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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript


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President Obama's secretary of education, Arne Duncan, joining me live from Washington.

Secretary Duncan, thanks for coming on. Let's begin with --

ARNE DUNCAN, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: Thanks for the opportunity, Brooke.

BALDWIN: -- you know, some phrases that are popping up. The fact that the administration, by issuing this executive order, letting schools off the hook here. They're offering these waivers.

Explain how that will work.

DUNCAN: Well, basically, the law is four years overdue for reform. We're really hoping Congress would act and act in a bipartisan way to fix this No Child Left Behind law that is fundamentally broken. That hasn't happened, unfortunately. The law is far too punitive. Many, many ways to fail. Basically, no rewards for success. Very prescriptive, very top down from Washington. It led to a dumbing down standards. It led to a narrowing of the curriculum.

None of these things are what our children or our country needs right now. At a time where we need to get better faster than ever before, we can't have a law that stands in the way of progress, stands in the way of innovation.

So what we'll do is we'll work directly with states in where states are doing the right thing, raising the bar, having higher standards, being thoughtful about teacher and principal evaluation support, turning around underperforming school. We want to give those states a lot more flexibility.

The best ideas in education are never going to come from me or, frankly, from anyone else in Washington. They're always going to come at the local level. We're seeing tremendous courage, tremendous leadership at the state level. We need to get this law off of people's back and let people continue to improve at the local level where the real action is.

BALDWIN: As we mentioned, this would be done by an executive order, and I'm just curious what this is a result of. And I'm sure it's a result of an amalgamation of factors, but specifically, I want to ask you about some of these cheating scandals. I mean, how much of this decision were impacted by these scandals across the country, certainly Atlanta for one, where you have these teachers who are just trying to teach the test to improve proficiency to, you know, comply with No Child Left Behind?

DUNCAN: Yes, well, obviously that kind of behavior is very, very disappointing unacceptable. We don't want anyone teaching to the test. All of us have to have integrity in what we do.

But honestly, that was no part of our calculation, our decision.

BALDWIN: No part at all?


DUNCAN: (INAUDIBLE) On that side of the country -- I've been to 44, 45 stats, no part -- all rural, urban, suburban, everybody is asking for relief, everybody is asking for more flexibility. They don't want Washington to be so top heavy.

When I ran the Chicago public schools, I had to come to this building and meet in my conference room and beg the federal government, beg our Department of Education for the right to tutor my children after school. About 25,000 children wanted to work harder, wanted to have additional tutoring. Washington didn't want to give me that flexibility. That made no sense.

That lesson stayed with me. Where folks are working hard, doing the right thing by children, where they're raising standards, reducing dropout rates, where we're seeing growth and gain, we've got to give folks more room to move. These are tough economic times. We have to give them more flexibility.

BALDWIN: Yes, so you mentioned back home in Chicago, you have Illinois, you have all of these 50 states I know who were encouraged to apply for these waivers, essentially waiving the law's proficiency requirement. But for a waiver to be approved, be specific with me, Secretary Duncan, what sorts of programs, what sorts of ambitions will the states have to show?

DUNCAN: Well, basically, we've seen amazing progress and courage at the state level over the past two and half years. Forty-four states have raised standards, college and career-ready standards for every single child. That's an absolute game changer.

Under No Child Left Behind, unfortunately, many states dummied down standards, reduced them, were actually lying to children, lying to parents because it made politicians look good. It's bad for children, bad for education, bad for the states, ultimately bad for our country, but that happened in far too many places.

We're seeing, again, a tremendous move in the opposite direction, raising standards. Where folks are doing that, where they're being very though thoughtful about teacher and evaluation support. We want to give them a lot more room to move. That's where we're tracking --


BALDWIN: You talk about some of the goals --


DUNCAN: -- reward high standards.


BALDWIN: Forgive me for interrupting, but what specifically -- what will these schools have to prove, have to offer to get a waiver?

DUNCAN: We're still working through that final package. We will announce the final package next month after Labor Day. But I've tried to hit on a couple of the key points.

Where there are high standards we want to partner with folks. Where there are dumbing-down standards, reducing them, that's not a state we want to partner with. Where districts and states are focusing on growth and gain rather than absolute test scores, how much are folks improving, we want to work with them. Where they're being very thoughtful and creative around teacher and principle evaluation, we want to work with them.

BALDWIN: What about --

DUNCAN: We they're willing to challenge the status quo in very low-performing schools, dropout factories where is 50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent are dropping out. Where we're seeing real courage, Brooke, that's where we want to partner. And we're seeing leadership, again, from states. We want to give them room to continue to move in the right direction.

BALDWIN: I think a lot of people agree with you, Secretary Duncan, and a lot of people are thinking about our children and education should absolutely be a priority. But when you look at some of the criticism of offering these waivers, you see phrases -- and I read them -- you know, that you're the letting people off the hook, you know, circumventing the law, sort of this backdoor to proficiency.

DUNCAN: We're not -- furthest thing --


BALDWIN: But Republicans also, let me just throw this at, you Secretary Duncan, just hold on just a moment. Republicans are also worried that you're, you know, undermining the House committee's work on the bigger picture of federal education reform. I just want you to respond to that and then I have to let you go. But how do you explain the temporary relief measure?

DUNCAN: Yes, very, very simple. Again, there will be a high bar here. We will absolutely maintain accountability, absolutely focus on disaggregating data and achievement gaps. And so, anyone who's stepping back on accountability, we simply won't partner with them, we won't grant them a waiver. So that concern is null and void. Secondly, again, we desperately hope Congress would work and work in a bipartisan way on behalf of children and behalf of education in the country. That didn't happen, but we think this waiver package can be a bridge, a transition, and we continue to hope Congress will come together and do the right thing by our nation's children. So this in no way prohibits them or impedes their progress. In fact, it may be a bit of a road map in terms of where they need to go.

Brooke, the last thing we can do is sit back here and not listen to the outcry we're hearing from teachers and students, parents, administrators, school superintendents, governors. I've talked to probably 35 governors over the past two or three days. Every single governor is saying this is the right thing to do. Every single one.

BALDWIN: Secretary Duncan, we're going to follow up with you. I would love to have you back on and also see what sort of details you all do release when it comes to these waivers. A lot of teachers, principals, schools paying close attention to you.

Secretary Arne Duncan, Department of Education, thank you so much.


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