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Understanding Obama’s education vision

Resource type: News

MSNBC First Read |

Original Source

From NBC’s Chuck Todd

The White House beat is more than just what happens at the Oval Office. We’re doing out best to cover every department and every utterance made by members of President Obama’s Cabinet. To that end, here are the most intriguing portions of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s interview last night with Charlie Rose.

Duncan gave a vision for public schools that I haven’t yet heard the president articulate as clearly as Duncan did on Charlie Rose.

Duncan envisions a public school becoming a community center, meaning that when he advocates the lengthening of the school day, he’s not necessarily calling for more public money to be spent on after-school programs. But, literally, using the building as a community center. So private groups, like the Boys and Girls club or the YMCA would hold classes there; maybe private arts foundations would do the same and maybe these private groups would help pay for equipment they would need and the school could get the benefit. This, of course, is done in many communities at many schools on an ad hoc basis, but hasn’t been part of a national mandate.

Again, I’m highlighting because this was the light bulb moment for me when I truly understood what the president was attempting to advocate for his education programs.

Here are the direct excerpts.

I’m starting with Duncan being asked to describe the length of an average school day:

DUNCAN: I think our schools should be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day. So it’s not just length —

ROSE: So eight to eight, or something like that?

DUNCAN: Yes, and let me tell you what — not just lengthening, obviously, the school day, but a wide variety of after school activities: drama, arts, sports, chess, debate, academic enrichment, programs for parents, GED, ESL, family literacy nights, potluck dinners. At home, we attached health-care clinics to about two dozen of our schools. Where schools truly become the centers of the community, great things happen. So I think we need the schools open much longer hours, and by the way, we don’t have to do this all ourselves as educators. You can bring in great nonprofits: the YMCAs, the Boys and Girls Clubs, mentoring and tutoring groups to co-locate their services and bolster the community from the school. And every neighborhood in our country, you have schools. In every school, you have classrooms, you have computer labs, you have libraries, you have gyms, many have pools. Those buildings don’t belong to you or I. They don’t belong to the unions. They belong to the community. We have these great physical resources, and we even maximize them.

ROSE: Keep them open 12 hours a day, 12 months a year.


ROSE: Twelve hours a day, 12 months a year.

DUNCAN: And I would go to six or seven days a week, not just Monday through Friday.

ROSE: Seven days a week. So the school becomes the center of community life.

DUNCAN: When the school becomes the center of community life, great things are going to happen for those families, and great things are going to happen to those children.

ROSE: Okay. Then tell me why that hasn’t happened before. I mean, who has stood in the way of that happening before? …

DUNCAN: I don’t think there’s one person that’s stood in —

ROSE: I don’t mean an individual, but has there been an organization? Has it been an institution? Has it to do with resources? Has it do to with a mindset about education?

DUNCAN: I think it’s the latter. I think it’s the lack of creativity and it’s a lack of understanding what our children need. And this is what I think we’ve just been slow to react. If you go back 30 or 40 years ago, the average child could get out of school at 2:30, mom was at home, child would go home to mom, dad was working, and get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at 2:30. Today, you have more two-parent working families. You have more single moms working two, three jobs. You have unfortunately maybe children going home to no-parent families. So our society has changed. Our schools have not kept pace, and this is a chance to really create what I think the 21st century school needs to look like. This needs to be the norm, not the exception. Time matter tremendously, and all of our families need our stores open longer hours.

ROSE: Is this a big-ticket item in terms of financial resources?

DUNCAN: Finances is a piece of this, and we, again, have significant financial resources, unprecedented financial resources coming to the table. Let me be clear. This is thinking differently and being creative. What if the school system runs from 9:00 to 3:00, and what if they give the school to a great non-profit partner, the YMCAs, the Boys and Girls Clubs, whatever it might be, to run it from 3:00 to 9:00, not charge them rent, open the buildings and put them — have all of their resources into better tutoring, better mentoring, and then bringing other non-profits. The money that I spent on this to open our schools long in Chicago was arguably the best money I spent because it was so highly leveraged. And you had all these phenomenal partners coming in, working collectively and collaboratively to one spot, provide this vast array of academic enrichment, social, even medical services to children and their families. So, yes, you need resources to do that, but it’s not just about resources. It’s about thinking differently, partnering, collaborating and understanding what our children need today to be successful.

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