Arne Duncan Urges Parents to Be Education ‘Truth-Tellers’

At the second annual meeting of Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress earlier today, Secretary Duncan urged parents to demand better results from the country’s educational system.  Citing falling Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings and a 25 percent dropout rate, Duncan told the audience of 73 delegates from every state in the nation that “incremental change won’t work. Going to a 23 percent dropout rate won’t work.”  Even in states like Massachusetts that are improving student achievement, Duncan stressed that students need to learn more.  “Massachusetts, if it were a country, would only be ranked 17th in the world,” he said.

To make the kind of change necessary, Duncan called on parents to demand more from schools.  “Your voice, your passion, your fierce advocacy is what the country has been missing,” he said. 

During a 30-minute discussion with the delegates, Duncan expanded on his remarks, urging parents to engage at every level, including where school, district, state and federal decisions are being made.  He called upon parents to be part of the solution, and to offer suggestions on how we can work together to close achievement gaps and improve student learning.

More than anything, Duncan urged parents to advocate for and demand excellence from schools.  He also asked parents to speak up when they see the curriculum narrowing or when teachers are not receiving the professional development they need.  “You guys have got to be truth-tellers,” he urged.  “You have to ask the really hard questions.”

Read our media advisory for more information on the second annual Mom Congress on Education and Learning conference, and visit Parenting’s Mom Congress page to learn about the 51 Mom Congress delegates representing each state and Washington, D.C.

Click here to see photos from the event.

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County, North Carolina.


  1. Truth Tellers is a great way for parents, teachers and children to race to the top.
    I am a college instructor and a parent of a 17 year-old high school senior and our
    parents are the first teachers fo our children. Each day will be challenging, but it
    it an “teachable moment” for learing, teaching and innovation. The global market
    requires that we reach each child and bring them to the top regardless of where
    they are. Joining Sec. Duncan and our school administrators requires parents to
    to meet and be more involved as we help our children move forward. Teaching is
    everyone’s responsibility.

    Let’s keep moving forward. Our children are counting on us,

    Suzanne in New Orleans, LA

  2. I think it is just great that parents support their children’s learning and the committed teaching professionals to whom they entrust their children’s future. These are parents who understand the value and importance of education, parents who are educated enough to help their children with their school work and who can understand how and what their children need to learn to be successful. They are parents who have sufficient financial resources and the time to take on this important role.
    But what about the single mother who dropped out of school at 15, living in poverty, holding down a couple of low-paying jobs while caring for her children and trying to get her GED al at the same time?
    I don’t see her at the Mom’s Congress, nor do I see schools reaching out to her to help her become engaged in her children’s education.
    Parent engagement is a luxury some parents can’t afford and their children often pay the price while we will think they are parents who just don’t care.
    Take it from me they do!

  3. Thank you Secretary Duncan for spending some time at Mom Congress last week. It was a pleasure to meet you! I was hoping to talk about the landscape of urban education and what your vision is. In my city of St Louis, MO, we have a mish-mash of educational options and experiments which can be daunting to navigate. Can you point to other cities which have “cracked the code” in achieving success?

  4. In a nutshell “Liberalism is boring” Students are not inspired or motivated to learn in an environment of political correctness, multiculturalism, and history revisionism. Elementary Students especially need the basics without all the Sex Ed, Drugs Ed and Racial History from the past.

  5. I was an involved parent that did not realized how under-educated my son was until he went to college. The real problem with education is not parents, teachers or principals, but the education experts that package their failed research into programs and sell them to school district where a puppet superintendent gives it to the many puppets in central office that then force teachers and principals to share these failed programs now presented to students as concepts. Children cannot become good writers simply being taught to recognize words. Children can learn any math if they are first taught arithmetic. To keep this mad cycle going, parents are labeled the enemy and policies put in place to keep them from learning the truth: data reported in percentages with never know the number it’s based on and standard being set with no supporting curriculum for a child to achieve the standards. Education will never improve until academic goals are based on individual student achievement; supported by a rigorous curriculum with a prek-12 continuum, teachers and principals are viewed as industry professionals and parents are respected as a child’s first caregiver.

  6. Hello Secretary Duncan. While at Mom Congress, I was really happy to hear you say that “if you take six tests a year, that’s crazy.” I couldn’t agree more. I was wondering if you would mind picking up the phone and conveying that message to Pete Gorman, our superintendent here in Charlotte, N.C. Our district introduced 52 new, expensive high-stakes standardized tests this year, including four tests for kindergartners. More are promised for next year, including standardized tests for art and music in every grade. They’re high stakes because their results are supposed to be used in a pay for performance plan. Parents are up in arms because of the amount of time this testing is taking from instruction (far more than the district claims), the inevitable increase in teaching to the test, and the likelihood that this testing explosion will lose us many of our finest teachers, who won’t put up with it. Dr. Gorman doesn’t seem to want to listen to us about this, but perhaps he would listen to you. Thank you.

  7. I find this article interesting for several reasons. First, I agree and support the idea that parents should be involved at all levels of their child’s education. I firmly believe parents should be an integral part of the academic process. However, the parents that have strong involvement in their child’s schooling usually do not have children struggling or dropping out of school. In contrast, it is my belief that parents who view the school as a drop off center rather than an academic institution will most likely have children that have negative views towards education. Support from the home at many levels helps develop academic success as well as a positive view of education.

  8. Secretary Duncan,

    Students drop out of school because they don’t experience success there. If we could teach reading from the earliest grades using multisensory techniques developed by Orton-Gillingham, so that all learning types could learn to read, we would see the drop out rate decline. Reading needs to be taught in a structured and systematic manner, where every nuance of the language is explicitly taught. Few people, even the gifted ones, know that there are six syllable types and 44 phonemes that comprise the English language. In-depth reading training that extends into the sixth grade would benefit everyone. Once they understand the fundamentals of the language, they should be taught the Greek and Latin roots as part of standard reading development. People aren’t interested in reading The Grapes the Wrath, or other great books like it, when reading is a difficult thing to do. We do have the tools to make America a more literate nation. Now it is our responsibility to just use them.

  9. all parents can’t teach they may not have a great education but that dont mean they do not care, Regardless the teachers should do a better job I think they are nice and all but nice not every thing. kids are missing so much. we want to help our kids more the sysem is borken as well its not all on teachers they dont control what they half to cover but they hit it but dont make sure the kids get it. I can tell when I check my daughter bag and ask what did they do today? she dont have a lot of information and she dont know how she did the class work and I half to retech it what if I was at work then what? they also say get jobs take care of your kids its hard for parents and even single parents that dont mean we dont care. dont point try to see what we need for kids. stressd mom

  10. How about the system stop worring about completing the curriculm and take time to reach the kids all teachears cant teach dont care what degree they may have. I see how the kids are getting left behind. I work with my daughter and I feel I half to teach to much at home teachers get in the game and start reaching and teaching our kids. Lord Help up slow it down need to be more repat on assignment not just hit and move on. Parents do care and we are upset that our kids not getting what they need. and we are so worried. I want help for my girl.what can we do?

  11. Amen to Kim and Anita. The major change for schools necessary to achieve these noble ends is for schools to offer a multi- level training in 7th and 12th grades for FUTURE parents of the NEXT generation to produce the students that will provide learning opportunities.

  12. Kim,

    I agree with you. Parents need to take more responsibility over their children’s education. That is the key to student success.

  13. Um, how exactly are parents supposed to get hard questions answered, Secretary Duncan, when your department keeps expanding the information that schools can withhold under FERPA? It’s almost impossible to get public records about what is going on in schools, because your agency defines everything as confidential. If you don’t think the Department has the authority to interpret FERPA in a common-sense manner that respects transparency, then it’s time to go to Congress and get that authority – even the author of FERPA, Sen. Buckley, has said it is wildly out of control and is being abused to conceal information that the public needs to know.

    • @Frank, thanks for your comment. ED is committed to common-sense rules that safeguard education data and ensure that students’ information is protected and used only for reasonable and necessary purposes. The Department has recently released proposed regulations on FERPA that we encourage the public to comment on. For additional information please visit

      Cameron Brenchley
      Office of Communications and Outreach

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