Education Secretary Arne Duncan made clear in an interview with Bloomberg Radio that he plans to concentrate on early childhood education in President Obama’s second term, and that the country must deal with gun violence now. Here are excerpts provided by Bloomberg Radio from the interview that will air on the “Bloomberg Edu” show starting Friday night. (It is also available here: http://www.bloomberg.com/podcasts/bloomberg-edu/.)
On school safety:
For me the goals are very, very simple. We just need a lot fewer children being killed in this country. And we need a lot fewer children living in fear. … We have far too many children in this country right now talking about ‘If I grow up’ not ‘When I grow up’ … We have to take on, in a real way, the issue of gun violence. And I just think if we don’t do this now, as a country, we will never do it. And the level of death, the level of devastation, the psychological toll this takes on our nation now, to me is just untenable.
On Canadian educator Ben Levin saying that Americans are fundamentally more comfortable with a higher level of inequality than some other countries:
I really hope that’s not true. I think, you know, so many people who work with us, I talk with across the country, worry desperately about the inequity. And again, for me, this is not just about helping disadvantaged families or communities, this is about helping our country. Our country is going to become a majority, you know, minority nation in the not too distant future. We’re getting very close to the point where the majority of public school students are children who are black and brown. And so this is not just about strengthening families, individual communities, this is about strengthening our country.
On what would happen if a program was implemented where every poor child matters just as much as every child with a disability and develop interventions from an early age to solve that individual child’s problem:
Yeah, well, it’s an interesting idea. Again, it’s not just children of poverty, it’s every child, I think, deserve a personalized learning plan. And as you may know, the last round of Race to the Top that we did, a district-level competition, was all about personalized learning. We’re seeing a huge amount of innovation. We were able to fund a lot of it coming from schools, coming from districts who are thinking less about classes of children, much more about each individual child’s strengths and weaknesses and needs. And if we’re doing that, then I think all children, not just those in poverty, but including children of poverty, will start to reach their fullest academic potential.
On schools crumbling and whether the problem will be addressed:
This is a huge issue. … We have very little ability, unfortunately, at the federal level to help in terms of infrastructure for schools. That’s something Congress sort of hasn’t funded, or hasn’t permitted us to do. So the overwhelming majority of money has to come at the state and local level. … If we let them go to school in ramshackle, rundown places, they know we’re talking the talk but we’re not walking the walk.
On early childhood education:
Well, we have to continue to do more. I was so pleased that thanks to President Obama’s leadership and Congress’s support, we were able to invest over $600 million in early childhood education in the first term. And we invested in states that were committed to increasing access, to make sure that those programs were of high quality and that they were focused on primarily disadvantaged communities. So a huge step in the right direction. Historically Department of Education hadn’t done much in that space.
On what can be done to level the playing field before kindergarten:
The more we can increase access to early childhood education, make sure it’s high quality in reaching those children in communities who historically have been underserved — this is the best investment we can make. This thing — the challenge here is, as you know, these investments, everyone from Jeff Immelt, everyone knows how important this is. But too often political leaders sort of think short term. And you know we won’t see the benefits for this ’til long after most political leaders are out of office.
On the most critical assignment he’s given himself for this term:
I wish there was just one. So we have to get on more than one dime. But we always talk about a cradle to career, so we have to continue to invest in early childhood education. That’s arguably the most important investment we can make. We have to continue to drive K-12 reform. We’ve seen some real progress there, but a long way to go. And we have to, ultimately, help meet the president’s goal of leading the world in college graduation rates. That’s our 2020 goal. So we have to look across the education spectrum from our babies to our adult learners as well.