Using the power of the bully pulpit, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today criticized Congress for its inability to pass a bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the looming government shutdown, and further cuts to education programs under sequestration. The secretary’s speech took place at the National Press Club before an audience of education reporters, education advocates, and US Department of Education officials.
The speech was an opportunity for Duncan to address the Obama administration’s current education initiatives, and he praised state reforms underway due to the implementation of college and career-ready standards and new teacher and principal evaluation systems. Both were requirements under Race to the Top and the ESEA flexibility waivers. He also highlighted other initiatives “outside of the Washington bubble,” such as investments in early childhood education and wrap-around services, and shared specific examples where teachers unions were partners in reform in West Virginia, Indiana, Maryland, Florida, and Colorado.
Duncan criticized certain naysayers of public education, saying our public schools can offer hope and a meaningful life for low-income children. He pointed to recent successes in education such as high school graduation rates, which are at their highest level in 30 years, and the number of students receiving college credit while in high school. But, he also urged public school educators to not make excuses for low achievement, stating that he had met teachers and principals who are proving that “poverty is not destiny” for many low-income students.
Calling education funding “a critical investment for our nation winning the race for the future,” Duncan urged Congress to avert the government shutdown and finalize the FY 2014 appropriations process. He also said that the Department of Education stood ready to work in a bipartisan fashion with Congress to reauthorize “long overdue” bills such as ESEA, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and the Higher Education Act.