Secretary Duncan has called for replacing No Child Left Behind, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), with a law that ensures opportunity for every child, expands support for schools, teachers, and principals, and preserves accountability for the progress of all students.
Marc Morial (MM): It was great to have Secretary Duncan with us and for him to reaffirm his commitment, the President’s commitment to a strong Elementary and Secondary Education Act bill that holds accountability in place but also focuses on equity and equity in terms of funding. So this blueprint that’s being developed in the Congress and the administration’s commitment, Mr. Secretary, your commitment is a lot in alignment with what we at the Urban League think and believe.
Secretary Arne Duncan (AD): The Urban League has just been an amazing partner. And we need to fix this law, we need to fix this in a bipartisan way. We need a law that focuses on equity, more early childhood education, more resources for poor kids. We need a law that focuses on excellence and Mark’s been an amazing champion here. High standards for every single child, assessing progress so we actually know whether we’re making progress or not, and we have to focus on innovation as well.
MM: I’m so glad to hear you emphasize early childhood education. We both know that for poor kids, for urban kids, and for many rural kids, and even nowadays suburban kids, the opportunity to get started on their educational journey early in life… to get the basics of literacy and numeracy down pat when you’re 3, 4, 5 years old is so crucial to later success. The data is so clear but parents know that no matter who I speak to, whether it’s a parent, whether it’s a business leader, whether it’s a community leader, whether it’s a seasoned citizen or millennial. They understand, they know in their basic intuitive gut how crucial education is. That teacher, that coach, that counselor, that some adult in addition to parents and guardians and grandparents who gave them just an inspiration. I mean, I remember my 9th grade English teacher, he was tough, he was mean.
AD: What was his name?
MM: He was a priest! named Father DeRucci. He was tough! And it was honors English but guess what? I remember what he taught us. I understood how impactful that one year was to everything I was able to do later on in college and law school and life. So I really, truly think that we’re at a moment in time where the opportunity and the necessity meet. And the opportunity is a chance to build the bipartisan blueprint that embraces civil rights and equity principles but is founded on the basic foundation of the need for excellence. And the necessity is that a nation that we must compete economically in a global economy.
AD: You said it perfectly. Education has to be the great equalizer, it has to be the thing that gives every child regardless of race or ethnicity or zip code a chance in life. And if we do that we increase social mobility, we reduce poverty, we reduce income inequality, if we do this we compete successfully with our international counterparts. If we don’t do this, our kids lose, our families lose, our communities lose, and ultimately our nation loses. This is nothing political, nothing ideological here. We are fighting for kids, families, and the nation.
MM: We’ve got to view this about how to shape the best partnership for the future and leave behind old debates of exclusivity, sole responsibility. If this is the issue that’s going to define the future of this great nation, then it is everyone’s responsibility.