and a lot of commonality between what the provinces do and how they respond to that.
So here in the U.S., you want the federal government leading the charge, I think, but you also want state leaders really focused on it. And I was very glad, a couple years ago, when -- to see Massachusetts and Minnesota playing their part in the TIM (ph) studies as independent entities, because that makes the debate more refined and it makes it stronger. And so I'd like to see more of that.
So, in a federal system, you need the national government, and that's why I think we were both arguing for maintaining a strong federal department. But you also need the state governments to be thinking, well, what does that mean for us?
SPELLINGS: So, we call that phenomenon "local control," and we're at risk of returning to a lot more of that, actually not less of that.
Clearly we can't make those sort of discernments without data to evaluate what works where and with whom. So, clearly, I agree with Michael that that's an appropriate federal role.
One of the things I'll just use as an example. It was very, very powerful, and it did not come from the Department of Education. The folks that deal with early childhood development and brain development at Health and Human Services about, you know, I guess probably 15 or 20 years now, started to study how young children acquire literacy.
And it begat a National Reading Panel, which was foundational to, really, a refinement and a revolution in reading instruction that included, you know, more phonemic awareness, more skills development -- yes, comprehension, but -- so the great debates, the reading wars, really were over after this very powerful scientific research that were brought to bear because of federal investments.
LANE: I just want to turn to some of the questions that have been coming in on this nifty little iPad here, and sort of try and summarize -- there's three questions here, and they all have in one way or another the same concern, which is that the things -- the skills that our schools are teaching, whether they're effectively communicating them or not, are not necessarily the most relevant skills for what the economy demands. And I think there's been a lot of concern in that regard from the business community.
We have one question about -- questioning the overemphasis on getting everyone into college, as opposed to beefing up our intermediate -- or education in trade -- trades and skilled employment like electricians and so forth; and another questioner wondering whether the low performance of our K-to-12 is eventually going to be -- is going to have an effect on the performance of our higher ed, which is thought to be relatively unaffected so far; and a third questioner who's pointing out a lot of employers look to hire people -- to hire highly skilled immigrants simply because there are not enough Americans who have the skills they need, particularly in science and math.
So that's kind of a cluster of questions which I would sort of try to put together and ask how you think we can address, quite apart from the overall performance issues, the mismatch problem, the belief that there's a mismatch between what we're teaching and what we need in the -- in the economy.
SPELLINGS: I'll go first. Well, as I said, you know, the foundational thing that this federal (rule ?) has called for is, you know, basic abilities in reading and math. And I don't think anyone would argue, whether you're going to college or, you know, going to work in a modern manufacturing plant, that you do not need those skills. And we're not -- we're woefully short of doing even that.
I do think we have a marketing problem and a -- and a -- on this, what students will need post-high school. And I think it's widely understood now that most jobs will take at least 16 years -- sorry, 14 years, two additional years after high school, of some sort of higher education; be it high-level skill development in the trades and in electronics and so forth, or a trajectory to college. So I think we in the business community are now starting to talk about education as, you know, college or career ready. But the foundation of high levels of literacy, math and science skill is a higher bar, and applies to everybody.
So I think those of us who were in the school -- in school many years ago have to really make sure that we're -- when we say that, we're not thinking: You're in voc ed, and I'm going to college; you're going to be in shop, and I'm going to go to college. Because I think we're at risk of getting back into that kind of tracking system that brought us to where we are in the first place.
BARBER: Yeah, I mean, I agree with that. I mean, you'd have a hard job persuading me that not getting everybody to high standards in English, math and science isn't a fundamental part of the job of an education system in the 21st century. And nobody's achieved it in the past, so it's a -- it's a difficult thing to do, but we've got to get everybody there.
But that being said, it is quite clear that in many of the jobs of the 21st century, you need more than that, as well. You need some interpersonal skills; you need critical thinking, creative thinking; you need to be able to collaborate with people. So there are -- there are personal attributes that you want in the workforce that go beyond that.
But I completely agree with Margaret and the -- it is about being college and career ready, and it's about young people leaving education with the ability to make some choices about what they do in life. And if they want to go to college, we should enable them to go to college; but we shouldn't say you have to go to college, because there are lots of other career trajectories.
But right now in America, you've got 9.1 percent unemployment -- you don't need me to remind you -- but you've also got employers crying out with vacancies, because they can't find the kids to fill the jobs that they've got because the school system isn't and the community college system isn't producing the kids with the right skills. Now, that is actually a very common problem around the world; it's not just here in the U.S. We've got 8.1 percent unemployment in the U.K., but youth unemployment is higher than that, and rising, and we've got the same phenomenon.
So I think that there is -- there's a policy set of solutions that nobody's got quite right about getting the dialogue between employers, the education system at school and community college working more effectively, not just in school-to-work, but throughout people's lives, because even if you get the skills to do a job that is needed in 2012 or 2015, the chances are, in the global economy now, it won't be needed in 2025, and then you need to re-skill. So we have -- nobody's quite got that right, and I think that is a huge part of the agenda for the future.
LANE: There's a lady here in a blue shirt, I think.
QUESTIONER: Hi, there. Megan Hoot, with Civic Enterprises. My question is following up on college and the ranking, national ranking. So President Obama, one of his goals is 90-percent high school completion by 2020, and we're moving along the spectrum on that goal. But his second goal is first in the world in college attainment, and recently the reports went from 12th in the world to 16th in the world. And I was wondering if you could comment on, you know, what sort of track we need to be on to get to that goal, to get to Obama's goal, if that's the right goal, and what we should be doing around that college completion?
SPELLINGS: Well, as you may know, when I was in office, I appointed a Commission on the Future of Higher Education that talked about three elements of that. One, accessibility: which, you know -- code for let's make sure kids get out of high school able to be successful in post-secondary education, and not in a bunch of remediation -- (fair point ?). Affordability: which we've worked a lot on through enhanced Pell grants and so forth, which are now up for discussion once again. And accountability: and that was obviously the most controversial element of it. We are -- if you think our high school completion rates are bad, wait till you see our college completion rates, especially for people who are poor, minority, and who are seeking education in the licensure and trades, associate's degree sort of way. Kids end up spending a lot of time and a lot of money, to no good effect.
And we're not going to fix that without understanding the problem better, and that's going to take data and transparency. Now, if you think this is controversial in secondary education, wait till you bring that kind of notion to post-secondary education; you'll start a fight, as you know. But I think that's what it's going to take if we're serious about it.
And I commend the Gates Foundation, Lumina and others who are really working on this problem. I mean, we've done a pretty darn good job of educating elites to high levels in this country, and a very sorry job educating poor and minority students to high levels of completion.
BARBER: Yeah, I mean, I -- your -- the goal that the president set for college completion is aspirational, but it's absolutely the right direction to head in. And being first in the world in 2020 or 2025 is going to be a tough job, because the world is moving.
BARBER: And the other thing to think about is this. If you want somebody to complete college in 2025, that means they're going to start -- you know, it's a six-year graduation rate, so they're starting college in 2019. They're already in elementary school now. So the things you do -- whether they learn to read and write now is going to affect that goal. It feels a long way away, 2025, but it's an immediate issue for the 6- and 7-year-olds in our -- in your elementary schools here in the U.S. And people need to think in cohort terms. So what do we need to do to that generation of kids in primary school and then middle school and then high school, so that they can complete college on time? It's a -- it's a sequence that you need to think through for the cohort.
But the goal is absolutely in the right direction. And as Margaret says, if you look at some lists of the top hundred universities in the world, America comes out fantastically well, with many of them in this country, and they're a driving force of the economy and much else in the U.S. But if you look at completion from ordinary college around the country, it's frightening and a big problem.
And the foundations are important. And Education Trust here in Washington puts out fantastic data on this that really puts the issue in front of people. And so the president's goals are in the right direction, but the strategy to put it in place needs to be built state by state at the moment, and it's not yet in place.
LANE: I would like, if I -- oh, there's someone back there. You, sir, yeah. Sorry.
QUESTIONER: Thanks very much. Michael Montelongo, with Sodexo. So first, Charles, I want to take exception to your comment on the cafeteria. As an individual that feeds our youngsters healthy and nutritious food every day, to improve their performance, we do a pretty decent job. So anyway -- just wanted to set the record straight.
LANE: I -- I'm just speaking of what I remember when I was in high school 30 years ago. (Laughter.) So obviously, everything has changed.
QUESTIONER: Because in those days, we weren't feeding you, that's why. (Laughter.)
LANE: (Oh, exactly ?).
QUESTIONER: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for referring to the fact that this is a national security problem, because as you know, three in 10 of our young people are barely qualified to join the military services in the ages of 17 to 24. And the two major reasons is because of lack of academic preparation, and the second, of course, is obesity, which is tied into education as well.
But my comment is, I wonder if there's been any utility, or anyone has looked at the entire process, end to end, as a life cycle, because it seems to me that it's very fragmented. And one of the reasons -- not the reason, but one of the reasons that it's in the state it's in is because the various constituencies in that cycle, in that process -- parents, educators, the actual teachers and then the businesses themselves who hire folks coming out of the system -- all will look to everyone else as being part of the problem, as opposed to all being part of a wholistic, comprehensive system, end to end.
So I wonder, has anyone looked at it in that way, where there's accountability throughout the entire cycle: parents handing off their children to the K-through-12 system, the K-through-12 system then handing it off to colleges, then colleges handing it off to businesses?
SPELLINGS: Certainly not well enough. I mean, that's Curtis' (sp) question: How do we build this kind of national urgency around, you know, every stakeholder? And I don't think we have. I mean, you'll see programs -- charter schools, for example, like KIPP, where there's a contract with the family and a -- and an extended day, extended time, high standards, a lot of transparency, that very, very much engage colleges and parents in that -- in that apparatus. But it is a -- you know, a little island unto itself, the KIPP charter school movement, which is excellent, but it's quite discrete. Nobody has done that in a comprehensive or systematic way.
LANE: Yes, right here.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Kim McClure, with the Department of State; and just finished a fellowship here at the council, creating a program that introduces under-served youth to global issues, international careers and study abroad. And in my experience launching this program, talking with a lot of people who make up sort of the education elite and establishment, a lot of times, the reactions that I got were: Oh, that sounds like a great thing, but what we really need to be focused on is literacy and math. And I hear a lot about reading and math here today. And so my question in response to that is always that we need to be able to explain to kids that they have to learn skills in reading and math, but we need to be able to answer the question: To what end? And I believe that end is to be a global citizen, to be globally competitive.
And so my question is really: How do we create a national consciousness around not just focusing on literacy and math, which I think are clearly good skills to have but is a bit shortsighted and misses sort of the larger point of: To what end? You know, about -- I think it's 30 percent of American high school students are studying foreign languages -- only 30 percent -- and less than 1 percent are studying abroad. And so I'm worried that we're going to end up with a society that is -- if we achieve the goals on literacy and math, which is a high goal to begin with, we can end up with a society that is functionally literate, but still globally illiterate. And so how do we think long-term to avoid that?
SPELLINGS: Do you want to talk about that one?
BARBER: Well, let me say it's a great question, and it is very important. And it goes far beyond the school system which -- because you're basically -- you're basically -- and that's why you're in the Department of State. You're talking about what is America's role in the world in the 21st century, and then what kind of education do we want the younger generation to have to prepare them for playing that part.
So let me just refer to a couple of other places in the world where this has been part of the debate, and you'll get some idea of where these debates happen. So in Australia, as I referred to earlier, they're introducing the first Australian national curriculum. They launched it in a thing called the Melbourne Declaration about three years ago. I happened to be a speaker at that launch. And then they've had a series of debates about what the content should be, not in English or math -- they've benchmarked it internationally so that if you're good at physics in Australia, you'd be good at physics anywhere -- but they've also had a debate about history and social studies and what they want every Australian to learn.
So one of the debates that comes up in Australia, represented in the discussions they were having with the president yesterday, is is Australia's -- or to what extent is Australia's future as part of Asia, or should they be looking at their history as part of the British Empire, the British Commonwealth and Europe and all of that. That's a big debate, and it's a very good thing for students in Australian schools to be thinking about.
Take another angle on this: Alberta has had a big debate, now finished, on what would we like an educated Albertan to be like in 2025, what skills and attributes would we want that to have. Now, that's a difficult thing to have in -- have that debate in the U.S. because you're not going to have a national curriculum. You might have common core standards in English or Math, but you're unlikely in the foreseeable future to have a national curriculum.
But to have a debate about that as a country does seem to me a worthwhile thing to do that could be prompted not just by the federal Department of Education, but by other people, by business leaders, by the State Department, by the Council on Foreign Relations. We have a -- but there is a debate to be had about what you'd like an educated American to be like, and the kind of program you're talking about and you've obviously been working on here in -- (inaudible) -- is one of those elements that you'd like to see in the broad education of the American population.
LANE: I think we have -- if I can, we have time for one more question if someone has one.
Yes, you've been waiting patiently.
QUESTIONER: Raleigh Flynn (sp). I have a question, and that is what role do you see the private sector playing, and could there be more collaboration, perhaps in curriculum development or funding, from the private sector? And echoing an earlier comment about this being a national security issue, is there a greater role that our U.S. military could be playing in -- (inaudible)?
SPELLINGS: Great question. I think absolutely the private sector can and must play a greater role. We've talked to some of it with respect to business and how business needs to be clearer about the expectations, be more of a -- of a partner with our schools. I think one of the things that's a simple thing -- and I'm involved with the -- with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well, and we're working on this -- is -- and I think educators are frustrated by this -- that you know, if every company has their own cute little philanthropic thing, which is a science prize or a such-and-such fair or an arts competition or whatever. And I think we're not in a -- in a -- in a rich enough discussion with our schools about what they need and what their problems are and so on.
And so, you know, to inventory, catalogue and hitch all that together so it's not Monday and it's the Siemens science prize; it's Tuesday, it's Cisco; and it's the eighth grade middle school -- you know, in a more coherent kind of way, I think, would be a good value add. But you bet we need much more of that.
BARBER: I'm with that. So I mean, just to take an example from Britain, when I was in the Blair administration, we had -- we had a big debate about the future of the National Health Services -- National Health Service, which is a -- as you know, a big sacred cow in British politics. And we were -- what Blair used to say is that the ends are a -- you know, a healthy population well-served by its medical services and its hospitals and all the rest of it. But the -- but the means need not be purely public. So you've got public ends, but you don't need to have all the provision to be public. And we brought in private-sector providers of knee and hip and eye operations, and they were more efficient, and they did the operations at the same price or at sometimes less than the -- than the -- than the public sector. And that was an engine of improvement.
So I'm absolutely with the idea that you can have private provision, but you do want your public education service to serve public ends. But who provides it within a framework set by government, I think, is a -- is a debate that's going on all around the world. And one of the reasons I was keen to join Pearson, as I did a few months ago, is I think the investment in innovation, in the kind of testing we were talking about, is -- public systems aren't going to be able to do that, but private companies can. So we need a really strong relationship between public and private sectors to deliver the kind of educational transformation that the next decade needs not just here, but all around the world.
LANE: On that note, we're out of time. I think we could have gone on much longer, but it was a very fruitful discussion.
And I wish you would thank our guests. (Applause.)
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