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Duncan details $150 billion education stimulus

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  • Duncan: We're very, very worried about tremendous cuts in school districts
  • Duncan: We need to recognize, reward excellence among teachers, students
  • Emphasis on increasing access to higher education and reducing costs to students
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(CNN) -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan talks to CNN's Campbell Brown about the President's $150 billion increase in federal money for education. Here is the transcript of that interview.

CB: Mr. Secretary, the President's new stimulus plan includes a massive $150 billion increase in federal money for education. Walk us through what the priorities are and when parents can expect to see results.

CNN's Campbell Brown says Citigroup took $45 billion in bailout funds and still laid off workers, bought jet.

CNN's Campbell Brown says Citigroup took $45 billion in bailout funds and still laid off workers, bought jet.

DUNCAN: This is an extraordinary opportunity and if we want to become a strong economy again, the best thing we can do is have an educated work force. So this is a huge, huge opportunity to make things dramatically better for schools and for school children around the country and at the higher Ed level as well.

So the stimulus package is going to do a number of things. It's going to help us a tremendous unmet capital needs and so it's really going to be a huge opportunity to invest in infrastructure and several ready projects that we want to get to work on very early on, late spring and through the summer.

We want to save literally hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs. We're very, very worried about tremendous cuts, devastating cuts in school districts and states around the country. We want to stay those off going into the fall. We want to continue to raise the bar academically, raise standards, raise expectations, and there's opportunities in the stimulus package to do that.

There's a huge emphasis on college access and affordability, and at a time when going to college has never been more expensive, we have to help out. And it's so desperate a point that we have more of our high school graduates going on to college. So for the first time ever, we hope Pell grants will go above the $5,000 mark and give many, many more students a chance to go onto some form of higher education.

And finally, the significant investment in the early childhood level as well. So this is an extraordinary comprehensive thoughtful package that the president's put together and it's a chance to take public education, higher education to another level.

CB: Let me stop you and ask the accountability question. How do you keep track of the money? How do you make sure it does go to the schools that need it most?

DUNCAN: Yeah, we're going to have to keep very close track of the money, and we're going to have to implement this impeccably. And it's very important, as you said, that the money goes where it's needed. We want to look at those projects, are they really making a difference in students' lives, we want to make sure we're saving jobs, we want to make sure that we're producing more math teachers, more science teachers. At the end of the day, we want to see student performance increase. So there's a series of metrics that we're going to put in place to make sure that we don't just get this money out the door quickly. We have to do it very, very smart.

CB: Let me ask you about No Child Left Behind, which sets performance standards for schools, and many people say that it hasn't lived up to its promise, that it unfairly penalizes schools and kids with sort of a one size fits all approach. Do you agree with that?

DUNCAN: Well obviously, I've lived on the other side of the law for the past seven-and-a-half years so I have lots of strong opinions about it. But what I want to do is really get out this and travel the country, and I've about frequently as has President Obama that the philosophy behind it makes a lot of sense. We need to raise the bar, I would argue, we need to raise the bar even more and have high expectations. We want to hold people accountable.

CB: But be specific. I mean you certainly know about it, about No Child Left Behind and what it entails to have formed an opinion on whether it's the right way to go.

DUNCAN: Yeah well again, philosophically, directionally, it's the right way, but there's many things in the invitation that we think we can improve on moving forward.

CB: Like what?

DUNCAN: There's a number of things. I'm very interested in graduation rates, and we want to make sure more of our students are graduating from high school and prepared with college-ready, career-ready skills. I'm interested in raising the bar and having high standards. I'm also interested in growth towards those standards, how much a student is gaining each year. But again, I really want to get out...

CB: Let me stop you because there's specific complaints here, and the President has talked about them. He certainly did on the campaign trail. We have teachers saying that the reality of No Child Left Behind, is that because it uses testing to grade a school's performance that many teachers find themselves teaching for the test. And again, the President has talked about this. Now, I assume that's not what we think is best for the kids so how do you fix that?

DUNCAN: Again, what you need is good tests. You need good tests, good assessments, and there's a huge...

CB: But even if you have a good test, how does that prevent a teacher from teaching to that test?

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DUNCAN: Well again if you want students passing Algebra, they need to know Algebra so that's not necessarily a bad thing. What you want to have is great tests with a high standard. You need to make the tests, make your standards very clear, simpler; you need to have real good assessments that help students get to that point. You need good data systems behind that and again I think we can take a real thoughtful approach to this. Get out visit rural districts, urban districts, suburban districts and over the next three months, six months, get a good sense not just of what I think but of what our teachers, our parents, our principals, our students, what does our country think and then how do we come back and when its time to reauthorize, do it in a very thoughtful way that really builds upon what works and changes what doesn't

CB: Let me ask you that because there's not a lot of time left. There are some people who will argue that we should let No Child Left Behind expire at the end of this school year as its scheduled to do and just start from scratch. Do you agree with that or no?

DUNCAN: Well, I think we'll look to reauthorize late this calendar year. Again these first couple months we're pushing very hard to have this historic stimulus plan passed. Once its passed we need to focus intensively on making sure we implement and execute against it impeccably and then use the next few months again to get out, to listen, to learn, to hear from the American public and then come back and reauthorize later in the school year.

CB: And let me ask you and switch gears a little bit because this is a controversial but very interesting idea. Just a few months ago you launched a program in Chicago that pays kids for good grades. $50 for an A - $20 for a C. A straight-A student could earn $4,000 a year. I don't have to tell you this is really controversial. Why is that a good idea?

DUNCAN: I will give you my opinion about it. I urge you to go talk to the school children in Chicago who think this is a great idea. Absolutely its controversial but what I want to do whether its children, whether its teachers, principals, we want to recognize, reward excellence and the more we have students working extraordinarily hard to be successful, particularly in communities where historically that hasn't happened, the more we put a spotlight on great teachers, great principals that are going beyond the call of duty, in every other profession we recognize, reward and incent excellence, I think we need to do more of that in education.

CB: For the students specifically, and you think money is the way to do that, it's the best incentive.

DUNCAN: I don't think it's the best incentive I think its one incentive. This is a pilot program we started this fall so it's very early on. But so far the data is very encouraging, so far students attendance rates have gone up, students grades have gone up and these are communities where the drop out rate has been unacceptably high and whatever we can do to challenge that status quo. When children drop out today, Campbell as you know, they are basically condemned to social failure. There are no good jobs out there so we need to be creative, we need to push the envelope, I don't know is this is the right answer, we've got a control group.

CB: But is it something that you would like to try across the country? To have other schools systems adopt.

DUNCAN: Again, Campbell this is, we are about four months into it in Chicago. We have a control group where this is not going on so we're going to follow what the data tells us. And if it's successful, we'll look to expand and if it's not successful, we'll stop doing it. But we want to be thoughtful but I think philosophically I am pro pushing the envelope, challenging the status quo, and thinking outside the box. The drop out rate whether its inner city Chicago or any state, any district around the country, I think none of us can be satisfied at where we're at. We have to continue to think differently and do everything we can to put our students in a position to be successful, to graduate from high school, prepared for careers and for college and put them on the path to pursuing the American dream.


CB: Well no one can disagree with that. And the new education secretary joining us right now. Really appreciate your time tonight, thanks so much.

DUNCAN: Thanks so much for having me, I really appreciate the opportunity.

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