U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was in Cleveland last week to tout the Cleveland Plan.
StateImpact Ohio caught up with him and managed to ask him about a few other topics as well.
Here’s how the country’s top education official feels about Common Core naysayers, the reliability of data, and pre-K education.
Q: There’s been growing opposition to the Common Core here in Ohio. What are your thoughts on that?
A: I think it’s just really important as a country [that] we have high standards. And these were standards 46 states voluntarily and courageously adopted. If any state wants to lower their standards, dummy down their standards, they have the right to do that and they can do that tomorrow. I don’t see how that better educates children or helps to bring good jobs to a state and I think that’s what happened in far too many states under No Child Left Behind. So, having high standards is really important, the common part is actually less important – for us we just want a really high bar and I think we want people graduating college and career-ready. And we have far too may young people dropping out. We have far too many who graduated from high school who need remedial classes who aren’t really ready. And one of the things I think that’s most insidious that we as a country did is for a long time we lied to children and families, we told them they were ready, they were on track, when they really weren’t. So, this is something that is not decided by us in Washington, but we’ve seen tremendous leadership by states across the country.
Q: Do you think there’s any merit to the criticism that while the Common Core was touted as a state-driven initiative some people say it’s actually a very top-down initiative from Washington?
A: It’s simply not true. I think facts matter and it’s simply not true. This is something that was voluntarily adopted by 90 percent of states, and our interest was not in the common part. We said you can do that or just have your institution of higher education certify that students graduating with this will not have to take remedial classes. So the goal is not common, the goal is high. But again if a state tomorrow wants to dummy down their standards, reduce them, they have every right to do it. I just wouldn’t quite understand that move.
Q: The way we certify that our kids are ready is through data, and my question about that I think is the obvious one. In Atlanta we saw evidence of cheating, in D.C. there are allegations of the same. Now here in Ohio we’ve had quite a ruckus about cheating and fudging of some student data. Is it a reliable measure?
A: I think integrity matters, and I think that’s why you always look at multiple measures but any time there’s systemic cheating, where there’s clearly a lack of moral leadership and guidance, that’s an issue. Or whether it’s an isolated case. You need leaders, whether it’s in education or in law or in government or in the corporate world or the nonprofit world, you need leaders who have integrity, and I think you’re blessed to have a leader like there here in Cleveland. But where you have an issue or a challenge you need to deal with it openly and honestly.
Q: You’ve spoken a lot recently about investing in pre-K education. A recent article in the New Republic talked about the “hell of American day care.” What could and should we be doing better?
A: I think it has to be high quality, if it’s glorified babysitting we’re not getting there. But there are lots of studies including one by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman that talk about the return on investment, the ROI of being as much as $7 for every $1 [spent]. So I’ve been telling the country I think this is arguably the best investment we can make. If any one of us could get a 7-1 [return] on our investment in the stock market or anything else we’d be thinking we’re pretty smart. And we have to get out of the catch-up business. If we can invest, invest heavily across the country and make sure we level the playing field before our babies enter kindergarten, that’s maybe one of the biggest gifts we can leave the country.