International Competitiveness and Education: A Conversation with Arne Duncan

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks about the importance of education to U.S. global competitiveness.

JOHN DEGIOIA: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting. We'd like to especially welcome the Council members around the nation and the world who are participating in this meeting via teleconference.

If you could please turn off -- not just put on vibrate -- but turn off your cell phones, BlackBerrys and all wireless devices to avoid interference with the sound system. And as a reminder, this meeting is on the record.

Well, it's my honor to introduce someone who has made a lifelong commitment to helping ensure a quality education for every student, to confronting pressing issues in public education, and to stressing the vital importance of education to the future of our nation.

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been shown and has helped prove the transformative power of education since his youth.

As a student, he had the opportunity to participate and teach in his mother's after-school program. Early in his career in Chicago he helped run the Ariel Education Initiative, an organization which helped fund a college education for a class of inner-city children under the I Have a Dream Program, and then helped develop the Ariel Community Academy which today ranks among the top elementary schools in Chicago.

From 2001 to 2008 he served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools. And during his tenure, the percent of the district's elementary school students meeting or exceeding state reading and math standards reached an all-time high.

In January of 2009 he was appointed the U.S. secretary of Education by President Obama. Secretary Duncan has led an ambitious campaign to reform education in the United States, and we're glad to have him with us today.

It's my privilege to introduce the United States secretary of Education, the Honorable Arne Duncan. (Applause.)

EDUCATION SECRETARY ARNE DUNCAN: Thank you so much, John, for that kind introduction. I really had -- it's been joyous to have a chance to work with him over the past 15, 16 months. And what's going on at Georgetown is remarkable to see, and that's thanks to your leadership.

Two quick things before I start. Steve Trachtenberg is a good, good friend who I've learned so much from over this past year, so thank you so much for your leadership. And Mike Smith is here. Mike Smith is -- can you stand up, Mike? I want these guys to know who you are.

Mike has been my senior adviser for the past 15, 16 months. He's done a remarkable job. He came and said he'd help me with the transition for about three months, stayed well past that.

Unfortunately, he's retiring this week from us. And he's sort of a shy and retiring type, so in retirement he's going to go try and fix the school system in Pakistan.


So if you have questions for him on the major topics, he's been just a remarkable partner. Mike, thank you for all the hard work. It's fascinating, the work he's going to go do now, and work I'm very, very interested in.

Thanks to all of you for inviting me here today. I really appreciate the chance to have this conversation.

I want to begin by discussing two important trends that inform our drive to transform education here in America. The first is increased international competition and the second is increased international collaboration.

I'd also like to highlight an issue that affects our ability to compete and to collaborate on the world stage, the need to increase the foreign language fluency and cultural awareness of all of our students.

The president and I firmly believe that every single child in this country deserves a world-class education, and we are investing unprecedented resources in education reform. We think it's our generation's moon shot. It's a work of national significance to be pursued in the 21st century with the same passion and focus as the 20th century space race.

And like the space race, involves a healthy rivalry with other advanced nations. I believe we can reform U.S. education and regain our lead as the world's most competitive workforce, just as decades ago we succeeded in putting a man on the moon.

We need to pursue this moon shot not only here in the United States, but across the globe. In the interconnected, competitive global economy, the only way to secure our common future is through education. It is the one true path out of poverty and it has to be the great equalizer that overcomes differences in background, in culture and privilege.

In the 21st century, a quality education system is the centerpiece of a country's economic development and it can be the one thing that unites us as a world. In this global economy, the line between domestic and international issues is increasingly blurred, with the world's economies, societies and people interconnected as never before.

Thomas Friedman has observed that in today's flat world, new technologies and instant communications make Beijing, Bangalore and Bethesda next-door neighbors. The United States is a country made up of many cultures, and we often celebrate that diversity.

But just as often, we rely on the predominance of English as the language of global business and higher education when looking towards the world.

This reliance can put us at a disadvantage. We haven't been compelled to meet our global neighbors on their own terms and learn about their histories and values and viewpoints. And I'm worried that in this interconnected world, our country risks being too disconnected from the contributions of other countries and cultures.

Through education and exchange we can become better collaborators and competitors in this global economy.

Last summer the president spoke in Cairo, Egypt, about the sweeping changes brought by globalization and how we need to promote cooperation amongst people all over the world. The president said that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century.

His call is what is driving our work, both here at home and in partnerships across the global. In the United States, we speak frequently about competition. It's the spirit of competition that drives us as a country to do better.

Americans understand that the future of our country's long-term economic prospects depend on the education of our people. We know we have to educate our way to a better economy.

And today we are not providing enough of our students with the world-class education they need and deserve, to be successful. Roughly 27 percent of our students today drop out of high school and fail to graduate. That's more than 7,000 students leaving our schools for the streets every single day. Just 40 percent of our 25- to 34-year-olds earn a two-year or a four-year degree. That's basically the exact same number as a generation ago.

Our country now ranks 10th in the rate of college completion for students in this age group. And on recent international tests of math literacy, our 15-year-olds scored 24th out of 29 developed nations and 21st out of 30 in science. The U.S. is now 18th out of 24 industrialized nations in high school graduation rates.

We must all work together to turn that tide and lay a foundation for a new era of innovation and growth and prosperity. To focus our efforts, the president has set a clear and ambitious goal -- by 2020, he has said that we must once again lead the world in having the highest percentage of college graduates.

This goal appeals to the American sense of competition and affirms the continued need for U.S. leadership in this new century.

At the same time, as Dr. Jill Biden pointed out in her remarks at the 2009 UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education, this is a competition that, if all nations work together, we will all win.

This administration has a cradle-to-career vision of education reform. Our plan begins with stronger early childhood programs, transitions to a world-class K-12 system, and culminates with more accessibility and affordability with college options in order to prepare all Americans for fulfilling careers and engaged citizenship.

To meet the president's goal we need to raise our national college graduation rate to roughly 60 percent, and that equates to about 8 million more degrees from two-year and four-year colleges.

Our education system needs revolutionary change, not evolutionary tinkering, to get where we need to go. With $5 billion available under the Recovery Act, we are driving reform that our students and our country needs.

The Race to the Top Program is rewarding states that are leading the way in education reform, and so far we have awarded two grants, to Tennessee and to Delaware. Both states have bold plans to reform their schools with statewide buy-in from districts, union leaders, community leaders, and the business community.

We have about $3.4 billion available for the second round of grants which we will make later this fall. And we expect the states will sponsor this opportunity with more bold plans for reform.

So far, Race to the Top has been an extraordinary success. In the year since its creation it has been a catalyst for education reform across the country, prompting states to think deeply about how to improve the way we prepare our students for success in a competitive 21st century economy and workplace.

Likewise, the competition for our Investing in Innovation, our i3 fund, $650 million has driven local districts and nonprofits to present their best ideas to develop new reforms and expand upon successful ones. And earlier this month more than 1,700 applications were submitted to us as part of that Investing in Innovation fund.

Through this program we have the potential to spread reforms across states and across the country. The spirit of our competitive programs is driving new reforms and innovation, and we know that our future rests in our ability to create powerful innovations and collaborate on behalf of all of our students.

In her remarks to this Council last July, Secretary of State Clinton noted that President Obama has challenged this nation to launch a new era of international engagement based on common interests, on shared values and mutual respect.

The administration is committed to a new paradigm of smart power for the United States, building on this country's unique strengths and the power of our example to promote universal values. In this way, Secretary Clinton said, we will exercise American leadership to build partnerships and solve problems that no one nation can solve on their own.

This view of smart power and U.S. leadership applies to the work of improving educational attainment and partnerships across the globe. To this end, my senior staff and I work regularly with education officials in other nations.

We have recently welcomed delegations from Colombia, Chile, China, India and the Netherlands. International collaboration cuts across nearly every office in our agency.

Already this year our undersecretary of Education, Martha Kanter, led a delegation of university presidents to India. Deputy Secretary Tony Miller and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali just traveled to Brazil to share strategies to promote excellence and equity for all students.

And as we speak, Tony Miller is now in Japan on a weeklong visit, building on a recent trip to the U.S. by Japanese experts and educators in the science professions. His itinerary includes meetings with policy makers, governors, mayors and foundation leaders, as well as the U.S. and Japanese ambassadors.

Last year our partnerships with other nations yielded a wide range of bilateral education conferences, alliances, and other joint efforts. For example, we're implementing the first-ever U.S.-China Joint Work Plan in Education.

Activities thus far include convening science education experts in Beijing, working with the higher education community to promote exchanges for studying abroad, and launching sister school partnerships amongst U.S. and Chinese schools. We're also moving forward on a joint U.S.-China e-language project.

We're also reaching out to the Muslim world, as the president charged us to do in his Cairo speech. Two weeks ago, during President Karzai's visit to Washington, I met with the Afghan ministers of education and labor. We have held bilateral meetings with the ambassador and education minister of Pakistan, and I joined in a videoconference earlier this year with Jordan's minister of education.

Last month I participated in the White House-sponsored Summit on Entrepreneurship, designed to deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and entrepreneurs in the U.S. and in Muslim nations. Participants represented more than 50 countries on five continents.

I led a wide-ranging session on youth entrepreneurship with panelists from Pakistan, Indonesia, Jordan and the UAE. U.S. representatives shared lessons learned, from the need for coordination amongst federal agencies with related missions to the value of community colleges in promoting pre-baccalaureate education, workforce development, adult basic education, and lifelong learning.

And there's been great progress on that last point. Last June we joined with the State Department and USAID in hosting a conference on community and technical colleges in Amman, Jordan. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Pakistan and Jordan were amongst the countries working with U.S. institutions to connect education and workforce development in high-tech, high-demand fields.

I am committed to strengthening these efforts and pursuing other relationships in the Muslim world as we move forward. All of these examples suggest the great diversity of our current efforts and the equally great potential for expansion.

Such collaboration can inform and strengthen our reform efforts nationally, even as it helps improve standards of learning and teaching and fosters understanding internationally.

Our ultimate goal is to ensure that our children receive the world-class education they deserve; that absolutely includes reading, writing, math and science, but also the arts, history, civics and financial literacy.

And one place where American schools and the rest of American society too often fall short is in the foreign languages. One of my great heroes, Nelson Mandela, has said that if you talk to a man in a language that he understands, that goes to his head. But if you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.

Right now we aren't teaching enough of our students how to speak to the hearts of our neighbors around the globe. In most countries, the expectation is that students will master several languages, and that's built into their K-12 systems and beyond.

Studies project that China will soon have the largest proportion of English-speaking population in the world. And some researchers actually argue that today India already has claimed that title from the United States.

Great U.S. leaders like Senator J. William Fulbright have long seen the benefits of foreign language acquisition and student exchange as the gateway to cross-cultural engagement and taken very, very significant steps to promote them.

Years ago he warned that our linguistic and cultural myopia is losing us friends, business and respect in the world. We must improve language learning and international education at all levels if our nation is to continue to lead in the global economy to help bring security and stability to the world and to build stronger and more productive ties with our neighbors.

At the K-12 level, studies have shown that language programs at the elementary and middle school levels are, unfortunately, decreasing. And while we're seeing some increases in Chinese and Arabic language programs, we have seen a decline in French, German, Russian and Japanese studies at both the elementary and secondary school levels.

In our blueprint to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we are proposing a new competitive fund for a well-rounded education. This $265 million fund will support the subjects our students will need to master in the interconnected global economy, including foreign language instruction. We will fund the best proposals so they will inform efforts across the country.

At the post-secondary level, we must make sure that our deans, provosts, chancellors, and board members understand the value that international education and advanced foreign language proficiency is to our nation's capacity to compete, to collaborate, and to exert smart power.

While many of our higher education institutions are under financial pressure, area studies and foreign language degree programs are under threat at a time when the nation cannot afford to scale them back.

We must also continue to encourage our students to study abroad, and that's something Georgetown does extraordinarily well.

In my Department, we are taking several steps to expand the language acquisition of students of all ages. My senior staff and I have visited elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities in California, Texas, Illinois and the greater D.C. area to learn about foreign language and area study programs and to promote the idea that we must do more.

We have a strong start with programs like our Title VI and Fulbright-Hays Programs, as well as other international education programs at the Department of State and Defense.

These programs support foreign language, area and international studies and infrastructure building at U.S. colleges and universities, and they ensure a steady supply of graduates with expertise in less-commonly taught languages, world areas, global issues and transnational trends.

For example, we are encouraging our national resource centers to strengthen ties with partner institutions in areas in the world with substantial Muslim populations. We will support and help build on innovative education efforts like the University of Hawaii's Muslim Societies in Asia and the Pacific Program.

And through four-year grants awarded under our Groups Projects Abroad Program, we have supported advanced intensive language study in Indonesia through Ohio University; Turkish through Princeton University; Arabic in Egypt and Syria through the University of Hawaii at Austin (sic) and Kiswahili in Tanzania through the Michigan State University.

We also support innovative approaches in language learning and proficiency assessment through our network of language resource centers. Just one example is the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA. They sponsored their first international conference on heritage and community languages last February.

The millions of heritage language speakers at varying levels of language proficiency in the U.S. represent a tremendous reserve of students and future potential teachers who can put their skills to work improving our cultural understanding as well as our ability to compete, to collaborate, to preserve national security, and advance international peacekeeping efforts.

We have never been more aware of the value of a multiliterate, multilingual society, a society that can appreciate all that makes other cultures and nations distinctive, even as it embraces all that they have in common.

Today our country is engaged in a far-reaching endeavor to uphold the values enshrined in our Constitution and secure our place in the world by transforming the way we teach our students. America's success depends on the success of its individual citizens, just as the progress of humanity depends ultimately on the shared progress of nations.

I believe that education has immeasurable power to promote growth and stability in the 21st century. As we work to lift America's children out of poverty and to liberate their true potential through the power of excellent teaching and learning, we will join with other nations to achieve this end for all of the world's children.

Thank you. I look forward to the conversation and your questions. Thank you so much.


DEGIOIA: Well, thank you. That was terrific. And I feel a little bit like we're taking a drink from a fire hydrant, so --

DUNCAN: (Chuckles.)

DEGIOIA: You raised a whole bunch of terrific ideas.

Sunday's New York Times Magazine cover story focused on Race to the Top. Were you surprised by the success that has -- by the reception and the success so far and how it has been received by colleagues from around the country, and where does it fit into a larger, strategic agenda for reform?

DUNCAN: We fundamentally think that we have to challenge the status quo here, and I talked about some of the numbers. Twenty-seven percent dropout rate; that's 1.2 million students not graduating. Of those that do graduate from high school, pick a number -- 30 (percent), 40 percent need remedial classes in college. They're actually not ready.

And we think we have to educate our way to a better economy, and we really look at this as the civil rights issue of our generation, that this is a dividing line in our country between the haves and the have-nots.

So it's trying to move our Department into a very different business, quite frankly. And historically we've been this large, compliance-driven bureaucracy. We've given out formula money. And I've said publicly I think we've been part of the problem.

And we're challenging everybody to move outside their comfort zone, and we want to lead by example. And so what we're doing by putting out some competitive resources is challenging states to think very differently about how they educate children.

And there's been -- $4 billion sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. Four billion dollars is less than 1 percent of the national K-12 spent. We spend about $650 billion a year, annually.

And I think I can make a pretty good case that that $4 billion, that less than 1 percent, has driven more change than we've seen in the past five, 10, 15 years -- pick a number.

So it has been extraordinarily successful so far, and I think what it's done is unleashed a hunger. Folks want to do the right thing. It's like we've given them an excuse and a reason to do the right thing, and you're seeing more and more reform come, driven at the local level, which is where it needs to come from.

DEGIOIA: Thank you. Thank you.

So you've had a chance to have conversations with folks from lots of different parts of the world -- China, Colombia, the Netherlands. What are some of the key lessons that you've taken away from some of these conversations that we can take back here and address and improve our own circumstances?

DUNCAN: It's amazing, for all the differences and diversity, how common the issues are -- (chuckles) -- as you talk to the ministers of education of other countries. It's like we could trade jobs. We're all dealing in different ways with the same issues.

I will tell you, one of the most fascinating conversations wasn't one that I had, but one the president had with the president of South Korea. And he's told this story repeatedly; it just had a big impact on him.

And he asked -- they were talking about education. He asked the president of South Korea what the biggest education challenge he faced. And he said right away, he said, I have this huge problem. My parents are too demanding.

And it sort of blew President Obama away. He said, even my poorest parents demand a world-class education. And I have to import thousands and thousands of teachers to teach English across the country because that's what parents demand.

And for me, I would love to have that problem. (Laughter.) I say that in all seriousness. We have to get to a point, and we have to think how we create a culture where every single parent is demanding the best education for their children.

So the challenges all of us are facing around recruiting great teachers, supporting them, retaining them, getting the right principles, making sure we have high standards, really tracking students, having data transparency. All of us are trying to be much more creative in how we get great teaching of principles into historically underserved communities, wherever that might be -- inner-city, urban or rural.

But at the end of the day, how do we really encourage and challenge parents to ask, demand to participate, to be part of the solution so that every single child in this country has a chance to fulfill their great academic and social potential?

DEGIOIA: Thank you.

For much of the last half century, our higher education system was the envy of the world.


DEGIOIA: Our research universities were the best. Our community college system provided access and opportunity that was unprecedented in other parts of the world.

As you have a chance now to compare where we are relative to other countries, how would you assess the state of post-secondary education?

DUNCAN: No question that we lead the world. I mean, I think our higher education institutions are, you know, world-class; are, you know -- so that part -- I think we have a much longer way to go in the K-to-12 piece. I worry -- I worry about our competitive advantage there. Higher education has done, I think, a phenomenal job.

I think that there's good competition internationally now. So we can't sort of rest on our laurels, and you know, many other countries are starting to build and support, you know, world-class institutions of higher education.

Where we're pushing here really hard is not just on the four-year but on the two-year side, on the community colleges; that we think they have been this sort of unpolished, unrecognized gem among the education continuum. And we talk about getting 8 million more graduates by 2020. The community colleges have to play a huge role in that. And as, you know, green jobs, green energy jobs, tech jobs, health-care jobs -- as families get back on their feet and the economy gets back on their feet, community colleges have to lead that effort. So that's an area we're spending a lot of time -- I mentioned our undersecretary of Education, Martha Kanter, who was a phenomenal community college president in California, and we recruited her specifically because of her expertise in that area.

DEGIOIA: Yeah. When you think about achieving that goal by 2020, we all share in some of the responsibility to accomplish that, but how do you imagine that being coordinated in a way that we might be able to sustain that, the continuum?

DUNCAN: It's a great question. We're actually working on some of the modeling for this. The simple math -- and it's pretty interesting -- we've now broken down to get to that goal by 2020, 8 million, what every state has to contribute in terms of their graduates. And so the goals vary a little bit by state. But the rough number -- it'll be interesting to see is this number, you know, wildly unrealistic or possible -- the rough numbers each state has to increase its graduates -- the average is by about 4.2 percent a year, which, in one hand, is a big number but I think, you know, could be doable.

And so the question, then, to your point, what do two-year universities have to do to do that, what do four-year universities have to do, what does high -- what do high schools to have to do to reduce dropout rates and produce more college-ready -- and you can take that right away down -- and we actually want to take it down to like the preschool level, so that everybody will have a sense of what they have to contribute as right. Higher education can't begin to do it by itself. K to 12 can't. Early childhood can't. We all have to work together.

But we want to try and, you know, break down the numbers so that every state, every institution in that state knows what they have to contribute to this national goal. And hopefully over the next couple months, over the summer, we'll be able to put that out. And I think it will be -- it will at least create a very interesting dialogue. And I think we'll see a number of states absolutely rise to the occasion.

DEGIOIA: Thank you.

Well, we're at that moment where it's time to invite our audience members to join in this conversation. So if you would, please wait for the microphone. Speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation, and please keep your comments and questions as concise as possible.

Right in the back and then right in the front.

QUESTIONER: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. Dick Giuliano from CNN Radio and A couple weeks ago you gave strong backing to the Harkin-Miller effort for $23 billion in additional education spending. So far this week, I don't think the White House has voiced its support. So could you clarify exactly where the Obama administration stands on this request for $23 billion in extra spending?

DUNCAN: The president's been explicitly clear. He absolutely supports this effort. I'm actually leaving here to go work with -- (chuckles) -- Chairman Harkin and Senators -- Congressmen Obey and Miller. And this is something that's very, very important to the president, for a couple of different reasons.

First of all, educationally, I'd say that we have to continue to get dramatically better. We can't afford to get worse. We can't afford to take a step backwards. And if we see the layoffs of somewhere between 150(,000) and 3,000 -- and 300,000 teachers, that would be devastating. We have a number of school districts talking about eliminating summer school, eliminating after-school programs, going to four-day weeks, rather than five-day weeks, and we need more time if we our students to be able to compete, not less. So educationally, this is hugely important.

We also have an economy that's starting to bounce back. And if you have -- again, pick a number -- but 200(,000), 300,000 teachers on the unemployment rolls, that'll produce a huge drag on the economy.

So for the long term education of our country, for the short-term economic recovery, this is absolutely the right thing to do. And the president is a hundred percent supportive of this.

QUESTIONER: Can I follow on that?


QUESTIONER: Sir, do you think most taxpayers would support or will support this measure on top of the $650 billion in regular spending, another 23 billion (dollars) that could add to the federal deficit?

DUNCAN: Yeah. Well, this is an emergency, and so we're trying to head off an education catastrophe.

And it's interesting. As I've traveled the country, there isn't a school system I've found that isn't impacted by this, with teachers being laid off and class size skyrocketing. So it's amazing how much this has become a dinnertime conversation. And this is not in the inner city. This is a -- you know, city. This is suburban. This is rural. And everywhere I go, this is the number-one issue that people are talking about.

And so I think this is one -- you know, everyone senses the urgency. No one wants to see class size go from 25 to 40. No one wants to see summer school eliminated, particularly for disadvantaged kids. And we have to step up and do it with a sense of urgency.

The final thing I'll say is this is not something Congress can debate for four or five months. We need to act, and we need to act now. If they do this in September, October, it's too late. And any superintendent worth their salt is planning right now for summer school, they're planning right now for their fall budget. And so these next two weeks I think are critical.


QUESTIONER: Mr. Secretary -- thank you. Mr. Secretary, Steve Trachtenberg, George Washington University.

You mentioned in passing the need for basic additional work for adults. I just want to take a moment to underscore adult literacy is a major American concern -- the result, of course, of all those dropouts you talked about as well.


QUESTIONER: And I think if we're going to bring the economy back, if we're going to maintain the republic, we need to focus on adult literacy as a very important issue.

DUNCAN: It is hugely important. And we have Brenda Dann-Messier, who's doing a phenomenal job in this area. Our numbers, we estimate about 90 million Americans are at sort of below basic-education levels. And we have to give them the skills -- so GED, community colleges, adult-literacy programs. As we think about hitting that 8 million additional college graduates, that's not all just more 18-year-olds. That's really looking at those, you know, 38-year-olds and 58-year-olds to come back in and get more education. And that is desperately important that we do that well. And we're trying to do some interesting things with the Department of Labor around that.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

DEGIOIA: Yes. Right here. Here's the microphone.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Elliot Feldman, Baker and Hostetler.

Could you comment on the impact of immigration policy on your educational ambitions with regard to our international relations? For example, there's an upswing of student demand from China to come to the United States. There's a three-month wait to get an appointment in the embassy for a visa. Educational conferences in the -- in our esteemed higher-educational institutions are retarded; we lose conferences because people can't get visas. The attention on immigration policy has been in Arizona, but there are other concerns. How much do they reach you?

DUNCAN: Those are real concerns, and I don't have easy answers on them. But I've heard about the bureaucracy and the impediments and the difficulty. As we try and, you know, have more international sharing, more international conversations, those kinds of challenges are ones we need to think about.

This is a little different than your question. I'm also a big believer that, you know, students have to have a chance to go to college, and the DREAM Act I'm a big supporter of. I think where we have children in this country who have worked hard, who have done the right thing, who don't have a chance financially to afford to go to college, how can they become productive citizens long-term? And there was actually a New York Times piece on a -- you want to say anything about that, just here?

DEGIOIA: Let me -- just one of our own at Georgetown, you might remember, was a cover story; had grown up here in the United States, the children of illegal immigrants; doing very well at our university, moving into his senior year.


QUESTIONER: Pegging teacher evaluation -- oh, J.C. Herz (sp). I work for a technology company here in the Beltway.

Pegging teacher evaluations to student performance is kind of a hot-button issue politically and otherwise. How do you see that playing out over the next couple of years?

DUNCAN: Well, it's going to continue to play out. (Laughs, laughter.)

Let me be real clear. What we've had historically is this total disconnect between teachers and students. And I've learned a lot in Washington. One of the things I had no idea before I got here -- and this is sort of fascinating; it talks about the problem -- we actually had states that had laws, laws on the books, that prohibited the linking of students and teachers. And that was actually -- in the Race to the Top competition, that was the one -- there were lots of things we said were important. That was the one thing we said, if those laws existed you could not compete. We thought it was so important. And guess what? All those laws are gone. So there's not any more states in the country that prohibit that. So where there's no connection, that's a problem.

The flip side is if a hundred percent of a teacher's evaluation is based on test scores, or something like that. That's a problem, as well. What there is, I think there's a sensible middle ground that you have lots of people getting to, where student achievement is a part of multiple measures that are used to evaluate teachers. And teachers are like college presidents, like college professors, like secretaries of Education. We should all be evaluated on multiple measures. That sort of makes sense. And student achievement needs to be part of that.

I'm a big believer in looking at growth and gain, how much a student's improving each year; much less in absolute test scores. And what's bothered me -- I always give the example, the California example, where California has 300,000 teachers. So you take the top 10 percent, 30,000. I would argue those top 10 percent of teachers in California would be world-class, would be as good as teachers anywhere, literally, in the world. The bottom 10 percent in California, the bottom 30,000, probably shouldn't be teaching. And no one in California can tell you who's in what category. How is that good for children? How is that good for adults? How is that good for education? And I think we need to start to much better understand those teachers, those schools, those school districts, those states that are really driving student achievement.

Give one last example: I continue to highlight the state of Louisiana. Louisiana has data systems that have tracked students for years, so they have hundreds of thousands of students' records, they have tens of thousands of teachers' records. And what they're doing is not just tracking students to teachers, but teachers back to the schools of education. So they're understanding which schools of education are producing the teachers that are producing the students that are learning the most.

And they actually have schools of education changing their curriculum based upon the strengths and weaknesses of what's happening in classrooms. That to me is just common sense. It's continuous improvement; exists in every other industry. And I keep saying Louisiana does not have some patented breakthrough technology that nobody else can figure it out. They've simply had the courage to have these conversations. And it's amazing to me that in 2010 we have one state -- one out of 50 -- that is doing that.

And so I think as a country we have to move in this direction. There is a commonsense, sensible middle ground that I think folks are going to get to. The two extremes I think are both equally bad. But we have to work to get to that middle. And you see a number of states starting to move in that direction. And we're going to -- you know, the system we put in place today will be good. Hopefully, the systems five years from now will be much better. This is an evolutionary thing. But these are conversations we absolutely have to have.


QUESTIONER: Lauri Fitz-Pegado, the Livingston Group, and board chair of the NEA Foundation.

In terms of K-to-12 education and our international orientation and, as you say, one of the key issues in our civil-rights struggle -- indeed, our education system -- to really be global and for these kids to be exposed, we're going to have to do more in the K-to-12 area to expose them, like Fulbright programs, like teacher exchanges and educating parents so that their children are more interested in international. What types of programs are anticipated in terms of teacher exchanges like Fulbright at the K-to-12 level, or parent education exposure so that kids will be more interested in international?

DUNCAN: Yeah, I just -- I just think we can't do enough of this. And it was interesting. We sent -- when I managed Chicago public schools, we sent a number of students to other countries, and they were students who'd never been out of the south side of Chicago, who all of a sudden were in China -- (chuckles) -- and South -- you know, South Africa. And it just changed their life. You know, they're never going to be the same. They just had this exposure to a world that they never knew existed. So we can't do enough in all of these areas: students, teachers, parents.

Doing this early, you know, not just in college -- I think universities, there are, I think, just way more sort of study-abroad programs than when I was going to college, which has been phenomenal. I think that early exposure, particularly for disadvantaged children, I think is just life-transforming.

So I don't have like a specific program to do this, but it's something that we're going to continue to try and shine a spotlight on and encourage where we can. And when you get young children traveling internationally, I think they come back different people. And you can't put a price tag -- you can't put a value on that.


QUESTIONER: Hi. David Gartner, with Brookings.

I had two questions for you about educational opportunity, both abroad and at home. On the abroad, I just wanted to ask for your -- what you know about the status and plans around the president's commitment to invest $2 billion in a global fund for education to give every child around the world a chance to go to school.

And at home, you've been so successful with the Race to the Top, in terms of leveraging, teacher evaluations and other things. And I'm wondering whether you're -- there's any consideration to include funding levels for the poorest students as a metric going forward. In other words, some measure of equity or the inequality of school funding for poor districts, as a way to leverage that 650 billion (dollars), again, that we give to our students.

DUNCAN: Yeah. On the -- on the first question, I don't know the status of that request. I know it's something to talk about, but I don't know exactly where it's at.

On the second one, we're actually trying to shine a huge spotlight on these equity issues. Russlynn Ali, as I mentioned, running our Office of Civil Rights, is hugely focused on this. It's part of the recovery act. Actually, what we asked states was to tell us what they're doing in terms of spending and just to take one second on this.

This is a huge challenge, and we're trying to figure out how we bully-pulpit it and how through transparency we shine a spotlight. As you know, at most, 8 (percent) to 10 percent of K-to-12 funding comes from us; 90 (percent), 92 (percent), 93 percent is at the local level. As you know so well, there are huge disparities between wealthy districts and poor districts.

When I ran the Chicago public schools, the districts -- I was at a 90-percent minority, 80-percent poverty district. Five miles north of me, they had more than twice as much money, twice as much every single year, for kids that had a lot of advantages that most of my students didn't. So it's always interesting to me that people say you shouldn't invest in education. It's -- I have yet to find a wealthy community in this country that doesn't invest in education.

You can't invest in the status quo. We've got to invest in where we're going. But we're going to, through transparency, through asking questions and through the Office of Civil Rights, really try and look at some of these horrendous disparities in opportunity around the country.

DEGIOIA: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: My name is John Lyle (sp). I'm a contractor over at the Department of State.

One of the things that I bumped into while on iTunes -- actually, I'm a graduate of "iTunes U" -- (laughter) -- and "iTunes U" --

DUNCAN: You're ahead of me. Congratulations. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: And iTunes -- there ought to be more -- (laughs) -- "iTunes U" is really great. I mean, it has -- you can actually see the professor teaching their course.


QUESTIONER: It's a great way to commute. But there's no system, I think, to get credit for that and to develop a credential. And I think, more generally, the potential of distance learning and the development of a reasonable credential, it seems to me that's a -- would really be great. I mean, you could have -- you could take advantage of this technological revolution that's occurred.

And the potential to do so seems unbelievable. Anybody who's been on there -- I mean it's just mind-boggling! There's so many good courses. Everything that you were sleeping-in in college, you can take it again. (Laughter.)

DUNCAN: (Laughs.)

QUESTIONER: I mean, it's just great! (Laughs.) Anyway, "iTunes U"!

DEGIOIA: (Laughs.) You're doing better this time around. (Laughter.)

DUNCAN: Just really quickly -- and Mike's been a huge, huge champion. Outside -- I think technology has the chance to transform educational opportunity, particularly for disadvantaged children; particularly in disadvantaged, underdeveloped parts of the world. And there is a -- you know, we're, I think, on the cusp of education looking very, very different, you know, in the next, you know, five, six, seven years.

And whether it's AP classes at high school, whether it's college-level classes -- I was working with a young man in a -- on an Indian reservation, actually, in Montana -- extraordinarily smart, not being challenged at all -- was able to get him, you know, working on a course, you know, through technology. And you know, all of sudden, he's motivated, he's moving. This is a child with huge potential, where just nothing was happening for him, frankly, educationally.

So whether it's, you know, a child in an Indian reservation or a child in, you know, Pakistan or wherever it might be, the chance for technology to transform educational opportunity is extraordinary, and we want to invest. We want to be a player. We want to try and figure this thing out.

And I think that we're -- and we're trying all -- we're trying to level the playing field. I think this is a huge, huge lever for leveling the playing field.

DEGIOIA: Yes, ma'am. Yes.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Lidija Smirnov, British embassy. You mentioned that United States is a leader in high (sic) education. A few weeks ago I attended an event at Capitol Hill, the unveiling of the report "The Future of Graduate Schools" by the Council for Graduate Schools, in which they mentioned issues such as some horrific graduation rates, and the graduation (sic) schools' attrition.

Also, a few weeks ago, actually the person sitting next to you at the Brookings Institute (sic) mentioned how the institute -- his institution ranked fairly high in ranking of the universities because they denied 80 percent of the people who applied there.

With this --

DEGIOIA: I wasn't proud of that, by the way. (Laughter.)


DEGIOIA: It's just that it --

QUESTIONER: Keeping that in mind, and the skyrocketing tuition at the U.S. high -- institutions, how do you think the U.S. can keep that? Or perhaps there's a challenge to that, or what needs to be done for the U.S. to keep that leader position in the higher education? And what your department is doing perhaps to help that?

DUNCAN: Yeah. No, that's a great question. And I think that's -- it's a great point that if we sort of rest on our laurels or think we're going to, you know, sustain that position indefinitely without getting better, we're kidding ourselves.

So there are a couple areas that I worry about a lot. One is affordability. And we have made a massive investment in increasing Pell grants. But the fact is -- this is actually something we're going to continue to pursue -- the fact is -- is that college tuition across the country has gone up a lot faster than the rate of inflation. And there's a recent survey of families around the country, and a lot of families just think that higher education's for rich folks. They just don't think it's part of their world. And it's really interesting to see the massive disconnect between the average American and higher education.

So I think you're seeing more and more -- due to the economic pressure, you're seeing more and more universities thinking about three-year programs and no frills, and you see some universities really holding the line and containing costs. And these are tough budget times to do that.

So affordability, access, on the front end, and then you really hit on the big one, our completion rates. And it was interesting -- when I ran the Chicago public schools, we actually started to really track the different universities, how they did with our graduates, and honestly, universities aren't that dissimilar to high schools; that some do a phenomenal job of graduating first-generation college goers and, you know, children coming from disadvantaged communities, and some do a very poor job of that.

And we actually started to steer our graduates toward certain universities and away from others, quite frankly, because we didn't think they were going to be supported and there wasn't a culture around completion.

So in everything we talk about, we're not talking about college access; we're talking about college attainment, about gradation, about getting diplomas at the back end.

And there's lots of interesting work that folks have done about what's working and what's not there. And we want to continue to shine a spotlight, to use the bully pulpit and to put our resources behind those places that are building cultures around completion, not just around access.

DEGIOIA: Before I ask for some more of the -- I've got two questions that came from national members that were submitted to me before I came on stage. One is from Patrick Byrne, the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in Park City, Utah.

"Dear Mr. Secretary, Candidate Obama said he was open to educational vouchers and school choice. Then in office, the administration has been hostile to vouchers and killed the wildly popular Washington, D.C., voucher program. Is your focus really improving education, or just improving education in a way that does not offend the education guild?"

DUNCAN: A great question, and is not quite right on what we've done. We actually fought hard -- there's students in private schools with vouchers here in the D.C. area, and there is a movement to move those students out and to end the program. We actually fought very hard to keep those students in the program.

What we haven't looked to do is to put a lot more students in the program and -- or fund it ourselves, and I'll explain why. But I think if -- you know, wealthy individuals, private foundations want to support scholarships for students to go to private/parochial schools, I think that's a fantastic thing to do.

What I worry about in terms of policy is that I think what folks did here historically in D.C. is they tried to help one or two students in a failing school and went home and slept well at night and left the other 498 to drown. And the D.C. public schools have been a disaster for far too long. It's sort of amazing to me that in the nation's capital we have allowed that to happen.

What we want to do is, we want to fix the D.C. public schools. And they have come a long way. They're not there yet. The trajectory is absolutely positive. And we want to make every school a school that serves every single child well. And the idea of just rescuing a few and leaving the rest to, you know, take their chances in a dismal system to me is just morally unacceptable. And we're putting all our time and energy and resources into making the D.C. public school system a world-class school system, where you have -- we talk about Race to the Top. Race to the Top has gotten all the press, which is okay.

That's $4 billion for the country. We also have $4 billion in school-improvement grants, which is to go to the bottom 5 percent of schools in the country, where we're saying,"You have to do some things very, very differently." And so we're making a massive investment, and we want to do it to fix systems, not to just save an individual child here or there.

DEGIOIA: And one more from our national members: Deborah Szekely, from Rancho La Puerta Resort and Spa in San Diego, California. (Laughter.)

DUNCAN: I'm feeling sorry for her. (Laughter.)

DEGIOIA: I could -- I read this, and I thought, "My son sent this in." (Laughter.) He's 8, in the third grade here in town.

"Have you compared the lunch-time dining in European schools with our 25-minute lunch break? Once the children go to the bathroom, wash their hands and stand in line, that only leaves them about 10 minutes to eat. Lifetime habits start in school, and fast eating can be a link to obesity, and a hard habit to break."

Any thoughts on the habits that we're establishing in our practices?

DUNCAN: Amen. Just quickly, on not just the time, but on lunches, on nutrition, on obesity, we've had a great, great partnership. We actually don't do school lunches; the Department of Agriculture does. We've had a phenomenal partnership with Tom Vilsack, and he's pushing extraordinarily hard to dramatically increase the quality of those breakfasts and lunches and dinners. Those meals have to become much more nutritious. He's been a champion on this. He's going to help us move the junk food out of the vending machines, and is working very, very hard there. And as we try and get better and challenge lots of things, in ourselves and others -- (chuckles) -- school-lunch programs are one of those areas that has to be challenged very significantly.

DEGIOIA: Thank you.

DUNCAN: And so we're working hard at doing that. Obviously, the first lady's whole campaign around childhood obesity, Let's Move, is a -- you know, we've got this sort of national momentum and, you know, we have -- about a third of our children in the country are potentially obese. I mean, it's a staggering percentage. And we have to be part of the solution -- and not just more time giving students a chance to enjoy their meals, but better food -- breakfast, lunch and dinners, and in the vending machines. We have to break through on that.

DEGIOIA: Yeah. I knew it wasn't my son when he wasn't complaining about more recess, though, so -- (laughter).

DUNCAN: (Laughs.) I'd be right with him.

DEGIOIA: You've been very patient in the back. Please.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Secretary, Sam Speedie (sp).

In keeping with the theme of smart power, given the current resource environment, how do you balance what's basically triage of public-school infrastructure at home with what you might call academic diplomacy abroad?

DUNCAN: That's a great question, and I don't -- you know, I don't think I have that figured out. But I just increasingly think, you know, we have to -- we have to play a role internationally. And it's us, it's the State Department -- it's, you know, not just the Department of Education.

I think what Mike and his team are going to try and do in Pakistan is just extraordinarily significant. And if we want a safer world, you know, long-term, I can't think of a better way to do that than to provide much better education for, you know, tens of millions of students around the globe who don't have a school to go to.

I mean, it's sort of -- when you think about, you know, the lack of 10 minutes to eat lunch here, and then you think about students who just don't have a school anywhere near where they live and they've never had a chance to get educated, and all the young girls around the world who don't have a chance to get educated, we have to -- we have to contribute there. And so we're still, in all candor, trying to figure out what our role is and how we do that, but it's one that is of just huge interest to me.

And, you know, just an anecdote: You know, I've talked to a number of veterans who have come back from Afghanistan and Iraq. And it's been so interesting that they've been very -- they've pushed me very hard, basically saying, ultimately they're not the answer, and we are; that the way to stabilize those countries long-term is through better education. And hearing these, you know, tough war veterans come back and talk about early-childhood education and the need to build more schools is really impacting me. And so I think we have to find ways creatively to do more.

Haiti's obviously one that's at top-of-mind now, that the system has basically been leveled, and that was not a great school system to start with. So can you come back and reinvent that, and do something much better? The analogy for me is New Orleans, that had its school system leveled, and it wasn't that great before. And it's come back much stronger. And can you take some of those lessons from there and do it at a -- at a national scale?

So these are huge challenges. And I think we can't -- I don't know exactly what the right balance is, but I think we have to play in both areas. We have to dramatically improve the quality of education here, and we have to give many, you know, more students around the world a chance to go to school.


QUESTIONER: Good morning. I'm Shawn Ricks. I'm with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

And in your remarks, you gave a number of great examples of work that you're doing at the international-collaboration level. I was just wondering if you could speak to a minute, being from the Department of Commerce, as how the private sector is playing a role. How is the Department of Education engaging the private sector in global competitiveness? And sort of speak to the role and impact of public-private partnerships.

DUNCAN: So, as I said, we're all trying to get better and we're all trying to do different -- business differently. I think we have not begun to capitalize on those public-private partnerships. And I think what you guys in doing -- and others are doing, are huge. If we're trying to produce students that can compete and participate in a global economy, having them view that world, having them have internships, having them get some exposure to what's going on.

One thing, not so much internationally but locally, we did: I talked about the Investing in Innovation Fund, which we're putting up about $650 million. We've gotten private philanthropy to add about $400 billion (sic) to that -- so to increase that pot to a billion dollars, and to invest with us in these great, great, you know, ideas and promising practices around the country.

So I think these -- you know, these traditional lines, the traditional silos, we have to break through them, whether it's on the international business, whether it's getting philanthropy in the private sector play in K-to-12 reform and early childhood here. We're all stretched for resources. We all have to leverage each other. We all have to get outside our comfort zones and do the right thing.

And what's been amazing to me is how open folks are, like these (weren't hearts ?) -- that's a huge amount of money, and frankly, there, with the amount of time we spent to raise that -- (chuckles) -- was relatively small. People want to help. They want to contribute. I don't think they've been asked enough, quite frankly, and the willingness to be a partner and to do it without egos has been, you know, inspiring, has been very, very encouraging.


QUESTIONER: Thanks. Chris Obold (sp) at the Swiss embassy. Mr. Secretary, I come from a country where there are some excellent, world-class research institutions. Yet about 70 percent of our youth choose to go on a vocational education track. And when I talk with people here in this country, both educators but also a few from industry, they're telling me that a lot of times it seems that not a lot of value is placed in this society on manual labor, on people who are technically educated. So is there any effort ongoing in your department to -- you know, to sort of put more value on that in this country? Thank you.

DUNCAN: It's a great question, and I actually agree with the critique that I think we probably did a much better job in the vocational/technical training world probably in the '60s, '60s and '70s, and we sort of lost our way over the past, you know, 30, 40 years, whatever it might be.

And I do agree; I think we undervalue it. We don't provide those opportunities early enough for students to figure out what they want to do. And you know, not everyone is going to go to Georgetown. We want a lot more students to go to Georgetown, but that's not the right life choice for everybody, and I think doing a much better job of providing that exposure at the high school level -- it's interesting to me -- people talk about college versus careers, and I think we don't provide -- we don't have enough opportunities for students to do both, either to go to college or to go to careers.

The big thing I want to do is either -- I think there are always false choices. You want to give students the skills to do both and let them follow their passion, follow what they want to do -- the reality that most people today aren't going straight from high and graduating in four years. Most people are working and going to school, and it's taking them five, six, seven years to get through.

But I think the vocational, the technical training is a huge resource. It's a great way to engage students that might become disengaged and lose interest, and I think it's a real way to combat the dropout rate, and spotlighting those high schools that are doing well. Many are starting to do really innovative partnerships with technical colleges and sort of early enrollment, early engagement. We're going to put a lot of money behind those kinds of activities.

But I think it's a whole that we need to get better at. So I think it's very fair critique of where we're at today.

DEGIOIA: We have time for one more question. Before we take it, I just want to remind all participants that this meeting has been on the record.

DUNCAN: I thought it was off the record. (Laughter.)

DEGIOIA: (Laughs.) Okay. So one more.

DUNCAN: (Inaudible.)

DEGIOIA: Right over here, sir.

QUESTIONER: George Dalley, now doing some -- oh, I'm sorry. George Dalley. I worked for years as chief of staff to Congressman Charlie Rangel. And I don't want -- and I appreciate all the work you've done with Harlem's Children's Zone and the examples that you have cited from our community. I don't want to end on a down note, but what I hear about -- what I hear from all this optimism about trying new things and really beginning to make a difference in people's lives is easily identified as taking the best of the kids and essentially getting some limited success, and not ultimately changing the public schools.

What do you -- what is going to be ultimately your hope in terms of the standard by which you're judged, ultimately? It's one thing to have -- we have in our community now, because of the recession, higher unemployment, more despair, more parents who are having difficulty having ends meet, who can't produce the kind of resources. We have some success, but we have a public school system that's really -- still 50 percent of the people are dropping out.

You've been the school superintendent in Chicago. Can you say, 10 years later, that Chicago's public schools show the impact of your tenure? And are we going to be able to say in Harlem, at the end of the Obama -- hopefully -- eight years of administration, that you're going to leave -- what is it you're going to leave in effect that's going to ultimately have the long-term impact that we hope to have?

DUNCAN: That's a great question. Just appreciate all your leadership.

And so, to step back, there are a couple of numbers that drive me. One is this ultimate goal of leading the world in college graduates. So how do you get there? That's -- you know, to get there, you have to dramatically reduce dropout rates, you have to dramatically increase graduation rates from high school, and you have to make sure many more of those high school graduates are actually prepared to be successful in college.

So whether it's Harlem or Chicago or D.C. or LA or New York as a whole, there isn't an urban school district yet that is where it needs to be. I think there are many making progress, and all of those places are making progress, and I was proud in Chicago to see dropout rates go down and graduation rates go up.

But graduation rates are still high not enough, and dropout rates are still unacceptably high, and there's a level of violence that we're dealing with in Chicago that's staggering, that was the toughest thing by far that I had to deal with.

So the challenges are real, but let me tell you why I'm optimistic. The challenges are huge. For all the challenges, for all the financial duress and stress that families are under now, we have never had as many high-performing high-poverty schools around the country as we have today. We've never had so many places that are beating the odds.

And what Geoff Canada's done in -- obviously in Harlem, I think, is extraordinary. It's great schools. It's engaging parents. It's building an entire community. It's a cradle-to-career continuum. As you know, we're trying to replicate that work and put $200 million behind that and doing other places.

So is the work hard? Extraordinarily hard. Is it -- you know, take more time, more energy and more resources, entire communities working together.

But I can take you to, you know, Harlem or West Side of Chicago or, you know, inner-city D.C. or LA, and we have not just phenomenal kids or one great teacher, one great principal; we have places that class after class, grade after grade, today 90, 95 percent are graduating, and 90 percent of those that graduate are college-ready.

And so my question is, if we know that it's possible, not because or some hope or some theory or some long-term dream, when it is happening all over the country -- and I've seen them all over the country -- the question for me is, how do we make that the norm, not the exception, and how do we get there as fast as we can, and why do we continue to tolerate it where we have schools that have 50, 60, 70 percent dropout rates?

The biggest thing that we need to get to the country to understand, not intellectually in their heart, is that poverty is not destiny; that we have many schools that are 98 percent poverty, they're a hundred percent minority, where the vast majority of students are being successful today.

And you know, still there are -- many folks out there will tell you today that you have to fix poverty first and -- before you can do this. I would argue the only way you fix poverty is you fix education.

And again, for all the challenges, we know what's working, we know why it's working, and we have to get that to scale as fast as we can.

DEGIOIA: Mr. Secretary, it's great to spend this time together with you this morning. Thank you for your presence. (Applause.)

DUNCAN: Thanks for the opportunity. (Inaudible.) Thank you.

DEGIOIA: Thank you.








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