Arne Duncan,Barack Obama,High school dropouts

Arne Duncan: Obama Should Focus On Our Kids

January 19, 2017
in Kids

Duncan served U.S. Secretary of Education from 2009 through 2015 and is a Managing Partner at Emerson Collective. After he leaves office, the needs of adults will remain less than those of children In 2005, I found myself on the West Side of Chicago—an area challenged by high crime and poverty—with our state’s new U.S. Senator, Barack Obama. At the time, I was chief executive of the city’s public schools, and we were visiting a school that had historically struggled but had since been transformed under new leadership. The community was the same, many of the families and their obstacles were the same, and the students were the same—except now they were thriving in their classes, instead of languishing. Senator Obama wanted to understand why. A young teacher revealed part of the answer. She told us she had grown tired of what she called These Kids Syndrome: the tendency of some of the previous teachers to look at low test scores and high drop-out rates and make excuses for why “these kids” can’t learn. “They’re not ‘these kids,’” the teacher told us, “they’re our kids.” This was a clarifying moment—when suddenly you see an issue, and your own role in addressing it, in a new, brighter light. When we begin with this premise—that these are our kids—then their challenges become our collective challenge, and their struggles can’t be written off or explained away. We are forced to abandon the notion that troubled students are the problem—when the real problem is the troubled schools they attend. Our kids weren’t failing us, we were failing them, and it was up to us to fix it. The challenge was massive. When we visited the West Garfield school, nearly a quarter of students nationwide who entered high school failed to graduate. Half of the nation’s drop-outs were concentrated in some 2,000 high-poverty, low-performing schools where the drop-out rates could reach higher than 40 percent. These schools were mostly located in black and Hispanic communities, widening the already substantial gap in education outcomes. They acquired the name “drop-out factories,” a demoralizing label that stuck. In 2008, when a newly elected President Obama asked me to become Secretary of Education, we made that big goal—turning around America’s lowest performing schools—one of the pillars of our education agenda. We believed that given the right resources, every child has the ability to learn, no matter how challenging their background or circumstances at home. We also believed that our neighborhood schools didn’t have to be dead-ends; they could be gateways to opportunity. We were confident that smarter, better policies could make a big difference for our kids. Today, the evidence makes that clear. Steadily, the nation has made major inroads against its dropout epidemic. We’ve cut the number of drop-out factories by 40 percent,...

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