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Education Secretary Duncan, In His Own Words

The following excerpts are from an August 4, 2009 speech by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to the Strategic Management of Human Capital task force, a 31-member body of education professionals that includes National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel.

On the lowest 1 percent of underachieving schools:
“(This is) where we are perpetuating failure, where we are perpetuating poverty. I think we need to throw out the rule book, we need to start over and do something dramatically different.”

On the possibility of change in the U.S. education system:
“The question to me is not around resources, it’s around political will, it’s around courage, it’s around a commitment and willingness to collaborate and move outside our comfort zones and begin to fundamentally break through a status quo that doesn’t work.”

On labeling schools “failures” under No Child Left Behind:
“Under No Child Left Behind, lots of schools were labeled as failures. It’s a blunt instrument, and I worry—I think the story is actually much more complicated, much more complex than that. I think there were a set of schools that were labeled failures that were actually improving every year, and often during tough situations; and rather than failures, we should be learning from some of those schools, and it can be stigmatizing, demoralizing, and sometimes flat-out wrong to call schools failures.”

On graduation rates:
“Ultimately, to me, it’s all about: We have to drive up the graduation rate. Third-grade test scores are great, but if half the kids are still dropping out at the back end, we’re not changing kids’ lives. So how do we clearly focus all of our efforts to dramatically increase the graduation rate and dramatically reduce the dropout rate and make sure many more of our students are prepared to be successful in higher education?”

On art, music, and physical education class:
“I worry a lot about the narrowing of the curriculum, and a huge focus on math and reading, which is great, but I worry about art, I worry about music, I worry about P.E., I worry about recess. I think recess might be the answer to a lot of our problems. I think our kids need to run around a little bit. I couldn’t stand still for six hours in class when I was eight.”