Education Secretary Arne Duncan told an audience at the National Press Club today that the country is more focused on improving education than ever before and saluted teachers, parents, students and community leaders for embracing real change in a challenging economy.
"Today, we are asking much more of ourselves and much more of each other -- and everyone is stepping up -- parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders -- and, of course, students," Duncan said. He highlighted ongoing reform activity across the entire educational continuum: early learning, K-12, higher education and adult education.
Duncan and his senior staff just completed a cross-country bus tour, "Education Drives America," that took them to 12 states for more than 100 separate events. In his remarks, the Secretary explicitly linked education with the economy saying, "People everywhere understand that the path to the middle class runs right through our classrooms."
Duncan discussed major education reforms underway, including:
College and career-ready standards in 45 states and D.C.
State-designed accountability systems in 33 states serving more than 60 percent of students; more local decision-making around interventions in low-performing schools.
Nearly 10 million students attending college with Pell grants -- up from 6 million; rising college enrollment and completion.
Greater labor-management collaboration around issues like teacher and principal evaluation, compensation, and career pathways for teachers.
Duncan acknowledged budget pressures affecting states and districts across the country and highlighted the administration's effort to protect 400,000 education jobs through the Recovery Act and the American Jobs Act. He also raised concerns about cuts to education in Congress.
"The choice facing the country is pretty clear: some people see education as an expense government can cut to help balance our budgets. The President sees education as an investment in our future," Duncan said.
Vowing to "double down on what we know is working," Duncan outlined several educational priorities for the country:
High quality early education for more low-income children.
State-driven accountability that demands progress for all kids.
More local decision-making and fewer mandates from Washington.
More support for principals and teachers to translate high standards into practice.
More personalization in the classroom and greater student engagement.
A stronger partnership between teachers and technology.
A new generation of math and science teachers recruited from America's top universities.
Passage of the DREAM Act.
Reforming career education programs in high schools and community colleges.
Closing the skills gap for millions of unemployed or underemployed adults.
Reforming and simplifying student aid to help drive college affordability and completion.
Duncan closed his remarks with an urgent appeal for bipartisan commitment to education reform, saying: "America must unite behind the cause of public education and recognize that the solutions don't come from one party or one ideology. They come from all of us -- you and me -- challenging ourselves and holding ourselves accountable. We don't have a minute to waste."
Note to editors: Secretary Duncan's remarks as prepared for delivery are posted online at: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/moving-forward-staying-focused. They will be updated later with the final speech. Note that delivered remarks may differ from the prepared version.