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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan just completed a cross-country bus tour promoting education as an investment in America’s future. He joins Diane to talk about ongoing reforms and challenges still facing our nation’s schools. Later in the hour, a panel of education experts give their views on what is and isn’t working in the U.S. education system.
- Arne Duncan Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration
- Kevin Carey Director of the education policy program at the New America Foundation.
- Randi Weingarten President of American Federation of Teachers.
- Maria Ferguson Executive director at the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University.
Video: Inside The Studio
Education Secretary Arne Duncan discussed how school reform under an Obama administration would differ from a Romney administration, touching on Pell grants, the No Child Left Behind policy and Head Start program.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. During the first presidential debate, both candidates sparred over an often neglected topic on the campaign trail: education. Gov. Romney has said he would make the U.S. education department smaller but has not said which programs he would eliminate. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joins me to talk about why he holds a different view, that investing in public schools is crucial to our nation's economic recovery.
MS. DIANE REHMLater in the hour, a panel of education experts offered their views on what is and is not working in the U.S. education system. I'm sure many of you have your own thoughts and comments. Be part of the program by calling us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, Mr. Secretary. It's good to see you again.
SECRETARY ARNE DUNCANGood morning. Thank you so much for having me.
REHMSo good to see you again. You know, one of the issues that I'm really confused about is Race to the Top. President Obama has talked about it. You talked about it. I'm not clear about what it is. I don't think our listeners are either.
DUNCANWhat we did early in the administration through the Recovery Act was, first, save about 400,000 teacher jobs, and that was so important in a really tough economy. But we also put out about $4 billion for states to compete for. And states that are willing to raise standards, states that are willing to think about evaluating teachers and principals in meaningful ways and support them better, states that are willing to turn around chronically underperforming schools had a chance to receive those resources.
DUNCANIn part, thanks to that incentive of Race to the Top, Diane, we've seen 46 states raise standards voluntarily, college- and career-ready standards. I think that's a game changer. For far too long in this country, many states dummy down standards under No Child Left Behind -- made politicians look good, was bad for children, bad for education, bad for the country. To see 46 states raising standards is a big step in the right direction.
REHMAnd who is measuring those standards?
DUNCANThey have been internationally benchmarked. And our goal, Diane, is to have every single high school graduate graduate both college and career-ready. And I always say some form of higher education has to be the goal for every single child, whether it's a four-year university, two-year community college, trade, technical, vocational training. Some form of education beyond high school is what's needed in today's globally competitive economy.
REHMAt the same time, you've got high school dropout rates at record highs.
DUNCANThey're going down, but they are unacceptably high, Diane. It's one of the things that troubles me most. We have a 25 percent dropout rate in this country. That's about a million young children leaving our schools for the streets each year. And in many of our African-American, Latino communities, it's closer to 40, 50, even 60 percent.
REHMWhy do you think that is?
DUNCANWell, there are many, many reasons. But what we have to do is create a climate in which every student is engaged when they have adults who care about them. If there's a problem at home or the community, the child just doesn't fall through the cracks. There are people there to support them. If you drop out today, there are no good jobs out there. You're basically condemned to poverty and social failure. One thing we've invested very heavily in is turning around underperforming schools.
DUNCANWe've invested $4 billion in the bottom 5 percent of schools through school improvement grants. We're seeing some very significant improvements in many of them. And, in fact, today, Diane, we have 700,000 less children attending "dropout factories" than a few years ago. Now, we still have far too many, but we're seeing some real progress. And I want to thank students and teachers for working so hard in those situations.
REHMThe education issue is so huge, so important to this country. How do you think an Obama administration in the next four years would differ from a Romney administration in how it deals with those problems?
DUNCANWell, the choice for me is just incredibly stark, and the country really is at a fork in the road. And this election is so important. So what the president firmly believes, what I firmly believe, is that education is an investment, and it's the best investment we can make in tough economic times.
REHMDoes Mr. Romney believe the same thing?
DUNCANWell, I think what we've seen is Congressman Ryan's budget, which passed the House, would decimate much of education.
DUNCANOn the early childhood side, as many as 200,000 fewer children would have access to Head Start. We need a lot more babies entering kindergarten ready to learn and ready to read, not less. It could have potentially devastating cuts for Title I, which is money for poor children, money for disabilities -- children with disabilities.
DUNCANAnd then on the higher ed things -- higher ed side, one of the accomplishments I'm most proud of is we've gone from 6 million Pell recipients -- Pell Grants, to almost 10 million, more than a 50 percent increase in young people having access to college, many first generation college goers.
DUNCANThe Romney-Ryan budget plans in that budget that passed the House can see a huge cut, a huge reduction in the number of students having access to Pell Grants. We need a more educated populace. We need a more educated workforce, not a less educated one. So I think that the contrast here is very, very clear.
REHMAt the same time, you've got more and more young people graduating with enormous debt from college despite the availability of Pell Grants, loans. Of course, Gov. Romney said go to your parents if you need help.
DUNCANGo borrow from your parents, exactly.
REHMGo borrow from your parents. But, you know, maybe that's the only way for a lot of people.
DUNCANWell, I don't think that is the only way, and a lot of young people don't have parents they can go borrow from, as you and I so well know. So that debt on the back end is a real concern. I always talk about shared responsibility. So we've put in place something called income-based repayment, pay as you earn, so your loan repayments are reduced based upon your income. If you make more, you pay more. If you make less, you pay less.
REHMSuppose you're making nothing. Suppose you graduate from college, you don't have a job.
DUNCANYeah. So there are plans to help you through those tough times until you get a job. But then after 10 years of public service, Diane, 10 years of teaching, 10 years of working in a nonprofit or for the government, if you're in good standing, all of those debts are forgiven. This is a huge step in the right direction. We want to bring that great talent into teaching, into the public sector. It's a big opportunity that didn't exist. But we need to continue to reduce those debt challenges at the back end.
REHMThere are an awful lot of people who believe that the administration of President Obama is overreaching when it comes to state-led reforms. How do you regard that?
DUNCANIt's just quite the opposite. In fact, what we're seeing, for example, No Child Left Behind, I think, is fundamentally broken. And I lived on the other side of the law for 7 1/2 years, I mean, at Chicago public schools. No Child Left Behind was far too punitive, many, many ways to fail, no rewards for success, very prescriptive top down from Washington, led to a dummying down of standards, led to a narrowing of the curriculum. All of these things are bad. We want the Congress to fix the law and fix it in a bipartisan way.
DUNCANUnfortunately, Congress is pretty broken these days as well. So what we did is we offered flexibility. We offered waivers to states where states could develop their own plan, hold themselves accountable to a high bar. We gave them a lot more room to move. So rather than dictating from Washington, states now are empowered to challenge themselves to make sure every single student is graduating college and career-ready, challenging themselves to reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates.
DUNCANBut this is the opposite of an overreach. This is really empowering states to say, you know what's best for your children. You figure out how to get there. We'll hold you accountable to a high bar but give you a lot of room to move and to innovate at the state and at the local level.
REHMYou mentioned Chicago. You said recently that everyone won in the recent Chicago teachers' strike. Talk about how you see that.
DUNCANWell, I don't think everyone won in the strike. Everyone won in the outcome of the strike. What they got to, I think, was a really important contract that valued and respected teachers for the true professionals they are. It got children a longer day, which was desperately needed, and, despite the acrimony -- and again, the media flocks where people are fussing a little bit.
DUNCANDespite the acrimony, I give every side -- the union, the teachers -- management credit to putting aside those differences and getting to a great, great point that will help children, that will help teachers and will ultimately help strengthen the public school system.
REHMBut, you know, teachers' unions are being blamed for an awful lot that's gone wrong with schools. How do you see that?
DUNCANWell, I think, in many places, teachers' unions are a huge part of the solution. And again, the media loves to go where there's a little bit of acrimony, but I can take you to hundreds and hundreds of school districts around the country, Diane, where union and management are both moving outside their comfort zones, are finding common ground around what we call tough-minded collaboration and seeing that union management collaboration as a vehicle to drive student achievement.
DUNCANThe past two years, we've held a labor management conference, a summit, where we only invite the heads of the unions, the heads of the school boards and the superintendents. We have 100, 150, 200 districts every single year very quietly, but very courageously, doing some extraordinary work. I would love the media to focus on some of those stories as well.
REHMYou mentioned longer days in Chicago for school students. What about longer months and even a full year?
DUNCANWell, I'm all for a 13-month school year, Diane. But in all seriousness, particularly in disadvantaged communities, whether it's inner-city urban or rural, wherever it might be where children aren't getting enough and they don't have access in the summer to museums and summer camps -- we have so many studies about summer reading loss. We don't need another study. And what we need to do is longer days, longer weeks, longer years.
REHMBut if you can't keep kids in school even as it is, if they're dropping out like, you know, they don't want to be there, how are you going to keep them a full year?
DUNCANWell, actually, what you see, Diane, is when you have great extracurricular activities after school, dance and drama and art and chess and debate and yearbook and sports teams, those things, Diane, often actually keep students in school and give them a reason to be excited about coming to school. In far too many places, those extracurriculars have been cut. I really think schools should be community centers open 12, 13, 14 hours a day with the school running the school during the day.
DUNCANYou can bring in nonprofits, social service agencies, the YMCAs, the boys' clubs to participate and help run the school during those afternoon and evening hours and -- where the schools become the true heart of the community and family life, those children do very well.
REHMSecretary of Education Arne Duncan. When we come back, we're going to take a few quick calls. Then we'll have a panel in here to respond to your points. Stay with us.
REHMSecretary of Education Arne Duncan is here in the studio with me, talking about various topics regarding education, what's happening in this country, awful lot of dissatisfaction with dropout rates, with monies going into school systems. Here's an email from Linda in Baltimore, who says, "Until parents are at the table in these discussions, we will not improve education. Where is the national PTA today? Where's the community? We need partnerships and mentorships."
DUNCANThat's exactly right, and I couldn't agree more, so a couple of points. First of all, I come at this first and foremost as a parent. And my wife and I have two children in public school -- daughter is in fifth grade and a son in third grade. And we have to be -- it's a great school, great teachers, fantastic principal. But we have to be there. We have to support that hard work. Teachers can't do that by themselves. And so parents are always going to be student's first teachers. They're always going to be their most important teachers. And when that partnership exists, children can't fall through the cracks.
DUNCANWhen parents aren't communicating, when they're not turning off those TVs at night and creating a quiet space in which children can work, families become part of the problem. So parents have to be there. Having said that, the vast majority of parents can do so much more. We're going to challenge them. There are some parents, Diane, where dad may have disappeared and mom might be on drugs or on crack, and that's where the mentorships, the nonprofits, the churches, the faith-based institutions.
DUNCANYou ask any kindergarten teacher who are those two or three or four children in her kindergarten class who need some more help. And we're serious about ending the dropout crisis. You can't wait till 11th and 12th grade. Those children are gone. If we, not just as a school system, but we as a community say, we're going to help every child be successful, then you start to reverse some of those cycles of failure.
REHMAll right. To York, S.C. Good morning, Anthony.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
ANTHONYYes. I had a question about school and education funding. How is that we're throwing more money at these problems than we ever had before? I think the last figure I looked at was about $5,000 per child, and it seems to be doing nothing to correct any of the problems. In South Carolina, here we have one the poorest education systems in the entire country. And despite throwing vast amounts of money at it, the schools never seem to have enough money and that we just keep sinking deeper.
DUNCANSo, Anthony, I would just push back because I think education is the best investment we can make. Now, we have to invest not in the status quo, in a vision of reform. But I always talk about a cradle-to-career agenda. We have to invest in high-quality early childhood education. We have to get our 3- and 4-year-olds ready for kindergarten. We have to make sure that students K-12 have access to a well-rounded education, not just the basics, but foreign languages and arts and music and dance and drama and social studies.
REHMBut how much is it going to take if it's $5,000 per child in South Carolina?
DUNCANI think that's, frankly, a very small amount. I think it takes more than that, and to be clear, it takes more in disadvantaged communities. And some children need to be in school eight, 10, 12 hours a day over the summer. And so I think we have to be very, very smart about how we do that. And other countries, Diane, quite frankly, do a much better job of us of getting the best teachers, the hardest-working principals and the most resources to the children and communities who have been underserved. If we're serious about closing the achievement gap, we have to close what I call the opportunity gap.
REHMHere's an email from Julie, who says, "Leaving things to the state is all well and good, except when you have a governor like we have in Michigan, who has defunded schools dramatically, forcing an exodus to for-profit charters and private schools and further exacerbating the problems. Add a big dose of over-testing, over-emphasis on high-stakes test, which measure nothing but socio-economic status, and you have a recipe for disaster."
DUNCANSo, first of all, no one should have to teach the test, and we -- I think we should be evaluating students every single year but being smart about that. And we actually have two consortia of states working on the next generation of tests. But on the funding piece, it's so important again that we all invest. People may not understand that the vast majority of the funding comes at the local level, about 90 percent, usually about half from the state, usually about 40 percent local.
DUNCANOnly eight to 10 percent usually comes from the federal level. But we all have to invest. And again, in this election coming up, there's a stark, stark -- there's a clear choice. We think of education as the best investment we can make. Other folks think of education as an expense that can be cut.
REHMAll right. To Stanton, Mich. Good morning, Kathleen.
KATHLEENGood morning, Diane, and hello, Mr. Secretary.
DUNCANGood morning, Kathleen.
KATHLEENI, too, am from Michigan, and I would like to ask the question, could you draw the difference between the two major parties, Democratic and Republican? In the approach, it seems to me that the Republican approach, anyway, here, has been a move toward privatizing public education. And I'd like you to draw the difference.
DUNCANSo I think every single child has to have the chance to go to a great public school. And for the past two centuries, 90, 95 percent of children have gone to public schools. That's going to continue to be the case. But again, I fundamentally think -- the president fundamentally thinks education is the best investment we can make. And the president has tried to lead by example and walk the walk.
DUNCANDiane, in tough economic times, when he's flat leveled -- level funded, most of domestic spending, every single year, he's asked for an increase in funding for us. We got an additional $40 billion for Pell Grants, $40 billion without going back to taxpayers for a nickel. We simply stopped subsidizing banks and made those direct investments in young people. We think of education as an investment. Unfortunately, many folks on the other side think of education as an expense.
REHMAll right. To Coral Springs, Fla. Good morning, Adam.
ADAMHello. How are you? First of all, I just want to say I agree with 100 percent of what Mr. Duncan has said about supporting education in every way possible. Just really quick, I'm a high school dropout myself. But, because I had supportive parents that guided me throughout the process, when I was about 20, I decided to back to college after two years of dead-end jobs that you only get when you're a high school dropout. And I just recently, 10 years later, completed my master's degree.
ADAMNow, here's the problem: I got a great master's degree that I have no problem getting a job with and getting very good pay. But a lot of people that get degrees, especially higher-up, more expensive degrees, are graduating and not able to get jobs. Now, even myself, getting a great job and a higher-paying job with my master's degree, I still have a $140,000 student loan to pay off.
ADAMAnd according to Mr. Romney -- by the way, I'm an independent voter. According to Mr. Romney, I would have to go to my parents and ask them to help me. And I love my parents, and they're very supportive. And they helped me through this process, but they ain't got that kind of money.
REHMAll right. And the question is, where are the jobs?
DUNCANWell, I think -- what's so interesting to me, Diane, in this tough economic time with unemployment higher than we'd like, we have about 2 million high-wage, high-skilled jobs that are unfilled right now in this country. I think we in education have to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, are we producing employees with the skills that employers are looking for? And I've met with many CEOs who said, Arne, we're trying to hire right now in this country, but we don't have the folks who have the skill.
DUNCANSo more focus on the STEM fields -- we haven't talked about community colleges. I think community colleges are huge part of the solution -- green energy jobs, IT jobs, health care jobs, advanced manufacturing jobs. There are good-paying jobs out there. We need to do a better job of encouraging young people to get the skills they need in today's economy.
REHMOn the issue of community colleges, Dennis in San Antonio, Texas, says, "Community colleges are the cheapest and best way to get college credit. Let's increase the number of our students can transfer from the community college to the four-year university. Eventually, community college should be able to offer bachelor's degrees, teaching us what they do. They're happy to leave the research and graduate education to the four-year schools."
DUNCANI just think community colleges are a huge part of the answer. I've been to dozens and dozens of great community colleges around the country, and those are some of the most inspiring places I go to. You have 18-year-olds. You have 38-year-olds. You have 58-year-olds.
REHMSo what's the difference? What are they doing successfully the universities are not?
DUNCANWell, what you have in the very successful community colleges is you have real public-private partnerships with the training, the classroom education the students are receiving lead directly to good jobs in the community. And I just went on this across-the-country bus tour at the backend, visited Virginia Western Community College. That community college has become an economic engine for the entire region.
DUNCANIt's just sort of amazing to see what they're doing, and so where you have true public-private partnerships. We've invested, with the Department of Labor, almost $2 billion behind those places where real trainings leading to real jobs. That has to become the norm.
REHMAll right. And to Loudoun County, Va. Good morning, Caroline.
CAROLINEGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
CAROLINEI am in the -- I guess it's now the second wealthiest nation or county in the nation. And I have four children. Two have graduate degrees, and two are in kindergarten. They just graduated from diapers, basically. And I'm very concerned in the difference that I see. With my first two children, I was not in the financial -- didn't have the financial wherewithal. I was a single parent. The second two children, I do, and I have the ability to stay home with them.
CAROLINEAnd it's a good thing because I think we have some issues at school. I see more of a focus on technology, even in kindergarten and first grade, so much so that the teachers spend so much time with their computer programs and their grading systems and all of it that, if there's a discipline problem in the classroom, instead of seeing it herself, she has to call in a guidance counselor to deal with simple issues.
CAROLINEAnd there's no relationship between my children and their teacher. I also have my kindergartner going to an after-school program at a private school, and he adores his teacher who loves what he's doing. And he's learning there, and he's not in public school.
DUNCANSo, obviously, we want every teacher to be a great teacher and every principal to be a great principal. We need to continue to work till that idea becomes reality. But I do think technology can be a huge equalizer. I do think technology -- children cannot, Diane, shouldn't have to learn six hours a day, five days a week, sitting in class. Children today, with a cellphone, have access to literally a world of information.
DUNCANAnd the idea of children learning 24/7, pursuing their skills, pursuing their passions anytime, anywhere, anyplace, I think, is hugely important. Some folks worry that technology will replace teachers. That will never, ever, ever happen.
REHMWhat do you think of Salman Khan's technology?
DUNCANI think it's fantastic, and my two children do it at home. And the fact that he has delivered, you know, whatever it is, 190 million lessons for free for children across the country and across the globe, and young people can watch the video one time, two times, five times, 10 times till they understand the concept...
REHMSo you see that as augmenting.
DUNCANIt's a piece of the answer. And, in fact, Diane, you have more classrooms going to what we call this flipped classroom where students are watching the videos at home in the evening and coming to school and asking questions of the teacher, so you're really able to personalize instruction.
REHMLast question because I know you have to leave us. If you do get another four years...
DUNCANWhen we do.
REHM...if you do, what's at the top of your list?
DUNCANWe have to continue to invest cradle to career, but the president has challenged us to lead the world in college graduation rates by 2020. We used to lead the world. Today we're 14th. That's unacceptable. That's what I want to be held accountable for.
REHMArne Duncan, he is President Obama's secretary of education. Thank you so much for joining us.
DUNCANThanks so much for the opportunity.
REHMGood to have you. I hope you'll come back. And joining us now in the studio, Kevin Carey. He is director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. And Maria Ferguson, she is executive director of the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University. Joining us by phone is Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Good morning to all of you. Maria, it's good to have you here. Kevin, thanks for joining us. And, Randi Weingarten, I'm glad to have you on the program again.
MS. RANDI WEINGARTENAlways my pleasure.
REHMI'm glad. Maria, what did you make of what Secretary Duncan had to say in terms of money for students, in terms of high school dropouts and in terms of completing college education?
MS. MARIA FERGUSONI think Secretary Duncan made a couple of really important points. I'll focus on the high school one first, if I can, because high schools are really the difficult nut in the chain here. If you go into most American high schools, the scene hasn't changed much in the last 40 years. But if you stop and think about what the daily life of a high school student is like with all of the dramatic changes in technology and just global society that we're living in now, it doesn't really square.
MS. MARIA FERGUSONSo sort of retooling the U.S. high school to better prepare students both academically and otherwise for the world they're going in, I think, is a really important point, especially with this very persistent dropout rate that has just been hard to move off the dime. So how kids do high school, how we see the pathway from high school to college in terms of the choices that students have, and then once they're in college, making sure that they stay there. Getting them there is half the battle. It's not just about access. It's about retention.
REHMKevin Carey, your thoughts.
MR. KEVIN CAREYWell, I think Secretary Duncan made some important points about financing education. And I understand that we spend a lot of money on education in this country, but we're also a country whose future is absolutely tied up in these investments that we make in human capital. We actually have a lot of opportunities right now. For the first time, as the secretary said, nearly all the states have adopted authentic, high-quality academic standards.
MR. KEVIN CAREYBut if the money stops flowing to support the reforms around that to help teachers retrain so they can teach to those academic standards, to keep teachers in their jobs at all, I think all of that momentum will slow.
REHMAnd to you, Randi Weingarten, do you agree with Secretary Duncan's take on the outcome of the Chicago teacher strike?
WEINGARTENYou know, I think he's right that the outcome was a good outcome, and, you know, my sense is that it took till the eve of the strike and in a few days of the strike to have actually real bargaining that got to that outcome. That sort of happened months and months ago. And a lot of that is the product of the climate right now, which is a climate of confrontation as opposed to collaboration.
WEINGARTENI think, you know, coming off of, you know, coming off of both what Maria and Kevin said, there's two things going on now that we should really be focusing on, because what happens is these days we just basically focus on snapshot, and that's why teachers and their unions get blamed so much. People say, do something about schools because of all these things that are going on as opposed to doing what the places that out-compete us -- like Singapore and Finland, Ontario, Canada -- have done.
WEINGARTENBut there's two real pushes that Secretary Duncan talked about that are really, really important: number one -- Kevin said it as well -- that -- this notion that we're actually getting to real high standards the real way, meaning real project-based learning that comes from the common core that will be the same in Alabama as it is in New York so that kids will actually be learning what they need for the 21st century.
REHMAll right. And hold that second thought until we come back from a short break.
REHMIn the first part of our program, you heard education Secretary Arne Duncan. Now joining me in the studio: Kevin Carey -- he is director of Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation -- and Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Public Education at George Washington University, joining us by phone from Florida, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. We will go back to the phones and to your email in just a few moments. Randi Weingarten, I had to interrupt you...
REHM...as you were about to come through with your second point.
WEINGARTENSo the first point is that the standards are higher and richer and deeper, and they're about what kids need to know and be able to do, like real thinking as opposed to simply rote memorization. But the second point is, even as -- is as important, which is how do we finally stop the false debate between does poverty matter or not. Of course it matters, but we have to address it. And that's this notion of making schools the center of community and having wraparound services to schools.
WEINGARTENAnd what we're seeing is that schools, like the diploma-plus schools, high schools, schools like charter schools, UNO charter schools -- I started Green Dot in New York -- schools like in Cincinnati -- when you have these kind of wraparound services and you also focus on high standards and you give teachers the support that they need, you actually see a real breakthrough. And that's why the resources matter because without the money, we can't do the things systemically that we have to do for all kids.
REHMOn that question of resources, here's an email from Tony, who says, "The Department of Education was recreated in 1979. Budgets have grown over the years with little or no tangible improvement in the education of the populace here in North Carolina." He says, "Something like 20 percent do not graduate from high school. Of those that do, if they attend community college, 60 percent must take remedial reading. What are the taxpayers getting for their money from the offices on Maryland Avenue?" Marian. (sic)
FERGUSONYeah, I think it actually goes back to Randi's point, which is poverty. You can have federal education programs in place. You can have state education programs in place. But if those programs don't address some of the root issues, poverty being one of them, you're only going to go so far. So I think some of the innovations that Randi was mentioning are important because they actually address the students that they're trying to reach. They play to these students on their terms.
CAREYWell, soon that money is going to pay for the cost of college. A big part of the U.S. Department of Education budget is higher education. College is much more expensive than it was when the U.S. Department of Education was created in 1979. And so we spend money on financial aid. It's also not true that there has been no improvement. We've actually made great strides as a nation in improving the education of students in elementary school, and to a lesser extent, middle school, particularly in math.
CAREYIf you look at the national test scores, they're much, much better now than they were, say, in 1990. Where we're falling short is in high school, as Maria said. A lot of those gains that we're seeing in the early grades are -- seem to be dissipating in high school. So I think that's why you heard earlier from Secretary Duncan this idea that we absolutely have to make a priority turning around, and in some states -- in some cases, taking very strong steps to change the staff, to change the leadership, to change the curriculum in these so-called dropout factory high schools.
WEINGARTENAnd if you...
REHMGo ahead, Randi.
WEINGARTENAnd so, you know, if you actually untap the statistic -- and Diane Ravitch says this a lot -- we are actually doing better than what we've ever done in terms of our NATE scores, meaning our, you know, this gold standard that compares, you know, kids to kids all throughout the country. And we actually have the highest graduation rates. What has happened is that other countries have outpaced us, and what they've done is that they've actually systematized education and they focused as much on equity as they do on excellence.
WEINGARTENAnd when you, as I said, when you untap our statistics, what we see is that middle class and wealthier kids are doing just fine. But where we have fallen down is that we're not trying to address all of the things that happen with kids that are poorer. And what we are seeing is in places where you have generational -- inter-generational concentrations of property, that's where we're falling down, and that's why these kind of things like common core, like community schools, these kind of interventions, we know will work.
FERGUSONYeah, no, I agree with both everything Randi and Kevin are saying. I mean, I think there was a time where a small subset of students in those country where -- had the luxury of being given a very elite education. And now, with the global-competitive economy that we have, it's not enough for just a small sliver of society to be able to educate their children this way. We need all hands on deck.
REHMLet's go to Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Lyn.
LYNGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
LYNI'm a retired teacher. I grew up in New York, and we had a vocational program in some of the high schools. In fact, some of them were dedicated just to vocational training. I feel that would really help engage some of these students who are dropping out. So my question for the panel is why, you know, do we not have vocational training in our high school today?
REHMIt's interesting because I, too, going to school here in the District of Columbia, remember vividly those young people who decided they wanted to go to shop instead -- or mechanical drawing or one of those vocational opportunities. Why aren't they in high schools anymore, Kevin?
WEINGARTENWell, we -- I'm sorry.
CAREYWell, to a certain extent is because the economy has changed a lot over time. And so the kinds of jobs that are available to students today are different than 20, 30, 40 years ago. A lot more of them require some kind of post-secondary education. And that can mean a lot of things. It can mean a traditional college degree, or it can mean that you go to a community college and get the kind of technical skills, which, frankly, the requirements for which are a lot higher than they once were.
CAREYAnd so you need to be prepared as a student. It's good for, I think, a substantial number of students to have some kind of job training in high school. But we're not going to give them everything they need to know in high school. They've got to be able to go on to community college at the very least and get that training, and that means things like math skills. It means things like communication skills. And so they're really -- we can't substitute the one for the other.
REHMAll right. And, Randi Weingarten, following up on that, here's an email from Carey, who says, "People are being forced to pay for trade skills at the community college because public schools have done away with vocational training, automotive, carpentry, industrial arts. It should not be something we have to pay extra for."
WEINGARTENLook, I am a big believer in multiple pathways to graduation and multiple -- and that these kind of skills are really wonderful skills. I know lots of -- you know, I'm a labor leader. I spend a lot of time with the building trades folks.
WEINGARTENAnd what I have seen is that they actually -- in order to be effective as a plumber, as a carpenter, an auto mechanic, a computer operator these days, you actually have to have the numeracy and the literacy skills that are part of comprehensive academic high schools as well. But we should have multiple pathways, and that will be ways of engaging kids. And we've been fighting for making sure we can do that.
REHMAll right. To Bradenton, Fla. Hi there, Sarah.
SARAHHi, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call.
SARAHI love your show.
SARAHI run a nonprofit postpartum support organization here in Florida called Postpartum Society of Florida. Our mission is to ease parents' transition from postpartum to parenthood. And, in fact, I called today because I remember you saying last time in your show about the awakening that you, yourself, had hard time when you're at home with little children. And it's notoriously a difficult time.
SARAHAnd I was so interested with what the panel and the secretary was saying about wraparound services and making the school the center of the community. And when we do outreach to parents and new parents support groups and child, you know, baby basics and childbirth education, I would love to see more of that happening in the community school 'cause that is where the family will find themselves for the foreseeable future rather than just in the hospital because, once the baby is born, their connection to the hospital ends.
REHMOf course. Maria.
FERGUSONThat is such a great point that the caller is making. And I think it really gets to this idea of instilling the importance of education in a child from the very earliest stages. The sooner you can incorporate the concept of education into a child's life -- and bringing a baby into a school is a wonderful thought about that -- you give this sense that the school itself is a part of the child's life from the very beginning 'till they go on to college or wherever they go on to.
FERGUSONSo I think what you're saying makes a lot of sense, both practically but also holistically, in thinking about how you really instill the importance of learning in a child right from the beginning.
REHMBut isn't that what Arne Duncan is saying, perhaps there'll be less focus there, Kevin?
CAREYWell, we have -- we do not have a well-supported system of early child care or early childhood education in this country. Certainly, that's some place where we fall down compared to some of these other countries that have higher test scores than we do. It's very unregulated. The type of support you get varies a tremendous amount from state to state. We do have some federal programs that have been in place for quite a while. We have opportunities to make them better.
CAREYThe quality of those programs needs to improve, and we can also support them financially. But a lot of -- particularly in this time when we've had a transition from the typical household being one earner to the typical household being two earners, our whole system of supporting child care and early childhood education has not caught up with that reality.
REHMAll right. To Ada, Okla. Good morning, Chris.
CHRISGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
CHRISMy question was this. They mentioned briefly about some of the early childhood education programs that were available. And I was wondering -- my wife and I have a 2-year-old, and we try and find the most educational, you know, shows, like through PBS or things like that. Well, what are some of the best programs out there right now for my son?
REHMWhat do you think, Randi Weingarten?
WEINGARTENYou mean, like, Big Bird, "Sesame Street"?
WEINGARTENLook, we have, you know what -- look, first off, and I'm not intending this as an advertisement for PBS, but PBS have some of the most amazing programs. "Sesame Street" was one of the things where, you know, that has actually proved how amazing it is. And so there's some bad as well. There's some of that. There's some things that many of us have done in terms of new technology where we've actually tried to use the Internet to create some programs both for parents as well as for teachers.
WEINGARTENWe're doing it at the AFT in something we call Share My Lesson, which is for teachers to share different kinds of materials and lesson plans and things like that with each other, and they do it for free. But the bottom line, I think -- and there is something else called -- that we've done with WETA called Colorín Colorado, which is very much focused on English language learners. But I think the point that you're making sure and that Kevin was making is really important.
WEINGARTENWe can actually size this issue about early childhood. We know how many kids are 2 years old, we know how many kids are 3 years old, how many kids are 4 years old, and we could actually make sure that kids had quality pre-K all-day education. And if we did that, we'd be both preparing kids for life and also doing parents a huge service by -- because so many parents now work. Both, you know, both parents have work all day.
REHMSure. Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Chris in Ada, Okla., one thing that you or your wife as a parent can do is read to your child every single day without missing a day. I really continue to believe that that's the most important kind of education there can be for a young child. To Harrisburg, Pa. Daphne, you're on the air.
DAPHNEGood morning. On the issue of high school students not doing as well as elementary, I think in this country, the culture for high school students is they have a lot of social life, and they're into their sports and their jobs. And in other countries -- I'm from Greece myself -- I mean, I see the students studying a lot, even in the hot summer. On air-conditioned days, they're studying for tests for entering, you know, high school or universities. But here it's a different culture.
REHMIt is a different culture. It has become a different culture. I don't know where we go from here, Maria.
FERGUSONWell, I think, you know, when it comes to high schools, one of the main reasons why children drop out of high school is this feeling of no relevance. They don't understand what they're learning and how it's going to apply to their world. And, you know, so when you talk about extended day and changing the learning day for students, one of the things that can really help is providing work-based learning opportunities for students while they're in high school so they have a chance to actually apply what they're learning.
FERGUSONAnd this touches a little bit on the vocational training conversation we had before because there are definitely lessons to be learned. Students are far more inclined to stay in high school when they feel like what they're learning and what they're doing is going to have some use to them in the world out there.
REHMDo you think that high schools are likely to put more and more of that vocational training back into the curriculum?
FERGUSONI think, yes, but I think it's going to look very different than what we saw in the past. This idea of working in a shop is probably not going to be what we're going to see.
FERGUSONBut seeing students being able to do medical training, perhaps, on-site at a lab near their school or have folks come in and teach them certain things, if they think that they're going to be interested in studying medicine or studying science or engaging in partnerships with local businesses who mutually support the school, I think that it's going to be innovations on this theme, perhaps, a career technical education for the 21st century is great.
REHMRandi, I'll give you the last word.
WEINGARTENIf we -- so I just -- I can't reiterate what Maria just said. If there was one thing -- if I could have one wish -- and this is as a former high school teacher -- this is about you have to take kids where they are, not where you want them to be.
WEINGARTENAnd I think if we figured out a way to have project-based learning so that every child, every student had a project that they had to focus on, whether it was art, whether it was music, whether it was vocational educational, things like that, we would actually find ways to create real relevance for kids because we have to connect them the way so that they see that education is key to their future.
REHMRandi Weingarten, she is president of the American Federation of Teachers. Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University. Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. Earlier you heard from Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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