Achieving the Extraordinary Through Strong Business-Education Partnerships

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Achieving the Extraordinary Through Strong Business-Education Partnerships

Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the National Academy Foundation NEXT Conference

July 10, 2014

Thank you, JD – for the kind welcome, and for your extraordinary leadership.

It's great to be back at NAF NEXT, and I'm delighted to hear this fantastic announcement.

I know you're all working hard to keep raising the bar – for your organization as a whole, for each academy in your network, and for every single student you serve.

When I was with you two years ago, you launched a new Student Certification Assessment System, created in partnership with educators and industry leaders.

You set high expectations for students by tying the system to college- and career-ready standards.

Students earn a NAF credential by proving what they actually know and are able to do: by successfully completing end-of-course and project assessments for their career-themed courses, and getting supervisor approval on their internship assessments.

Today, you're taking another important step forward with the NAFTrack Certified Hiring Partnership. I want to thank HP, Verizon, and all the other companies taking part in this announcement, for giving priority to potential NAF hires with a credential that guarantees rigor, relevance, and readiness. Please give them all a round of applause!

And, we all encourage additional partners to sign on, in the months ahead.

Collectively, your partnership and commitment will help to address one of our nation's most pressing problems. We all know what's at stake here. It's inexcusable that two million high-demand, high-skilled jobs are unfilled in this country, because employers can't find enough qualified workers. In a tough economy, our young people, our families, and our nation all deserve better – we have to help each other!

This is not just a jobs issue; it's a skills crisis. We have a skills gap in this country – and we have to close it. We will either keep or attract high-skill, high-wage jobs here in the United States, or they will migrate to countries that take this work more seriously. We simply cannot allow that to happen.

The only solution is to ensure that every student graduates from high school truly prepared for college and careers, and goes on to gain some form of postsecondary education or credential.

Addressing this challenge is something no single organization or group can achieve by themselves. It is our shared responsibility: at the national, state and local levels, and across the education and workforce sectors. No pointing figures, no laying blame, no retreating to separate silos, just rolling up our sleeves and working to solve problems – together!

That's why meaningful business and education partnerships – like the ones NAF has established and helps sustain – are so inspiring to me.

Together, you are creating better prospects for students and a stronger workforce for our nation.

I want to thank everyone here today – academy students and graduates, educators and counselors, industry partners and regional Advisory Board members – for helping to model 21st century learning, for 21st century realities.

These new realities – both the very real challenges and the unprecedented opportunities – have huge implications for teaching and learning.

In today's connected, fast-paced, technology-rich world, success isn't just about what you know.

It's about what you can do with your knowledge today– and whether you're able to keep learning and adapting over the course of a lifetime.

It's about being able to work in diverse teams to communicate, analyze, and solve complex problems in creative ways. It's about leadership, entrepreneurship, and preparing for jobs that don't even exist today.

In the past – as columnist Tom Friedman points out – when Americans graduated from high school or college, we set out to find a job. We might hold that same job for all of our lives. But, as everyone here knows so well, those days are gone and they are never coming back.

In fact, Friedman advises students, and I quote: "You may no longer think of yourself as having a job – think of yourself as an income entrepreneur."

Kids in this generation, and future ones – my 12-year-old daughter Claire, my 10-year-old son Ryan, and all the students you work with – they'll have multiple jobs, even multiple careers. They'll do work we can barely conceive of today. They may even invent it.

I know JD is a believer in systemic change. So am I. To quote Tom Friedman: "If you want to make big change, you need a system. A system allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things."

To prepare all our children for the real future that they'll face, we need to bring systemic change to public education in America.

Why am I convinced that we can do this? Because that's exactly what I see when I look around this room. I see people working hard to change our public education system so that our students, our teachers, our employers and our communities can advance achievement -- for every child.

We know that giving every child equal access to a great education remains an urgent civil rights issue.

And this fall, we'll reach a watershed moment: our Department projects that, for the first time, the nation's public schools will enroll a majority-minority student body. Please take a moment, and think about what that means.

Our shared future depends on better meeting the needs of all students, including our most vulnerable and historically underserved.

And we know, as the MDRC study made clear, that the academy model can offer real benefits for the students who need our support the most.

For example, let's take one of this year's Distinguished Academy winners, Scotlandville Magnet High School's Academy of Engineering, in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

This school's courageous partners are making an impact by offering open enrollment for a student body that's 100 percent minority, 50 percent low-income – and achieving nearly a 100 percent graduation rate.

Overall, in your more than 560 NAF academies nationwide: 61 percent of students come from low-income families; 64 percent are Hispanic, African American or Native American; and 14 percent are English learners.

What's more, 98 percent of your seniors graduate – and of those who go on to college, more than half earn a bachelor's degree on time, as opposed to 32 percent nationally. More than half are also the first in their families to attend college. That changes the trajectory of their families for generations to come.

Academy graduates typically earn more, right away, than their non-academy peers, up to 11 percent more per year. And, the numbers are even higher – 17 percent more per year – for the young men you serve.

At a time when President Obama has asked all of us to provide real opportunities to young men of color, NAF is answering the call.

You're testing out strategies to learn what works best for urban, suburban, and rural communities. Your academies focus on developing the non-cognitive skills, like grit, or resilience, that are so important – not just to academic success – but to success in life.

And you're exploring models like dual enrollment, that hold great promise in helping students graduate from high school with significant college credit – or even a free Associate's degree!

I was excited to hear about another of this year's Distinguished Academies, City Polytechnic High School Academy of Engineering, Architecture & Technology, from Brooklyn. Where's the City Poly team?

You're showing all of us what's possible by implementing a longer school day, and using innovative trimester and semester scheduling, so students complete high school in just three years – and also earn college credit through courses at CUNY Tech.

President Obama has also asked us all to help preserve the nation's great traditions of leadership in STEM innovation. Here, too, NAF is meeting the need with creativity and leadership

Your career themes include a strong focus on growing fields like Information Technology, Health Sciences, and Engineering.

Extraordinary work like yours is proving the power of great ideas. I've often said that the best ideas don't come from Washington.

The great ideas come from people like you – and we can support, spotlight and spread those ideas. That's been our focus ever since President Obama took office.

Nationally, we're seeing the positive impact of the hard work and commitment of teachers, partners, families and students.

This year, we were thrilled to see the nation's high school graduation rate climb to 80% – the highest in U.S. history.

We saw the highest-ever NAEP reading and math scores for fourth- and eighth-graders. We've seen dropout rates fall dramatically, by more than half for Hispanic students, and more than a third for African-American and low-income students, since 2000. Keeping thousands of additional students engaged in their own learning, keeping them in school, that's a huge deal!

And, we've seen record-level college enrollment, and especially significant gains among Hispanic students.

We should absolutely celebrate the progress. But, we all know we have so much more to do.

At our Department, we'll keep working to support the types of proven models you are implementing. Based on great input from the field, we've released our Blueprint to transform career and technical education through that $1 billion annual budget.

This proposal will ramp up the number of high-quality CTE programs nationwide – providing more youth and adults with seamless pathways to postsecondary education and careers; enabling more high school students to earn college credit, and producing more graduates with postsecondary degrees and industry-recognized certifications.

And, our 2015 budget request includes $150 million for High School Redesign models, focused on helping students graduate from high school with college credit and career-related skills or credentials, gained through high-quality project-based learning, real-world challenges, and structured internships.

The President has also used his executive authority to provide over $100 million for Youth CareerConnect grants. These 24 funded partnerships will implement and expand the same types of proven strategies that your academies employ.

And, he's proposed $110 million for competitive STEM Innovation Network grants, to enable educator, employer, and community partnerships to increase the number of students who are ready to excel in high-demand STEM fields.

Now, I especially want to thank you for making it your mission to graduate 100,000 college and career-ready students by 2020.

Together, we can and we must meet the North Star goal that President Obama set for this country – to again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world, and the world's most competitive workforce. Educational success and economic empowerment – those two goals are inextricably linked.

And, I want to challenge you to make your partnerships with postsecondary education even more effective.

Please, help to create even stronger and more seamless transitions for students, and build on the impressive level of employer engagement you've shown here today.

Our Department team will always be proud to partner with you.

In fact, let me introduce and acknowledge Johan Uvin, our Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education, who is here with me today.

He's had an outstanding career and brings a wealth of knowledge to this position. I have so much confidence in Johan and his team.

He has served the field at our Department for the past five years – most recently as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives, working with Brenda Dann-Messier.

Please, challenge me and Johan to be the best possible partners to you. Let's keep exchanging ideas and holding each other accountable.

Let's focus even more intently on doing what works best, and has the greatest impact.

And finally, I look forward to visiting a NAF academy once the school year starts back up.

It could be one of the local sites here in D.C. or Maryland, or anywhere in the country. I've visited a couple hundred schools – that's how I learned best, not sitting behind my desk, but out where you are and where the real work goes on.

I'd love to see firsthand the work you're doing to help change the way our public education system delivers teaching and learning in America, so that all of our schools and students, and all our employers and communities, can achieve extraordinary things.