Investing in Education: Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks to the National School Boards Association

  • twitter
  • Facebook
  • google+

It's been a little more than a year since the President took the oath of office and I became secretary of education.

When I look back on it, I'm astounded at what we've accomplished. One year ago, we were facing an education catastrophe. The economy was in the worst shape since the Great Depression. States and districts across the country were facing unprecedented budget shortfalls. One estimate suggested that half a million education jobs were at risk.

Beyond education, the country was losing 700,000 jobs a month when the president took office. The value of homes and retirement nest eggs across the country were plummeting. That followed a decade in which wages were stagnant and the cost of health care and education rose.

Today, things have gotten better. We avoided that education catastrophe. States have reported to us that the Recovery Act either saved or created over 300,000 education jobs. That's a conservative estimate.

And across the country, the job market has improved.

We're not where we want to be—not as a country or as a profession in education. But things are improving.

The President is working to rebuild the economy on a New Foundation—one that provides middle class families the economic security they want and deserve.

Education is the cornerstone of that foundation. The president believes we need to educate our way to a better economy. The country that out-educates today will out-compete us tomorrow.

Even in the midst of this recession, 61 percent of employers say they can't find qualified candidates for vacant jobs. Those jobs are in fields like health care, computer science, accounting, and engineering.

The Conference Board predicts that the jobs that employers will be looking for 10 years from now are the same types of jobs going unfilled today. Those jobs are in areas like health care workers, computer programmers, accountants, engineers.

All of those jobs require an associate's or bachelor's degree—or at least a professional certification.

Our high school graduates aren't ready to do those jobs. In fact, some research suggests that high school graduates aren't ready to succeed in college.

One estimate says that 60 percent of college freshmen aren't ready to do college work and take at least one remedial course.

We can't let this continue. We're lying to children if we're giving them a diploma and they're not ready to succeed in college or the workplace.

We need to improve at every stage of the education continuum—in early learning, in K-12, and in college. Our nation's economic security depends on it.

The President understands this. Last year, he set an ambitious goal for America: By the end of this decade we once again will lead the world in college completion. A generation ago, 40 percent of our young people earned college degrees. That was good enough to lead the world.

We've held steady over time. But 10 countries have passed us. While we have stagnated, they have accelerated progress.

For us to join the leaders of the world, we need to raise the college completion rate from 40 percent to 60 percent. It will require an additional 8 million graduates with a 4-year degree, a 2-year degree, or a professional certificate.

The President is committed to getting there. Nothing demonstrates that better than the budget he released today.

At a time when other government spending is frozen, the President is investing in education because he understands that education is the path the economic security for our future.

He's investing heavily in education at every level—from early education, to K-12 reform, to college access. It's a cradle-to-career agenda, one that starts at birth and follows children every step of the way with the ultimate goal that they graduate from a 2-year or 4-year college.

But this budget isn't only about money. It's also about changing the way we work here in Washington.

It shows that we're committed to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. You know it as No Child Left Behind today.

I'll always give credit to NCLB for exposing the achievement gap and advancing standards-based reform.

But you all know its problems. It has allowed, even encouraged, states to lower their standards. It's encouraged teachers to narrow the curriculum. It relies on simplistic tests that don't accurately measure whether students are learning. It mislabels schools—even when they're showing progress on important measures.

The budget the President released today shows his commitment to reauthorizing ESEA. We want ESEA to support states that are raising standards—not lower them—to reward success, to redefine the federal role.

One of our goals with reauthorization is to give local educators flexibility to do what's best for children. We don't have all the answers in Washington. The best educational ideas and breakthroughs will always come from great leaders at the local level, not from Washington. As I often say, our role is to provide a common definition of success, not a prescription for success.

We will advance that goal when we reauthorize the ESEA. We will be creating a limited federal role in education. We will focus on raising standards for all students, rewarding success in schools, supporting and rewarding effective teachers and leaders, turning around low-performing schools, and helping schools design a well-rounded curriculum.

We'll work with Democratic and Republican legislators on a new accountability system in coming weeks and months. The core principles are the following:

We want an accountability system that factors in student growth, progress in closing achievement gaps, proficiency towards college and career-ready standards, high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

That's a lot to track, but if we want to be smarter about accountability, more fair to students and teachers—and more effective in the classroom—we need to look at all of these factors. We need to learn from them and we need to act on them.

As we travelled the country and heard the challenges, now we are coming back with some ways to address them and we welcome input, feedback and more ideas as reauthorization moves forward.

The budget the president proposed today will help us move forward.

The $3 billion increase for ESEA programs is the most that any president has ever proposed.

We won't stop there. When ESEA is reauthorized, the president will add another $1 billion for the law.

The President also is proposing a massive investment in college access—$173 billion in loans, grants, and Work-Study jobs. That's enough to provide some form of federal assistance to 15 million college students—3 out of 5 students who are enrolled in higher education.

The money will go out in the form of Pell Grants and other aid, lower payments for student loans, and grants to colleges—particularly community colleges. The president also will make a $10,000 tuition tax credit a permanent part of the tax code.

One million graduates will be able to take advantage of new income-based repayment plans. They'll pay a maximum 10 percent of their income toward their loans. Their debt will be forgiven after 20 years—10 years if they are a teacher, police officer, or other public servant. It will help us recruit the next generation of great talent into the classroom.

It's the biggest investment in higher education since the GI Bill.

But the president isn't simply pouring money into the system. He's investing wisely. In student loans, the budget will change it so all new loans are made directly from the Department of Education. We're cutting banks out of the process—which will save us $87 billion over the next decade. We want to stop subsidizing banks and invest those savings in education instead.

The savings will support our entire higher education agenda—increasing Pell Grants, improving our community colleges, and ensuring students who enter higher education complete it.

The student loan savings also will support our early learning agenda with $9.3 billion over 10 years to improve programs for children from birth to kindergarten. We'll be making competitive grants to states that are leading the way in improving the learning experiences and outcomes of their young children.

The early childhood agenda and the higher education agenda are included in a bill that has passed the House. It's one of our top priorities to work with the Senate to pass this bill and make it law this year.

Quality and access are the key goals for our early childhood and financial aid agenda. Our K-12 agenda can be summed up in one word: Reform.

We're making a big philosophical and strategic change with these grants. We're moving away from formula grants—where everybody gets a little money—and to competitive ones where we can support people doing the best work.

We want our scarce resources to leverage dramatic change, change the will accelerate progress for decades to come.

We've seen that happen in the past year in the Race to the Top program. We put $4.35 billion on the table—and people started changing the way they do business.

States responded by changing their teacher evaluation systems and improving conditions for charter schools and holding them accountable. I'm for expanding the number of charters—but only if we grow the good charter schools and shut down the bad ones.

Teachers unions are willing to partner with districts on turnarounds. I applaud their courage and willingness to take on this work.

In the fiscal 2011 budget, the president is proposing to add $1.35 billion to the Race to the Top program to offer a third round of grants. He wants to give us the option of including districts in the competition. I think the chance to fund districts directly is a great idea.

The president also wants to add $500 million to the Investing in Innovation program. He wants to reserve $150 million for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs. He also wants to give rural schools a competitive advantage in the competition because understands the challenges they face.

The goal for the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation funds is to reward applicants that have the courage, capacity, and commitment to reform. Fancy presentations frankly don't excite me—real progress for children is what we care about.

We'll be introducing competition into other programs and focusing our grants on the most important issues facing education today.

We want to help you develop and recruit great teachers and principals. Nothing is more important than a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school.

We'll invest in the best preparation programs. It doesn't matter if it's through a traditional route or an alternative one—we're going to invest in the ones that have the data showing they're doing the best work.

We want you to give teachers incentives to join the profession and stay in it. We especially want you to put your best teachers in the schools and classrooms where they're needed most—where the children are the neediest and challenges are the toughest. Historically underserved communities deserve better, and we must give it to them.

We want to you to show us the best literacy programs in the country and tell us how you'll make them better and expand them to have a broader impact.

We want you to expand and improve your science, technology, mathematics, and engineering programs so that all students are succeeding in them. Our country's future economic security depends on all of our students succeeding in these fields.

And because NCLB narrowed the curriculum, we're looking to expand it again so that our children get a well-rounded education—one that includes rich content in history, the arts, foreign languages, and financial literacy.

But once ESEA is finished, the President wants to add another billion dollars for a new fund to reward high-performing high-poverty schools, to support works to improve assessments, and to expand and improve afterschool care.

Between the budget the president announced today and the work we are already doing thanks to the Recovery Act, this has been an incredible first year for education.

But the fact is, the changes we've triggered haven't begun to impact every child, and before they do—they are going to cross your desk.

Unless you show the courage and the will to make tough choices on behalf of children, these investments we're proposing will not change lives.

Unless you demonstrate the capacity to bring together all the adults in your schools—teachers, administrators, unions and parents—and overcome the divisions and disagreements that impede progress, these investments will not change lives.

So today, on behalf of the President, I want to appeal to you directly to find it within yourselves to embrace our agenda and to lead this movement for education reform. I know this is hard work. I know that it asks much of you.

But the urgency has never been greater. Our children and our future are at risk, so let us together do the difficult but necessary things our schools demand, and our children deserve.

I thank you for all you have done and all you will do to make education America's highest priority and greatest legacy.

Our nation's children are incredibly lucky to have you as their champions, and on their behalf, I thank you for your extraordinary service.