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Arne Duncan Confirmation Hearing

Your track record with a major urban school district is well known. But I must warn you that I'm particularly concerned about the unique challenges that rural and frontier schools and students face. And I'll remind you of these challenges as we work on issues such as the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind or whatever we call it next time. Or as I sometimes say, No Rural Child Left Behind.

Since the fall of 2005, we've seen ongoing improvement in education that are children receive in our nation's schools. But I would say that even with the progress we've made, it's not been enough. I believe that education is a key factor in securing a sound economic future for our country. Everyone, regardless of their background, needs access to quality education and training throughout their lives.

Education's been a bipartisan issue and we need to keep it that way. In fact, I believe that no major piece of education authorizing legislation has been passed by the Senate or sent to the president's desk that didn't have strong bipartisan support.

The Help Committee has established a successful track record of getting legislation across the finish line and signed by the president. I attribute that success to focusing on the 80 percent that we agree on while trying to find the third way for the remaining 20 percent. There are going to areas where we disagree, but my hope and expectation is that by focusing on solutions we can produce meaningful results for our students and their families, for teachers, principals and administrators.

Congress and the Department of Education need to work together to make sure that every school has the tools and the flexibility needed to help school -- students develop the knowledge and skills required to be successful in the 21st century.

We still have too many students leaving high school and college without completing the programs of study. More students need to graduate from high school on time, prepared to successfully enter college or the work force. We also need to increase the number of students who enter college and complete their program of study. They should not leave with little to show for their time except bills and debt.

Some post-secondary education is critical to at least eight out of 10 jobs being created. Over 6,000 students drop out every day, which means that for every school hour, upwards of 275 students drop out. For those students, over their lifetime, will lose about $74 million in lost wages and revenues. That's too great a price to pay for the student, for the community, for our nation.

I look forward to working with Mr. Duncan to chart a future course for the education and success for all of students.

When Mr. Duncan and I spoke last week, we discussed our mutual belief that we need to improve the number of students who successfully enter and complete post-secondary education programs. We have to build on the successes of No Child Left Behind. We have to coordinate efforts across programs, including career and technical education, and workforce programs under the Workforce Investment Act, and reduce the barriers non-traditional students face to obtaining education that will provide the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the 21st century. Our country's future depends on our ability to reach this goal.

I have a number of questions for you, some of which will -- I'll ask during question and answer. It's likely however there will be questions I won't be able to ask and will provide for you written responses to be included in the record. So that we can accelerate consideration of your nomination, I'd appreciate your quick response to these questions.

And I do apologize, I will have to leave the hearing early. We have some other positions that are being confirmed -- heard at this point, and also a few health issues we're trying to work on.

In closing, I'd like to again thank the chairman for calling this hearing.

I'd also like to thank Mr. Duncan for his willingness to take on the challenges of the federal role in improving education for all students throughout their lifetimes.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HARKIN: Thank you, Senator Enzi.

And now we welcome to our committee our distinguished assistant majority leader, another great champion of public education in this country, as for the purposes of introduction, Senator Dick Durbin.

Welcome, Dick.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-ILL.): I want to thank Senator Harkin, Senator Enzi, Senator Mikulski, Alexander and Hatch for joining us, and all the members of the HELP Committee.

It is my honor to appear before you today to introduce my friend, Arne Duncan, who is the choice of President Obama to serve as secretary for the Department of Education.

When Mayor Daley took a look at the great city of Chicago and its future, he decided there were two things that had to be done. First, you needed to bring safety to the neighborhoods and, second, quality to the schools.

Arne Duncan was chosen as a CEO of Chicago Public Schools in the year 2001. For seven and a half years, he has tackled the challenge of turning around the troubled schools in the city of Chicago.

Chicago Public Schools is the third-largest school district in America, with all the challenges of an urban school district -- over 90 percent minority, over 90 percent poverty.

Arne is a leader. He has consistently surpassed expectations with hard work and clear dedication.

If you take a look at how he grew up, you can understand it. His mother had a center in Hyde Park for inner-city kids, poor kids, to go to, to be tutored. Arne would finish his day in the classroom in his school and then go over to his mother's center and tutor other kids. That's how he grew up. That was his after-school activity.

Many of his views about urban education were shaped by that experience. And you'll learn about them during the course of the hearing.

He also worked in a non-profit center with John Rogers at the Ariel Fund, identifying key schools where investments could be made and a difference could be made. But eventually, he was tapped by Mayor Daley to step back into the public sector. And he did, willingly.

He's adopted a whole class of children and sent them to college. He started a school in Chicago built around financial literacy. And along the way incidentally, he played a little basketball -- that seems to be a recurring theme with the new Obama administration -- including some time when he played professional basketball in Australia.

In his senior year at Harvard, I read this morning, his co- captain -- his greatest moment was in playing Duke and leading his teammates, scoring 20 points.


Harvard lost, but it was quite a game effort.


DUNCAN: Not enough.


DURBIN: It's his work in the Chicago public schools that really stands out. I've had the honor of knowing and working with Arne for many years. We've been to so many different events at schools and press conferences.

And I even recalled, with his wife, Karen, this morning, when Claire and Ryan and Arne and I were both holding shovels, digging a playground at a public school in a very muddy setting in the city of Chicago. So I know that he's a hands-on leader. He lights up when he talks about the latest school that's beating the odds on a new program, reaching students who had been written off. But he doesn't sugar-coat the challenges he encounters along the way. He's straight- forward, thoughtful, honest and decisive.

Last year, I visited a high school in Chicago and met with a group of students, and then walked through the school. And after I had finished that, I called Arne directly. And I said to him, "Arne, I don't think I've ever complained to you about a school that I've visited. But that high school is out of control. I can't believe that anybody's learning anything there, as I walked through the corridors and look in the classrooms." He said, "I'll look into it." Two weeks later, he called me and he said, "You were right. It was an experiment with a principal that didn't work. And he's moving on. We're bringing in somebody else."

I like that. There's a person who listened, followed up and did the right thing.

Today, Chicago enjoys a reputation as a model in school system reform. And Arne's leadership has had a lot to do with it. Over seven and a half years, he's raised test scores, lowered drop-out rates, boosted college enrollment, opened more than 100 new schools and expanded after-school and Saturday programs. Through it all, he's maintained good relations with the business community, with the unions and elected officials, even as he pushed tough reforms.

Arne Duncan understands that real and meaningful change in our toughest schools depends on the participation and cooperation of everybody. He knows when to compromise and he knows when to hold firm. One of the toughest challenges he's had is closing the school. If you can imagine the reaction from the neighborhood and from the families and from the teachers, and he's weathered that storm time and again, never blinked, knowing that some of those schools that were failing just had to be closed for the best interest of the kids.

No other district in the country has been as aggressive about holding schools accountable for performance and wanting to try new, innovative methods to improve schools. I think that's the spirit we need in the Department of Education.

American education is at a critical moment. Thirty years ago, the U.S. ranked first in internationally in graduating students from high school and college. Today, our nation ranks 15th. This is not the time for America to fall behind. It's time to raise the bar. We need to make sure every student has a chance to excel.

This is a challenge and a priority for the Obama administration. I can remember speaking to the president-elect just days after the election. And we talked about the Department of Education and a lot of names were mentioned. But I said to him, and he nodded in agreement, "You know, we have somebody right here in Chicago who would be an extraordinary secretary of education." Well, I'm honored today to have the opportunity to introduce him to you in a formal way. I know that most of you have already had a chance to meet him.

We're going to miss him in Chicago if the Senate confirms him, and I believe it will. But we'll know that he'll be an excellent education secretary. And the students of America and their families couldn't have a strongest advocate on their behalf.

I'm sorry that I have to step away at this point. But I will now turn it over to my friend, and I hope the next secretary of the Department of Education, Arne Duncan.

CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS CEO ARNE DUNCAN: Thank you very much. Thank you so much.

HARKIN: Senator Durbin, thank you very much. And I know you have other business to attend to as the assistant leader. And thank you very much for the introduction and for all your help and your support for Mr. Duncan.

And now, Mr. Duncan, welcome to the committee. In keeping with the tradition that Senator Kennedy has set for this committee, I always ask the -- the -- the nominee to first introduce the family who is with you. We'd like to know who all your family members are.

DUNCAN: Sir, I'd be proud to do that. Behind me is my wife, Karen, and my children, Claire and Ryan.

If you guys could please stand?

Claire is 7 year -- 7 years old and Ryan is almost 5.

HARKIN: Well...



HARKIN: A great looking family. I -- I -- a handsome son. And since I raised two daughters, I'm partial to daughter obviously.


And I think Claire is just beautiful. And is she going to try out for the part of Annie in a school play?

(LAUGHTER) DUNCAN: Sir, they'll be busy writing and drawing throughout this -- this confirmation process.

HARKIN: Well, Mr. Duncan, again, your statement will be made part of the record in its -- in its entirety. You can proceed as you so wish.

DUNCAN: Thank you so much. I want to thank Senator Kennedy in his absence. And we had a great conversation yesterday.

I want to thank Senator Enzi.

And Senator Harkin, I want to thank you for agreeing to chair this hearing, and for your tremendous commitment to children, particularly that have -- who are disabled and have not had the opportunities historically that's needed. So thank you so much for your leadership.

This is an extraordinary time in our country, an extraordinary time to be working on education. And I want to begin by talking about something that I think the public hasn't picked up on enough that Senator Mikulski articulated extraordinarily well as we talked last week.

And I really enjoyed my conversations with all the senators over the past few days.

But she talked about what she called the -- the Barack effect, the Obama effect. And what we have with the president-elect and his wife are two people who are living symbols, who embody the value of education. They were born from humble backgrounds, humble beginnings. Because they worked so hard, because they're so committed to becoming great people, what they did educationally was extraordinary.

And children throughout our today, whether it's inner-city Chicago, whether it's rural Iowa or Wyoming, children around the country look at those two and say that, "They worked hard, I can do it too." And what you see is children saying not just that, "I want to be president like the president-elect," they're saying, "I want to be smart like the president-elect." And so we have a time collectively as a country to capitalize on something I think is simply extraordinary. Never before has being smart been so cool, and working hard been so cool. I think we have a chance to build upon, not just that -- the substance of the educational plan, but the symbolism of what the president-elect and his wife represent. And I think it's going to be very, very special and that every child in this country has a chance to look them and say, "If I work hard, look at what I can accomplish."

The president-elect views education as both a moral obligation and an economic imperative. In the face of rising global competition, we know that education is the critical, some would say the only road to economic security.

With quality education offer (ph) is the civil rights issue of our generation. It's the only path out of poverty, the only road to a more equal, just and fair society.

In fact, I believe the fight for quality education is about so much more than education. It's a fight for social justice.

I come to this work with three deeply held beliefs.

First, that every child from every background absolutely can be successful. Rural, suburban, urban, gifted, special ed., ELL, poor, minority -- it simply doesn't matter. When we -- when we -- when we, as adults, do our job and we give them opportunities to succeed, all of children can be extraordinarily successful.

Secondly, maybe the flip of that, when we fail to properly educate children, we as educators, we perpetuate poverty and we perpetuate social failure. And that's not something that I want to be a part of.

And third, our children have one chance -- one chance at a quality education, so that we must work with an extraordinary sense of urgency. Simply put, we cannot wait because they cannot wait.

As we look ahead, I'll begin with the president-elect's strong commitment to perform at every level in the compelling vision that he spelled out during his campaign. And I'm extraordinarily hopeful about what we can accomplish by working together.

First, he talked about the need to dramatically improve both access to early childhood opportunities and to -- to have more higher- quality opportunities. And we know that the quicker we get to students, the early we get them involved in high-quality early childhood programs, the better they're going to do long term.

Secondly, at the K to 12 level, we want to continue to dramatically raise standards and increase teacher quality.

And third, what -- as our students progress from early childhood onto K to 12 and then on to high education, we want to ensure greater access there and strengthen institutions like our community colleges, which you mentioned Senator Harkin, which are critically important and could play a huge role in, again, giving people a second chance, retooling skills and getting back into the workforce.

As we look at those three buckets of work, increasing access and opportunity for early childhood, strengthening what we're doing in K to 12, and increasing access as well to higher education, there are two themes I think that needs to run through all of that work that are very important to me.

First, we must do dramatically better and we must continue to innovate. We must build upon what works. We must stop doing what doesn't work. And we have to continue to challenge the status quo. And that -- that spirit of innovation has been hugely important and will continue to be very, very important to me going forward.

Second, we must recognize and reward excellence. There are extraordinary teachers, extraordinary principals, district leaders, state school chiefs, community college presidents throughout this country. We have to elevate the teaching profession. We have to build upon this next generation of leaders in our schools and our state boards. And we have to find ways to scale up what works. They (ph) are great, great pockets of excellence as we look across every state in this country. We have to find ways that scale up what works and shine a spotlight on those educators who are doing an extraordinary job and going above and beyond the call of duty every single day.

I'm absolutely convinced that we can create better opportunities and raise expectations for everyone, from our 3-year-olds to our 23- year-old. If we continue to innovate and challenge the status quo every single day and if we can recognize and reward excellence throughout the country, I'm absolutely convinced that we can transform education here in America.

Let me close briefly by just telling you a few things about myself.

I've spent the past 10 years working for the Chicago Public Schools. I've been very fortunate to have that opportunity. Fro the past seven and a half years, I've been CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

Our work is not done. There's a long way to go. But at the same time, we are proud of the progress. We've had seven consecutive years of rising test scores, rising graduation rates, reductions in drop-out rates. We've done everything we can to increase our time with children. I think our school day is too short. Our school week is too short. Our school year is too short. We have 150 community schools. We opened 200 schools on Saturdays this past year. We brought 15,000 freshmen back to school a month early during the summer on a voluntary basis because we wanted to get them off to a great start.

We're trying to really do everything we can to enhance the teaching profession. We've gone from 11 nationally board certified teachers to over 1,200. And we've gone from two applicants, three (ph) teaching positions to over 10. We've tried to make Chicago the place, the Mecca nationally for people who are passionate about public education and want to make a difference in students' lives.

We've tried to create great new opportunities in neighborhoods that have been historically underserved, and I would argue, have been underserved for decades. We have closed schools for academic failure when we needed to do that. And those are not easy decisions to make. But very significantly, we've opened over 100 great new schools, again, focusing primarily on communities that have been underserved. And we couldn't be more proud of the opportunities that children in those neighborhoods now have that haven't been there for far too long.

Perhaps the number I'm most proud of is, last year, our graduating seniors collectively won over $150 million in competitive grants and scholarships. Given the fact that so many of our children our first-generation going to college, so many of our children our new to the country. We -- we're so proud that colleges and universities around the country are recognizing the talent that our students have. And I tell them all the time, "These are not gifts. These are investments in the future." And people believe in what our students can accomplish as they go forward.

Twenty years ago, you may recall, the former secretary of education, Bill Bennett, called the Chicago Public Schools the worst district in the nation. And we're proud to have made significant progress since that time and to really be a model of national reform. But, again, the hard work is going to continue there and it's far from done.

In the six years prior to that, I was fortunate to work with my best friend, John Rogers, and along with my sister, set up the non- profit side for the students, the Ariel Foundation. We did two things. We ran an I Have a Dream Program from 1992 to 1998. And my job and my sister's job and a great team of volunteers, for that six years, was to take 40 sixth graders and work with them all the way through high school, to tutor them, to mentor them every day, to work with the families, to give them the opportunity to be successful. And at the end of that, we are proud that 87 percent of our students graduated on time and 65 percent went on to college. The class one year ahead of us, from that school, Shakespeare Elementary, had a 33 percent graduation rate, meaning 67 percent did not graduate -- 67 percent the year before did not graduate, 87 percent of our class did.

What we're trying to demonstrate is, again, getting students from high-poverty areas, giving them the challenges with long-term support, with long-term opportunity and guidance, our students can be very, very success.

About half way through that, in 1995, we started our own small public school, the Ariel Community Academy, which today remains one of the highest performing neighborhood inner-city schools in Chicago, has a very innovative financial literacy curriculum. And I think it's a model that we can learn a great deal going forward.

So those experiences, you know, managing Chicago Public Schools, setting up a non-profit, obviously were extraordinary learning opportunities for me.

But I have to be honest. And Senator Durbin talked about it. Probably the most important opportunity I had was the -- the most formative was the first 10 years of my life growing up as a part of my mother's inner-city tutoring program.

Before I was born in 1961, she began this program. She raised my sister and brother and I as a part of it. Literally, from the time we were born, we were there every day and then every day after school. And I ended up taking a year off of college between my junior and senior year to work with her full time. Most of my friends who were becoming -- or thinking about becoming investment bankers and lawyers. And I didn't quite think that's what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to find out, just really what I wanted to do. And it was just an extraordinary experience.

There, the -- everyone is taught to help everyone else, so probably my first job was as a 5-year-old, was washing the books and cleaning tables at the end the day. The 10-year-olds teach the 5- year-olds. The 15-year-olds teach the 10-year-olds. And so you learn by being taught and by teaching others.

I grew up with a set of children who happen -- none of whom look like me, very few of whom came from two-parent homes, all of whom were desperately poor. But they went on to do extraordinary things. One, Michael Clark Duncan, is a Hollywood movie star. Another one, Carrie Holly (ph), who actually taught me for many of those years, is one of IBM's leaders internationally. Another, Corky Lyons (ph), who is now literally a brain surgeon. Another one, Ronald Ragman (ph), is part of my senior management team in Chicago Public Schools. And all these guys came from one little corner of 46th and Greenwood on the Southside of Chicago.

So what I saw, again, literally from the time I was born, was despite challenges at home, despite challenges in the community that are sometimes unimaginable, our young people can be very, very successful. if we stay with them, work with them hard every single day, have the highest of expectations, challenge them, amazing things can happen. So that was a formative experience. It was exhilarating. It -- but I have to be honest. It was very, very tough and we faced some real challenges.

One of my earliest memories was in -- in -- I was about 6 years hold, in 1970, the church that we were working out of was firebombed by the Blackstone Rangers. And I remember salvaging what we could from the church and walking down the block to another church and carrying crates of books and asking that -- that minister to allow us to come in and work, and having to deal with that.

Our lives were threatened. My mother's life was threatened. I remember leaving work one night and a guy coming by and saying if we came back the next day we'd be killed. And so we had an interesting conversation that -- that night at home at dinner. Our dinnertime conversations may be a little bit different than other families. And we tried to figure out what to do and really decided that you can't -- you can't run. And once you start running, you know, you'll be chancing your shadow eventually. So we showed up the next day and luckily he didn't.

I'd lost -- unfortunately, given the level of violence in the community, many friends I had, not all made it. And there were many people I was very close to who were killed growing up. And those experiences when you're young shape you. And I would go so far as to say scar you in ways that are difficult, but just for me, increased the tremendous sense of urgency about this work in giving every child a chance to be successful.

What I've thought a lot about that works, since I've gotten older and started to become a father and to raise my two children, is what compelled my mother to take her three young children into this community every single day and to face those kinds of challenges? And why did my father support my mother and his three young children in doing this? And I think the answer is pretty simple but also profound. They did this work every single day simply because this work was so important and because this work is bigger than all of us.

And I just commit to you one thing that if you see fit to support my nomination today, then I will do everything in my power to work with the same sense of commitment, the same urgency and, most importantly, the same courage for the next four years that my mother's exhibited for the past 48.

Thank you so much.

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