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Washington Watch w/Roland Martin, Sec. Arne Duncan 01.31.10 [Transcript]

01/31/2010 8:43 am 2 comments

MR. ROLAND MARTIN:  Folks, we’re now joined by Education Secretary Arne Duncan here on “Washington Watch.”

Welcome to the show.

SEC’Y. ARNE DUNCAN:  Thanks so much for having me.  I appreciate –

MR. MARTIN:  All right.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — it.

MR. MARTIN:  Glad to have you.   Look.  Education is a huge issue for me, because I fundamentally believe that that is the one issue that can absolutely change the condition of Black America.  So many different things the administration is doing – you guys are catching a whole lot of heat.  Let’s – let’s jump right into this whole notion of challenging people to raise their expectations – parents, students, school districts, teachers, unions – you name it.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  We all have to step up, Roland – all of us:  you, me, everybody.  Nobody gets a pass in this.  We have to educate our way to a better economy.  I’m – I’m absolutely convinced education is the civil rights issue of our generation.  You’re not free – if you can ride the front of the bus, but you can’t read, you’re not free.  You’re still in shackles.  This –

MR. MARTIN:  You can’t read the sign.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — you can’t read the sign.  This is the only way we get there, so we’re pushing extraordinarily hard at every level:  early childhood education, K to 12, higher ed.  The only way to end poverty, the only way to get away from social failure, the only way to have a chance to enter the middle class, to pursue your dreams is by getting a great education; and we all have to do some things very, very differently to get the dramatically better results our children and our country desperately need.

MR. MARTIN:  There were a lot of things that the President talked about in the State of the Union.  Education was one of them.  Here’s what he had to say the other night.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.


PRES. OBAMA:  … And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.


MR. MARTIN:  Some 14 – what – billion dollars – new dollars – in terms of targeting this whole issue, to speak to what the President talked about; but what, though, has been the response from districts, people you talk to who said, “Look.  This stuff is not going to work”?  Are they all of a sudden changing their tune?

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  I- — it’s been amazing to see the outpouring of support.  People know we have to get better.  We’re not just wanna – we don’t want to just put more money into education.  We have to invest in reform – not in the status quo – and we’re pushing states and districts very, very hard to change behavior; to raise the bar; to raise expectations, [as] you talked about; to r- – to honestly put children first; and to have high expectations for every, single child – not just some, not just a few.  And I’m unbelievably c- — hopeful about where, as a country, we can go.  Folks want to move.  Folks want to get better.  We’re challenging them to step up to the plate.

MR. MARTIN:  Here’s what I found to be interesting.  I was at the Congressional Black Caucus, and I – I – I met some folks from the California teachers union, and they said, “Man!  These charter schools” – you know, “We’re going to fight this thing.  This is” – “This is George W. Bush, III.”  Frankly, that’s what they’re calling President Barack Obama – a third-term George W. Bush – when it comes to education.

And I said, “Stop.”  I’m saying, “Let me be honest.  I need you to back the hell up.”

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  I said, “I’m sorry.  I don’t care if it’s home school, charter schools, vouchers, online, public schools, private.”  I said, “There’s no one way to educate a child, and as long as you keep saying, ‘Keep it the same.  Just give us more money, and then be quiet’” – I said, “I’m sorry.  It’s clear.  Our kids are not graduating.”

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  We have a 27 percent dropout rate around the country.  In the Black community, it’s closer to 50 percent.  How can those children get a good job without a high school diploma?  It’s impossible.

What I always think in our country, Roland, is what’s been good for the wealthy in our country is probably good enough for poor folks.  Wealthy folks have had a choice of two, three, four great schools to go to for – for centuries.  Poor folks often have had one school to go to, one choice – and often, frankly, that’s not been a good one.   What if every poor family had two, three, four good schools in their neighborhood to choose from – different types of schools?  That’d be a great, great thing.  We have to empower parents.  We have to create different models of schools.  What works – let’s do more of it.  What doesn’t work – let’s close them down.  I’ve said good charter schools are a big part of the solution.  Bad charter schools are part of the problem.

MR. MARTIN:  Now, I was talking to James Carville and Mary Matalin.  They’re, of course, very involved in what’s happening in New Orleans, and what’s amazing is New Orleans was devastated because of hurricane Katrina, but because everything was wiped out, in essence, you are building from ground zero to change the i- — the dynamics of education in that city.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  It’s a fascinating one.  I spent a lot of time in New Orleans, and this is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest.  I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was hurricane Katrina.  That e- — education system was a disaster, and it took hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that “we have to do better.”  And the progress that they’ve made in four years since the hurricane is unbelievable.  They have a chance to create a phenomenal school district.  Long way to go, but that – that city was not serious about its education.  Those children were being desperately underserved prior, and the amount of progress and the amount of reform we’ve seen in a short amount of time has been absolutely amazing.

I have so much respect for the adults, the teachers, the principals that are working hard.  I spent a lot of time talking to students at John – John Mack High School there, many of whom had missed school for six months, eight months, 13 months after the hurricane and still came back to get an education.  Children in our country, they want to learn.  They’re resilient.  They’re tough.  We have to meet them halfway.  We have to give them an opportunity, and New Orleans is doing a phenomenal job of getting that system to an entirely different level.

MR. MARTIN:  You know how I feel about parental responsibility.  When you ran Chicago Public Schools, my wife and I raised my four nieces, took them from my sister and her husband because they were not doing their job when it came to dealing with those children after school.  They were failing, and now they’ve caught up.  They’re doing much better.

You’ve to- — focused on, obviously, the infrastructure; but how do you get through to a single mother, or a father, or even two parents, to understand that the education does not end when the school day ends; that they have to be ha- — they have to have their children reading and writing and going over those things at home as well?  Ho- — how do we get the parent to understand that?

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  Well, I have so much respect for you and what – what you and your wife did.  It’s just a – a remarkable thing that’s going to change those students’ – tho- — those children’s lives forever.

We have to look those parents in the eye.  We have to not sit in our school doors and wait from them to come in.  We have to go knock on doors.  We have to be in Laundromats.  We have to be in beauty salones [phonetic] – salons.  We have to be at churches on Sundays.  We have to be telling parents repeatedly [that] parents are always going to be their children’s most important teachers.  They’re obviously their first teachers.  When parents come to school only to curse out the teacher – [chuckles] – that’s not a partnership; that’s not going to work.

When parents and teachers are locked together in collaboration, those students are going to do very, very well.  Parents have to turn the TVs off at night.  They have to read to their children.  They have to get to know their teachers.  They have to be actively engaged, not just picking up report cards once or twice a year, but every single day.  And we need to be working – and – and let’s be honest.  We have some parents who could do a much, much better job.  We need to challenge them.  We have some children where mom might be on crack.  Dad’s in jail.  The community’s got to step up.  We can’t let that child fall through the cracks.  I think in many communities, we’re being out-hustled.  We’re being out-worked by the gangs.  They’re out there every, single day, on the corner.  They know what children don’t go h- — aren’t going home –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — to a family.

MR. MARTIN:  And they’re filling a void.

SEC’Y DUNCAN:  They – they’re right there.  They’re out-h- — they’re out-working us.  So, whether it’s community groups, whether it’s churches, whether it’s school counselors, whether it’s social workers, whether it’s teachers taking children under – under their wing – and we have so many examples of people who’re doing just an extraordinary job.  Nothing to do with their job description.  You know, working huge numbers of hours because they want to make a difference.  And we have to do that child by child, school by school, block by block.

MR. MARTIN:  The changes are not just about what’s happening in elementary school, middle school and high school.  We also see it’s happening in colleges.  The administration took a huge hit [from] a lot of folks in the historically Black [college] community in the first year because – in terms of funding.  What is happening on that front in terms of the funding of HBCUs from – from this administration?

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  We actually have great news that – that, going forward, we’re proposing in the budget an increase of $98 million annually for HBCUs, so it’s a tremendous commitment.  I said from day one we desperately need HBCUs not just to survive, but to thrive.  Half – half of our African-American teachers nationwide come out of HBCUs.  That’s our pipeline.  And so this is a huge commitment that the President is making.  That’s for the institutions themselves.  On top of that, with all the work we’re going to do to increase Pell grants, Perkins Loans, tuition tax credits, we’re basically going to almost double Pell grant opportunities for students going to HBCUs.  So, we want to support the institutions.  We’re going to make sure many more students can go through.

One other point I’d like to make, Roland, is at the back end.  We need to get students into college.  They need to graduate.  At the back end, we’ve put in place something called “income-based repayment,” IBR, which most folks don’t know about yet.

MR. MARTIN:  Um-hum.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  Income-based repayment says we’re going to index your loan repayments to your income, and if you work in the public sector, if you become a teacher, after ten years, those loans are going to be erased.  They’re going to be absolutely forgiven.

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.  So – so, basically, i- — if – if you – I – I – you know, let me just – for the person sitting at home, trying to understand it – and that is just like how we deal with public housing for so many years.  You make X amount of income –


MR. MARTIN:  — this is – this is the subsidy, if you will.  This is what you – you’re going to be able to pay for – for – for your mortgage.  So, if you g- — come out, and you have a $20,000-a-year job –

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — your friend has a $50,000-a-year job, the person making $20,000 will be then paying less on those student loans than the person making 50.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  That’s exactly right, and then after ten years, if you’re in public service –

MR. MARTIN:  My math teachers –

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — if you’re a teacher –

MR. MARTIN:  — are real impressed right now –

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — [chuckles] –

MR. MARTIN:  — but go ahead.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  You’re do- –

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — you’re doing well.  You’re doing well.  After ten years – not only will those monthly payments be reduced, after ten years they’ll all be forgiven.

We’re going to need a million teachers in our country over the next five, six, eight years.  We have a baby boomer generation retiring.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  We want to get this next generation of talent, the hardest-working, the most committed, the people that really believe that every child can be successful, who want to come work in tough communities – in inner-city and disadvantaged areas, rural as well – we want to get the best and brightest, the hardest-working into education; and we’re trying to remove the financial impediments for doing that.  Many folks historically wanted to teach, had a heart for it –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — or, a passion for it, but they came out of school with $20,000 in loans, or $100,000 –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — in loans.  They simply couldn’t afford it.

MR. MARTIN:  But – but you –

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  We’re removing that barrier.

MR. MARTIN:  — but you also – but – but that’s where the incentives also come in, because let’s just be honest.  We live in a capitalistic society.  When you say “signing bonuses” –


MR. MARTIN:  — I’m sorry.  That gets people’s –

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  That helps.

MR. MARTIN:  — attention.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  Yeah.  And so we’re saying, “We’ll take away those impediments.  You come teach, we’re going to dramatically reduce your loans.  At the end of the day, they’re all erased.”

MR. MARTIN:  In terms of tracking these things, in terms of – it’s all a matter – a question of progress.  How do you ensure that happens?  Because a lot of times, you can spend money.  Then it’s kind of like, well, you know, a year later, “What really happened?”  And so what are the accountability measures to make sure that things are working?  And if something that you’re – in the – you’re – you’re doing that’s not working, do you –

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  You[‘ve] got –

MR. MARTIN:  — stop doing it?

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — to change.  You[‘ve] got to change.  So, our budget, as you said, got a significant increase.  We’re actually eliminating six programs, and we’re consolidating 38 others.  We can’t just keep feeding the beast.  We can’t perpetuate the status quo.  We have to push a very strong reform agenda, so every, single year, we’re going to be absolutely transparent about what’s working, what’s not.  What you’re seeing through our Race to the Top initiative is tremendous changes in behavior:  state laws changing, higher standards – 48 states working together to raise the bar for students.  We’re going to hold ourselves accountable every, single year to say, “This is what’s working, this is what’s not, and here’s where we’re going to change.”

MR. MARTIN:  Well, let me be clear.  I’m sure there’re some teachers who’re watching, and – and my position is very clear, and that is I fundamentally believe in teachers.  My brother, two of my – no, all three of my sisters – all of them are teachers.  I[‘ve] got four teachers in my family.  I’m the only one not teaching.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  But the reality is this here:  that there are teachers they’re working alongside who are sorry and who are not educating the children.  I believe the good teachers need to tell the bad ones, “You need to go,” and stop supporting them and keeping them in those systems.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  I think we need to do a couple of things.  Teachers who simply shouldn’t be teaching, after help, after support, they need to find another career.  This is –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — too important.  They need to –

MR. MARTIN:  “Nothing personal” –

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  — find something else to do.

MR. MARTIN:  — “but you got to go.”

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  The flipside is where you have phenomenal teachers, phenomenal principals, great schools, great school districts where the average child is gaining two years of growth for two years of instr- — for – for a year’s instruction, where they’re accelerating student achievement, where dropout rates are going down, graduation rates are going up – we need to reward those guys.  We need to learn from them.  We need to recognize them.  We need to pay them more money.  We need to pay math and science teachers more money.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  We have a shortage.  So, we need to reward excellence, we need to challenge the middle to continue to improve, and those at the bottom – they[‘ve] got to find something else to do.

MR. MARTIN:  Gotta get our folks educated.  We certainly appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch.

SEC’Y. DUNCAN:  Thanks so much for having me.


MR. MARTIN:  All right.  Thank you.


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  • E. Joyce Moore

    Sorry the saccharin “swagger” Steele supposedly has does not mean he isn’t on their political plantation. The notion that he is by any standards their supposed answer to President Obama is ludicrous. The fact that Steele bought into that notion (He actually thought he should have access to a meeting with the President? Why? What would be the purpose?)is equally ridiculous.

  • Fred Snead

    Good morning Mr Martin live in Phila Pa in the last 20 yearsI think that as black person our civil rigths has been very disrespect as a Phila we have not been a part of the help to build this town at all at some point I think at some ponit that we should be in Im not very good on the computer but with Pres. Obama recovery Act bill that at some time we should be a part of it as wellits should not be a point where we can not eat as well as the other after all we are Phila too

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