The Win-Win Solution: Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the Council of Chief State School Officers and State Higher Education Executive Officers' 2010 Joint Summer Meeting

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The Win-Win Solution: Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the Council of Chief State School Officers and State Higher Education Executive Officers' 2010 Joint Summer Meeting

July 16, 2010

Thank you, Paul and Gene, for that generous introduction. Your leadership, commitment, and courage have been absolutely extraordinary. I can't thank you enough for your hard work and partnership.

I'm excited to join you here this morning at CCSSO and SHEEO's first joint meeting. This conference marks the flowering of an important collaboration that should be celebrated.

But before I plunge in to my remarks, I want to talk briefly about the state and local fiscal crisis that educators face at the moment. I am deeply concerned by the potential loss of up to 300,000 of jobs in K-12 and postsecondary education in the upcoming school year. The loss of these jobs will slow our economic recovery. It will take a terrible personal toll on teachers, faculty, and support staff who are out of work. And the institutional toll on children could be devastating. Students may see their favorite teachers lose their jobs, class size could swell, and extracurricular opportunities and critical learning time will be lost. President Obama and I want to stave off an educational disaster in the making. And that is why we are supporting the education jobs bill. We want to protect the jobs of teachers, professors, and the professionals who support their work. We want to ensure that education reform in states and districts across the country continues to serve the interests of children.

No one knows the painful fiscal realities in the states better than you. And I encourage you to track what you are seeing at the state and local level--and to let your voices and knowledge help inform this debate. As you know, this issue is playing out in front of us in real time, and the need for congressional action is urgent.

I'm so pleased to have the opportunity to speak at this ground-breaking meeting because chief state school officers and state higher ed executives are playing critical--if sometimes unsung--roles in improving education and driving reform.

In the past, the K-12 and postsecondary systems have frequently acted as though they occupied separate universes, except to the extent that the two systems competed for funding. The truth, which this conference attests to, is that K-12 and higher ed are inter-dependent. Rather than being engaged in a zero-sum game where you compete for resources, you are in fact synergistic—working together you can accomplish much more than working apart.

The North Star guiding all the administration's efforts is President Obama's goal that America should once again have the highest college graduation rate in the world by the end of the decade. We are aligning all our work and resources to that ambitious, but widely-shared goal. To reach it, K-12 and higher education must continue to expand their collaboration.

To regain our place as the nation with the highest college completion rate in the world by 2020, our education system will have to improve dramatically, from pre-K through college. To reclaim America's lead will require 60 percent of young adults to earn an associate or baccalaureate degree by 2020. That means eight million additional Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 would have to earn their degrees by 2020, compared to today.

The sea-change will be every bit as far-reaching in K-12 education. We estimate that roughly four million additional students would need to graduate from high school to reach the President's goal.

The implications of these large increases in educational productivity are unmistakable. K-12 schools, especially high schools, will have to be transformed from institutions that concentrate primarily on getting students a diploma to institutions that are all about preparing students for careers and college--and without the need for remediation.

The failure of the K-12 system to consistently develop college-ready students is a source of deep frustration to students, parents, and educators alike. And it puts students at a terrible competitive disadvantage in today's global economy.

For their part, postsecondary institutions are not only going to have to get out of the catch-up business with remedial education, they're also going to have do a much better job of boosting completion rates--especially for minority students, first-generation college students, and older students.

The National Governors Association's excellent new recommendations on Common College Completion Metrics point out that just a quarter of students enrolled in higher education are what people think of as traditional students who are financially dependent on their parents and enrolled in four-year, residential colleges. So, it's not just Joe College who is going to have to get in a cap and gown. A recent analysis by the National Center on Higher Education Management Systems indicates that two thirds of the states will need to rely heavily on boosting degree attainment among adults 22 and older in order to reach the 2020 goal. As Martha Kanter, our wonderful Undersecretary of Education, told the SHEEO convention yesterday, just 30 percent of the gap in degree attainment will be closed by traditional-age students.

All of these changes to boost educational productivity and economic competitiveness are going to require stronger linkages between the K-12, higher ed, and adult education systems. But in addition to increasing productivity and opportunity, three areas are especially ripe for collaboration today.

They are, first, the development of rigorous, college-ready standards; second, rethinking teacher preparation programs and professional development; and finally, developing comprehensive cradle-to-career data systems that incorporate strong safeguards to protect student privacy.

Let me talk about standards first, because I think the progress states have made is absolutely extraordinary. It provides a beautiful illustration of the power of collaboration.

As you know, 48 governors and chief state school officers have signed on to the state-led initiative to develop common but rigorous college and career-ready standards. Since February alone, half the states—25 and counting—have adopted the common core standards.

Two years ago, all of this was unimaginable. So I ask you, what changed? One key was that the chief state school officers, under Gene's pioneering leadership, said that enough was enough. You understood that school leaders and educators had to stop lying to parents and children. You understood that we had to stop telling students they were ready for college when they were not.

It has taken a lot of hard work, courage and commitment to challenge the status quo on standards. But it has also taken unprecedented collaboration--and SHEEO and Paul have been invaluable allies in the crafting of college and career-ready standards. Teachers, district leaders, ELA and math experts, business leaders, college faculty—everyone has pitched in to examine the evidence about what students need to be internationally competitive and career- and college-ready.

Replacing the dummied down standards of many states with clearer and higher standards is absolutely vital to bringing our schools systems into the era of the knowledge economy. It is absolutely vital, as Gene Wilhoit points out, to ensure consistent expectations and rigor from school to school, district to district and state to state.

This is game-changing work — for our children and for our country. That is why, in our blueprint to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we propose to ask states to demonstrate, with evidence, that their standards are truly aligned with the demands of college and work--whether they are the Common Core Standards or individual state standards. States will need the expertise of higher education and SHEEO to help inform that evidence-based determination.

To underscore the importance of benchmarking college-readiness, the department added a competitive priority in the $350 million Race to the Top Assessment competition. We will award points to state consortia that demonstrate IHEs are participating in the development of assessments and will accept a college-ready score as one indication a student is ready for credit-bearing courses. The participation and positive response of postsecondary institutions to date has been extraordinary.

Just to be absolutely clear, we will never propose that the government review the content of state standards. To those of you who might be a little cynical and wondering, please rest assured--the federal government is not going to step in to take over the standards effort. The states are doing an outstanding job—and the development of standards, and their revision over time, should remain a state role.

This work will always be driven at the local level. The adoption of college and career-ready standards by states is, of course, only the first major step toward setting a higher bar for expectations for student learning. Ultimately, the implementation of new standards must translate into better teaching and learning that prepares students for college and careers. Still, the adoption of rigorous career- and college-ready standards is the education reform earthquake that is continuing to reverberate throughout the education system.

These new standards will drive the development of new curriculum frameworks. They will compel the development of new and richer assessments. They will influence the revamping of teacher preparation and professional development to help all students master these more ambitious standards, especially those who are behind in their learning.

Now, the second area for K-12/higher ed collaboration that I cited—strengthening teacher preparation and the training of school leaders—is a subject I've talked about at length elsewhere. This morning, I simply want to point out the critical importance of collaboration between K-12 and higher education in bolstering teacher and principal preparation programs.

The mutual self-interest of K-12 and higher education leaders in strengthening teacher and principal preparation is pretty plain. If you are a college president or dean who is troubled by the high demand for remedial instruction among incoming freshmen, you cannot help but be concerned about the quality of instruction those students receive during their K-12 experience. And if you are a principal or district administrator who wants to boost student learning and reduce dropout rates, you too must focus like a laser on the quality of the teachers leading your classrooms and the preparation they are receiving at schools of education.

The truth is that today we ask much more of teachers than even a decade ago. Teachers are now asked to achieve significant academic growth for all students, at the same time that they are instructing students with ever-more diverse needs. Teaching has never been more difficult. It has never been more important. And the desperate need for more student success has never been so urgent.

The ingredients of good principal and teacher preparation programs are not a mystery. Our best programs are coherent, up-to-date, research-based, and provide students with subject mastery. They have a strong and substantial field-based program in local public schools. They prepare students to teach diverse pupils in high-needs settings. They recruit their university's most talented students into their schools of education. And above all, they share a vision of what constitutes great teaching and great leadership—including a single-minded focus on improving student learning and using data to inform instruction.

That brings me to the third and final area of collaboration that I cited earlier, the development of cradle-to-career data systems that incorporate scrupulous safeguards for student privacy. A decade ago, the development of state longitudinal data systems was still in its infancy. College and K-12 educators lacked good data on some of the most basic outcomes of schooling, including high school and college graduation rates.

I have long been a believer in the power of data to drive sound decisions. Data gives us the roadmap to reform. It tells us where we are, where we need to go, and who is most at-risk.

The mutual self-interest of K-12 and higher education in building robust longitudinal data systems is transparent. As Paul said earlier, "every high school should be able to know how its students have fared in postsecondary education and the workplace. Every college and university should know how its graduates have performed in the workforce--especially if they are teaching in a school."

Making better use of data is critical for a slew of reasons, but it also reflects the law. Under the Recovery Act, states were obliged to work toward improving the collection and use of data to receive funding. As you know, the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems competition also underscores the importance of building data bridges that span educational sectors. It supports the development and implementation of systems that have the capacity to link preschool, K-12, and postsecondary education, as well as workforce data. And I'm pleased that 41 states, plus the District of Columbia, have received over $500 million in SLDS grants.

As I mentioned a minute ago, states, districts, universities, and public schools collected very little longitudinal data a decade ago. Think how much harder it would be today to bolster student outcomes and accelerate student growth without that data. Think of how vital longitudinal data is to informing classroom instruction, and of the role that real-time formative assessments play in tailoring individual instruction.

That cycle of continuous improvement cannot work without good data. And longitudinal data not only strengthens accountability and transparency, it empowers families to make informed choices.

It is no surprise that so many school and college administrators are hungry for more information sharing between high schools and postsecondary institutions. One area where the linkage has been poor in the past is in monitoring the completion of the FASFA financial aid form by high school seniors.

We have dramatically simplified the FASFA form. It shouldn't take an advanced degree in accounting to apply for financial aid. And no deserving student should be deterred from applying for financial aid by a needlessly complex government form, which unfortunately has been the reality for far too many young people. In 20 districts and schools, we have recently launched a FASFA pilot program to help school administrators determine whether students submitted a completed FASFA form. I know how frustrating it can be for guidance counselors, teachers, and principals to be unsure if students successfully completed the form or not. We are putting them in a better position to help.

In all of our efforts to support the use of longitudinal data, we have to scrupulously protect privacy and safeguard data. We have heard your concerns about how states can comply with FERPA, while developing longitudinal data systems consistent with the Recovery Act. We plan to release a notice of proposed rulemaking that will clarify how states can effectively develop and use data in state longitudinal systems, while ensuring protection of privacy under FERPA. Our aim is to have it out later this summer for public comment and we want your feedback.

As you know, Congress has passed a law that rightly prohibits the development of a national longitudinal data system. States are the best place to develop longitudinal data systems. But we can and we should have state data systems that can communicate with each other. I think back to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the need for comparable data and interoperable systems really hit home after tens of thousands of students were displaced from their schools and student records had to be shared across states with a week's notice.

I am confident that robust data systems can be built, while still protecting privacy. The department has created a technical working group to address comparability, consistency of data, and ease of sharing data. I want to thank CCSSO and SHEEO for being part of that group and for working toward a core set of standard data definitions, codes, and business rules. Voluntary common data standards are going to be the key to keeping pace with today's highly mobile students.

So many states are already developing robust data systems, and demonstrating how partnership and collaboration between K-12 and higher education can work.

In Indiana, the rigorous Core 40 high school curriculum is helping to boost college completion rates--and postsecondary institutions are receiving incentive rewards for increasing the number of students who graduate in four years with a BA or two years with an associate's degree.

In Tennessee, the state has committed to raising the proportion of African American and Hispanic students in postsecondary education to match their percentages in the state overall. In Louisiana, the state is rigorously tracking the impact of new teachers on student growth back to the teacher's preparation program. Schools of education are adjusting and strengthening their programs based on student growth and gain in classrooms taught by their alumni.

In California, the Cal-PASS data network uses transcript information to hone instruction and boost achievement. All of these states are demonstrating that partnership and collaboration between K-12 and the postsecondary system can be the new norm.

While states are making great progress in building bridges between K-12 and higher ed, we all also know that challenges remain. The National Governor Association's new report on Common College Completion Metrics found that 44 states now have longitudinal student unit record data systems in place. But the NGA report also concluded that only 18 states will have connected their K-12 and postsecondary data systems by the end of 2010, and just nine state postsecondary systems will connect to workforce data by the end of the year.

Educators and policymakers have been discussing P-16 alignment for many, many years. But we can't continue to just talk about it. P-16 councils can be promising models--if they produce meaningful agreements that have the authority to impact the way the system actually works.

This current momentum and leadership in the states must be used to create meaningful assurances that a high school diploma actually means a student is prepared for college. States should be ready to stand by and guarantee the label of college-ready. If we can certify that a car is road-ready, we should be able to know when a student is college-ready.

In closing, I want to thank all of for your real commitment to collaboration and building the bridge between K-12 and higher education. This is not necessarily the glamorous work of education reform. It may not capture the headlines. But it is vital work for our nation's children and for building a competitive American workforce.

Your leadership and your vision will transform the quality of education in our country. It will help millions of disadvantaged children escape poverty and become productive members of society, instead of falling through the cracks. At a time of great challenge and even greater opportunity, I thank you for seizing the moment and leading the country were we need to go, and I promise to do everything in my power to support your collective efforts.

Thank you.