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Tony Miller's Story: Staying Competitive in Education

Tony Miller, Deputy Secretary of Education, talks about the importance of education as a cornerstone of building a strong workforce and a 21st Century economy.

Editor's note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights the work of African Americans who are contributing to the President's goals for winning the future.

The value of education was instilled in me at a young age. I knew how fortunate I was to have parents who were first-generation college graduates from Virginia State College, a historically black college. My mother was a teacher and my father worked in finance and accounting. I felt it was imperative to make the most of the circumstances in which I was born.

When I was in first grade, we moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Peoria, Illinois. My sisters and I integrated our elementary school and I learned not to overreact to stereotypes and the biases of a few. I learned instead to serve as a bridge between different cultures and communities.

I received an academic scholarship to study engineering at Purdue University, which reinforced my belief that academics, not just prowess in athletics or entertainment, can be a path to success. After college, I attended Stanford Business School and received my MBA, finishing my studies in Japan. My career started in the private sector, working both in the US and abroad. These experiences gave me firsthand knowledge of the importance of education and what it takes to work in a globally connected world. This knowledge drives and motivates me every day. At the US Department of Education, we are working to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education that will prepare them for the 21st century.

As Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer at the US Department of Education, I have the privilege and honor of working with a very talented team of public servants. Every day we work to achieve President Obama’s 2020 goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. This is a formidable challenge -- 25% of our students drop out of high school and the US lags behind many other countries in preparing our youth with the reading, math, science, and critical thinking skills that are needed to succeed in today’s economy.

Under Secretary Duncan’s leadership, the Department is supporting states’ efforts to raise standards, improve instruction, develop the next generation of assessments, support the development of effective teachers and principals, and turn around low-performing schools. The Department is also investing in innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement, closing achievement gaps, increasing high school graduation rates, and increasing college enrollment and completion rates. Our approach is both strategic and wide-ranging.  We are establishing comprehensive and coordinated education policies, improving the data used to make decisions, improving the operating discipline of our key processes, enhancing the skills of our workforce, increasing transparency in the Department’s operations, and coordinating our work with other government agencies to be more efficient and effective.

Education is the civil rights issue of our generation. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, the US can either innovate to stay competitive, or be left behind in this global economy. Our children need strong and effective educators working together with parents who are engaged in and enthusiastic about their child’s education.  We are at a critical time when we can hold back or push forward into a better educated and competitive citizenry. I am here to work toward the latter.

Tony Miller is the Deputy Secretary of Education