HEARING OF THE SENATE HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE
CHAIRED BY: SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA)
WITNESS: ARNE DUNCAN, TO BE SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
SEN. HARKIN: Good morning. The committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will come to order. Our chairman, Senator Kennedy, has asked me to chair this morning's hearing of this committee. A special welcome to Mr. Arne Duncan, who has been designated by President-elect Obama to lead the Department of Education in the new administration. Since 2001, Mr. Duncan has been Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public School System. Prior to joining the Chicago Public School he was director of the Ariel Education Initiative, which seeks to create high quality educational opportunities for inner-city children on Chicago's south side.
As a leader of Chicago public schools, Mr. Duncan has earned a national reputation for turning around a large, diverse urban public school system. Mr. Duncan, there is no question that schools across America can benefit from the same kind of fresh thinking that you have brought to the Chicago public schools. As you know very well, perhaps our greatest educational challenge is to improve the performance of urban and rural public schools serving high poverty communities. As I mentioned to your last week when we met in my office, I have been deeply influenced by the writings of Jonathan Kozol. In his book, "Savage Inequalities," he talked about what happens in these high poverty neighborhood schools, and I quote, 'One consequence of medical and early education denial, is the virtual destruction of learning skills of many children by the time they get to secondary schools.'
In our nation's thirty-five largest cities, the drop out attrition rate is 50 percent or worse. So Mr. Duncan, this is just one more crisis and challenge facing the incoming Obama administration. And if you are confirmed by the senate, we'll be counting on you for bold and aggressive leadership. In addition, we need a new commitment to education funding from the incoming administration. Reform without new resources is just so much wishful thinking.
Over the last seven years, however, the Title One Program has been under funded by 55 billion dollars, and we have failed to advance on our commitment to fund the education of children with disabilities. We need a fresh perspective on No Child Left Behind, a program that you are intimately acquainted with as a big city school administrator. The challenges you faced in Chicago are faced by districts all across the country. As we have talked about, the challenges facing special education have been a long priority of mine.
It's time for the federal government, and I don't mean just you, but I mean all of us, to make good on our promise to fully the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. With regard to higher education, a top priority for the next secretary must be to ensure that no young person is denied access to college for lack of access to a reasonable loan. Should you be confirmed, you will be asked along with your counterpart at the Department of Health and Human Services, to expand access to early education. The President-elect laid out a bold agenda that, if enacted, would increase access and improve the quality of early education.
It would also require more from the Secretary of Education than has been asked of any of your predecessors. The secretary also has the important responsibility of career and technical education and adult education programs. And with so many people out of work and looking to retool for new jobs, these programs are more important than ever. So Mr. Duncan, we look forward to hearing your ideas for change and reform. More broadly, members of this committee are looking forward to hearing your commitment to consult and collaborate with us in the months and years ahead.
This is a very diverse committee, with members who represent a wide variety of expertise and points of view. When we met last week in my office, you expressed your openness to learning from members of this committee, and from educators across the country. That attitude will serve you well. Mr. Duncan, I admire your commitment to public service and to public education in particular. You have very impressive credentials and experience, as well as the confidence of the President-elect. So again, I welcome you to the committee. I look forward to your remarks. And with that I will yield to our distinguished ranking member, Senator Enzi.
SEN. MICHAEL ENZI (R-WY): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for holding this hearing. Confirming the president's nominees is one of the most important constitutional duties of the senate. And in terms of our country's future, education is one of the most critical issues we have to address. I first met Mr. Duncan in Chicago a little over three years ago at an announcement by Secretary of Education Spellings of a pilot program for supplemental educational services. Even before met, I was aware of the efforts he was making to reform Chicago public schools, always focusing on what is best for children.
He supports charter schools, public school choice and merit pay for teachers and school leaders. And his belief in holding schools accountable for results, and maintaining transparency about school performance through public reporting has led to improved student achievement. Your track record with a major urban school district is well known. But I must warn you that I'm particularly concerned about unique challenges that rural and frontier schools and students face. And I'll remind you of these challenges as we work on issues such as the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, or whatever we call it next time. Or as I sometimes say, No Rural Child Left Behind.
Since the fall of 2005, we've seen ongoing improvement in education that our children receive in our nation's schools. But I would say that even with the progress we've made, it's not been enough. I believe that education is a key factor in securing a sound economic future for our country. Everyone, regardless of their background, needs access to quality education and training throughout their lives. Education's been a bipartisan issue, and we need to keep it that way. In fact, I believe that no major piece of educational authorizing legislation has been passed by the senate or sent to the president's desk that didn't have strong bipartisan support.
The HELP committee has established a successful track record of getting legislation across the finish line and signed by the president. I attribute that success to focusing on the 80 percent that we agree on, while trying to find the third way for the remaining 20 percent. There are going to be areas where we disagree, but my hope and expectation is that by focusing on solutions, we can produce meaningful results for our students and their families for teachers, principals, and administrators. Congress and the Department of Education need to work together to make sure that every school has the tools and the flexibility needed to help school, students develop the knowledge and skills required to be successful in the 21st century.
We still have too many students leaving high school and college without completing the programs of study.
More students need to graduate from high school on time, prepared to successfully enter college or the workforce. We also need to increase the number of students who enter college and complete their program of study. They should not leave with little to show for their time, except bills and debt. Some post-secondary education is critical to at least 8 out of 10 jobs being created. Over 6,000 students drop out every day, which means that for every school hour, upwards of 275 students drop out. For those students, over their lifetime, we'll lose about 74 million dollars in lost wages and revenues.
That's too great a price to pay for the student, for the community, for our nation. I look forward to working with Mr. Duncan to chart a future course in the education success of all of our students. When Mr. Duncan and I spoke last week, we discussed our mutual belief that we need to improve the number of students who successfully enter and complete post-secondary education programs. We have to build on the successes of No Child Left Behind. We have to coordinate efforts cross programs, including career and technical education and workforce programs under the Workforce Investment Act, and reduce the barriers non traditional students face to obtaining education that will provide the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the 21st century.
Our country's future depends on our ability to reach this goal. I have a number of questions for you, some of which will, I'll ask during question and answer. It's likely, however, there will be questions I won't be able to ask, and will provide for you written responses to be included in the record. So that we can accelerate in consideration of your nomination, I'd appreciate your quick response to these questions, and I do apologize. I will have to leave the hearing early, but we have some other positions that are being confirmed or heard at this point, and also a few health issues we're trying to work on. In closing, I'd like to again thank the chairman for calling this hearing. I'd also like to thank Mr. Duncan for his willingness to take on the challenges of the federal role in improving education for all students throughout their lifetime. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you, Senator Enzi. And now we welcome to the committee our distinguished Assistant Majority Leader, another great champion of public education in this country. For the purposes of introduction, Senator Dick Durbin. Welcome, Dick.
SEN. DICK DURBIIN (D-IL): I want to thank Senator Harkin, Senator Enzi, Senator Mikulski, Alexander Hatch, for joining us, and all the members of the Health Committee. It is my honor to appear before you today to introduce my friend, Arne Duncan, who is the choice of President Obama to serve as Secretary of the Department of Education. When Mayor Daley took a look at the great city of Chicago and its future, he decided there were two things that had to be done. First, you needed to bring safety to the neighborhoods, and second, quality to the schools.
Arne Duncan was chosen as a CEO of Chicago public schools in the year 2001. For seven and a half years he has tackled the challenge of turning around the troubled schools in the city of Chicago. Chicago public schools are the third largest school district in America, with all the challenges of an urban school district. Over 90 percent minority, over 90 percent poverty.
Arne is a leader. He's consistently surpassed expectations, with hard work and clear dedication. If you just take a look at how he grew up, you can understand it. His mother had a center in Hyde Park for inner-city kids, poor kids, to go to, to be tutored. Arne would finish his day in the classroom in his school, and then go over to his mother's center and tutor other kids. That's how he grew up. That was his after school activity.
Many of his views about urban education were shaped by that experience, and you'll learn about them during the course of this hearing. He also worked in the Non Profit Center with John Rogers at the Ariel Fund, identifying key schools where investments could be made, and a difference could be made. But eventually he was tapped by Mayor Daley to step back into the public sector, and he did willingly. He's adopted a whole class of children and sent them to college.
He started a school in Chicago built around financial literacy. And along the way, incidentally, he played a little basketball. That seems to be a recurring theme with the new Obama administration. Including some time when he played professional basketball in Australia. In his senior year at Harvard, I read this morning, his co-captain, his greatest moment was in playing Duke and leading his teammates, scoring 20 points. Harvard lost, but it was quite a game, I've heard.
It's his work in the Chicago public schools that really stands out. I've had the honor of knowing and working with Arne for many years. We've been to so many different events at schools and press conferences. And I even recalled with his wife Karen this morning, when Clair and Ryan and Arne and I were both holding shovels, digging a playground at a public school in a very muddy setting in the city of Chicago. So I know that he is hands on leader. He lights up when he talks about the latest school that's beating the odds on a new program, reaching students who've been written off.
But he doesn't sugar coat the challenges he encounters along the way. He's straightforward, thoughtful, honest and decisive. Last year I visited a high school in Chicago, and met with a group of students, and then walked through the school. And after I'd finished that, I called Arne directly, and I said to him, Arne, I don't think I've ever complained to you about a school that I visited. But that high school is out of control. I can't believe that anybody's learning anything there, as I walk through the corridors and looked in the classrooms. He said I'll look into it.
Two week later, he called me and he said, you were right. It was an experiment with the principal that didn't work, and he's moving on. We're bringing in somebody else. I like that. There's a person who listened, followed up, and did the right thing. Today, Chicago enjoys a reputation as a model of school system reform, and Arne's leadership has had a lot to do with it. Over seven and a half years, he's raised test scores, lowered drop out rates, boosted college enrollment, opened more than 100 new schools, and expanded after-school and Saturday programs.
Through it all, he's maintained good relations with the business community, with the unions and elected officials, even as he pushed tough reforms. Arne Duncan understands that real and meaningful change in our toughest schools depends on the participation and cooperation of everybody. He knows when to compromise and he knows when to hold firm. One of the toughest challenges he's had is closing a school. If you can imagine the reaction in the neighborhood and from the families, and from the teachers, that he's weathered that storm time and again, never blinked, knowing that some of those schools that were failing just had to be closed for the best interest of the kids.
No other district in the country has been as aggressive about holding schools accountable for performance, and willing to try new, innovative methods to improve schools. I think that's the spirit we need in the Department of Education. American education is at a critical moment. Thirty years ago, U.S. ranked first internationally in graduating students from high school and college. Today, our nation ranks 15th. This is not the time for America to fall behind. It's time to raise the bar. We need to make sure every student has a chance to excel.
This is a challenge and a priority for the Obama administration. I can remember speaking to the President-elect just days after the election, and we talked about the Department of Education, and a lot of names were mentioned. But I said to him, and he nodded in agreement, you know, we have somebody right here in Chicago who would be an extraordinary Secretary of Education. Well, I'm honored today to have the opportunity to introduce him to you in a formal way. I know that most of you have already had a chance to meet him.
We're going to miss him in Chicago, if the senate confirms him, and I believe it will. But we'll know that he'll be an excellent education secretary, and the students of America and their families couldn't have a stronger advocate on their behalf. I'm sorry that I have to step away at this point. But I will now turn it over to my friend, and I hope the next Secretary of the Department of Education, Arne Duncan.
SEN. HARKIN: Senator Durbin, thank you very much, and I know you have other business to attend to as the assistant leader, and thank you very much for the introduction and for all your help and your support for, for Mr. Duncan. And, now Mr. Duncan, welcome to the committee.
In keeping with the tradition that Senator Kennedy has set for this committee, I always ask the, the nominee to first introduce the family who is with you. We'd like to know who all your family members are.
MR. DUNCAN: Sir, I would be proud to do that. Behind me is my wife Karen, and my children Clare and Ryan. If you guys could please stand. Clare, seven years old, and Ryan's almost five.
SEN. HARKIN: Great looking family. Handsome son, and since I raised two daughters, I'm partial to daughters, obviously. And I think Clare is just beautiful, and is she going to try out for the part of Annie in the school play?
MR. DUNCAN: Well, they'll be busy writing and drawing throughout this, throughout the confirmation process.
SEN. HARKIN: Mr. Duncan, again, your statement will be made part of the record tonight in its entirety. You can proceed as you so wish.
MR. DUNCAN: Thank you so much. I want to thank Senator Kennedy in his absence, and we had a great conversation yesterday. I want to thank Senator Enzi. And Senator Harkin, I want to thank you for agreeing to chair this hearing and for your tremendous commitment to children, particularly those that have, who are disabled and have not had the opportunities historically that have needs. So thank you so much for your leadership.
This is an extraordinary time in our country, an extraordinary time to be working on education. And I want to begin by talking about something that I think the public hasn't picked up on enough, that Senator Mikulski articulated extraordinarily well as we talked last week, and I really enjoyed my conversations with all the senators over the past few days. But she talked about what she what she called the, the Barack effect, the Obama effect. And what we have with the President-elect and his wife are two people who are living symbols, who embody the value of education.
They were born in, and from humble backgrounds, humble beginnings because they worked so hard, because they are so committed to becoming great people, what they did, education was extraordinary. And children throughout our country today, whether it's inner city Chicago, whether it's rural Iowa or Wyoming, children around the country look at those two and say that they worked hard, I can do it too. And what you see is children saying not just that I want to be the president like, like the President-elect, they're saying I want to be smart like the President-elect.
And so we have a time collectively as a country to capitalize on something I think is simply extraordinary. Never before has being smart been so cool, and working hard been so cool. I think we have a chance to build upon not just the, the substance of the education plans, but the symbolism of what the President-elect and his wife represent. And I think it's going to be very, very special that every child in this country has the chance to look at them and say, if I work hard, look what I can accomplish. The President-elect views education as both a moral obligation and an economic imperative. In the face of rising global competition, we know that education is the critical, some would say the only road, to economic security.
Quality education's also the civil rights issue of our generation. It's the only path out of poverty, the only road to a more equal, just and fair society. In fact, I believe the fight for quality education is about so much more than education. It's a fight for social justice. I come to this work with three deeply held beliefs; first, that every child from every background, absolutely can be successful. Rural, suburban, urban, gifted, special ed, ELL, poor, minority, it simply doesn't matter. When we as adults do our job, and we give them opportunities to succeed, all of our children can be extraordinarily successful. Secondly, maybe the flip of that, when we fail to properly educate children, we as educators, we perpetuate poverty, and we perpetuate social failure, and that's not something that I want to be a part of.
And third, our children have one chance, one chance at a quality education, so that we must work with an extraordinary sense of urgency. Simply put, we cannot wait because they cannot wait. As we look ahead, I begin with the President-elect's strong commitment to reform at every level in the compelling vision that he spelled out during his campaign. And I'm extraordinarily hopeful about what we can accomplish by working together. First he talked about the need to dramatically improve both access to early childhood opportunities and to have more higher quality opportunities there.
We know that the quicker we get the students, the earlier we get them involved in high quality, early childhood programs, the better they're going to do long term. Secondly, at the K to 12 level, we want to continue to dramatically raise standards and increase teacher quality. And third, as the students progress from early childhood on to K to 12, and then on to higher education, we want to ensure greater access there, and strengthen institutions like our community colleges, which you mentioned, Senator Harkin, which are critically important, and can play a huge role in again, getting people a second chance, retooling skills and getting back into the workforce.
As we look at those three buckets of work, increasing access and opportunity for early childhood, strengthen what we're doing at K to 12, and increasing access as well to higher education, there are two themes that I think need to run through all of that work that's very important to me. First, we must do dramatically better, and we must continue to innovate. We must build upon what works. We must stop doing what doesn't work. And we have to continue to challenge the status quo. And that, that spirit of innovation has been hugely important and will continue to be very, very important to me going forward. Second, we must recognize and reward excellence.
There are extraordinary teachers, extraordinary principals, district leaders, state school chiefs, community college presidents throughout this country. We have to elevate the teaching profession. We have to build upon this next generation of leaders in our schools and our state boards. And we have to find ways to scale up what works. There are great, great pockets of excellence as we look across every state in this country.
We have to find ways to scale up what works, to shine a spotlight on those educators that are doing an extraordinary job and going above and beyond the call of duty every single day. I'm absolutely convinced that we can create better opportunities and raise expectations for everyone, from our three year olds to our twenty- three year olds. If we continue to innovate and challenge the status quo every single day, and if can recognize and reward excellence throughout the country, I'm absolutely convinced that we can transform education here in America. Let me close briefly by just telling you a few things about myself. I spent the past ten years working for the Chicago public schools. I've been very fortunate to have that opportunity.
For the past seven and a half years I've been CEO of the Chicago public schools. Our work is not done. There is a long way to go, but at the same time we are proud of the progress. We've had seven consecutive years of rising test scores, rising graduation rates, reductions in drop out rates. We've done everything we can to increase our time with children. I think our school day is too short, our school week is too short, our school year is too short.
We have 150 community schools. We open 200 schools on Saturdays this past year. We brought 15,000 freshmen back to school a month early during the summer on a voluntary basis, because we wanted to get them off to a great start. We try to really do everything we can to enhance the teaching profession. We've gone from 11 nationally board certified teachers, still over 1,200, and we've gone from two applicants reach teaching positions to over 10. We try to make Chicago the place, the Mecca nationally for people who are passionate about public education and want to make a difference in student's lives.
We try to create great new opportunities in neighborhoods that have been historically under served, and I would argue have been underserved for decades. We have closed schools for academic failure when we need to do that. Those are not easy decisions to make. But very significantly, we've opened over 100 great new schools. Again, focusing primarily in communities that have been underserved. And we couldn't be more proud of the opportunities that children in those neighborhoods now have, that haven't been there for far too long.
Perhaps the number I'm most proud of is last year, our graduating seniors collectively won over 150 million dollars competitive grants and scholarships.
Given the fact that so many or our children are first generation going to college, so many of our children are new to the country, we're so proud that colleges and universities around the country are recognizing the talent that our students have. And I tell them all the time, there are not gifts. These are investments in their future. People believe in what our students can accomplish as they go forward.
Twenty years ago, you may recall, the former Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett, called the Chicago public schools the worst district in the nation. And we're proud to have made significant progress since that time, and to really be a model of national reform. But again, the hard work is going to continue there, and it's far from done. In the six years prior to that, I was fortunate to work with my best friend, John Rogers, and along with my sister set up the non profit side of this business, the Ariel Foundation.
We did two things; we ran an I Have a Dream program, from 1992 to 1998. And my job and my sister's job, and a great team of volunteers for those six years was take 40 sixth graders and work with them all the way through high school, to tutor them, to mentor them every day, to work with their families, to give them the opportunity to be successful. And at the end of that, we are proud that 87 percent of our students graduated on time, and 65 percent went on to college. The class one year ahead of us from that school, Shakespeare Elementary, had a 33 percent graduation rate, meaning 67 percent did not graduate. 67 percent the year before didn't graduate, 87 percent of our class did.
What we're trying to demonstrate is again, given students from high poverty areas, given the challenges with long term support, with long term opportunity and guidance, our students can be very, very successful. About half way through that, in 1995, we started our own small public school, the Ariel Community Academy, which today remains one of the highest performing neighborhood inner-city schools in Chicago, has a very innovative financial literacy curriculum, and I think is a model that we can learn a great deal going forward. So those experiences, you know, managing Chicago public schools, setting up a non profit obviously were extraordinary learning opportunities for me.
But I have to be honest, and Senator Durbin talked about it, probably the most important opportunity I had was the most formative was the first ten years of my life, growing up as a part of my mother's inner-city tutoring programs. Before I was born in 1961, she began this program. She raised my sister and brother and I as a part of it literally from the time we were born. We were there every day. We was there every day, and then every day after school, and I ended up taking a year off from college between my junior and senior year to work with her full time.
Most of my friends were becoming, or thinking about becoming investment bankers and lawyers. I didn't quite think that's what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to find out was this really what I wanted to do. And it was just an extraordinary experience. They are the, everyone was taught to help everyone else, so probably my first job was as a five year old, was washing the books and cleaning tables at the end of the day. The ten year old teach the five year olds. The fifteen year olds teach the ten year olds. And so you learn by being taught and by teaching others.
I grew up with a set of children who happened, none of whom look like me, very few of whom came from two parent homes, all of whom were desperately poor, but they went on to do extraordinary things. One, Michael Clark Duncan is a Hollywood movie star. Another one, Kerry Holly, who actually taught me for many of those years, is one of IBM's leaders internationally. Another one, Corky Lyons is now literally a brain surgeon.
Another one, Ronald Ragland is part of my senior management team in Chicago public schools. And all these guys came from one little corner of 46th and Greenwood on the south side of Chicago. So what I saw, again, literally from the time I was born, was despite challenges at home, despite challenges in community that are sometimes unimaginable, our young people can be very, very successful. We stay with them, work with them hard every single day, have the highest of expectations challenge them, amazing things can happen.
So that was a formative experience. It was exhilarating. But I have to be honest, it was very, very tough. And we faced some real challenges. One of my earliest memories was in a, I was about six years old in 1970, and the church that we were working out of was firebombed by the Blackstone Rangers. And I remember salvaging all that we could from the church, and walking down the block to another church, and carrying crates of books, and asking that, the minister be allowed to come and work, and having to deal with that.
Our lives were threatened. My mother's life was threatened. I remember leaving work one night, and a guy coming by and saying if we came back the next day, we'd be killed. So we had interesting conversations that night at home at dinner. Our dinner time conversations were maybe a little different than other families. And we tried to figure out what to do, and really decided that you can't, you can't run. And once you start running, you know, you'll be chasing your shadow eventually.
So we showed up the next day, and luckily he didn't. I lost, unfortunately, given the level of violence in the community, many friends I had not all made it, and there were many people I was very close to who were killed growing up. And those experiences, when you're young, shape you. And I would go so far as to say scar you in ways that are difficult. But just for me increase the tremendous sense of urgency about this work, and giving every child a chance to be successful. What I've thought a lot about, that work, as I've gotten older and started to become a father and raise my two children, is what compelled my mother to take her three young children into this community every single day, and to face those kinds of challenges?
And why did my father support my mother and his three young children doing this? And I think the answer's pretty simple but also profound. They did this work every single day, simply because this work was so important, and because this work is bigger than all of us. And I just commit to you one thing that you see fit to support my nomination today, that I'll do everything in my power to work with the same sense of commitment, the same urgency, and most importantly, the same courage for the next four years that my mother's exhibited for the past forty-eight. Thank you so much.
SEN. HARKIN: Very inspiring and elegant statement. We appreciate that. It's my understanding the committee has received a number of letters from individuals and organizations in support of Mr. Duncan's nomination. I ask unanimous consent that those letters be inserted in the record at the appropriate place, without objection. And I know that Senator Enzi has other commitments he has to go to, and I will yield to him. And in keeping in with Senator Kennedy's strictures, we'll have a five minute round. So we'll start with Senator Enzi.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman for this extreme courtesy. And I, I thank Mr. Duncan for both his enthusiasm and his expectations. One of the questions I've been asking all nominees that come before this committee is, and I'm always hoping for just kind of a one word answer.
If confirmed will you pledge that this -- this committee turns out a lot of legislation and it's because of the great working relationship between the majority and the minority. So if confirmed will you pledge to cooperate in this type of a working relationship will all senators on the committee, Democrat or Republican, by promptly responding to any written or phone inquiries, sharing information as soon as it becomes available, and directing your staff to do the same?
MR. DUNCAN: Absolutely.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you. And finally, if confirmed do you agree that regulations promulgated under your authority should be based on legislative authority?
MR. DUNCAN: Yes. (Laughter.)
SEN. ENZI: Thank you. I do have some questions that I'd ask about (rural ?) and about the Federal Family Education Loan and about preschool programs. I would mention that 12 years ago I think we had 115 preschool programs. We're down to 69 preschool programs. We keep trying to make the ones that are there more effective and better funded and I hope you'll participate in that process.
We know that a lot of IDEA kids are faced with an uncertain future once they leave high school and will be interested in your approaches to that and greater alignment of high school graduation requirements so that they meet with college entry requirements, as you've done in Chicago.
I'm very impressed with your presentation and I thank you for your willingness to take on this job and I'll be submitting questions in writing then. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you. Thank you, Senator Enzi. Mr. Duncan, back in the 1980s then-President Reagan had asked a group of business people to set up a committee to look at education in the United States and to look at it from the hard-headed business standpoint, not the sort of soft-sided social sciences type of standpoint, as to what was needed in education. This group met. Jim Ranier (ph), I think, was the head of -- he was the head of 3M at the time. And then it spilled over into the first President Bush's administration.
I remember the first report came out. If I'm not mistaken it was 1989. I had assumed the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee on education at that time, and he delivered a copy to my office. Now, I'd never met Mr. Ranier -- very successful businessman -- and he wanted to deliver the report, and he wanted to point to the executive summary. The executive summary of this two- or three-year involvement of all these business leaders was summed up thusly.
We must understand that education begins at birth and the preparation for education begins before birth. They got it, and this was in the 1980s, and as we discussed then and later on that so many of these kids come to school. They've had terrible diets. They've had a television as a babysitter for four -- for four years. They've come from really tough homes and tough neighborhoods, as you've pointed out.
Maybe they don't have parents who read to them and take care of them, love them a lot, and so they come to school and we try to patch and fix and mend, and a lot of times during that early formative years, as you know that's when the brain really develops. That's when learning really starts and yet so many of these kids, we get them in kindergarten maybe or if there is a kindergarten or 1st grade and we have a tough time. It has not been really the purview of the Department of Education really in this area. It's more -- that's sort of been over with the Department of Health and Human Services.
But somehow we got to break this down. The two of you have got to get together. We've got to get this melded so that we really focus on that early childhood education, whether it's early Head Start, Head Start programs, how that's melded into education. But somehow we've got to make sure that every child comes to school ready and able to learn, and I just -- any thoughts that you might have on that I would appreciate.
MR. DUNCAN: I just echo your sentiments. I think there's nothing more important we can do to get our children off to a great start to their life, and as you said we have children we see all the time who are in kindergarten who have been read to, who come to school absolutely fluent in reading, and you have other children tragically that don't know the front of a book from a back of a book, and how is the best of teachers of kindergarten supposed to handle that great spread in a classroom? Very, very difficult.
So the best thing we can get is to get to our children as young as possible, to get them the highest quality programs, to make sure what we're doing, frankly, isn't just babysitting -- a glorified babysitting -- but really getting those early literacy skills, those early socialization skills intact so that children enter kindergarten ready to learn and ready to read. I absolutely commit to working in partnership with Senator Daschle and with the HHS team in trying to do something dramatically better for the country around early childhood.
We need to increase access, we need to increase quality, and we need to make sure that we're getting to our children as young as we can. If we do that we know all the money we spend in prisons down the road, it's just the best investment whether it's from a economic standpoint, whether it's from a sort of a human potential standpoint, this is the right thing to do, and I'll commit to do whatever I can to work in partnership with him and with HHS to do something dramatically better for children.
SEN. HARKIN: I'm glad to hear that. We've just got to somehow break this thing down and get these two together in how we focus education on these -- on these early kids and I'm -- I will be a member of this committee but also as the chairman of the appropriating committee looking for suggestions and advice from you on how we -- how we might do that and also from Senator Daschle and, of course, the president. I want the president involved in this.
MR. DUNCAN: As you know, the president's talked about some of this early learning commission -- Early Childhood Commission -- which I think is very important. I think we have to look at this not as leaders of bureaucracies but just practically what's right for children, and whatever's right for children we just need to get it done and I want to bring that spirit to this work.
SEN. HARKIN: I appreciate that very much. Thank you, Mr. Duncan, and now I yield to Senator Alexander.
SEN. ALEXANDER: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Thanks very much. This brings back memories for me, Mr. Duncan. Eighteen years ago I came before this committee sitting in your place, my family behind me. I was very innocent and I nearly got my head taken off by the Democratic majority which included Senator Kennedy, Senator Harkin, and a number of others. We later developed a very good relationship --
SEN. MIKULSKI: Awww. (Laughter.)
SEN. ALEXANDER: Toughened me up, Barbara -- (inaudible) -- but that's not going to happen to you and it's not just because you're a Democratic nominee before a Democratic majority. President-elect Obama has made several distinguished cabinet appointments. From my view of it all, I think you're the best. I hope I still think that a year from now but that's clearly my view today.
I'm very impressed by what you've been able to accomplish and what you've been able to do. As I mentioned to you, you'll find your Cabinet seat is at the end of the table. You're at the bottom of the line of succession. If the country wakes up and finds you reassuring it that everything's all right that means everything's really in trouble.
MR. DUNCAN: We're in big trouble.
SEN. ALEXANDER: We're in big trouble by the time we get there but I'm very impressed by what you've been able to accomplish. I hope we can talk more about standards and whether they should be -- there's a difference between national and federal standards -- standards imposed from Washington. I hope we can talk more about, as Senator Mikulski and I had several conversations about this where there are well-meaning rules and regulations about higher education in some cases actually interfere with cost and quality. I hope we can talk more about that.
I hope you'll use the, as you follow up on Senator Harkin's suggestion, the new Head Start approval included centers of excellence which governors may pick in their states to try to use the large amount of federal money already appropriated for early childhood in a coordinated way and show good examples. But the two areas I'd like to hear from you about are ones that after a long time of looking at education come -- seem to me as the most important. Seems to me that parents are first and teachers and principal are second and everything else is about 5 percent, and it's very hard to pass a better parents law.
So how are you going to be able, using the Teacher Incentive Fund or other ideas, to help the country do more of what you did in Chicago to reward outstanding teaching, and second, how are you going to be able to help persuade the country that public charter schools are basically places to give those outstanding teachers a chance to use their common sense to help the children that have been delivered to them to -- to help succeed?
MR. DUNCAN: Those are great questions and I look forward to spending a lot more time with you, Senator, and I learned a lot just in our brief conversation last week and look forward to continuing to pick your brain of some ideas. In the education business, talent matters tremendously. We can have the best curriculum. We can have the best technology. We can have a great facility.
If we don't have great teachers in every classroom the rest of it just isn't as important, and so whatever we can do to, again, support great teaching, recognize it, reward it, grow it, that's the most important thing we can do. Leadership matters is a cliché. Any good school in Chicago -- and I would venture to say across the country -- any good school we see there's a good principal there.
It's much harder to build a good school than it is to tear it down. I've seen great principals build a school over a decade and six months after they're gone if you don't have the right succession plan in place that school is a disaster. So this is -- we're in the talent business. One of the best things I think Secretary Spellings has done, and I've learned a lot from her and she was a great partner to us in Chicago, was the Teacher Incentive Fund -- that we are able to, again, recognize and reward excellence in some of the toughest communities of Chicago.
This has been done -- happened in partnership with the union. This has been led by a group of great teachers. I have a teacher advisory council that I work with every single year. They shaped this program. They built it and we thought we had some great ideas. We got a very significant grant from the Department of Education. We wondered if anyone would be interested. We had 120 schools show interest.
And so the more we can reward excellence, the more we can incent excellence, the more we can get our best teachers to work in those hard-to-staff schools and communities, the better our students are going to do. So I plan on spending a lot of time thinking about how we continue to innovate and how we continue to incent great talent to come in to teaching and then keep that great talent once it's there.
Secondly, obviously I've been a strong supporter of charter schools and I'll just take a brief second why I think that's important for us. First, we've been very, very strict about who we allow to open a school. This has not been let a thousand flowers bloom. We've had very -- a very rigorous front end process. Before we -- we turned down many more applicants than we actually select. We only want the best doing this work. Once we approve a group we give them significant autonomy and we want to free them from the bureaucracy and give them a chance to innovate.
But we also have a five-year performance contract and clear accountability and I think that combination of autonomy and accountability is very, very powerful. One without the other I think the balance gets a little bit out of whack. Ultimately what I say is that these are our children, these are our tax dollars, and if you ask any 2nd or 3rd grader they don't know whether they're going to a traditional school or a magnet school or a gifted school or a charter school. A 3rd grader, all they know is does my teacher care about me -- does the principal, you know, does he care about me -- are they working hard, and the more we create great schools of any form or fashion the better our children are going to do.
We have to improve dramatically. Our dropout rate is unacceptably high in Chicago. It is unacceptably high around the country. We have to continue to build upon what works, do a lot more of it. Things that aren't working we have to have the courage to challenge the status quo.
SEN. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Duncan.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you. Thank you, Senator Alexander. As I said, Mr. Duncan, you can see we have a lot of expertise on this committee, and another one who is also very expert in education, Senator Mikulski.
SEN. MIKULSKI: Thank you, Senator Harkin. Good morning, Mr. Duncan, and to your family and to John Rogers as well. I certainly enjoyed our conversation together and based on that, a review of your record. It will be my intention to support you for confirmation. I think you're a high-altitude, high-achieving guy and I think you will absolutely lead our Department of Education.
I want to thank you for agreeing to serve. You've got a great momentum going on in Chicago and your family is well established, your children are in great schools, and we know that with you coming to Washington you're essentially going to be going through the same things that our first family is. So I'm going to thank Karen for willing to sign up and suit up as well, and your girls for being willing to do this.
The others -- I want to acknowledge the presence of Mr. John Rogers, the founder and chairman and executive leader of Ariel Mutual Fund -- your best friend, as you said. Mr. Rogers, would you stand up? I'd like the committee just to note your presence. Mr. Rogers is a real financial entrepreneur, started a mutual fund, and they (buy all ?) Morningstar ratings, one of the most solid mutual funds in America. While he's been involved in financial investments he also put his money into social investments, and Mr. Rogers, I want to thank you and hope this friendship is sustained. He's going to need all the pals he needs. The Obamas are getting a dog. You get one too. But Mr. Rogers --
MR. ROGERS: We -- we got a cat.
SEN. MIKULSKI: I'm not saying this to flatter you but really, if more Wall Street guys had spent time with Main Street the way you had I think both Wall Street and Main Street would have been better off.
Now, Mr. Duncan, you talked about our conversation with the Obama effect. I'd like to follow that up in my questions with you related to teachers but let me say this to my colleagues. One week from now we'll be heading to the platform for the inauguration of President- elect Obama. America will then see what I think and is already experiencing -- three things -- the Obama family itself -- our president-elect, our first lady, the Obama girls. And what they're seeing is a wonderful family where the family is intact, the family relates to each other, there's a strong mother, a strong father, and all the wonderful things they do. I think that's going to create its own effect.
There's the Obama administration that wants to put the hopes and dreams of the people who voted for this new president into action. That's your job. But what we all have a chance to do -- all of us, including the Congress -- is to harvest the Obama effect. I believe that there's a new spirit in the country that people want to serve. Not only do they want to sign up for public service and come to work in government or in teaching or in my field, social work, or whatever.
But they want to be involved and make a difference. What we're seeing is teachers are reinvigorated like they've never been. Young people want to come in to public service. What we're seeing is even with students in my own hometown of Baltimore for a summer math program. Instead of 10 kids over a hundred showed up and more on a waiting list. They actually came even wearing Obama buttons, and this gifted Maryland teacher of the year when she said to this little boy, "What do you want to be," and he said, "Smart," she felt she had to leave the room -- that in her 25 years in Baltimore public schools no kid had ever said, "I'm going to be smart."
This is what's out there in America and this is what I hope that we can achieve. So that's what I mean by the Obama effect where we can really make a difference. Now, this takes me to teachers. Every school reform begins at finger pointing teachers. Teachers are the first in line to be blamed and they're first in time to be regulated. If the Security Exchange had regulated Wall Street the way we regulate teachers we wouldn't be in this financial mess. Now, my question is given the Obama effect, how do you see recruiting and retaining and retooling our teachers, because they're the front line in the classroom?
MR. DUNCAN: It's one of the biggest reasons for our success in Chicago. It's not been anything that I've done. It's been the extraordinary hard work of teachers and what they're doing every single day. I think there is this groundswell of young folks who are committed, who are passionate, and want to make a difference. We have an extraordinary opportunity, and frankly, given the tough economic times that actually helps our chances of recruiting great, great talent to come into the teaching profession.
And so I intend to take some of the lessons that we learned, you know, going from two applicants to 10 -- from two to 10 applicants in Chicago -- I want to take some of those lessons, travel the country, and get the best and brightest from around -- from our universities around the country to come into teaching. We have a generational change. We have a Baby Boomer generation that's moving towards retirement. We're going to see significant turnover and we have a chance to bring in just an extraordinary generation of talented folks into teaching, and I look forward to that. I'm excited by that opportunity -- (inaudible).
SEN. MIKULSKI: And how will you retain them? Because what we observe in Maryland is many of our most talented leave after two years.
MR. DUNCAN: Yes. You need great mentoring programs. You need great support, and what you find unfortunately is you find some young people who are idealistic and come into it for all the right reasons. They don't feel listened to. They don't feel -- they don't feel supported.
They struggle with classroom management skills and guess what? Two or three years later they leave. And we know teaching is -- it's an art. It's not a science. Your best teachers don't get there until 10, 15 years into the profession, and so we have to retain those great teachers.
How do you do that? You have -- (inaudible) -- mentoring induction programs, you do it through a clear career ladder so they can see a way to grow and continue to improve their skills, and you do it by training principals to really support those (buildings ?). I view principals as CEOs. They have to manage their team. They have to create a climate where folks want to work and we see great leadership -- from the principal's (seat ?) you see real stability within their workforce.
But great mentoring induction programs, particularly in those early years, are absolutely critical for helping those young teachers be successful and any -- any first-year teacher -- the best first-year -- best first-year teacher in the world is going to struggle. This is extraordinarily hard work. We have to help our great teachers get through those tough times and get through those nights when they go home crying and think, I'll never be any good at this, and get them over the hump and give them a chance to be successful long term.
SEN. MIKULSKI: Well, thank you. My time is up. Mr. Chairman, if I could just ask Mr. Duncan to do one more thing. It not -- doesn't require an answer. Senator Alexander talked about higher -- (inaudible) -- but I want to talk about Congress. We tend to look at things in a boutique way. We love to pass lots of legislation where we either look for single solutions or silver bullets. So could you work with us to identify those things where it's too many little micro line-item programs -- how we can then work with you and get real bang for the buck and harvest this Obama effect?
MR. DUNCAN: I appreciate that. We have to be focused. We can't be all things to all people and we've got to try and be world class and work extraordinarily hard in a couple high-leverage activities and that's what I want to do.
SEN. MIKULSKI: Go Obama. (Laughter.)
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you very much. Next would be Senator Roberts but Senator Murray has to leave and Senator Roberts has graciously ceded to Senator Murray for this round of questions.
SEN. MURRAY: Thank you so much for your accommodation. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have to go replace another chairman who's doing an oversight hearing as well. But Mr. Duncan, thank you so much for agreeing to do this tremendously important job and to the sacrifice of your family as well. I saw your wife shaking (your ?) head at the dog, just so you know -- (laughter) -- it's not going to happen back there.
MR. DUNCAN: I'm well aware. (Laughter.)
SEN. MURRAY: But I really appreciate it. It's tremendously important that we have somebody at the head of this agency who's really going to tackle a lot of issues to get this country back on track. I think education is no doubt one of the most important issues that we have to tackle with this new Congress and administration, and as a former educator myself it's very near and dear to my heart. In this time of economic turmoil, I can think of no better way to improve our economy and maintain that competitive edge for the coming decades than investment in the skills for our students today to make sure they can have those jobs tomorrow.
We want to create a new green energy economy. We want to have a strong healthcare system. We need mechanics and laborers who have the ability to weld and those kinds of skills too, and we have a lack of people today with those skills to fill the jobs. When I travel around my state business leaders, local community leaders tell me, we have job openings. We have people who are unemployed. We don't have the skill set matches to make sure those employers have those jobs.
So I think making sure that we empower our local communities to provide a pathway for all of our students to the careers of tomorrow -- how we do that is extremely important and I'll be introducing legislation to -- this year to bring those communities and employers and schools together to give this -- help provide those pathways for our students to succeed. But I wanted to ask you this morning how you think as secretary of education you can help our communities identify and create ways for all of our young people today to get the skills they're going to need tomorrow.
MR. DUNCAN: I think so much of this is there's been a disconnect between educators and the business community, and I think we should really work hand in hand to -- as you said, there are jobs that are going unfilled because we're not preparing students and yet we struggle with unemployment rates. So I think the more we're thinking about, you know, a host of skills, nursing being one, that are never going to be exported -- they're never going to go overseas -- where people can come out of high school and get some additional training and be extraordinarily successful.
And so I think, you know, community by community, city by city, state by state, we need to really be working in partnership in helping to prepare our students for 21st century skills. I think we have a moral obligation to do that. We have a huge opportunity to do that. We need to think about apprenticeship programs and internships and giving our students a chance to get a sense for why this work is so important and the opportunities they have.
Some of these great jobs -- our young people don't live in communities where many people are working and it's hard for them to even imagine what that looks like. And so I think by working in partnership with the business community, by listening, by creating better educational opportunities and really exposing our students to the opportunities that are available we can do a lot better.
SEN. MURRAY: Well, I appreciate that and the mantra of the last eight years has been no child left behind. I'd like to see that change to every child has a skill we need --
MR. DUNCAN: Yeah.
SEN. MURRAY: -- and let's develop that. So I hope that -- that we can work on that together. My colleagues had a chance to talk to you about early childhood education, an issue near and dear to my heart. I hope that you and the secretary of HHS can break down some of those barriers and work together on Head Start early childhood as well. I assume you'll do that but in just the minute I have left I did want to mention, Mr. Chairman, that we have had several issues requiring the oversight of our federal student loan program over the past administration. Hundreds of millions in subsidies were improperly paid to some of our lenders.
Today, community college students are struggling to get loans at a time when we need them to be getting those kinds of skills. We see the credit crunch affecting this. We're going to -- it will require a lot of strong oversight from you so I just -- in my last few seconds here if you could just comment on that because I'm extremely concerned about that.
MR. DUNCAN: As am I, and I want to commend this group here in Congress and Secretary Spellings for working to shore up some of those challenges. We need to view all of these issues through the lens of what's right for our students who are trying to improve and trying to go to the next level and that's how I'm going to view this. We need to expand access. We need to expand affordability and create more opportunities for students.
So this is an area where I want to spend a lot of time and attention. One thing that hasn't come up that, you know, just a real basic thing I want to try and work on early is the actual form -- the financial aid form for going on to college -- the FAFSA form. I don't know if any of you have completed one lately but you basically have to have a Ph.D. to figure that thing out, and in and of itself it's a huge barrier and think about all of our children who are first generation or, you know, ELL students and the exact same students who are trying to do well and succeed. The form itself is a hindrance.
So any impediments like that, anything that isn't working in the best interests -- interests of our students who are desperately trying to go on to some form of higher education -- community colleges, two- year universities, four years, whatever it might be -- we have to be smart and pragmatic and thoughtful in trying to remove those barriers.
SEN. MURRAY: Well, thank you very much and thank you for the conversations we've had and I do look forward to working with you as the head of this critical agency. And Senator Roberts, Senator Harkin, thank you so much for your accommodation.
SEN. HARKIN: Thanks, Senator Murray. Senator Roberts?
SEN. ROBERTS: I thank you, Senator Murray, and Boeing forever. Little inside comment there, Mr. Duncan. I -- I don't (ride ?) with the expert education policy. I simply (read to kids ?). I used to be a classroom teacher before Senator Alexander got his head taken off by Senator Harkin, which he's pretty good at doing that on occasion and usually it works pretty well.
But at any rate, thank you for coming by my office and thanks for the very good, good, good visit. I think you've made an excellent statement. You're making an excellent impression. I think you're going to come through with flying colors. I have three questions and the answer to the three are yes so we -- (laughter) -- we'll pass. Impact aid based on enrollment figures two years ago and then we had the BRAC, and we have several impact aid areas in Kansas -- (inaudible) -- Fort Riley, Fort Leavenworth. We need to address this issue to make sure that our schools at least are up to date or adequate with large increases in student enrollment and I know you will do that, right?
MR. DUNCAN: Yes, sir. (Laughter.)
SEN. ROBERTS: Science and math competency is increasingly essential to this country. We had a science and math program on one of the bills we passed last year. All the committee supports that not only because of the global economy but because of national security so I know that you are a strong supporter on what needs to be done to encourage students to pursue studies in math, science, and tech, right?
MR. DUNCAN: Yes, sir.
SEN. ROBERTS: Now, here's the one that if there's any cameras will start clicking. They don't click at me but they'll click at you. And it's a funny thing. You'll sit there like this and you'll say something terribly important -- (inaudible) -- obviously they won't take your picture. But if you raise your hand like this or point -- (laughter) -- maybe pound a fist like that yeah, you know. Okay. Get ready, guys -- (laughter) -- because this is a biggie.
This is the biggest unfunded mandate that the United States Congress has foisted on the American public and the American school system ever since -- ever since conceived. Thirty years ago we promised we'd pay 40 percent of the excess cost of education or of educating the special needs -- (inaudible) -- IDEA -- 40 percent. We're nowhere near -- I think it's 14 percent now, Mr. Chairman. I don't know.
MR. : Sixteen.
SEN. ROBERTS: Sixteen. Well, it's 16 in Iowa. It's only 14 in Kansas. But at any rate -- and that needs to be changed -- but I think Senator Harkin, Senator Hagel, and myself were the Three Musketeers who voted for full funding -- full funding for IDEA. Think what would happen to the school districts all throughout Illinois or Kansas or Iowa or Oklahoma or wherever if in fact we paid that which is simply an unfunded mandate.
It's a good program, but on the other hand if you have a school that is really doing its job and they're doing a great job with the special need kids under No Child Left Behind, you don't measure growth, all of a sudden you can be penalized and we talked about that. So I guess my question to you is or my statement to you is please help us to do everything we can to get that funding up to 40 percent. As far as I'm concerned, it ought to be fully funded. So I'm sure you'll do that, right?
MR. DUNCAN: I appreciate your tremendous commitment here. I can just say I've lived on the other end of the unfunded mandate to the tune --
SEN. ROBERTS: Wave your arms so they can take a picture. (Laughter.) (Inaudible) -- no, that's surrender. (Laughter.) That's what the French do. We -- you know, give it a (chop ?), you know -- there, like that.
Come on, guys. (Laughter)
MR. DUNCAN: I've lived on the other side of the unfunded mandate to the tune of about 250 million dollars, so I know, I've lived, how tough the flip side of that is. And though you didn't ask about it, I just want to commend you on the reading that you do to children here, and I think it's the Everyone Wins program that you and a few other senators participate in, and I think that's something that would be great for me and my team to really stay connected to kids in classrooms, and I look forward to learning more about that and perhaps joining you in that program.
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, you made a commitment to come out to Kansas City, or actually, to real Kansas, which is west of there, and read to kids, which I do a lot. It's the Reading is Fundamental Program, been around about 35 years, and then we had the First Lady, Laura Bush, come out and read to our youngsters. I only read to second and third graders. You can take the fourth graders. They're a little too sharp for me. (Laughter)
MR. DUNCAN: (Inaudible) take your sweet spot.
SEN. ROBERTS: You know what -- (laughing). (Inaudible) -- comment. (Laughter) -- Tom, write that down for me. All right. You know, why those teachers left after two years that Senator Mikulski was talking about? It's called money. It's called raising a family. Now, if you're a one, if you're not married, if you're a single teacher, okay.
But it's called money, and we talked about opening up the back door to education to people who've had experience in business and military, whatever, and I know that there's all the rigmarole you have to go through to get there from here to become eligible for whatever criteria each state has, but the one I love the best is the standard deviation test, which nobody uses, because you can't have enough time to use the damned thing, and I suppose it's helpful for somebody sitting there who dreamed it up.
But anything we can do to help in regards to teacher pay, and I don't expect you to have any sudden answers to that. That's been a real problem, except for idea. If we could find idea, guess what would happen? All sorts of good things would happen.
I'm done. Thank you.
MR. DUNCAN: Thank you.
SEN. HARKIN: Mr. Duncan, you have just observed what I have said many times, that Senator Roberts is a rarity here in the Hill. He's actually as funny as he thinks he is. (Laughter) Senator Reed?
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and welcome, Mr. Duncan. I think the President has made a very wise choice. Your experience and your commitment is obvious, and I think you'll made a real difference in the Department of Education, so I welcome your appointment very, very much, and welcome to your family.
I think it's significant that so much of what we've all talked about, Senator Alexander, Senator Mikulski, Senator Murray, has been teacher preparation, teacher retention, and as we discussed in our meeting, and I absolutely agree with you that that's probably the key point of leverage in any education system.
Last year in Title II, the Higher Education Act, we tried to focus on the preparation of teachers, trying to induce education to schools, to provide a clinical experience, trying to have a plan for mentoring in continuity with, that's the law, but I would hope you would be able to tell us you're going to put your shoulder behind the law and money behind it, to make these provisions in Title II very effective and real in the process.
MR. DUNCAN: In getting to work with higher education, certainly to make sure, as you said, that teachers are being very well prepared for the practical reality, and yes, you need the pedagogical skills, yes, you need the theory and the philosophy, but you need to be in classrooms working with children, getting used to that.
There's one university we've worked with back home, Illinois State, that actually has students spending six months in the communities with us, and actually sort of created a dorm-like setting in Little Village, in a Hispanic community in Chicago, where students live for six months, become part of the community, part of the culture, and teach in the classes. That kind of thinking outside the box, I think, is extraordinary.
There are teacher residency programs.
I think there's great talent that, frankly, doesn't come through higher education, or through schools of education. We've done a lot around alternatively certified teachers. We've brought 1200 alternatively certified teachers in, so we have, again, a wealth of talent and commitment and interest around this country, and the more we can harness that and bring it into our classrooms, there's only benefit for our children by doing that well.
SEN. REED: Well, again, I hope you can harness those practical experiences you have to the Title II legislation and really provide the kind of movement on this mentoring and induction problem.
There's another area which complements this and legislation I was pleased to co-sponsor with the president-elect, the School Improvement Through Teacher Quality Act, which would provide a separate source of funding right to Title I schools for this whole issue of mentoring, not just the first and second year teachers, but the whole school community because I think, in addition to retaining teachers, we focused on that, school improvement is a direct function of the ability to continually mentor and upgrade the skills of every teacher, and can you comment on that? Can you support that additionally?
MR. DUNCAN: I just think the day we stop learning and growing is the day that we start to let our students down, and so, again, whether it's two year teachers, whether it's five year teachers, whether it's a 20 year veteran, we all have to continue to learn and grow and get better at what we do, and so I think that's philosophically, that, you know, that's exactly the direction we have to go.
And that's again, what you see around the country, you see your best teachers continuing to improve their skills and get better, and it's just that they set an extraordinary example and we have to make that's the norm and do everything we can to support those efforts. And really, think about, I talked earlier about these career ladders for teachers. How do you help teachers, you know, continue to grow and learn, take on additional leadership skills? Some great teachers want to become principals and that's fantastic. Some great teachers want to teach for their 35 or 40 year careers, and we need to really support them and enable them to have, you know, high impact and great leadership as they progress throughout their career.
SEN. REED: Well, thank you very much. Let me quickly switch gears in the remaining minute or so. At the higher education level, we have, and I've been particularly active in supporting the LEAP program, Leveraging Education Assistance Partnership. It is, as the name implies, a grant program, a partnership between the state and the federal government. We try to incentivize the state to put money into help low and moderate income students with financial assistance. This is part of the whole panoply of Pell grants, Stafford loans, assistance to people who need assistance, that have talent and need the resources to go to college. And I would hope that you would not neglect this part, the LEAP Program, that you could successfully incorporate it and to complement these other efforts.
MR. DUNCAN: I just really appreciate your tremendous leadership on this issue, and again, we have to dramatically increase access and affordability for all students to go on to some form of higher education. I think your work is, you know, that's what your work is about. That's what you're trying to accomplish. And so, I really appreciate the leadership and look forward to doing everything we can collectively to get more students, particularly students from poor communities and poor families, particularly first generation, not just thinking about college, but graduating from high school. Those are the students that need these opportunities and we have to do everything we can to support them and help them to be successful.
SEN. REED: Well, thank you very much and good luck. Thank you.
MR. DUNCAN: Thank you.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you, Senator Reed. Senator Coburn?
SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome. Probably the most important question that hasn't been asked is, the rumor is you can beat Barack on the round ball court. Is that true?
MR. DUNCAN: We have a lot of fun together. (Laughter)
SEN. COBURN: That's what I thought. He knows how to answer questions already, doesn't he? (Laughter) A couple of things, just a specific.
One of the problems that we're having today with special ed is a ruling that's come out of the Department of Education on the fabulous special ed teachers that we have, that not only do they have to be highly qualified in one area, they have to be highly qualified in every area in which they teach.
In Oklahoma, we're experiencing or we're about to experience the loss of our best special ed teachers because, if they don't have a master's degree in every area, they're no longer going to be eligible to teach those kids who need their skills, and my hope is that that you'll help us solve this dilemma, before we lose some of the greatest teachers we have throughout the country.
The second point that I would make is, matter of fact, I actually talked to President-elect Obama last night about your nomination and our conversation. But one of the things that has given hope and promise for change in this country is his declaration that line by line reviews are going to take place in every agency. Government programs that aren't performing, that are wasteful, duplicative, or obsolete, are going to be gone. Paying for commitments for new programs by eliminating the ones that aren't working, and rooting out redundancy and the fact that every federal contract above $25,000 is going to be competitively bid. Is it your intention to honor that as you work in the Department of Education?
MR. DUNCAN: I think our resources are desperately scarce and I think as much as we want to fund more for education, we can never do enough and so I think we have a moral obligation to use every dollar wisely. And it's easy to start things. It's much harder to stop doing things. We've struggled with that in Chicago, but we want to do everything we can to get every scarce dollar to schools and communities and children that need them the most.
SEN. COBURN: You do plan on doing a line by line review within your department?
MR. DUNCAN: Well, I'll need a team to help me do that. (Laughter). But again, my focus is, again, taking scarce resources and putting them into those high leverage activities that are making the biggest difference.
SEN. COBURN: Okay.
MR. DUNCAN: That's the only way we can handle it.
SEN. COBURN: I'm trying to get you on record saying you're actually going to perform the review as he promised that we would do, that we would do a review of the agencies.
MR. DUNCAN: I'd be happy, I need to, I have to perform a review ---
SEN. COBURN: Okay.
MR. DUNCAN: To figure out what's working and what's not.
SEN. COBURN: Yeah. The only other question, I must say I've been very impressed with my conversation with you and the research that I had performed and your commitment, not to an idea, but to our kids and the future of this country.
One of the things that president-elect and I did was a transparency and accountability act and he's going to work hard to make it happen, but I'm going to ask you the question anyhow. Under that law, you are required, every agency in the federal government, all the way down to the United Nations and our contributions, are required to report where the money goes, who gets it, the contracts, the subcontracts, the grantees and the sub-grantees. Will you assure this committee that you will enforce that within the Department of Education in compliance with that law?
MR. DUNCAN: Yes, absolutely, and that's, again, simply how we've done business back in Chicago.
Every contract above $25,000 is competitively bid, goes to the Board and we again have this obligation to spend tight tax dollars absolutely as wisely and thoughtfully as we can.
SEN. COBURN: All right. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I have no other questions.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you very much. And I guess, back and forth, but Senator Isakson goes next. Senator Isakson.
SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R-GA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. First of all, I've been involved in education my entire public service career and never have had a more enjoyable conversation with anyone than I had with you when we met the other day, and I want to commend you on what you've accomplished and although I did not hear your testimony, because I'm on Foreign Relations and Mrs. Clinton is going through that confirmation today, if everything you said earlier before I got here is equal to what you said in my office, you're going to be a great secretary of Education.
MR. DUNCAN: Thank you.
SEN. ISAKSON: Senator Coburn raised a question and then asked a second one, so the first one never got asked, and I want to start with that.
The highly qualified requirements of No Child Left Behind, in practical application, particularly with regards to special needs, do not work. You and I talked about this in my office when we met, and I talked to you about alternative certification, which I learned is something you had an interest in as well and it's probably the only way we reach the demand of having enough teachers in the 21st century to teach our children. Would you address that subject, particularly with regards highly qualified and special ed?
MR. DUNCAN: Let me take both of them, and they're related.
Obviously, as I stated earlier, I've been a big fan of alternative certification. Over the past five years, we've brought in 1200 alternatively certified teachers. These are people with great, great content. Chemical engineers, biologists, physicists, that want to come work with our children. These are folks that historically were locked out of public education, couldn't come teach our kids, and so we tried to break down those walls and give them an opportunity to make a difference with our students.
In terms of looking at, so that the highly qualified rules for teachers, as we go into No Child Left Behind reauthorization, we need to really think again what's practical, what's right for teachers, what's right for students? And where things are working, we need to, you know, stick with them and stay the course. Where things are impractical or have had consequences that are maybe unintended, we need to just be thoughtful and pragmatic and fix those things.
SEN. ISAKSON: I appreciate that recognition. You know, you will be under a lot of pressure, and I imagine we will, too, as members of the Senate and members of the House, to dismantle parts of No Child Left Behind. I think that it's important to recognize that it's achieved its stated purpose, which is improving, or lowering the gap between those who are the inner city poor, Title I kids, rural poor kids and the best achieving, and that in math and reading comprehension, they're improving.
But I will acknowledge there is some work that needs to be done to improve it and two other areas I want to mention real quickly. One is the assessment of special needs kids. It is very difficult to have a one size fits all, paper and pencil assessment vehicle for special needs children who have a multiplicity of problems, all individual and unique to themselves, and I have long advocated letting the IEP, which is the Individual Education Program, that the parent and the teacher come together every year and decide on, to be the determining factor for what the assessment of a special needs child is, and I'd appreciate your response to that.
MR. DUNCAN: I appreciate your thoughtfulness, and Senator Harkin and I had a lengthy conversation about this, and I really tend to agree with you. I think we need just to be thoughtful and pragmatic about this, and to have a one size fits all mentality doesn't make sense in this category and doesn't make sense when you look at the ELL population as well.
And you want to have assessments that actually accurately assess students' abilities, and if you give any child an assessment that they can't read or can't comprehend, what, you know, what benefit is that to a child? What are we as adults learning from that? Probably more importantly, what lessons or what messages are we sending the children?
And so I think that's the kind of thing that, you know, working with teachers, working with parents, working with, you know, school psychologists or social workers, whoever else might be engaged, that we can be thoughtful and figure out at the local level.
SEN. ISAKSON: I think I've got enough time for one more question that begs an answer of some distance, probably.
One of the other major issues is the issue of AYP and one disaggregated group failing to meet AYP and an entire school becoming needs improvement, when in fact, by and large, it's achieving at very satisfactory rates. And oftentimes, particularly in rural systems, but also in urban systems, it's the disaggregated special needs group that will cause that to happen.
You and I discussed the growth model, or disaggregated circumstances, or some way to bridge from not achieving before you go into needs improvement. Would you address that subject?
MR. DUNCAN: Yeah, and what I really do respect about what has happened in the past is we have to disaggregate data. We have to look at subgroups. We can't hide behind the aggregates and sweep, you know, children under the rug who historically have not been, frankly, served well. And so I think that's very, very important.
Having said that, to label a school itself as a failing entire school because one child and one subgroup didn't hit a mark or hit a bar, to me there's a lack, again, just a sort of pragmatic logic behind that. So, if individual children need additional support and additional tutoring, let's do that, let's make sure the medicines fix what is going on there. Let's not take too blunt an instrument to an entire school or to a school community where that doesn't make sense. I am a big fan of the growth model. I'm really interested in how much students are learning and gaining and growing each year.
And the best teachers in the world take kids who are very far behind and accelerate their rate of growth. They may not hit an absolute target that year, but those teachers are not failures. In fact, they're actually heroes. And again, I want to find those students and just take one quick, quick moment on this because it's important. If the average child out there has gained one year's growth in math or English for a year's instruction, if, in a given classroom, and we see this throughout the country, you have students gaining 1.7 years, two years of growth for a year's instruction, those teachers are doing a Herculean job and we need to recognize that, we need to reward that, we need to incent that.
SEN. ISAKSON: Well, my time's up, but I'll just comment. The biggest challenge our teachers face in America is the discipline, Chairman. The challenge with students in the classroom. And if you and you're wife have done such a great job with Ryan, who's so well behaved, I hope you can do that with every child in -- (inaudible) -- classroom.
MR. DUNCAN: They're on their best behavior today. (Laughing)
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you, Senator Isakson. Senator Sanders.
SENATOR BERNARD SANDERS (I-VT): Thank you very much, Senator Harkin and Mr. Duncan. Thanks so much for coming in the other day. I enjoyed our conversation. And thanks for the work you've done in Chicago.
Let me start off by making this point and asking you to comment on it. We talk a lot about wasting money in government, and one of the ways we waste money is by not putting funds into prevention, allowing situations to deteriorate, whether it's in health care or education or many other areas. In America today, Mr. Duncan, as you probably know, 18 percent of our children live in poverty and that is by far the highest rate of poverty for children of any major country on Earth.
Meanwhile, the other side of that equation is we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth, including China. Amazing fact.
In your judgment, is there a correlation between the high rate of childhood poverty and the fact that so many kids drop out of school, intellectually drop out by the time they're eight, do drugs, do crime, do self-destructive activity, and we end up spending $50,000 a year keeping them in jail rather than investing in education, rather than investing in child care? Part of that question --- what are you going to do to deal with the disaster in terms of child care and early childhood education so that in Vermont and all over this country, working families, today, at the most important moment in a child's life, cannot find high quality affordable child care?
MR. DUNCAN: Yeah. Well, as the president-elect has talked about repeatedly, and he has a huge passion and commitment around this, he totally understands, totally gets the fact that the best thing we can do for children is give them quality, give them access to high quality early childhood programs. And so the more we're getting to our young children before they hit kindergarten, the more this is not glorified babysitting, but really getting their early literacy skills, their early socialization skills intact, so they hit kindergarten ready to read and ready to learn, the better our students are going to do. As a country, if we can invest more in education and less in jail cells, I think that's absolutely what we all have to be thinking about.
SEN. SANDERS: Specifically with regard to child care, do you agree that our current early childhood education situation is totally inadequate, and what can you tell us will happen in the next four years?
MR. DUNCAN: Again, as the president-elect has said repeatedly he wants to increase not just the quality, but access to early childhood education. I will tell you in Chicago, we have each year increased by 1000 to 1500 feet (?) the number of children able to go into high quality programs for 3 and 4-year-olds. So that's the kind of thing the president, again, has from day one, reiterated his tremendous commitment to improving both the quality and the access around the country.
SEN. SANDERS: Would you agree that our goals should be that every parent in this country should be able to find access to high quality affordable child care?
MR. DUNCAN: I think we have to move towards that opportunity to universal access. Again, the more we are getting to our children early, the better they're going to do.
SEN. SANDERS: In terms of prevention and protecting people's wellbeing and saving money, I know Senator Harkin has been a leader on this, in terms of health care, primary health care, I know in Vermont, we're beginning to have a little bit of success with dental facilities in schools, health care facilities. Does the idea of bringing health care into the schools so that we can detect kids' problems early on make sense to you?
MR. DUNCAN: Well, because it's a larger point, and I touched upon earlier in my statement, that I think the more our schools become community centers, the more they become centers of community and family life, the better our children can do.
So, the days in which schools being open six hours a day, and the child goes home for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at 2:30 with mom at home, that doesn't work for two parent working families, that doesn't work for single moms working two and three jobs, that doesn't work for, in Chicago, 9,000 homeless children. As well --
SEN. SANDERS: It certainly doesn't work in Vermont. The world has changed and we have not recognized it anymore.
MR. DUNCAN: The more we're creative and thinking about how our schools are open, not six hours, but 12 hours, and, you know, Saturdays and over the summer, the more we're co-locating services, GED, ESL, health care clinics, the more those schools become the centers of community life, the better our children are going to do.
SEN. SANDERS: I know that President-elect Obama has been very strong on this issue, and I am, and I'm sure many other members of this committee are, and that's the concept of expanded education, to make it clear that after school programs should be available, that Saturday programs should be available, that summer programs should be available, so kids, especially lower income kids, don't lose what they have learned. Does that make sense to you?
MR. DUNCAN: It's been a huge fight and passion of mine in Chicago and many of the opportunities I had, going to a great private school in Chicago, the things that were the norm for me, the chance to, you know, whether it's arts enrichment, or cultural enrichment or debate or model U.N. or chess, those things are somehow seen as extra, not important for public school children, and so we've fought very, very hard to dramatically increase, whether it's during the school day or, again, during the nonschool hours, to give every child the opportunity to develop their skills, to develop their unique interest and talent and give them reason to be motivated to come to school every single day. And again, maybe it's the chess team, maybe it's debate.
SEN. SANDERS: (Inaudible).
MR. DUNCAN: Maybe it's year book, and we want every child to have those kinds of opportunity to grow their unique skills and interests.
SEN. SANDERS: Well, Mr. Duncan, I'm certainly going to very strongly support your nomination and I look forward to working with you, and you have just an enormous responsibility on your shoulders because we have not done well by the kids of this country and there's so much to be done, and I look forward to working with you to make those changes.
MR. DUNCAN: Thank you so much.
SEN. SANDERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you, Senator Sanders. Senator Burr.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Arne, welcome. My apologies for my tardiness. I was downstairs with the president's nominee for Energy.
MR. DUNCAN: You've got a few things going on.
SEN. BURR: Clearly, I, in one morning, have the two smartest nominees that the president has made in you and Dr. Chu, and that makes it challenging.
More importantly, when Tom Coburn was asking his questions and you answered, I realized that competitive bidding is something that's not unfamiliar in Illinois, is it? (Laugher)
MR. DUNCAN: I apologize on behalf of my state. (Laughter)
SEN. BURR: First question, most important. Did you watch the Wake-Carolina game on Sunday night?
MR. DUNCAN: I didn't, but I saw the results.
SEN. BURR: Yeah. For a guy that takes great pride in having close games against Duke, I think it would stimulate you greatly to see Carolina get beat. It was a good game.
I was going to ask you about that, but you're on the record. We need to change it. This is insane.
Let me go to a couple of areas, if I can. The U.S. is now the only industrialized nation in the world where a kid has a lesser chance of graduating from high school than their parents did. Last year, in the United States, we graduated 70 percent of our 9th through 12th graders on time. In my state of North Carolina, it's 69 percent. If you're African-American, it's 55 percent. If you're Latino, it's 52 percent.
Some studies suggest that if you take the 12 largest metropolitan areas on the country, that the high water mark for African-American graduation 9 through 12 on time is 25 percent. That's what's fueling the prison construction, the prison costs, welfare payments that are increasing, food stamp payments that are increasing.
Because today's 21st century economy requires a minimum of a high school diploma, not to be able to fill out an application, but to be invited for an interview. So we're fooling ourselves if we believe that as a country we can sit here with a 70 percent graduation rate from high school on time and that 30 percent of our kids are going to have the tools to compete. It's not going to happen. So, I know from the conversation that you and I have had that you get it. And as secretary of Education, what are you going to do to try to change that?
MR. DUNCAN: I have a couple of quick comments, and this is a huge issue, and I think what you're seeing is the United States hasn't as much fallen behind as other countries have passed us. Other countries have taken this much more seriously, whether you look at high school graduation rates or college graduation rates, we've been sort of stagnant or dropped a bit. Others are really soaring, so that's not a good thing, from any view, again, from an economic standpoint, from a human standpoint, we have to do something dramatically better.
A couple of thoughts despite those very, very sobering statistics that are real and that present huge challenges, we today have examples not just in Chicago, but around the country, of extraordinary schools in the heart of our toughest communities, where 95 percent of students are graduating, where the overwhelming majority are going to college, and guess what? Graduating from college. And so I see, you know, and these examples, frankly, are new probably in the last 10 years, 10 to 15 years.
And I want to push very hard to scale up what works, to continue to innovate. We don't have to look overseas for great, great examples. We can learn something there. But we have them in our backyards across this country today. And so we have a chance to take to scale those things that are making a difference in students' lives and there's a set of extraordinary schools and programs that are doing that every single day.
Secondly, I think we have to continue to shine a spotlight on this dropout issue and I intend to do that, and tell the story, the good, the bad, the ugly, and unfortunately, it's not something any of us can be proud of. I'm proud that we've seen seven years of reductions in the dropout rate in Chicago, but it is still unacceptably high and we have to, as a country, challenge ourselves to change those numbers pretty significantly.
I would argue that while, you know, third grade test scores are important, that's how many of us were measured, if my third grade test scores are fantastic and my dropout rates are too high, I'm not helping my students be successful, and I'm not changing their lives. And so, in as many ways as I can, both from the bully pulpit as well as strategically, I want to shine a spotlight on this and see if we can reverse those trends significantly.
The final thing I'll say, and you know this so well, is that if we're serious about reducing the dropout rate, we can't wait until 11th or 12th grade. Those kids are gone. They're on the streets. And so we've had a huge push on dramatically changing what happens between 8th and 9th grade. That 9th grade year is so critical to us, and so we have to stem this problem before it begins and I'm committed to trying to do that.
SEN. BURR: You mentioned college graduation, the success prone, that 95 percent. Every year more than a million full time, first time degree seeking students start college. Yet, fewer than 40 percent of those students pick up their degree in four years, and barely 60 percent pick up their degree in six years.
My question's going to be sort of strange to you. How long should the federal government be obligated to extend a Pell to a full time student who can't find a way to graduate? Currently we extend Pell for 18 months, but if that were extended to, or excuse me, 18 semesters. If that were extrapolated for a full time student, that would mean that they could stay in nine years and we would still be subsidizing what most students achieve, or try to achieve in four years. Do we need to rethink this?
MR. DUNCAN: That's a good question that I don't know the answer to and need to take a look at it. I will say a couple of things. I think, again, we have to really think about how we try to dramatically increase the high school graduation rate and the college graduation rate.
I absolutely recognize that there are many students, particularly who might be, you know, 22, 23, coming back to school to be retrained and to get those skills they need to enter the work force today, and there are many folks that need to work part time and maybe raise a family. It might again be a single mom who's taking classes in the evening and trying to make ends meet. I want to do everything we can to support those. So I don't have a concrete answer to your, you know, should there be a final cutoff at the end of the day, but for young people who are trying to go to the next level and see going back to school as a way to do that, I want to be supportive of those efforts.
SEN. BURR: Well I hope for those that are shocked by the 70 percent graduation rate in high school that they're even more shocked today to hear that barely 60 percent of our higher education students graduate in six years.
MR. DUNCAN: Yeah.
SEN. BURR: I think that should be shocking to most of us.
MR. DUNCAN: Yeah.
SEN. BURR: Mr. Chairman, could I indulge you for one more question since it's just you and me and the Senator from Vermont?
Arne, you and I talked last week about attracting the best and the brightest teachers in our classroom, especially as it relates to low income, underperforming schools, how crucial that is to the success of that school and to the students. In North Carolina, three school systems, Guilford, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, Cumberland have gone to a pay for performance model. You did that in Chicago. They've been successful at the attraction of talent, you were successful, continue to be at the attraction of talent. What can you do as secretary to help put pay for performance in the game for more systems and is that one of the models that we should try to increase the ability for systems that are failing to get the teachers they need?
MR. DUNCAN: I think the challenge of getting great talent into the communities that need it most is a huge one, but let me tell you it's one of the areas where I'm frankly most optimistic because I've seen every day extraordinary talent walked away from other jobs, other professions, other opportunities because they're so committed to these children, these communities, and they want to make a difference. So we have to find a whole host of ways to support that great talent to go where it needs.
I said earlier one of the things that most helped us that I really want to commend Secretary Spellings for was the teacher incentive fund, and they through the Department of Education created a significant fund that was of great benefit to us in Chicago and in other places, and that's something that I want to, you know, look to not just to support but you know potentially increase. And I think that's a piece of it. We want to reward excellence. You want, you know, get great folks working where you want them and where you need them the most. We talked earlier about creating real career ladders and leadership opportunities for teachers to stay there, but I think we can't do enough to reward and recognize and incent excellence and get the best and brightest working in communities where historically great talent have fled. Historically there's been an out migration in that town, we have to find ways to reverse that and brings those folks in. I know we can do it, I've seen it happen, I want to work very hard in that area.
SEN. BURR: Well, let me thank you for your comments today, more importantly let me thank you and your family for your willingness to do what you're doing. Mr. Chairman, it's important that I point out, this is not only a guy that gets it, he gets better as time goes on. As a sophomore, he fouled out of the Duke game. (Laughter.) As a junior he scored 20 points and was instrumental in almost pulling off a victory and I think this is a talent we need to get expeditiously get in place, I encourage the chair to move it quickly. Thank you.
MR. DUNCAN: Thank you sir,
SEN. HARKIN (?): Thank you, Senator Burr.
Just making some notes here Mr. Duncan on talking about teacher quality and enticing teachers and getting the best teachers, I'm sure you must be familiar with Wendy Copp (ph) and Teach for America.
Many of those, I forget the percentage, but a high percentage of those students who graduate and that come in to Teach for America eventually stay in teaching, and all of the data that I have seen indicates that they have become very excellent teachers. And yet we don't put much money into it. I asked for the figure I funded through our appropriations committee at the level of $14 million for a year, they could use a substantial amount more than that. Give me your thoughts on Teach for America and how it might also help provide quality teachers.
MR. DUNCAN: Sir, I'm happy to do that and I think I'm a huge fan of Wendy's let me just start there. I think there's a generation of what I call education entrepreneurs who are really helping to change the face of education. Wendy Copp(ph) is one of them, John Schnure(ph) is here today who runs New Leaders for New Schools which trains great principals to go into communities that have been underserved and we've seen, had a great, great partnership with Teach for America in Chicago, actually I worked in that before I got this job where I was working for the previous CEO, Paul Vasner(ph) helped to bring Teach for America to Chicago. And they've done an extraordinary job again of bringing the best and brightest from around the country into teaching. Many stay. What's been interesting to me is, and I didn't fully appreciate or understand early on, was that not only are there great teachers coming through the program, but it's a great pipeline of talent. Many of the new schools that we have opened a disproportionate percent of the principals who are running those schools are Teach for America alumni.
SEN. HARKIN: Um-hum.
MR. DUNCAN: And so you get these people with this great vision and this entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to innovate. The leader of my curriculum for all of my high schools, for 110 high schools, is a Teach for America alumni. We have many Teach for America alumni within my management team.
And so yes they produce great teachers but programs like that bring talent into our field where we desperately need that kind of talent. So I want to support -- there's a whole generation that, you know, getting Wendy Copp and John Schnure and others represent who I think are changing the face of public education and I want to do everything I can to support their efforts. And again, if something's working, we need to scale it up and do a lot more of it and do it as fast as we can.
SEN. HARKIN: There's another program called Follow the Leaders Program, but I'll talk to you about that some --
MR. DUNCAN: Okay. I'm not familiar with that one. Yeah.
SEN. HARKIN: We have it in Iowa and a few other states and we've been funding it and all the indications are that it's been a great success but we'll look at that more later on. But I'm glad that you're supportive of Teach for America, even though Wendy went to a different school than you did. (Laughter.) I'm glad you're not holding it against her --
SEN. HARKIN: -- right, you're not holding it against --
MR. DUNCAN: I could care less about any of that. (Laughter.)
SEN. HARKIN: Mr. Rogers will keep you on track on Princeton, right?
Two other things, just for the record, we talked in the office about kids with disabilities, it came up again and you know about the one percent and the two percent rule.
MR. DUNCAN: Yeah.
SEN. HARKIN: It has the effect right now of just cutting out 30 percent of kids with disabilities and saying we don't even have to account for them.
MR. DUNCAN: Right.
SEN. HARKIN: As I said to you in the office that would be like saying to any minority group --
MR. DUNCAN: Right.
SEN. HARKIN: -- 30 percent of you just don't count. We wouldn't do that for African Americans or Latinos or anybody else.
MR. DUNCAN: Right.
SEN. HARKIN: And so I hope that you will take a look at that two percent rule and give us some suggestions on a new policy that would be more supportive of kids with disabilities.
MR. DUNCAN: I absolutely commit to you to doing that and I philosophically absolutely agree with the direction where you want to go on this.
SEN. HARKIN: I have two other areas, I might, one of the, one of the results of No Child Left Behind that I have seen in Iowa and other states that I visited and I hear it a lot is that because of the testing requirements for reading and math, that one of the first teachers to go because of the lack of funding is usually the art teacher, or the music teacher, and of course the phys ed teacher, those are the first ones to go. And here we are, and I want to just focus on the physical education part of it. Right now, 10 million young people are considered overweight, according to the Department of Health and Human Services by 2010, 20 percent of children and youth will be obese. And yet, less than 10 percent of our schools are providing physical exercise every day to the kids, less than 10 percent. Less than 10 percent, one out of 10, or its equivalent for the entire school year. Almost a quarter of all schools do not require students to take any physical education at all. I use a quote from a, actually it's a principal I have to say, I shouldn't point out the city but it's on the record, it was in Atlanta, a principal said in response to the fact that they had built an elementary school without a playground, and his response was we're in the business of educating kids, not letting them play on monkey bars. Very short sighted, very short sighted.
And so again in this timeframe, you know, when I was a kid you know I mean, not only did we have 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the afternoon and a half hour lunch we did an hour a day of physical education, not education, physical exercise, I want to get away from physical education, physical exercise. But then when we went home in the evening we played pick up basketball, we played sandlot baseball, we did, we didn't have TV and things like that, we didn't have Nintendos and those kind of games. So today when kids are less active after school and they're doing more on Nintendo games talking together on their Facebooks and things. (Laughter.) We just don't do anything in school for these kids. And so I have co-sponsored legislation to fit kids -- (inaudible) -- but some, somehow, somehow we need your leadership to start prodding schools to build in physical exercise every single day for these kids.
Now the other part of that equation is what they eat. Now I wear another hat as chairman of the Agriculture Committee as you know and this year is the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Bill. We've got to better food to our kids in school for their breakfast and for their lunches and for their snacks. That's half of it. The other half is we've got to get them exercising, too, during the day. And so I look to you, you told me your wife is a physical education teacher and an athletic director at a K-12 school so I am really glad you have someone close to you that will talk to you about the need for physical exercise for our kids in school. And I know about your own background, too, so I know that you also keep physically fit.
So would you just address yourself a little bit to this lack of physical exercise for kids, especially in elementary school.
MR. DUNCAN: Sure, my wife will absolutely keep me on the straight and narrow on this one, but it's a huge issue you bring up and there aren't easy answers, but the more we instill in our children early in life these habits that will last them a lifetime, the better they're going to do. And so we'll try to do what we can to expand those opportunities -- (inaudible) -- school during the school day, after school have great non-profit partners who have helped us to that in Chicago and running programs. We had a group of our high school students actually run the Chicago Marathon. And when students are, you know, exposed to those kinds of opportunities, it's going to change them for the rest of their lives.
And so we have to find a way to do this. I will just say personally I was lucky to go to school where I had PE four days a week and recess and I was one of those young boys who would have had a very hard time sitting through a full day of school and would have been tough on my teachers. And so I can, just from a personal standpoint, I know how critically important it is to have those breaks and have a chance to get up and run around a little bit. But again, I worry a lot about the sedentary nature of so many of our young people today. As you said, not just during school day but after school. And the more we can, from the early stages, build habits, and again the kids love this, this is fun, they like to eat healthy, they like to get out and run around and play. These aren't, you know, none of the stuff we've done has been mandated, kids are looking for these kinds of opportunities.
So we need to be creative, we need to think about the use of time, we need to think about great non-profit partners who can come in, provide these kinds of opportunities, and I would argue frankly at the end of the day, this is going to help us a lot academically, this doesn't take away from our core mission, it's essential to that core mission.
And so I want to find ways to be creative and think it through and see if we can expand significantly over time the number of young people with these kinds of opportunities that will shape them until the day they die.
SEN. HARKIN: As I have said many times to Secretary Spellings, you know, both in open meetings and at meetings in my office, No Child Left Behind ought to be mean we're not leaving them behind in their health, either.
MR. DUNCAN: Um-hum.
SEN. HARKIN: And that had to be just part and parcel, no child left behind, and so how we build that into the structure to meet certain goals. I mean, if we're going to meet certain goals and testing on reading and math, why shouldn't we have certain goals in terms of their body mass index, their exercise, their heart rates, their obesity index, all those kinds of things that we can build in.
MR. DUNCAN: Yeah.
SEN. HARKIN: That ought to be a part of it I would think.
MR. DUNCAN: Yeah. I again, just this has been so important to me and my wife and to our family and I fully intend to look at this very seriously.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Duncan. I see that another great leader on child and nutrition is also here, Senator Murkowski.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to work with you on the childhood nutrition and your comments about just the physical health of our children and share your comments.
Mr. Duncan, it's a pleasure to meet you, we haven't had an opportunity to speak one on one, I look forward to that, but I will tell you my first impressions of you are very strong and very favorable. You've got a beautiful family behind you. I am quite pleased that your young son is sitting there reading books -- (laughter) -- instead of amusing himself with the latest electronic gadget. As a mom of two boys, I know that it's tough to kind of keep them in their seats but you're doing right, welcome your wife and if you ever have any questions about what we need to be doing in our schools and to engage our kids, don't forget to ask your own. I'm always asking for input from my boys and learning a lot.
My first request to you is a big one, and I do have high hopes that you will fulfill it. I extended an invitation to both Secretary Page when he was secretary of education and Secretary Spellings when she was secretary of education to come to Alaska to see some of our challenges as they relate to how we are able to educate children in a state that is as vast and as broad as it is. Secretary Page as we were traveling across the state, this was at a time when Alaska was trying to get an exemption from the provision that said if you fail to meet AYP, you have to send your kids to the next closest school. (Laughter.) Well that school that we flew to --
MR. DUNCAN: (Laughs.)
SEN. MURKOWSKI: -- from Nome to Savoonga was the same distance as between Washington, DC and New York City. And as we were flying over the ocean looking down over the icebergs, he's very quiet and he says to me, he says I thought I knew what rural was -- (laughter) -- because I'm getting a different picture. We would like to show you a different picture in Alaska not only of our challenges, but how we have been very creative in our use of tele-education and distance learning and how we're able to meet some of our challenges.
So that's my first ask to you and I would welcome your family to join you in that, I think it would be a real eye opener. Kids will show you some bears and some -- (laughter) -- other things like that that might make it more interesting.
I do want to make sure that you are aware of some of the challenges that our Alaskan natives deal with. One of the things that we've learned from No Child Left Behind that has been made more clear with the statistics is our education statistics are not anything to be proud of as they relate to our Alaskan natives in terms of achievement, dropout rates, college enrollments, the gaps are wide and they are unacceptable and we are working aggressively to deal with it. You know that the federal government has a trust responsibility with relationship to our Alaskan native tribes, but we don't have a Bureau of Indian Affairs schools or funding to address that so what Congress had authorized was the Alaskan Native Educational Equity Act. And this Act provides funding for programs like the remedial and gifted education drop out prevention community engagement, a whole variety, curriculum development, teacher training and recruitment. The competitive grants that are funded under this program we believe are making a difference, but they are still very, very necessary to ensure that Alaskan native children have educational equity with their non- native peers across the country.
So I just, I use this time to make sure you are aware of it and to ask for your commitment to work with us to insure that we do have continued funding for these programs.
MR. DUNCAN: I appreciate your comments and I've never been to Alaska and I would absolutely take you up on the offer --
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Wonderful. Thank you.
MR. DUNCAN: -- to go there and my daughter's favorite animal is the polar bear, she's a polar bear nut, so if we could see some polar bears --
SEN. MURKOWSKI: You don't want to get too close to those guys.
MR. DUNCAN: (Laughs.) But you and a number of other Senators have been really courteous and offered me the chance to come out and visit some schools with you and I need to get out, I need to listen, I need to learn there's a whole lot I need to continue to comprehend and to figure out. And so I will absolutely take you up on that request, I'd be honored to do it.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Great. The other thing that I would let you know in terms of priorities and things that I am working on in addition to healthy children, I mentioned the drop out rate, the graduation rate in Alaska again, our numbers overall, not just with Alaskan native students, but our dropout rate is not acceptable. This is an initiative that I am taking on and looking to work with several of my colleagues, but I want to know that we can work with you on this. I know that Senator Burr had mentioned it to you, I know it has been an initiative of Senator Obama when he was in the Senate, and I'm just looking for your commitment to work with you on what I fell is a very, very important area.
MR. DUNCAN: It's a huge issue and I don't think there's a state in this country that could be really, really proud of that number as a country, I don't think we can be proud of what that number is today, so it's something that I need to have a laser like focus on, it's a, you know, complex in many statures but I want to spend a lot of time figuring out how we dramatically increase the graduation rate, you know obviously not overnight, but over time. And when our children drop out today as you well know, we basically condemn them to social failure. There are no good jobs out there with a 9th grade, 10th grade education, it just doesn't exist.
And take one minute on this, I've often said in Chicago that if you go back 30 years ago, there was an acceptable dropout rate. You could dropout and go work in the stockyards and steel mills and you could support a family and own your own home and do okay. As we know, that's a distant memory from a by-gone era. And we have to work collectively to be creative, to be thoughtful, to innovate, and to try to over time, significantly change those numbers, which I think frankly none of us can be really proud of today.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Well I appreciate that statement. I think we recognize that it's not just some decision in senior year of high school that a young man or woman decides I'm done with this, I'm out of here.
MR. DUNCAN: Right.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: These decisions or these thoughts come about much, much earlier, in middle school and one thing that I would like to have an opportunity to chat with you about in the future, we put a great deal of focus with No Child Left Behind on the early years and giving those basics. Now we're looking at the high school end and making sure that we've taken care of our students there. But I just through the middle school years, thank goodness, with my sons. There is, we don't put the focus on those ages when kids are, kids are either checking in or checking out and we can't have a gap in any part of this educational system where it's kind of okay for you to sluff, it's kind of okay to not have that incentive there to perform well. I don't want our kids in those middle school years when adolescence is hitting them and all kinds of things are coming at them to say well, education is just not a priority for me now. So I would hope that that would be an area that we would also be able to work together and focus on.
MR. DUNCAN: Yeah, and again, just appreciate your thoughtful comments and I'm a big fan of Jeffrey Canada who runs the Harlem Children's Zone in New York and he was asked the question, I was on a panel with him recently and people were saying you know, is it early childhood, is it high school, is it middle school, and he said it's all important and you know, it's complex but that's the truth that we have to start early, we have to stay with kids all the way through and it makes the job harder, it's more comprehensive, it's more complex but it's the absolute truth. And we have to have a continuum from birth to you know, whatever it is 22, 23, 24, 25, whatever it might be of real opportunities, of real high expectations and really driving students to be successful. And if we just try, if we think there's a magic bullet at one point, we're really kidding ourselves. It is not that simplistic. I wish there was a magic bullet. You know, our lives would be a lot easier. As you know as a parent, it's just not that simple and we have to have this continuum of opportunity and high expectations all the way through and continue to challenge kids every single day.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Well Mr. Duncan I appreciate your comments, certainly like what I hear, and we'll look forward to working with you and again we'll welcome you to Alaska when that time is appropriate.
MR. DUNCAN: Thank you so much, that'd be an extraordinary opportunity.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Look forward to it.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
SEN. HARKIN: The only advice I have, Mr. Duncan, is go there in the summertime. (Laughter.) Thank you Senator.
MR. DUNCAN: I'll plan it well.
SEN. HARKIN: Senator Sanders.
SEN. BERNARD SANDERS (I-VT): Thank you Senator Harkin and Mr. Duncan I know you have been to Vermont. Now we don't have polar bears, but we'd love to welcome you to our state because there are a whole lot of educators there who have a lot to say. We'd love to, summertime is also a good time. (Laughter.)
I would be remiss if I didn't touch on higher education because my wife is the president of a small college, and I think your point about looking at our problems as a continuum are absolutely right. There is no magic bullet anywhere along the line, but I think one thing that happens is if young people in elementary school or middle school or high school get the feeling they're never going to make it to college, they kind of dropout intellectually and do self destructive activities. Now I don't have to tell you if you know it better than I do that we have a crisis in terms of the affordability and access to college in America today. We have hundreds of thousands of qualified young people who have given up on the dream -- equally alarming is the fact that millions of young people will leave school 20, 30, 40, $50,000 in debt, graduate school $100,000 in debt. And they carry that burden on their shoulders for many, many years. And it also heavily influences their choice of careers. You want, I want, Senator Harkin wants the best people in this country to go and become a teacher or a childcare worker. Well it ain't going to do that if you leave school with a $50,000 debt.
Last year, last couple of years, we've begun to make some progress, a little progress, but nowhere near enough. We passed a debt forgiveness proposal which says that if you go into teaching for example, after ten years of work in a non-profit organization your debt will be forgiven. Well ten years is a long time. Can you give us some specificity as to how we can make college opportunity more affordable for the young people of America so that more of them can go to college and so that more of them will not leave college with these very oppressive debts?
MR. DUNCAN: As you well know the president-elect is just passionate and absolutely committed on this so he's set a real goal for us of increasing the Pell Grant amounts, he's set a goal of passing the American Opportunity Tax Credit, he's talked a lot about loan forgiveness for folks that want to go into teaching, go into other professions, I think really what's been so appealing to me about his vision, it's really to me this idea of reciprocity or mutual responsibility that we're going to give you these opportunities but also expect something, you know, you to come back to the community and help out. I think that spirit is so important. And so I think there are some very significant ways going forward that we can work together with you with the president-elect to increase access, to increase affordability and to your point, Senator, to make sure that those folks that want to, who would prefer to teach and not go to Wall Street, that they not be compelled to go in a different direction because of their loan obligations. And remember a conversation with your staffer who's, you know, facing very, very significant loan challenges --
SEN. SANDERS: Yes, she is.
MR. DUNCAN: -- yeah --
SEN. SANDERS: She's still facing those obligations.
MR. DUNCAN: And again, we want to get the best and brightest to come into these fields, and we need to find ways to make it possible for them to chase their dreams.
SEN. SANDERS: Well thank you very much for that, I think, excellent answer but on a very specific issue, there is the work study program in college and most of the money, as we discussed in my office which I just recently learned as well, goes to on campus activity, working in the library, working in the cafeteria. Do you think we could take a look at expanding that so that students get work study money working as a mentor in a public school or child care center?
MR. DUNCAN: And that was a great point, that's where I really need to learn more and that was the first time I heard that was talking to you and as I talked earlier, we have hundreds and hundreds of college students probably thousands who are in our schools every single day in Chicago. My mother's inner city tutoring program has been staffed for years and years by phenomenal talent from the University of Chicago and others and it's been sort of the lifeblood of her program. And so I need to better understand the facts and the challenges and what needs to happen there but again philosophically if you could get more students these kinds of opportunities, I think the benefits for our children around the country would be great, but I think very importantly when our college students get exposed to the possibilities of teaching and the possibilities of working in community centers and health care clinics, that may influence their career choices. And so I think there are lots of benefits there.
I want to understand again the intricacies of the challenges but directionally I love where you're trying to push.
SEN. SANDERS: Okay. Thank you very much, Mr. Duncan and again what an opportunity you have to transform education and improve the lives of millions of young people and I'm very excited about the possibility of working with you.
MR. DUNCAN: I'm thrilled with the possibility as well. Thank you.
SEN. HARKIN: Well Mr. Duncan thank you very, very much for being so candid and again my thanks for your willingness to take on on this task. You have as you can see a lot of support here in this committee on both sides of the aisle. I have no doubt that you will be confirmed, I hope unanimously from this committee and also by the Senate. But you have a big job ahead of you. I don't think there's any secretary whose decisions, whose statements, public posture has more effect on the American people intimately than yours. Maybe Secretary of Health, too maybe, but education effects every family in America. And how we progress as a country and what we're going to do and how we're going to maintain our standard of living, our way of life and provide for equality of opportunity for all our kids really, really comes down to what kind of education system we have.
You know, the Secretary of Defense always gets a lot of publicity and stuff, I thought about this a lot. The Secretary of Defense and the committees here that fund defense and I'm on that appropriations committee, they're charged with the responsibility of defending America. The Secretary of Education along with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, they have the task of defining America, who we are and what we are as a people and how we progress. And what kind of society we're going to be. And so I look forward to your leadership as well as your counterpart in Health and Human Services for taking the leadership in defining America, perhaps better than what we've had in the past. I don't mean just the recent past, I mean just in all of our past, that we redefine America truly as a country where someone like you, coming from your background, can get the kind of education you had. Where someone like me who his mother was an immigrant and whose father was a coal miner can get to where I am, where kids of color and where kids whose parents are recent immigrants and who have English as a second language, who are struggling to learn the language, where they can also see that America's for them, too.
I don't mean to be overly heavy on this, but I just, having been here for so many years and serving on both the Appropriations Committee and on this wonderful committee, it just, we really have to do better in education in this country, and on Health and Human Services. And so I look upon the two of you as working together and it is a big job, from what I know of you and from your appearance here this morning, I think you're up to it.
And I look forward to working with you and doing all we can to better define America, as really the land of opportunity for all our kids.
So with that, I thank you very much, Mr. Duncan, I thank all of your family for being here. And with that, the record will be kept open for additional questions that may be proffered to you in writing, and we look forward to your early confirmation and swearing in.
MR. DUNCAN: Thank you so much. I think this is just an extraordinary opportunity to do something better for our country's children and I am amazed by those possibilities and I look forward to working very closely with you and your colleagues to make that happen.