Black Enterprise: Can you share with our audience why it’s an economic imperative to make sure everyone—including black people and the poor—get a quality education?
Arne Duncan: Unlike in the past, when you could drop out of high school and still land a decent job at the steel plant or auto factory, there are no good jobs for high school dropouts. Today’s students compete for jobs and higher education not just with the kids in their neighborhood but with students from China, Canada, India, and Ireland. And in a global knowledge economy, the country that out-educates us will out-compete us. The economic toll of children dropping out of high school today is devastating—both for the economy and because of the additional taxpayer costs of providing government services for students who are not prepared to succeed.
BE: Speaking of the global economy, the top 5% of students in the U.S. correspond with the top 50% of students in Japan, where even blue-collar factory workers are competent in calculus. How are we going to change that?
Duncan: The biggest game-changer in education is the new academic standards developed by states. Before states worked together to create these new standards, 50 different states had 50 different goal posts. Many states had dummied down standards. Now, 44 states and the District of Columbia have adopted higher shared standards, which, for the first time, are truly aligned with expectations of college and career readiness. These new standards will greatly increase the rigor of both the English and mathematics taught in high schools across America.
BE: We know funding is only part of the achievement gap. Still, it’s discouraging to hear the report from the Center for American Progress about racial disparities in school funding.
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