Arne Duncan, the current U.S. Secretary of Education, is focused on making America's schools competitive in a world where many countries' children outpace learners in the U.S. As the leader of the U.S. education system at the federal level, Duncan's job involves securing and distributing funding to the nation's public schools as well as influencing policy decisions that affect teachers and students.
In a conversation with the NewsHour's Gwen Ifill, Duncan outlined some of the problems facing America's education system: a lack of competitive edge compared to the rest of the world, high dropout rates and an achievement gap between poorer and wealthier students. While he acknowledged that these problems are major ones, Duncan was also optimistic that they could be solved.
"So, folks who say you can't do it are wrong. Folks that say keep doing the same thing is wrong. We need to invest in very different ways," he said. "Get the students the support they need, get them the best principals, get them the great teachers, and I promise you those students would do extraordinarily well. I have seen it all my life."
Duncan added that he meets people every day who believe that "poverty is destiny" and that kids with less money and fewer resources will never succeed like wealthier students. Duncan said he doesn't believe that; instead, he thinks "wraparound services," like food, counseling, longer school days, tutoring and great teaching can give disadvantaged students an equal playing field.
"And what you see around the world is that poverty is not destiny. In other countries, much more systemically, student after student, school after school, year after year, educate poor and disadvantaged young people. And, so, anyone who says that you can't overcome these battles is a huge part of the problem." - Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education
"If children are hungry, they need to be fed. It's hard to learn if your stomach is growling. We need to take that on. If students can't see the blackboard, need eyeglasses, we need to do that. If students need a social worker or counselor to work through the challenges they're facing at home in the community, we need to do that." - Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education
1. What does the Secretary of Education do?
2. What is a public school? Is your school public?
3. How do funding and decisions from the federal government affect your school?
1. Do you agree that the changes Duncan proposes could close the achievement gap between wealthier and poorer students? Why or why not?
2. What do you think of Duncan's idea to keep schools open much later and have them function like community centers? Do you think it's a good one? Why or why not?
3. What do you think needs to happen to keep American students on par with learners in the rest of the world?
4. What are the consequences if America's students continue to fall behind the rest of the world? How might that affect you and your career goals?