Educating the Next Generation to Compete

Secretary Duncan is interviewed at the Atlantic Digital Town Hall

Education experts, advocates, and policy-makers gathered earlier this week at The Atlantic’s Digital Town Hall meeting, “Jobs and Economy of the Future: Educating the Next Generation to Compete,” where discussion centered around how best to prepare students for college and careers. Problems such as the achievement gap, college readiness, technology in the classroom, and STEM jobs were all topics of conversation as the audience looked to the educational leaders assembled for dialogue about education issues.

Secretary Arne Duncan joined Judy Woodruff, correspondent and co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour, to discuss the link between education and the economy.

Duncan pointed to the massive cultural change needed in order to improve our educational system and better prepare students to compete in the 21st-century global economy. Better training in order to produce more effective teachers, making connections between K-12 and careers, engaging students in their passions, and challenging schools to innovate were all significant points made by Duncan.

While technology has transformed our lives, Duncan noted that in many cases technology does not seem to be utilized to its potential in the classroom.

“I’m a big believer that technology can be an amazing equalizer and provide opportunity for children,” Duncan said. “Whether it’s in the inner-city or in a remote or rural community or Native American reservation, I think technology can provide access to a world class education that so many children have been denied.”

Bridging the gap between education and the private sector was also a major theme throughout the town hall. In addition to the need for private sector support for education, the need for better preparation by educators for students entering the workforce came up, as many companies cite poor communication and critical thinking skills in new college graduates. Western Governors University President Robert Mendenhall, who took part in a panel during the town hall, noted that partnerships between higher education and employers would help better prepare college students for careers. (Read about one such partnership between the University of Northern Colorado and Greeley, Colo.).

Click here to watch a video of the Digital Town Hall.

Madalyn Muncy is a junior at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach


  1. At this March 2012 Town Hall meeting with Secretary Arne Duncan, I was privileged to ask him what was being done to promote the arts and design as a way of advancing 21st century creative and innovative skills, instead of looking to only the STEM subjects to do this. Mr. Duncan could not…did not…answer my question. He spoke to how the arts increase engagement (yes, we have known that for a very long time), but called them “extra curricular subjects.” When questioned by the facilitator, he called the arts “core” to education but clearly could not articulate what arts and design education really does for students. While an education in and through the arts may not be needed to increase test scores (although most students in the arts do score higher on S.A.T.’s), the arts hold a key for leveraging students’ synthetic, connected, and deep thinking. Decades of brain research are holding this to be true (see
    What is the key to getting our students to “compete” (if that is our primary goal)? Clearly, we are missing out on what the arts can REALLY do, in combination with other subjects. An interdisciplinary curriculum, with the arts equally enriching learning and leading the way in creative and innovative capacity, is a vital start. Clearly, if the educational leader of this country does not know what the arts do beyond the engagement level, art and design education will continue to not receive the funding and respect that they deserve.

  2. How do you get students to compete? Get rid of heterogeneous grouping in middle schools and beyond. Give students the opportunities to move up or move down from their groups. Provide good continuing education for teachers and make sure the teachers are smart and work hard.

    Worry less about whether too many students will flunk and have to go to summer school and more about whether students are achieving while they are in school. If they are not, they should be in school over the summers and winter breaks.

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