Arne Duncan: Why I am optimistic about education in America
During the past 4-1/2 years, and on my recent bus tour of the Southwest, I saw great principals and teachers; courageous leaders from the business, faith, and nonprofit sectors; engaged parents; and communities pulling together to serve students. Education is a shared responsibility.
Earlier this month, my colleagues and I wrapped up a five-day, 1,100-mile back-to-school bus tour of the Southwest. It was exciting, occasionally exhausting, and often exhilarating. But most of all, it was enlightening.Skip to next paragraph
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From New Mexico to Texas, from Arizona to California, we saw firsthand how courageous educators, committed parents, and caring communities can work together to tackle tough educational challenges.
Along the way, we saw states that failed to provide sufficient early-learning opportunities, school districts that lacked access to high-speed broadband Internet service, and families that struggled to pay for college. In one border town, some elementary school students had never held a pencil or book until they started school.
Yet for every challenge, I also saw communities, schools, and visionary leaders pulling together to meet those challenges.
In Arizona, the state is funding preschool in part through tobacco taxes. It’s an innovative idea. In fact, it is the funding model for President Obama’s historic Preschool for All proposal, which would use increased cigarette taxes to extend high-quality preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.
In rural Socorro, N.M., the school district solved the problem of broadband Internet access by partnering with the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology to install a cell tower on top of a local mountain to transmit wireless Internet to all its schools.
And Arizona State University has taken a series of steps to ensure that ASU remains affordable for middle-class students – from first-generation collegegoers to low-income Hispanic students.
As the school year gets under way, I am optimistic about our capacity to elevate and strengthen education in America – despite serious challenges.
I am optimistic because, during the past 4-1/2 years, and on the bus tour, I saw great principals and teachers; courageous leaders from the business, faith, and nonprofit sectors; engaged parents; and whole communities joining forces to provide all students with a world-class education.
I am optimistic because I have seen students whose grit and passion for getting an education persist under even trying circumstances – students such as Abagail Smith in Yuma, Ariz., who, as a child of military parents, has attended 10 different schools as her family has endured deployments and moved numerous times to serve this nation. Because of her love of learning, she plans to become a special-education teacher.
And finally, I am optimistic because I see encouraging signs of progress nationwide.
During the Obama administration’s first term, the high school graduation rate rose to its highest level in three decades and is now at 78 percent. And since 2008, the number of teens trapped in high school “dropout factories” – schools where fewer than 60 percent of ninth-graders graduate four years later – has dropped by nearly 700,000 students.