August 9th, 2010
08:00 PM ET
8 years ago

Duncan: When it comes to education, Americans have 'lost our way'

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."

Filed under: Arne Duncan • Education • issues • JKUSA • John King USA
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. seneca

    This is a nation that sends thier children to school so they can play sports and be popular. Are we surprised we are excelling in football competitiveness but not math?

    August 9, 2010 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  2. vwrtb

    Republicans want to lay off teachers and pay them minimum wage... And then lower the minimum wage... No premium on educating your children...

    August 9, 2010 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  3. Marcus

    Take South Korea for instance.
    Back in the 60's it was more a rural country than an urban one, industry (if tehre was one) was barely worth of register. Then they decided to focus on education, FOCUS, and now, 2 generations later, South Korea (while nowhere near to have any chance to rivalize its economy with those from its neighbors China and Japan) they have excellent economic/social numbers.
    Then think about India and China (even with the Communist Party and its ideology/censorship)...
    It's like he said, USA had 'stagnated' on this subject...
    The other countries hadn't.

    August 9, 2010 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  4. Brian - PA

    Thanks to "No child left behind." Or should it be known as "No federal dollar spent on educating our children."

    August 9, 2010 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  5. Angi's Mom

    Imagine if the trllions of dollars that we've thrown away in Iraq and Afghanistan and other foreign countries were applied to our kids' education. Is it too late to prioritize education over weapons to save our country's future?

    August 9, 2010 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  6. Victim of GOP Taliban

    Repeal No Child Left Behind. That would be a great start. Then all the $ states wasted complying to vague requirement can be spent on things that actually improve education.

    August 9, 2010 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  7. Gil

    As a retired teacher I assure you that school work has generally become too easy and if a kid won't do it, because they are lazy, they are given an aide that basically does it for them! Yes, there are some who need aides, but lazy qualifies for some!

    August 9, 2010 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  8. Terry from West Texas

    It's no big loss for a declining world power. Less education for our kids just means that they won't have unrealistic hopes about the future. They'll be working two crappy jobs until the day they die with few benefits and fewer options and living from month to month. It's best that they give up hope early in their lives rather than cling to unrealistic expectations.

    And what is the big advantage of being smart anyway? Look at the Conservatives in Congress. They have really cool jobs and they don't know anything.

    August 9, 2010 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  9. Tony on the River

    We should've known from the original title for Bush's Education Plan: No Child Left Standing.

    August 9, 2010 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  10. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    Yeah, we "lost our way" when we decided that the purpose of the school system was social engineering rather than education.

    For a long time here in Wake County, North Carolina, the Number One stated objective of the school system was "Diversity." At first, the goal was "racial diversity," and was sought by sentencing thousands of kids to hours each day on buses. When that was declared unconstitutional, the intent of the court ruling was evaded by renaming the objective "socio-economic diversity and was, guess what, sought by sentencing thousands of kids to hours each day on buses.

    Actual education, reading and writing and all that unnecessary foolishness, was something like number five on the list of objectives.

    Fortunately, the voters of suburban Wake County, once badly out-numbered by the voters of the city of Raleigh, finally managed to vote some sense into the school board and Readin', 'Ritin', and 'Rthmetic are once more, as they always should have been, the objectives.

    Part of the "diversity" foolishness was a strong reluctance to sort kids by ability. This, spurred on by NCLB, resulted in classes where the teachers spent a huge amount of their effort coaching the slower-witted kids into squeaking by the standardised tests while to a large extent ignoring the brighter kids who could actually benefit from the attention. College-prep high-school courses were abandoned in favour of remedial elementary courses. No effort to improve the American school system will succeed so long as it's based on the fallacious assumption that all kids, however equal they may have been created, are equally adept academically.

    August 9, 2010 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  11. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    And, by the way, a $26 billion pay-off for teacher's unions isn't going to improve things either. The problem isn't that sufficient resources aren't being expended on schools, the problem is that the resources are being wasted through poorly chosen objectives and commitments to meet well-chosen objectives.

    August 9, 2010 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  12. dominickspez

    But if he believes the great advancements will come from teachers and administrators at a local level , why is he trying to regulate the classroom? He should at least realize all the Federal interference has weakened our system and is destroying innovation. If you want to help schools –MANDATE local control of curriculum and get Washington OUT of the classroom. The fiasco in New York's testing scores should be a wake up call around America. Are the new benchmark scores any more valid then the old–who says? Where's the data? NY's new grading rubric is entirely arbitrary and designed not to help students but to get race to the top funding. In other words it is a BRIBE !!!!

    August 9, 2010 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  13. BeverlyNC

    Our education system is an embarrassment and a total failure. Teachers teach to a year end test and students learn nothing. There is no discipline practiced, no accountablity for anything, no respect taught or displayed for anyone.
    Just look at all the uneducated fools who believe anything they are told and have no ability to think for themselves, determine true from false, or right from wrong.
    Students need to go to school year-round to catch up with the rest of the world and parents should be held responsible for the actions of their children.
    Let teachers do their jobs and stop these stupid measurement tests. They have destroyed true learning.
    Another reason we need more Democrats in Congress. They are educated themselves and believe in a strong education. Republicans never have supported education -just look at their ignorant racist extremist base. Look at Sarah Palin – the poster child for the results of no education.

    August 9, 2010 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  14. Marie MD

    Let's not just blame the African Americans and Latinos. Our education system has gone downhill because many of our younger people (black, white, brown, yellow) are more interested and know more about snooki and kate and her brood than about the history of this country, geography and sadly English.
    MTV and texting are helping dumb down our youth and people are not paying attentin.
    Our enemies don't have to attack us. Wait a few years and just walk in and take over the cities because we will have become a country of uneducated twits.

    August 9, 2010 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  15. marxist dogs are out of control

    Hmmmm....could Arnie be angling for a multi-billion dollar transfer of wealth to the teacher's unions from the tax payer ? As we approach the effective end of the Obama administration in November of 2010 every nasty move imaginable is being made by Obamists to get that last bucket of cash before the pipeline his hammered shut by the voters.

    August 9, 2010 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  16. floridian

    "When we led the world a generation ago we flat-lined..."

    Why don't we look at what happened in society a generation ago. Let me suggest two things I think have impacted our declining education results. For one, in many homes neither mom nor dad are home when the kids are finished with school. And when the parents get home how much do they make sure the kids are doing the homework or reading or school-type work? Instead it was TV and video games. Second, those in the educational world felt that self esteem was more important than failing a kid. So they allowed mediocrity (or worse) to advance when it should have been allowed to repeat.

    As an aside, why do we measure education by the number of college degrees? I think that is a measure of merit dreamed up by some idiot 'cause it doesn't mean a thing. A generation ago a bachelor's degree meant something. Now you need a Master's degree to be equivalent to what a Bachelor's degree was a generation ago. We just keep dumbing down and dumbing down so no kid fails. A college degree is not the answer - a good education is the answer.

    August 9, 2010 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  17. Joe

    As a retired educator, I have to agree. One suggestion I'd make for reform–stop treating technology as an unqualified blessing. The over use of technological gadgets enables an awful lot of poor teachers to pretend they're better than they are, or cover up the fact that they're lazy or ill informed. All teachers should have to prove that they can teach a lesson with nothing more than a piece of chalk and their voice, before being allowed to employ all the technological bells and whistles in the classroom.

    August 9, 2010 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  18. DENNA

    Education is only one of the ways that this country has lost its way. President Obama may be the last educated president we ever have. Don't believe me? Just look at who preceded him. We are raising a generation of children who will be barely literate if education here isn't taken seriously.

    August 9, 2010 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  19. Artie

    What can you expect when we worship the dumbed down pop culture,drugs ,money and entertainment that borders on the ridiculous ! Things mean more than personal responsibility, patriotism is denigrated and personal rights trumps a collective cohesiveness for country and good for all! And don't even start on what we have done to religion in this country! What a sorry mess!! America is going downhill fast!

    August 9, 2010 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  20. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Lost it? When did we ever have it? The last time we were leaders in science and technology was during world war 2... When our top rocket scientists (Braun) and our top physicists (Einstein) were both immigrants!

    August 9, 2010 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  21. Peter E

    The problem is atitude. The previous administration campaigned hard for people to turn completely against education and to reject any intellectual authority in favor of political and religious (mostly political disguised as religious) dogma. Now we have a large percentage of the population downright rejecting all formal education, disrespecting teachers and schools, only developing the skill to parrot their political pundits, hurling personal attacks against teachers, scientists, learning, knowledge, even the very facts of reality. And now they dare criticize teachers because their kids are failing BASIC science, math, and EVEN verbal skills? It is THEY who don't let the teachers teach or their kids learn!

    August 9, 2010 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  22. JonDie

    With conservatives pushing their "the Earth is flat" mentality, it is not surprise that we are failing miserably.

    August 9, 2010 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  23. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Who cares about education! Just hire more illegal immigrants for even cheaper labor and then hypocritically claim it is THEY who somehow have drained the economy!
    You want jobs to go to Americans? Then PAY for those jobs! That's right! That means you have to pay for their education too! Suddenly everything is 4 times the price! Ooo, but you thought you had a RIGHT to cheap products and services? Well, they are cheap only because you demand cheap, uneducated, underpaid illegal immigrant labor! YOU are the one sellling this nation out! YOU are the one being unpatriotic! And hypocritical!

    August 9, 2010 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  24. Matt

    Higher education isn't an endeavor, it's a business. How many thousands of BA's in Art, English, History, Humanitians, etc are sitting in the closet because the only thing they are good for is a bullet on a resume. And those job resumes are for jobs other then what the degree is in.You have a worthless piece of paper, because you are "supposed" to go to college, and the college has your 100K which perpetuates this nonsense, and you are now in debt for ten years. Colleges should cut 90 percent of BA programs and load up with BS programs. Science, math, chemistry, engineering, etc. Drive around this country and look at the workers. The plumbers, the construction people, the electricians, the road workers, the farmers, etc. They are the pulling the load and most of them don't have college degrees. We can mass produce college degrees and bump up the numbers, but they don't mean anything if you are getting a degree for something you will never do. Quit passing out BA's in Art, and get off your butt and get a degree in engineering and build a bridge.

    August 9, 2010 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  25. The reality is...

    "The great ideas in education are always going to come at the local level. What we need is great courage and great vision."

    He's got that right! That's why we need vouchers and school choice. Give the "government schools" AKA public "education" some competition and we'll see some change for the better alright. I know of many private schools who operate on a budget that is a fraction of what our taxpayer public schools budget and over 95% of the graduating class go on to higher education and are actually able to do the college level assignments. Too bad many are then caught up in the politically "correct" nonsense and dumbed down in order to be manipulated by the "Progressives".

    August 9, 2010 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
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