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

Archived Information

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

July 17, 2012

[Speaker may have deviated from prepared remarks.]

Thank you, J.D., for the warm welcome. Good afternoon, everyone.

It's a pleasure to join you all in marking the National Academy Foundation's 30-year record of impact, in states all across America.

Together, this national network and your 500 NAF academies are making a vital contribution to our nation's future.

You've built strong partnerships between schools, employers and communities. And, you've designed solutions that help students—including some of the nation's most vulnerable—graduate from high school, enroll in postsecondary education, complete their degrees, and go on to fulfilling professions.

Simply put, you are helping to transform the life choices of young people.

I want to thank everyone here for your tireless work to prepare all students for success in college and careers. I especially want to thank the talented teachers in the room, for the incredible difference you make in the lives of young people.

I also want to applaud J.D. Hoye's leadership—here at NAF, and over the course of a remarkable career, from the grassroots to the national level.

I know that career included serving in the federal government as Director of the National School-to-Work initiative, which was jointly administered by the Education and Labor Departments.

In fact, J.D. and my Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education—Brenda Dann-Messier, who's also here—have a great history, begun during those years, of working together to advance education reform and workforce development.

Brenda is doing an extraordinary job of leading the Office of Vocational and Adult Education. She's a wonderful advocate for learners of all ages, and I know how lucky we are to have her on our team. She and I look forward to learning from all of you, and working closely with you in the days ahead, on this shared agenda.

Now, more than ever, education must be the great equalizer. It's the surest path out of poverty, and the best way to give every American a fair shot at success in the global economy.

President Obama and I both see education as an economic necessity and a moral imperative. That's why, soon after taking office, the President established a bold goal for our nation: by 2020, the United States will once again have the world's highest proportion of college graduates, and the world's most competitive workforce. And, he's called on every American to complete at least one year of postsecondary education or training.

To achieve the goal, we've launched a comprehensive cradle-to-career reform agenda. We're also working to transform our Department into an engine for innovation at the state and institutional levels; to create a climate of change; and to provide incentives for reform.

Now, I know this group has a deep understanding of the challenges our country faces. What's more, I know you're working on a daily basis to help solve these challenges. You're working to ensure that each and every student in a NAF academy receives a world-class education.

In fact, the timing for this conversation couldn't be better. Just as our federal team is at a critical point in our efforts to transform education for the 21st Century—NAF, too, is at a pivotal time in its development as an organization.

I understand you've set a goal of graduating and certifying the skills of 100,000 college and career-ready graduates—by the year 2020. This is an important step to help achieve our national completion goal, and I thank you for that commitment—and for all the hard work it entails.

My goal today is to share an outline of our plan to transform career and technical education, or CTE. Then, with that as context, I'll discuss our plans to implement the President's proposed $1 billion investment in career academies.

I will keep my remarks brief, because I'm much more interested in having a discussion about how we can work together to ensure that all students are ready to thrive in college and careers.

At its best, CTE engages students deeply in their learning, enriches instruction with real-world applications, and helps students to master three types of skills: academic skills; technical skills in a career pathway, as well as the transferable career skills that characterize today's knowledge worker.

Unfortunately, today too many of our nation's CTE programs fall short of the standard of being relevant, rigorous, and results-driven.

Now, with the federal statute that funds career and technical education—the Perkins Act—scheduled for reauthorization in 2013, we have an unprecedented opportunity to transform CTE in America.

The President's FY 2013 budget included a proposal to better leverage $1.1 billion [dollars] for CTE, in order to accomplish that transformation. And, in April, the Administration released its blueprint for Perkins reauthorization.

The Blueprint is the result of extensive consultation with the field. Brenda and her team met with, and listened to, literally hundreds of stakeholders to discuss CTE and to hear how we might improve the Perkins Act.

Based on those efforts, we're focusing on four key principles.

First, we think every CTE program must have high-quality standards and clearly articulate a pathway to a well-paying, in-demand occupation.

CTE programs should be deliberately designed with the jobs of today and tomorrow in mind—and that means they must be better aligned with the needs of business and industry.

Second, we want to promote effective collaboration among schools, colleges, institutions, employers, and industry partners.

In fact, we want states to obtain a 25 percent match for Perkins funds from the private sector, either in cash or in-kind contributions, like equipment. We think this will contribute to engagement and sustainability.

And, instead of maintaining separate silos for secondary and postsecondary CTE efforts, we want to break down those silos, by awarding funding competitively to consortia of secondary and postsecondary institutions. Communities must work together on these issues.

Third, we want to hold all CTE programs accountable for producing strong student outcomes. This means helping states and partnerships develop common definitions and clear metrics for performance. It also means providing more support to promote the development and effectiveness of teachers and leaders in CTE programs.

Finally, with this Blueprint, we aim to move from islands of excellence, to widespread, scalable, systemic reform. To do this, we want to set aside a portion of Perkins funds for a new CTE Innovation fund, to provide states with more flexibility and incentives to create world-class career pathway systems.

Now, with those four principles in mind—and as part of our overall efforts to usher in a new era of rigorous, relevant, and results-driven CTE—we need to expand programs with a track record of success.

Data from career academies across the country—including NAF's own outcomes—show that offering students an academically rigorous curriculum, integrated with career-related programming, reduces high school drop-out rates and prepares students for careers that lead to high earnings.

Four years ago, MDRC published a rigorous evaluation of career academies and found strong and sustained impacts on students' labor market outcomes, most notably earnings. And, these positive impacts did not come at the expense of education outcomes.

This is why President Obama's FY13 budget proposal includes a new $1 billion competitive fund to increase the number of high-quality career academies. We see this as a crucial part of our overall vision for expanding effective career and technical education programs across the country.

The proposal would expand the number of career academies by 3,000 nationwide and provide services to an additional half a million students—that's a 50 percent increase.

And, the new funds would be allocated in the form of formula grants to States over a three-year period, beginning with $200 million in FY 2013, and expanding to $400 million per year in Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015.

States would then hold competitions to distribute those funds at the local level.

As part of this program, our Department would propose a definition for a "career academy" that each state must, at a minimum, use in its within-State competition.

Here are the five elements of the definition we're considering:

First, a career academy is a secondary school program that is organized as a small learning community or a school within a school to provide a supportive, personalized learning environment.

Second, the academy begins by the 9th grade.

Third, the academy would need to provide a combined academic and technical curriculum that includes CTE courses for which students may receive academic credit. The academy's curriculum would be organized around a career theme—like the themes identified by NAF: Finance, Hospitality & Tourism, Information Technology, Health Sciences, or Engineering—and aligned with the State's college-and career-ready standards.

Fourth, a career academy provides work-based learning and career exploration activities through partnerships with local employers.

And, fifth and finally, the academy's program articulates and reflects the entrance requirements of postsecondary education programs—to ensure that students graduate from high school ready to pursue a degree or credential.

Now, I'm very interested to hear what you think about our career academies plan, the proposed academy definition, and the CTE Blueprint.

But, before I close, let me add this: Meeting the President's 2020 goal is about more than students earning degrees. It's about preserving the promise of the American Dream for future generations.

To keep that promise alive, we need to help more students graduate from high school, earn postsecondary degrees and certificates, and secure careers in high-wage, high-demand fields.

That's the only way to ensure their success in a competitive global marketplace. It's also the most strategic way to fuel our economy, create new jobs, and ensure the long-term prosperity of our nation.

This is what your vision, hard work and leadership is all about, as a part of the NAF network. This is what we're working to achieve, together. I want to thank all of you again for devoting your energies and talents to creating a brighter future for our students, and for our country.

At the Department of Education, we look forward to being your partner in success.

Thank you. And now, I'd love to hear your thoughts and take your questions.