Washington (CNN) - Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Monday that other countries have outpaced the United States in education advancements because Americans have "lost our way" and not remained focused on improving education.
"When we led the world a generation ago we flat-lined. It's not that we've dropped, we're just stagnated," Duncan said in an interview on CNN's "John King USA."
"I think we became complacent and, frankly, I think we lost our way a little bit as a country. Other folks invested more, took this more seriously, and frankly I think we're paying a price of this in terms of the tough economic climate today."
"Our dropout rate in the African-American and Latino communities in many areas is 40, 50 percent," Duncan added. "This is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable."
Duncan also urged members of the House of Representatives to pass a $26 billion bill partially aimed at avoiding massive teacher layoffs this fall.
"The last thing our country needs is to have 160,000 teachers in the next couple of weeks on the unemployment lines rather than in the classroom," Duncan said.
The Senate passed the bill last week after Democrats received some unexpected bipartisan support from Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last week that she would call members back from their six-week summer recess to pass the bill on Tuesday.
Duncan said he thinks that major advances in education will come from teachers and school administrators, not from lawmakers in Washington.
"We'll never fix this. The great ideas in education are never going to come from me or, frankly, from anyone else in Washington," Duncan said. "The great ideas in education are always going to come at the local level. What we need is great courage and great vision."
"We've never had more high-performing schools; we've never had more high performing-high poverty schools around the country. What we have to do is make those examples of success the norm rather than the exception."