U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke to students, faculty, and community members about the importance of education reform and the steps necessary for returning America to world prominence in education in a lecture at Richardson Auditorium April 20.
“Whether you look at [education] as a civil-rights issue, as an economic imperative, as an issue of national security – I look at it through all three of those lenses – we have to get better faster than we ever have in education,” Duncan said.
He listed five goals he hopes to see accomplished in the next few years: reform of the No Child Left Behind law; an increase in access to and quality of education; bringing together school boards, management, and unions to work on reform; recruitment of the next generation of teachers; and an increased use of technology as an effective teaching tool.
Duncan particularly stressed the importance of a high-quality crop of new teachers to replace the retiring baby-boomer generation of educators, noting that the Obama administration aims to recruit one million teachers over the next four years.
“Teaching is not for the faint of heart,” Duncan said. “If you’re looking for an easy job, this is not for you. But I can’t think of a better way to elevate opportunities for children. I would urge you to think about teaching.”
Duncan also discussed the importance of rewarding excellent teachers as well as ensuring that teachers are not made complacent by permanent tenure.
“Tenure should never be there as a lifetime guarantee,” he said, emphasizing that in the heated world of education politics, children must be put first. “I say so often that adult dysfunction hurts children,” he said.
Duncan said he felt that the spirit of University’s informal motto “Princeton in the nation’s service” had permeated the campus, as many of the education reforms around the country “are being led, not coincidentally, by Princeton alums.” He named graduates such as Wendy Kopp ’89, founder of Teach for America, and Rajiv Vinnakota ’93, co-founder of the nation’s first urban boarding school for disadvantaged students.
“I just want to say thank you to this community for producing so many leaders who are literally in the nation’s service and helping to lead this country where we need to go,” he said.
Students who attended the talk said that they were grateful for the opportunity to hear Duncan speak.
“It’s really wonderful to have such a high-up official come to speak at Princeton whose policies are so in line with what I believe,” Emily Myerson ’12 said. “I loved his call for really making teaching a profession, so that students like me at Princeton will want to become teachers.”
For Kyle Ofori ’13, attending the speech helped put into context much of his own reading about education reform. “It’s illuminating to come to these speeches,” Ofori said. “It’s interesting to get both perspectives: to hear [education leaders] talk, and to be researching what they are doing at the same time.”