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Working Together to Create World-Class Schools

As students across America return to their classrooms, Arne Duncan looks at what we need to do to educate our children to compete in the knowledge economy.

Now that our nation’s children are back in school, I will be travelling through six states with this important message: our nation’s long-term economic security is inextricably linked to education. We have to educate our way to a better economy.

The jobs of today and tomorrow will require knowledge workers with some postsecondary training, whether it is an associate or bachelor’s degree, or technical training available from a vocational school or community college.

Unfortunately, America has a long way to go before we can truly say we’re educating today’s children to be competitive in the knowledge economy. By many indicators, we’re falling far short.

The Obama administration has a cradle-to-career agenda to support states and districts as they reform their schools and make college more affordable for students. This agenda is designed around key principles, including:

  • Creating early learning systems that align all of their resources to get our youngest children ready for kindergarten.
  • Raising standards so they actually prepare students for success in college and careers.
  • Improving the quality of teaching in the classroom by improving the preparation, professional development, and evaluation of teachers and principals. 
  • And turning around persistently low-performing schools that have been failing students for decades or even generations.

It’s an aggressive agenda, and we’re backing it up with unprecedented investments in reform. We’ve already made the largest investment in higher education since the GI Bill. We’re creating new incentives for states to align their early learning programs to ensure all children are ready for kindergarten. Through Race to the Top, states have made more progress in reform over the past two years than in the previous decade. And the President has a plan to fix No Child Left Behind by offering states flexibility from its one-size-fits all mandates.

Nevertheless, reform will happen in states and communities. Our job in Washington is to provide resources and support for the excellent work happening in states and communities.

That’s why I’m so excited about this week’s bus tour. All across the Midwest, members of my team will be visiting communities where elected officials, union leaders, business owners, and teachers are working together to transform the lives of children.

In these communities, we’ll hear the stories of people working together to create world-class schools. We’re going to see innovative approaches to fixing broken teacher evaluation systems, turning around underperforming schools, and tackling other challenges. We’re going to watch extraordinary people doing extraordinary things to transform the lives of children.

These are the inspirational stories that are happening all over America. They are the reason I’m optimistic that the American people are ready to embrace reform and prepare our young people to be leaders in the knowledge economy.