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

I’m especially inspired by the emerging research and leadership around issues like resilience, grit, and persistence—hard-to-measure qualities that educators know are as important to student success as reading and math skills.

Teachers are leading a much-needed transformation of their profession. If we have learned one thing from high-performing countries, it is that we must get better at recruiting and training our teachers.

We should also learn from successful teacher training models here in the United States that are driving big student gains. And we should pay teachers on par with other professions, rewarding those remarkable teachers who are producing outsized student gains and taking on the toughest of assignments.

In higher education, a number of universities—public and private, nonprofit and for-profit—are creatively keeping down costs while maintaining or improving quality. They’re focusing more on outcomes than on inputs. We want to know: Are colleges and universities delivering value to the students who attend? Are those students getting good jobs? Are they repaying their college loans?

There has been an explosion of innovation around online learning– and as we expand access, we must stay focused on quality and outcomes. Groundbreaking work is underway around competency-based learning. We are partnering with universities at three experimental sites where institutions will award certificates to students based on what they know, rather than how long they sat in lecture halls. We need to make this shift—not just in higher education, but in high schools and middle schools as well.

Lastly, we must continue to build partnerships between community colleges and employers to forge a clearer path from school to work for millions of unemployed, underemployed, and under-skilled adults. They are eager for more fulfilling and rewarding careers.

The fact that so many Americans are out of work, while hundreds of thousands of high-wage, high-skill jobs go unfilled, is a market failure that hurts families and hurts the country.

Public-private partnerships must close the skills gap, and community colleges are the centerpiece of that effort.

So, as this new school year gets underway, today I am inviting any member of Congress to join me as I continue to travel around the country and highlight reforms at work. I invite journalists, bloggers, and policy leaders as well.

Let’s go see for ourselves what is working—and then let’s bring those positive lessons back to Washington. Let’s talk to students and see what they want and what they need—for their future, not our present.

Right now our country faces stark choices: We can continue to play politics with the budget and the debt ceiling, or we can fund a federal government that Americans can count on.

Congress can continue to treat education as an expense on the budget ledger, or they can see it as a critical investment in winning the race for the future. Other countries get it—they’re greatly expanding preschool and strengthening teacher preparation.

We can look the other way while policies enrich the few at the expense of the many. Or we can shift resources to programs that can make a difference in the lives of children and families.

We can stand up to the ideologues and extremists in our own parties who promote division. We can all show real courage—and lead, not follow.

There are plenty of smart, compassionate Republican leaders. There are many GOP governors doing the right thing. They know that education is the right bet for America. But where are the reasonable Republicans in Washington who will stand up to the Tea Party? Who will be that profile in courage?

Who will make it safe for others to do the right thing for their country–and provide all our children with a strong start in preschool? There is nothing political about giving our three-year olds and four-year olds a strong start in life. The silence of our moderate friends almost troubles me more than the noise and nonsense from the extremists.

Similarly, the education community needs to put aside the rhetoric and disrespect and come together to push forward against the one common enemy we must all fight—and that’s academic failure.

The American public is ignoring much of the Washington debate over school reform. They just want schools and educational opportunity to keep improving. They are not letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. And they are the reason I remain so hopeful.

I am optimistic and inspired because of what is happening outside the Beltway in schools, at colleges and universities, and in communities all across America.

I am optimistic because of teachers and principals I have met, because of parents and community leaders, because of college presidents, and because of governors and state chiefs on both sides of the aisle.

I am optimistic, above all, because of the millions of students who come to school every day. Many face extraordinary barriers and hardships, but they come because they feel safe, they feel engaged, and they feel loved and valued and inspired by their teachers. Our students hunger for the emotional, social, and mental nourishment that comes from a great school.

Public schools can be life-changing places for children. At their best, they embody core American values of ingenuity, creativity, and industry. They advance social mobility and economic opportunity to all.

Public schools offer the hope and promise of a meaningful and rewarding life to every child who walks through their doors. Our job—very simply—is to make schools the best they can be.

eSchool News Staff

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