August 9th, 2010
08:00 PM ET
13 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. sara

    Best Education Secretary EVER!!!! Best example: Sarah Palin

    August 9, 2010 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  2. Former Republican, now an Independent

    It is great to have a president who appreciates education and understands that the cost is simply getting out of the reach of many middle class families.

    August 9, 2010 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  3. T'SAH from Virginia

    SOLs caused student to lose interest. I've raised 5 kids and currently co-raising grandkids – it's totally different now with grandkids!!!

    All the teachers worry about are the kids getting good SOL scores... Nothing exciting anymore – kids hardly do projects, field trips, etc. – the 'whole picture' of learning is LOST!!

    Teachers are allowed to continue to teach because they have seniority – that’s not good because we lose so many young teachers – fresh out of college – who can relate more with students!!!

    August 9, 2010 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  4. mike

    Arne Duncan is right we have lost our way when it comes down to educating our kids lets face it we are more worried about fighting wars than taking care of one another it amazes me on how much division there is on this issue but I guess there is always someone making money on someone else is misfortunes and then when you want to change something to better peoples lives they call you every name in the book I believe we have become a third world nation and we don't even know it yet

    August 9, 2010 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  5. Michael

    We need massive investments in education and infrastructure to offset the years of "spending cuts" that have left this country with a floundering education system, an undependable (by global standards) electric grid that leaks as much as half of generated power before it reaches its destination, and roads and bridges that are falling apart. But our so-called "leaders" can't get past petty politics and trying to appeal to fringe nut jobs.

    August 9, 2010 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  6. not remained focused on improving education

    two wage households

    a HUGE factor in our kids education is the two wage households

    no one has energy left after work

    August 9, 2010 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  7. Michael

    The countries with the best educational systems are, not coincidentally, the ones with the most successful societies across the board: those pesky Northwest European socialist democracies. Much as the GOP wishes they would just disappear, they are proof positive of the effectiveness of a moderate-left socialist government. Low crime, high standard of living – I could care less about paying high taxes: it's not like we Americans have anything left after paying our parasitic health insurance companies anyway.

    August 9, 2010 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  8. ASMA

    As K-12 keep watering the content down and push for using gaming to "please" the kids, we will only sink deeper... It is time to make sure students do not advance to the next grade unless they master the right level of competency. Grade inflation in K-12 leads to students coming to college to under prepared and thus drop out. With the huge move in the national education system towards "fun" in the classroom through the so called "effective teaching" will only waste too much time on the methods and reduce the content. The nations that beat us have ONE thing in common and that is the DEEPER content of their classes (some teach 9th grader what we teach first year college students in science!). Besides, we must realize that the information/knowledge is increasing in a daily basis and so we need to up the ante for the students not lower the expectation from them. Often parents are telling teachers not to give the students home work and let the kids enjoy their childhood, which has led to where we are now. TIME TO WAKE UP AND DIAGNOSE THE PROBLEM CORRECTLY and if you look at the highly performing schools you will see the secret lies in the content's depth and the firm application of the serious teaching and holding students responsible... The kids may not like in the short term, but I have always found that the appreciate it the long term.

    August 9, 2010 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  9. Bertina

    The quality has gone out of our school system just like it has in everything else. Too many short cuts. I have also heard of teachers not following up on students who have problems. It is time to get back to MADE IN AMERICA. It is time for children to really learn instead of depending on computers and calculators!!!!

    August 9, 2010 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  10. Denis Egan

    The tough economy today has nothing to do with poor teaching in America. We don't evaluate teachers, distinguish between good ones and bad ones and then act accordingly–firing very bad ones raising the salaries and positions of good ones and informing all other teachers of their strengths and weaknesses. Unions don't allow it. In unions everyone is the same and all deserve equal increases and promotion regardless of output. I've taught in 6 different countries. America is by far the worst in taking a critical look and action with regard to the greatly different abilities of teachers.

    August 10, 2010 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  11. Minnesota Teacher

    It is about time for candid talk about education, but nothing in education is going to change until we confront some of the harshest truths about the direction our system is headed. Our system is antiquated, NCLB has crippled any real education, society has pulled support of teachers in the classroom in favor of political misrepresentation, special interest groups (including political parties) are playing games, and our consumer/mass media/electronic culture has progressed faster than we can truly handle.

    Not every child wants to be on a college bound track, no standardized test can truly measure what a student has learned, taking away vocational education and arts education is the worst mistake we can make, and with-holding money is punitive and simple minded.

    Society needs to make a change in how it views education and how it views schools – we are not able to competing globally with education, because our current society does not place value on the process of education – just testable results. That does not make a scientist.

    August 10, 2010 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  12. Aaron

    It's the same old diatribe in DC. They talk about furthering/improving education, making the US the top educator again, and, guess what.....nothing new happens!

    August 10, 2010 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  13. mark hoskins

    i would like to know how the whole white house can even think to have any respect from any average working (middle class) people in this u.s.a for all the stupid ways they spend our hard earned money. i am glad they can get a good night sleep. because every time i hear about and person that steals ends up in our prison system.

    thanks for awonderful goverment.

    August 10, 2010 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  14. Buster

    You can thank the teachers unions for alot of the decline and the rest goes on the parents.

    August 10, 2010 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  15. normajean

    We really have lost our way when it comes to higher education for our young people. The colleges and universities have gotten so expensive that the average family can't begin to think in that direction. Not only that but they are so over crowded that they are turning prospective students away.I am not knowledgeable enough to know how this problem can be remedied but the financial factions of our government and business world would be wise to look into this as these deprived young people are our leaders of tomorrow,. if they can get an education,that is. Some try to work and pay their own way, but that is not a satisfactory long term answer.

    August 10, 2010 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
1 2