Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum

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Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum

November 8, 2011

It's a pleasure to address the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum. International forums like this, which share best practices and build a cross-border community of innovation, are relatively new in the education sphere. But they are much-needed--and long overdue.

In today's knowledge-based, global economy, it no longer makes sense to view teaching, technology, and school leadership as parochial challenges, unique to each nation.

I hope you will take away at least two messages from this forum.

First, the power of technology and international collaboration to elevate the teaching profession and accelerate achievement is enormous--and the need for improvement is urgent. Unfortunately, this tremendous transformational potential has yet to be realized or unleashed. That means both that there is a huge opportunity here--but also that everyone has to think harder about what it will take to overcome the challenges of taking success to scale.

Second, I hope you will resist the idea that international competition in education is a zero sum game, in which one nation's advance is another nation's loss.

It is true that education and global job markets are much more competitive today than even a generation ago. But today's knowledge-based economy compels educators and nations to become both more competitive and more collaborative. Advancing achievement and attainment everywhere is not a zero-sum game. It is a win-win game.

So I would encourage you to reject educational protectionism—like efforts to limit cross-border collaboration on educational technology, or imposing restrictions on the ability of high-quality postsecondary institutions to open branch campuses overseas.

Today, I am pleased to announce that Partners in Learning, a division of Microsoft, has won the competition to take over the TEACH campaign and website from our department. Thanks for your commitment, your vision for where this can go, and your understanding of the importance of this work.

The TEACH campaign, as many of you are aware, is a national recruiting effort that aims to help build a high-performing and more diverse teaching force. It both links prospective teachers to opportunities for preparation and licensure and assists current teachers to find jobs.

The Partners in Learning division will be responsible not only for maintaining the TEACH website and marketing efforts, but for improving and expanding the teacher recruitment campaign. Our department will be an official partner in these efforts. But moving forward, the Partners in Learning division will be the sole owner and operator of the project.

I mention this shift in the TEACH campaign because in many ways it encapsulates the power of partnerships, the promise of technology, and the benefits of international collaboration to strengthen the teaching profession.

We started the TEACH campaign because the U.S. faces serious challenges to building a world-class teaching force in coming years. The math here is simple. Teachers are the single biggest in-school influence on student growth and achievement. But over a million Baby Boomer teachers—fully a third of America's teachers--will retire or leave the teaching profession before the end of the decade.

America's schools are facing potential teacher shortages, especially in high-poverty schools and communities and key subject areas like science and math. But they are also struggling with a serious underrepresentation of minority teachers in the classroom, which I find deeply troubling.

Today, our public school students are far more diverse than in the past. About 45 percent of public school students today are minority students. But our teaching profession does not reflect that growing diversity. More than 20 percent of public school students are Hispanic, and that number will only continue to rise. Yet just seven percent of teachers are Latino. Something is radically wrong with that picture.

Even more troubling, less than four percent of America's teachers are Hispanic or black males. How can that be a good thing for young children, especially boys? And this imbalance is not a self-correcting problem. Without our leadership, without a sense of urgency, this problem will only grow worse.

While the teaching profession has undergone slow change, our public schools have undergone a demographic revolution. Just three decades ago, in 1972, nearly 80 percent of public school students were white. By the end of this decade, nearly half of public school students will be minorities—and minority students will be the majority of students within a few short years of 2020.

Now, it turns out that these challenges of teacher shortages, building a more diverse profession, and filling shortage areas in science, math, and other subjects are widely shared throughout the world. And so the TEACH campaign sought to adapt some of the best practices of other nations facing similar challenges.

For example, the TEACH campaign took its cue in part from the British experience. When Tony Blair took office in 1997, he faced one of the worst shortages of teachers in the nation's history. Four years later, the UK's educational system had gone from having a 20 percent shortfall of teacher entrants to a 20 percent surplus.

The Blair Administration made teaching more appealing by launching a sophisticated national recruiting program to attract more people to teaching. And they supplemented that recruiting campaign with generous stipends and signing bonuses to reduce the costs of teacher preparation and encourage more prospective teachers to become instructors in understaffed subject areas, such as math and physics.

The TEACH campaign has used technology in innovative ways as well. Prior to the development of the TEACH website, teachers in the U.S. lacked an online, nationally-visible jobs board. They did not have the ability to look across multiple states at the same time for a job.

The TEACH site technology also created a much more user-friendly process for people who were contemplating becoming a teacher and enabled them to map out how to navigate from a teacher preparation program to licensure to certification.

This new power of technology is helping to improve the recruitment and job search of teachers in America. But the old-fashioned bully pulpit is helping to elevate the teaching profession as well.

As President Obama said in his State of the Union, “if you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child—become a teacher.”

I love the PSA's that President Obama and many athletes and celebrities have made for the TEACH campaign where they talk about and thank their favorite teacher. These personal stories powerfully articulate the difference that great teachers made in their lives. And I'm pleased to see that Partners in Learning will be expanding those efforts.

Earlier this year, I did a TEACH event at Morehouse College with Spike Lee and the great civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis, to encourage more African-American males to become teachers. One Morehouse student at the event, Jeffrey Williams, was looking to work for a Fortune 500 company. But after the panel, he decided to become a teacher instead.

In a blog entry that explained his change of heart, he wrote that he wanted to be “the kind of teacher that invests in students and inspires them as people to make a difference.” That is a sentiment that I know many of you share.

A few months ago, I did another TEACH event at Bowie State in Maryland. William Blake, an African-American teacher and now a 26-year old assistant principal, was moved by the discussion to form a group of young African American male teachers from Prince Georges County to recruit top African American male high school seniors to become teachers. They have already held several recruiting events, and one large, back-to-school rally that I attended. It was inspiring to see that commitment to change and diversity—we need to replicate that throughout America.

I look forward to seeing how Partners in Learning expands and improves on the TEACH campaign.

The TEACH site, of course, will always be available, for free, to all teachers and prospective teachers. It's a great example of how government does not continue to grow and expand, but can form public-private partnerships to advance public ends.

Now, I want to be clear. The TEACH campaign is no silver bullet. It's not a magic pill for strengthening and elevating the teaching profession. We know this work is much more challenging and complex than that.

There is so much more that needs to be done in America to elevate the teaching profession--from improving teacher preparation to raising starting salaries, from improving professional development to doing more to reward great teachers, from improving teacher evaluation to supporting a culture of continuous improvement in the classroom.

In March, the U.S. sponsored the first-ever International Summit on the Teaching Profession for high-performing nations and rapidly-improving countries.

Please stop and think about that for a minute. Why did it take until 2011 to sponsor an international summit where education ministers and teacher leaders could share best practices on how to strengthen the teaching profession?

I believe this meeting took so long to happen because of some of the parochial prejudices that I referred to earlier. Too many people believe that the challenges facing the teaching profession are largely unique to each nation. Or they contend that the status of the teaching profession in America and other countries is largely immutable, fixed by economic and social tradition.

I fundamentally disagree with both of those assertions.

It is true that every nation has unique characteristics in its teaching profession. Few countries can simply adopt wholesale another nation's system for recruiting, training, and compensating teachers. Yet it is absolutely clear that many high-performing nations share a surprising number of common challenges to securing a high-quality teaching force—and can learn from each other's experience.

It's also clear that government policy can help transform the teaching profession in a nation, and not at a glacial pace.

Finland and Singapore are two of the highest-performing education systems in the world today. But it was not always so.

In the early 1970s, less than half of Singapore's students reached fourth grade. Teachers were hired en masse, with little attention to quality. Singapore soon identified teacher quality as the key to improving education outcomes—and government policy there has been instrumental in identifying and nurturing teacher talent.

In Finland, the level of educational attainment was also low in the 1960s. Back then, only one in ten adult Finns had completed more than nine years of basic education. Finland lagged behind its Scandinavian neighbors—Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Today, thanks in part to powerful interventions in the preparation and support of teachers, Finland is among the top performers in the world.

Now, I'm not here today to preach the virtues of cross-border collaboration just for the sake of collaboration. Not all collaboration benefits children. But I am convinced that education leaders can better accelerate student learning by working together and sharing best practices than by working alone.

Unfortunately, I think our education system still provides too few incentives to collaborate for change for children.

Educational technology is a good example. It sometimes seems that the technological revolution has spread everywhere in America--except in many of our schools. Technology is no silver bullet either. But it is clear that technology has a vast untapped capacity to improve education.

High-quality online instruction and tutoring, which are available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection, can break down educational silos, expand personalized learning, and dramatically increase access to college-level education.

One day, a young man on an impoverished Indian reservation in Montana and a young woman in a remote village in Mongolia will both be able to access—for little or no fee—the same course in civil engineering.

Imagine an online high-school physics course that uses video game graphics to teach atomic interactions, or a second grade math curriculum that automatically adapted to the individual students' level of knowledge.

Other countries are far ahead of the United States in creating the classrooms of the 21st century. South Korea, which has the highest college attainment rate in the world, will phase out textbooks altogether and replace them with digital products by 2015. Uruguay, a small country not known for its technological leadership, already provides a computer for every student. Are we going to be a leader or a laggard?

To take advantage of new educational technologies, America's public schools need to revamp their approach to technology and learning. Too often, the market for educational technology in the U.S. has been inefficient and fragmented. Many of our nation's 14,000 school districts have byzantine procurement systems and have been extremely inefficient consumers. A robust R&D base for refining educational technology has been sadly lacking.

At the same time, the century-old practice of awarding degrees based solely on seat time in a classroom, and not on demonstrated competence in a subject, is at odds with a world in which the Internet offers perpetual opportunities for learning and mastering skills.

Many of America's four-year colleges and universities, particularly the most selective, still rely too heavily on traditional academic practices. Not enough institutions give professors incentives to share teaching notes, lectures, research, or other teaching tools online. In an increasingly competitive world, America will need to adopt a lot more collaborative educational practices to succeed.

The fact that the world is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before also creates new global challenges.

Reducing poverty and disease, developing sustainable sources of energy, fighting terrorism, curbing global warming--these are all challenges that the U.S. cannot meet alone but only in tandem with other countries. And those partnerships will require U.S. students to develop better critical thinking, cross-cultural understanding, and language skills.

As President Obama has pointed out, in a knowledge-based job market, the country that out-educates us will out-compete us. Throughout the world, education is the new game-changer driving economic prosperity. It is the great equalizer, the one force that helps overcome differences in background, culture, and privilege.

That is why accelerating achievement and advancing attainment is such an urgent challenge for our nation.

For U.S. students to become more competitive, America's educators and parents will have to be both more demanding and more collaborative about advancing learning--from the home to the school to the union shop to district headquarters.

Today, the job market is totally different than when I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I didn't have to compete with students from China, Canada, and the Czech Republic. Thirty years ago, my friends could still drop out of high school and land a good paying job at the steel mill or stockyard. That's not the case for young adults in 2011.

But the upside of the competitive global economy is that education is now a public good unconstrained by national boundaries. Innovation, manufacturing, and research and development are now borderless—to the mutual benefit of all. The brain drain of yesterday's balkanized world is the brain gain of today's interdependent information age.

That's why I am convinced that tough-minded collaboration, whether it is domestic or international, is so essential to promoting learning and economic growth. And that's why I believe that international collaboration and the sharing of educational technology and best practices is a win-win venture, not a zero-sum game.

I realize that many of those at this forum are not just collaborating but also competing. You're hoping to win the competitions to be recognized for teaching excellence and the use of technology that advances learning. You are hoping to be picked as the outstanding leaders at Pathfinder and Mentor schools.

All of the finalists here hope to win these Partners in Learning awards. That is healthy competition. But it is also a beautiful illustration of how healthy competition and collaboration go hand-in-hand. There are no losers in these competitions. They are win-win.

I don't say that just because it's an honor to be picked as a finalist. I say it because you are advancing the interests of children and student learning, whether or not you get to hoist that award.

Our department's $4 billion Race to the Top competition similarly challenged states to craft concrete, comprehensive plans for reforming their education systems. The preparation of those plans required extensive consultation between governors, state education chiefs, unions, teachers, state lawmakers, and other stakeholders.

The response to Race to the Top was extraordinary. Forty-six states submitted applications—and the competition drove a national conversation about education reform. But even those states that did not win awards now have a state roadmap for reform hammered out. They were winners, too. In fact, we have probably seen as much courage and reform from states that did not win a nickel as from those that received hundreds of millions of dollars.

The story was much the same with our new Investing in Innovation Fund, or i3 program. The $650 million i3 fund offered support to districts, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education to scale-up promising practices.

The department awarded 49 grants in the competition. But nearly 1,700 applicants applied—by far the largest number of applicants in a single competition in the Department's history.

Many of those applicants that didn't win awards found that the process of applying for an i3 grant strengthened their program. And more than a few found funding for their proposals in the philanthropic and private sector.

All of them are helping to build a culture of evidence-based decision-making to expand successful reforms for the benefit of children.

So I applaud Partners in Learning for taking on the challenge of expanding and improving our TEACH initiative. And I congratulate those assembled here who meet to promote excellence in teaching and school leadership throughout the world.

Imagining the future as an educational contest among countries vying to get larger pieces of a finite economic pie for themselves is a recipe for protectionism and global strife in the information age. Expanding educational attainment everywhere is the best way to grow the pie for all.

You are all winners—and our countries and children will be better for it.