We are honored to have U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as the Summit 2013 keynote speaker. Appointed in 2009 by President Barack Obama, Secretary Duncan came to Washington after overseeing one of the nation’s largest and most complex urban school districts – Chicago Public Schools. Leading the Obama Administration’s education policy agenda, Secretary Duncan first made his mark on the system helping to drive progressive change in states across the nation through the Race to the Top competition.
Interviewing Secretary Duncan is NewSchools Venture Fund Board Member Laurene Powell Jobs. Ms. Powell Jobs is founder and chair of Emerson Collective, an organization focused on harnessing the potential of individuals from underserved communities to help them build a better life. She also serves as president of the board of College Track, an after-school program she founded in 1997 to prepare underserved high school students for success in college as well as serving on the Board of Trustees for Stanford University.
Secretary Duncan opened his remarks is a positive message for the attendees of addressing the audience members – “On behalf of the nation’s child thank you for what you’re doing.”
Launching into the question and answer, Secretary Duncan reflected back on the last four years speaking to the successes and challenges faced. As he said, “We have a lot to be proud of from high school graduation rates at an all-time high to 7,000 less students stuck in schools considered dropout factories.
Speaking to the biggest challenges over the last four years, Secretary Duncan called the lack of bipartisanship one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. “We have never faced so much animosity and entrenched divide. D.C. needs to be a better partner to the great work being done outside.”
Asked about the achievement gap, Secretary Duncan said, “We as a country need to get serious about fixing it, we live to talk about it, but actions speak stronger than words.” He also pointed to the need to change policy priorities, “We as a nation need to get our priorities straightened out. States are cutting higher education but building more prisons.”
So what sector is ripest for education innovators to help?
The answer to Secretary Duncan is clear: supporting early childhood education, scaling the high-quality teachers that we have, and helping the student populations that struggle.
What would Secretary Duncan like to see more of? “I wish we had a lot more parents demanding a world class education, it just doesn’t happen enough. We need to awaken the public, not just inner-city but middle class parents. They need to be knocking down my door, their governor’s and the school districts!”
So what’s next for Secretary Duncan? “I honestly have no idea and haven’t thought about it. I have a laser-like focus on what I’m doing now.”