Open for Questions: Education with Arne Duncan

Shira Lazar:
Hello and welcome to the
White House. I’m Shira Lazar, the host
of The Tastemaker on MSN. Joined by the Secretary
of Education, Arne Duncan. Now, for the past week, we’ve
received questions from around the country about a topic on
everyone’s minds, education. Now, if you didn’t get to submit
a question, we’ll be asking those shortly, don’t worry, we
are live right now and taking all your questions live. Just go to,
or go to So let’s get right
into it, shall we? Secretary Arne Duncan:
Sounds good. Shira Lazar:
All right, so we have some questions from mikecdlloyd, catmandu12, these
are all users, and many others ask about standardizing
education curriculum in our public schools. Some people believe that there
should be consistent education standards nationwide, others
believe that the individual states should be allowed to
mandate what curricula is taught depending on their
particular needs. That’s available funding,
teacher licensing requirements, district size, percentages
of minorities, economically disadvantaged special ed. and gifted students, among
others, just to name a few. So, Secretary Duncan, how can we
balance the needs of students, no matter where they live or
whatever — wherever they move and the specific needs of
individual school districts? Secretary Arne Duncan:
Great question, and I’m going to be very, very clear on it. What we want to have
is high standards. What we’ve had is states
dummying down standards, reducing standards due to
political pressure, and we’ve been, in effect, lying to
children, lying to families for far too long. Thanks in part to raise the top,
we now have 36 states raising the bar, raising standards,
college and career raise standards for
every single child. And going forward for the first
time, a child Mississippi and a child in Massachusetts will
be held to the same standard, that’s important. So that’s the standards. We need much better
assessments behind those. And we have two groups of
states, 44 states together working to create the next
generation of assessments. But then I think curriculum
should absolutely be decided at the local level. That we don’t need to
standardize that, we should figure out what’s right in each
community, let each community, you know, figure that out. And then over time, because we
have a common measuring stick, we’ll be able to understand
which curriculum is helping students learn the
material they need. So a high bar, very, very clear
on that, but give folks lots of room to be creative and to be
autonomous and innovate and help them figure out the best way to
help students hit that high bar. Shira Lazar:
It’s definitely a balancing act. So ksjazz notes that President
Obama said in his State of the Union address that, quote, no
person should have to go broke to receive an education in
the United States of America. So would you please go over the
new policies that have been put into place to help pay
for higher education? Secretary Arne Duncan:
Yeah. This has been a phenomenal
breakthrough, it’s one of the things I’m actually proudest of. And this past July 1st, the
higher education bill, what we did is we simply stopped
subsidizing banks and said we would make loans
directly to students. Because we stopped subsidizing
banks, which we thought it was common sense, lots of lobbyists
didn’t think it was common sense, we had a good
little battle and we won. Because we stopped doing that,
without going back to taxpayers for another nickel, we put in an
additional $60 billion into Pell Grants over the next decade. At a time when going to college,
as you know, has never been more important, it’s never been more
expensive, and our country’s families haven’t been under,
you know, this kind of financial duress in a long, long time. So that was a
fundamental breakthrough. In addition to that, we reduced
loan repayments at the back end, once you graduate from college,
to 15 percent of income. And then after ten years of
public service, including teaching, we’re trying to
recruit this next generation of a million great teachers to come
into classrooms, after ten years of public service, any remaining
debt that you have will be forgiven, will
absolutely be erased. So making Pell Grants much more
generous, serve millions more students, reduce loan
repayments at the back end. We also worked hard, we
dramatically simplified financial aid form itself. I’ve always said that
historically it was so complicated you basically
needed to a Ph.D. to fill out the financial aid
form, the problem was you were 17, you didn’t have your Ph.D. form yet — you
didn’t have your Ph.D. yet, making it much easier
for parent answer students to understand has removed —
the form itself had become a barrier, we’ve
removed that barrier. Shira Lazar:
All right, GRP wonders if there are plans available that can help out
those responsible individuals who have existing student loans
to refinance loans that have more reasonable terms. Secretary Arne Duncan:
And folks should go back if they have current loans out now, just
absolutely work with whoever their loan servicer is and talk
through whatever issues they might be having. And we give people latitude
and flexibility to have those conversations. Shira Lazar:
Okay. We have actually a question that
just came in live right now, so thank you very much. It is common knowledge that a
good breakfast is important for success in school, but most
schools that provide breakfast only offer too much sugar, too
many carbs and too much fat. What is being done to provide
option that is help kids start to be healthy. Secretary Arne Duncan:
Hugely important issue and great question. Shira Lazar:
Yeah. Secretary Arne Duncan:
And people may not know that actually, not the Department of Education, but the Department of Agriculture does the
breakfasts and lunches. And Secretary Vilsack has been
just an amazing partner, he’s working very, very hard to make
both breakfasts, lunches and sometimes dinners
much more nutritious. He’s asking for an additional
$10 billion in the Child Nutrition Act, which is going
to be up for reauthorization, to support those places that are
willing to do the right thing by children. Our children cannot learn, they
cannot study if they’re hungry. We have to feed
children who are hungry. We have these dual challenges,
often same communities of children who go hungry and also
children to are obese, and we have to challenge both of those. And again, Secretary Vilsack
is providing extraordinary leadership there, and we think
it’s one of those sort of foundational things that
we have to get right. If children aren’t fed, if
they’re hungry, they can’t concentrate, children can’t
see the blackboard, they can’t concentrate, if they’re not
safe, if they’re, you know, scared or afraid, they can’t
concentrate, there’s a series of needs, basic, you know,
nutritional, social, emotional, physical needs that we need to
meet before we can start talking about algebra, trig and AP
biology and going on to college. Shira Lazar:
Definitely. Ann Barker is among those who
ask about school calendar, something you talk about a lot. Two proposals for education
reform include the possibility of extending the school day and
having a longer school year. We’ve already heard you speak
about the possibility of encouraging schools to
join forces with community organizations to create a
better school experience. So what analysis has been done
to map out how these ideas could be implemented? Secretary Arne Duncan:
Well, there’s no one right way to do it. And again, having local
creativity and ingenuity so important. But I’ll just tell you why I
think this is critical and why we have to do it
for our children. I usually get booed by students
when I talk about this, usually adults cheer, but I think our
school day is too short, I think our school week is too short,
I think our school year is too short. And if you look in a globally
competitive economy, children in India and China today are going
to school 25, 30, 35 more days each year than children here. And I know our children are
as smart, as competitive, as creative, as intelligent as
children anywhere in the world, we have to level the playing
field, we have to give them a chance. So this means a couple things. I think schools should be
community centers, they should be open 10, 11, 12 hours a day. Every — you know, we have
95,000 schools in the country, they all have classrooms, they
all have computer labs, they all have gyms, they have libraries,
some have pools, they doesn’t belong to me, they don’t belong
to the principal, they don’t belong to the union, they belong
to the community, and we should open up these great physical
resources to the community. So after school, academic
enrichment, parents, whatever the community needs, ESL
classes, GED classes, family literacy nights, pot luck
dinners, the more families are learning together, the better
students are going to do. Over the summer, we’ve done
plenty of studies, I don’t need another study about
summer reading loss. We have children, particularly
disadvantaged children, who thanks to the hard work and
passion of teachers get to a certain point in June, and
because no one has worked with them over the summer, they come
back in the fall further behind. It doesn’t make
any sense at all. So we need to be much more
creative in thinking about time, not just lengthen the day, but
bringing, you know, nonprofit partners, community partners,
thinking about these school buildings not as schools but
as assets to the community, and when we can be much more
creative, give our children more time in a variety of creative
ways, I promise you, they’ll do much better academically. Shira Lazar:
How would we deal with the funding of that, though? Secretary Arne Duncan:
So part of it’s money,
part of it’s creativity. Let me give you an example. When I ran the Chicago public
schools, we had 150 schools that what we were call
community centers. We had some that we ran from
9:00 o’clock to 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, and then from
3:00 o’clock in the afternoon to 9:00 o’clock at night, the local
boys and girls clubs came in and ran them. And so it’s about, you know,
leveraging other resources. When you have, you know, YMCA’s,
boys and girls clubs, I question why they should be putting money
into bricks and mortar, everyone is struggling financially now,
put all of their money into tutoring and mentoring and, you
know, school support and sports, enrichment activities,
use our buildings. And so there is some additional
costs, but a lot of this is being much more creative. And if you can co-locate five,
six, seven, eight different great nonprofits and Social
Service organizations in a school building, that’s
where the children are. The final thing I’ll say is if
for — whether it’s two-parent working families or a single mom
working, you know, two or three jobs trying to make ends meet or
families looking for work, that 3:00 o’clock to 6:00 o’clock,
3:00 o’clock to 7:00 o’clock is a time of high anxiety for
parents, and knowing that that child is safe and doing
something positive and productive with good
adults is really important. And again, I can’t think of a
better place for that child to be engaged in positive
activities than right there in the school building. Shira Lazar:
So teachers are often asked to stop using proven teaching techniques in order to
implement the latest educational trend or stimulus money
spending opportunity. So RV asks, how do we encourage
teaches to continue to excel without causing
initiative fatigue? Secretary Arne Duncan:
It’s a great question. And what we just want is for
students to do very, very well academically. We want every child to graduate
from high school, we want them graduating college and career
ready, and we want them to have the skills to pursue their
dreams, whatever those are. Where teachers are seeing great
success with students, we don’t want them changing, we want
to reward that, we want to replicate that, we want
to learn from that. Teacher creativity, teacher
innovation, not just the content knowledge but the personal
passion they bring to the work and really connecting with
students, particularly students who are struggling,
is hugely important. And the good ideas in education
are, frankly, never going to come from me, they’re never
going to come from Washington, they’re always going to come at
the local level, great teachers, great principals, school boards,
superintendents, making a difference in students’ lives. All of our funding programs
are trying to, you know, put resources and reward that
phenomenal work at the local level. Shira Lazar:
So many people, includes
Ms.revmom, that’s her user name, asks how schools
can better deal with the negative impact that bullying
both on school grounds and via digital devices are having on
the educational experience. We’ve got a ton of those
questions actually. So has the Safe Schools
Improvement Act of 2009 been successful and is it being
implemented nationwide? Secretary Arne Duncan:
We’re working extraordinarily hard on this, and this is one
I worry about a lot. We actually hosted just a couple
weeks ago the first, you know, national federally led
anti-bullying summit, and basically where we started that
I just absolutely believe if children are being bullied,
if they’re scared, if they’re worried about getting to and
from class or to and from school or worried about recess or
worried about what’s going on in the lunch room, they’re
not going to be successful. And it’s not just physical
bullying, it’s cyber bullying, which is on the rise. And it’s something that
we’re taking extraordinarily seriously. And so we’re putting significant
resources out there, we have a great team that’s working to
help those districts that want to build safe climates and
sharing best practices. We had a phenomenal conference
with national leaders from all over the country here working
with us, but it’s one I worry a lot about. Also, you know, just in the
past couple days, we’ve seen and heard a couple horrendous
situations where, you know, the Rutgers student who is gay was
harassed or was videotaped and ended up committing suicide. Heartbreaking, you know,
absolutely unacceptable. There’s a student who is I
think the student government president, student body
president at University of Michigan who is being harassed
actually by an elected official because of his
sexual orientation. That makes absolutely
no sense to me. So whether it’s race or
gender or, you know, sexual orientation, whatever it might
be, we have to have tolerance, we have to treat students with
respect, and we we’re going to do everything we can with
resources, with the bully pulpit and with our office of civil
rights to make sure that happens. Shira Lazar:
Because it affects how they respect education and their
environment as well. Secretary Arne Duncan: Absolutely. Absolutely. Shira Lazar:
So we know that we need to improve the quality of science, technology,
engineering and math education in order to be competitive
in the world market. So silicon valley dad asks are
there existing programs in other countries or here in the U.S. which have had success in improving math and science scores while keeping students engaged? If so, they can be implemented
in our public school system? Secretary Arne Duncan:
There are many successful programs, but we have a long way
to go in this area. And this is — you know,
President Obama is providing just extraordinary leadership
on this, so a couple different thoughts. First of all, in our FY 11
budget, we’re asking for an additional $300 million just
to support stem fields, so at a time of sort of flat lining
budgets, this is a huge investment in science,
technology, engineering and math. What do we have to do? We have to get the next
generation of teachers to come in who actually are content
experts and have a passion for what they’re doing. The President challenged us just
last week to bring in 10,000 new math and science teachers around
the country, and we’re going to work very hard to do that. We need to do better during the
school day, we need to do better after school. I’m a big fan of programs like
the robotics program, science fair competitions, career day
where students get a chance to explore their passions
and interests. And then we have the great
partnership with a set of about 100 CEO’s from around the
country called Educate to Innovate, who have
come together. Sally Ride, the astronaut, is a
huge part of this equation, and so this is an unprecedented
public/private partnership, we’re going to be working
together with the business community to provide
opportunities for students, school day, after school,
summer, as well as for teachers to continue to do research and
then ultimately to bring in the next generation of talent. So if you look at any
international measure, we’re nowhere near the top frankly,
and we have a long way to go. Most recent numbers are, you
know, math for 15-year-olds, about 21st in the world,
science 24th, 25th in the world. Not good enough. And it’s not just producing the
next generation of engineers and scientists, this is the next
generation of entrepreneurs and innovators who are going to
create jobs that don’t even exist today. And so we have to invest. And the President is absolutely
passionate on this, and we’re going to work very, very hard
to get those numbers so that America is again leading the
world, which is where we need to be. Shira Lazar:
How long will that take to get back up to speed? Secretary Arne Duncan:
I don’t know honestly how long it will take. We have to see progress, you
know, quickly in every single year, benchmark our ability
to change those numbers. But when our American teenagers
are, you know, 20, 24th, 25th in the world, right now, students
in Canada are about a year ahead of us in math at the high school
level, your home country, great, great for you. Shira Lazar:
Yes. Secretary Arne Duncan:
And I was just there, but not good enough for us. And we have to deal with these
issues openly and honestly. There are a set of countries,
Finland, Singapore, Canada has done great, Japan, that we can
learn a lot from, but we just have to maintain a
laser-like commitment. And the public sector and the
private sector coming together I think is a huge step
in the right direction. Shira Lazar:
Definitely. So ill SCI teacher, mean they
are from Illinois, asks, once again, highly qualified science,
technology, engineering and math teachers have traditionally been
too expensive to be hired by struggling school districts. So how about education reform
help poor school districts afford teachers with the
necessary skills and experience? Secretary Arne Duncan:
Yeah, so, this is one of my controversial ideas not everyone
agrees with, but we’ve had a shortage of math and science
teachers for decades, 25, 30 years, I want to stop talking
about the problem, I want to stop admiring, we
need to fix it. It means a couple things. I think where we have a
shortage, we should pay those teachers more. So you pick a number, 10 grand,
15 grand, 20 grand, particularly in disadvantaged communities,
inner city, urban, rural, we need to pay those math and
science teachers more money to serve the students in the
communities who need the most help. We need to think of more
creative ways to get, you know, physicists, to get chemists, you
know, chemistry whizzes to come in and teach our students,
particularly at the high school level. So maybe it’s part-time while
they’re doing something at the university. I met with an eminent scientist
recently, I won’t mention his name, internationally renowned,
phenomenal career, at the end of his career, wanted to come back
and teach at high school, wanted to give back, tried to do it. Because of, you know, crazy
bureaucracy at the local level and certification rules couldn’t
do it, wasn’t allowed to teach. So he ended up at
Princeton University. So he was good enough for
Princeton, but he wasn’t good enough for the local high
school, which is where he wanted really to go. Something is wrong
with that picture. There’s great talent out there,
we’ve got to open our doors, bring them into our schools and
compensate them in a way in a will keep them in the
communities that need the most help. Shira Lazar:
Why do you feel like it’s been so controversial? Secretary Arne Duncan:
Well, not everyone agrees that — you know, lots of folks think that
we should just pay everybody the same, and that’s what sort of
happened historically in this country, and where we have
areas of critical need, math and science being at the top of the
list, special education, some of the foreign languages, I think
we should recognize where those shortage areas are and pay
better, and I think we reward excellence in education. We have teachers that are doing
an amazing job of making a difference in students’ lives,
we have to recognize that in lots of different ways
and learn from them. And a piece of that should
be greater compensation. Shira Lazar:
All right. We have another question
live from the live chat, so thank you. Validec asks, as a current
teacher, I have seen how my state, Arkansas, has been
affected by No Child Left Behind. And I understand that the law
is mostly for accountability. Is No Child Left Behind working,
if not, how can it be improved? Secretary Arne Duncan:
So we want to reauthorize early in the new year and we want to
do it in a bipartisan way. Couple thoughts. Where I will always give the
previous administration credit with No Child Left Behind is
this idea of disaggregating data and looking at the tremendous
achievement gap and dealing with that open and honestly,
which had country didn’t do historically. So that’s been very positive. Having said that, there are
a number of things I think, frankly, are broken in No Child
Left Behind that we want to fix as we move forward. First of all, the law is very
punitive, there are about 50 ways to fail, very
few ways to succeed. Secondly, it’s very
prescriptive, very top down from Washington. Again, I just fundamentally
believe that good ideas aren’t going to come from us, they
are going to come at the local level. One of — I know this is an
unintended consequence, but nevertheless it’s happened all
over the country, is states, because of No Child Left Behind,
dummied down standards, reduced standards, which has been
horrible for children, horrible for the long-term
health of our economy. And then finally, it led — I’ve
heard this all over the country, I’ve been to 42 states, urban,
rural, suburban, it led to a narrowing of the curriculum. So how do we fix all those
things going forward? First we have to
reward excellence. Great teachers, great
principals, great schools, great districts, great states that are
raising the bar for all children in closing the achievement gaps,
we have to reward success and learn from that. We’re going to put a
big spotlight there. Secondly, we have to
be much more flexible. We want to have a high bar, hold
folks accountable for results, but again, let great local
educators federal government out how to hit that high bar. And I’m much more interested
in growth and gain than I am in absolute test scores. How much are you improving each
year, what are you doing in graduation rates, what are you
doing in attendance rates, what are you doing in
college-going rates. I want to look at improvement
in growth, or lack of that, not just absolute test scores. Third, this idea of high
standards, and I talked about earlier 36 states, tremendous
leadership at the local level, collage and career rate standards, so we are breaking through as we
speak on that one. And then finally, and maybe
most importantly is this idea of a well-rounded education, yes,
reading and math are hugely important, they’re fundamental,
they’re foundational, but so is science, so is social studies,
so is financial literacy, so is environmental literacy, so is PE
and art and dance and drama and music. It’s part of our FY 11 budget,
we want to put a billion dollars, a billion dollars, a
massive investment, behind those places that are committed
to giving their children a world-class education, a
well-rounded curriculum. Shira Lazar:
All right. So students often feel that
they do not have a voice when it comes to their own education,
but we’ve given them a voice here during the live
stream, of course. What advice can you give
to students who want to be proactive about their education
and help themselves and their schools? Secretary Arne Duncan:
We have to empower students, so we have to listen to their voice. One thing that we are going
to do, and we really encourage districts to do and schools to
do is to ask students what’s working, what’s not, do you feel
safe in school, do you have an adult you can go to to help
you if times are tough. And that student voice, whether
it’s a student government, whether it’s a student rep on
a local school board, students should be demanding a better
education, they should want more, should be
challenging us as adults. One thing that I’m going to
do personally and I’ll make a little news with you, I haven’t
talked about this yet, but I had a great student advisory council
when I worked in Chicago who came up with phenomenal ideas
and actually helped to really drive my agenda. I haven’t had that at
the national level. One of the things I want to do
this school year is set up a student advisory council with
students around the country who on a monthly basis, I can’t do
in one place, by virtually meet with them, listen to their
thoughts, listen to their concerns, and have them
help drive my agenda. It was so helpful for me in
Chicago and I want to replicate that here in Washington. Shira Lazar:
Looking forward to seeing that happen. Thank you for the
breaking news right there. All right, Secretary Duncan and
everyone watching right now, that’s all for now. Thank you so much for
answering all of our questions. And to learn more and of course
watch this Q&A again, please visit,
or And for more information
and education reform and revitalization, just go to
letsredu, R-E-D-U, dot com, rethinking reforming
and rebuilding U.S. education. I’m Shira Lazar from the White
House for NMSN, I’ll see you soon. Thank you so much for watching. Thank you. Secretary Arne Duncan:
Thanks a lot.

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