On January 13, 2014, Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave an address to the National Assessment Governing Board Education Summit for Parent Leaders. He highlighted the continual need for American parents to demand more from their children’s schools and teachers so that Americans can be prepared to compete in the demanding global business climate of the 21st century. Secretary Duncan focused especially on the work of Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World, which we have blogged about previously.
Duncan does not call for the United States to model its education solely on other high-performing industrialized nations such as South Korea, but he does challenge those in the audience to be a part of ending the decline of American education relative to other industrialized nations, which he and President Obama feel has been taking place in recent decades.
As for why the decline has taken place, Duncan does not go into lengthy details; however, he discusses the need to recruit teachers from the top of their classes and to ensure that the teaching profession is held in high regard so that high quality teachers enter and stay in the profession. He also wants to do a much better job at making sure that the highest performing teachers are working in areas of greatest need, something he argues takes place in South Korea but patently not in the United States.
Here are some excerpts from his speech:
In 2009, President Obama met with President Lee of South Korea, and asked him about his biggest challenge in education. President Lee answered without hesitation: parents in South Korea were “too demanding.” Even his poorest parents demanded a world-class education for their children, and he was having to spend millions of dollars each year to teach English to students in first grade, because his parents won’t let him wait until second grade. President Lee was very serious. Korean parents were relentless and had the highest of expectations—insisting their children receive an excellent education.
I told that story when I spoke to the National Assessment Governing Board a couple of years ago, and said that I wished our biggest challenge here in the US was too many parents demanding excellent schools. Well, David and his fellow board member Tonya Miles took me seriously. They invited you—parents, leaders in your communities, people who care so much about education—to come together and raise your voices for better schools and increased educational opportunity.
I’m so grateful that all of you are here. As you think about how to use your voice, your time, and your energy, I want to pose one simple question to you: Does a child in South Korea deserve a better education than your child? If your answer is no—that no child in America deserves any less than a world-class education —then your work is cut out for you.
Because right now, South Korea—and quite a few other countries—are offering students more, and demanding more, than many American districts and schools do. And the results are showing, in our kids’ learning and in their opportunities to succeed, and in staggeringly large achievement gaps in this country.
Doing something about our underperformance will mean raising your voice—and encouraging parents who aren’t as engaged as you to speak up.
Parents have the power to challenge educational complacency here at home. Parents have the power to ask more of their leaders—and to ask more of their kids, and themselves. And all of those will be vital in a time when we are losing ground.
But, as we saw last month on a major international assessment of the skills of 15-year-olds – the PISA exam –other countries are progressing much faster, leaving us behind.
In today’s knowledge-based, global economy, jobs will go, more and more, to the best-educated workforce.
That will either be here, or it will be in places like South Korea, Singapore, China, and India.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying we should be just like South Korea, where – as President Lee told President Obama – the pressure to study can get out of hand.
In her book, Amanda Ripley talks about how Korean authorities have to enforce a 10 pm curfew on extra-tutoring schools, and students so exhausted that they wear napping pillows on their wrists in school.
We absolutely shouldn’t aim to emulate all aspects of Korea’s education system – there should be a sense of balance and common sense. But we need to act on what we know about countries that are out-educating us – and your role as parent leaders is vital.
. . .
It’s about giving our kids a fair chance to succeed, to compete, to become part of the middle class – to do better than you and I did. Our children deserve the best – we have to stop settling for less.
For the full draft of the speech, please visit: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/remarks-us-secretary-education-arne-duncan-national-assessment-governing-board-educati