Panelists at a recent forum focused on how to encourage more innovation in education.

Innovation was a key theme of President Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 25, and it also was the theme of a recent forum in Washington, D.C., that explored how policy makers and education leaders can encourage more innovation in the nation’s schools.

Hosted by the Aspen Institute, the Education Innovation Forum kicked off Jan. 20 with Education Secretary Arne Duncan calling on states to implement the Common Core standards and integrate more technology into classrooms.

“We’re nowhere near where we need to be as a country,” Duncan said. “The brainpower here, the innovation, the creativity [can help us] get not just incremental change, but … dramatically better outcomes for young people.”

Chinese President Hu Jintao’s recent visit to the United States raises questions about U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, and Duncan listed several facts that “compel us to act differently.”

For one thing, the high school dropout rate in the U.S. is around 25 percent, which translates into about a million students every year. “That’s economically unsustainable [and] morally unacceptable,” Duncan said. “There are no good jobs out there in a globally competitive economy for high school dropouts.”

He also cited the mediocre performance of U.S. students on a recent international exam, as well as the nation’s college attainment rate.

“A generation ago we led the world in college graduation rates, [and now] we’ve flat-lined,” he said. “While we’ve stagnated, nine other countries have passed us by. They’re out-educating us, they’re out-investing, they’re out-innovating, and they’re going to out-compete us and continue to out-compete us.”

Duncan said common standards are necessary to accurately compare schools across the nation.