Duncan: U.S. failing ‘core responsibilities’ on education

Fortunately, many of the people in the real world outside the Beltway and the blogosphere have tuned out this debate. They are too busy actually getting the real work done. They’re focusing on students—whether they are three years old, 13 years old, or 33 years old.

All across America, states and districts are moving forward with courageous reforms:

• States have raised standards and expectations for students and are piloting new and better assessments to show what students know and can do;

• Teachers are thinking deeply about their practice and their profession. They’re rewriting curricula and sharing lessons online;

• Technology is driving access to knowledge, innovation, instruction, and professional development in unprecedented ways;

• And many of our lowest-performing schools are implementing ambitious reforms for the first time to drive improvement and increase student success.

Every state in America is wrestling with complex, real-world questions about education. How to get better faster? How to best serve children at risk and better support teachers? How to transition to higher standards? How to control college costs? And how to expand access to high-quality early childhood education?

These states are partnering with the federal government to break free of some of the rules that inhibit innovation and hold themselves accountable to a higher standard.

And they are getting results. Today, high school graduation rates are higher than they have been in more than 30 years. College enrollment is up, particularly among minorities.

From ’07-’08 to 2010, the high school graduation rate among African-Americans increased five percentage points, to 66 percent. In that same period, the graduation rate among Hispanics had jumped eight percentage points, to 71 percent.  These are very encouraging trends.

Partly it’s because we have targeted dropout factories and provided unprecedented federal resources to turn them around, and give young people in historically underserved communities a real shot in life.

Ten years ago, half of African-American high school students and nearly four in 10 Hispanic students attended dropout factories. That’s a staggering statistic—we were actually perpetuating poverty and social failure.

Thanks to the hard work of teachers, parents, community members, and students themselves, we’ve cut those proportions in half. There are 700,000 fewer students in those failing schools now than just four years ago.

That is 700,000 students with a better chance of getting a job, owning their own home, supporting a family, and contributing to their communities. We still have a long way to go. But the data and the stories I know directly from students in these schools give me great reason for hope.

We are making real progress, too, for students with disabilities. From 2001 to 2010, the percentage of students with disabilities who graduated with a regular high school diploma increased from 48 percent to nearly 63 percent.

Higher graduation rates also boost enrollment in college. In fact, the Census estimates that Hispanic college enrollment went up 50 percent from 2008 to 2012.

While many other nations outperform us on international tests, a number of states and schools perform on par with the best in the world—offering models of success for others to learn from. There is so much good work underway—and, thankfully, the people doing this difficult, critically important work are not distracted by all the noise and manufactured drama inside the bubble.

(Next page: Poverty is no excuse)

eSchool News Staff

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