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Ohanian Comment: Notice how David Gregory defines the problem--an achievement problem--not a poverty problem.

As Gingrich was claiming that education is the number one factor in national security, I was getting frisked at the airport. No, I didn't just have to take off my shoes; I was frisked. Who lacked education? Me or the frisker? Then he moves on to the "no excuses" theme. And Sharpton joins in with "low expectations."

I wonder if anyone will ever have the guts to directly challenge Duncan on this platitude: Not so. In most high performing schools in this country you have the sons and daughters of affluence. Money matters. Parents' education matters. And it matters more than teachers or principals. Children in those schools score high not because of the school staff but because of who their parents are.

I can't bring myself to make any more comments on this one-sided offal. You've heard it all before. I wonder when we will stop talking/whining about it and do something about it.

GREGORY: trio of political polar opposites is trying to solve a massive bipartisan problem with a workable bipartisan solution.

REV. AL SHARPTON: If we could come together on education, I think it's an example to the kids that some things should be above our differences.

GREGORY: And for the first time, they have the money to do it. Duncan has received an unprecedented level of discretionary spending, $4.3 billion in his Race to the Top Fund, where states compete for their share. But will this competition lead to real results, or will it cause further friction between teachers and administrators, leaving the students without the reform they so desperately need?

And we're joined now by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the Reverend Al Sharpton and the secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

Welcome to all of you. This is such an important topic and you are all so committed to it. I want to start by defining the problem; what is, above all else, a results problem in public education. These are facts. I spoke to the head of public schools here in Washington, D.C., D.C., Michelle Rhee. Fifty percent dropout rate in Washington, D.C. Only 9 percent of kids going to a D.C. public school, only 9 percent, will go on to graduate college within five years of completing high school. A huge achievement gap between black, white and Latino kids.

Secretary Duncan, this is what you said about public schools this fall. I'll put it up on the screen. "What we have to give up on is academic failure. What you have are dropout factories--you have places that for the overwhelming majority of students are simply not doing them justice. To perpetuate something that has chronically underperformed, how can we be wedded to that?" So, simply stated, what is this president prepared to do about it?

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We have to get dramatically better. We have a time of economic crisis in the country. We've been arguing we have a time of educational, academic crisis. We have 1.2 million dropouts a year in this country. How can we sustain that? So we have to dramatically reduce the dropout rate, we have to dramatically increase the graduation rate and we have to make sure many more of our high school graduates are prepared to be successful in college and in the world of work.

GREGORY: So the Race to the Top Fund and program means what, in a brief description?

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We want to reward those states, those districts, those nonprofits that are willing to challenge the status quo and get dramatically better, close the achievement gap and raise the bar for everybody. And what's been so encouraging is before we spent a dollar, a dime of Race to the Top money, we've seen 48 states come together to raise the bar, higher standards for everyone, to stop lying to children. We've seen states remove barriers to creating new, innovative charter schools. We've seen folks get rid of firewalls separating student achievement data from teachers. There's been this extraordinary movement in the country before spent $1. Now we have a chance to spend billions of dollars to help encourage that, that continued improvement.

GREGORY: I should point out, you used to run Chicago public school system. And we'll get to some of the specific challenges to Race to the Top that I've identified through my reporting this week. But what's striking about this is this is saying to the country, "We're not going to dole all this money out, billions of dollars," which education secretaries don't normally have at their disposal. "We're going to make you show us something for it. Go out there and compete. Show us reform, and then we'll give you money."

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We all have to take responsibility. Simply perpetuating the status quo is not going to get the kind of dramatically different results we want. So where states, where districts, where nonprofits, where universities, parents, teachers, community leaders, where we all come together and say we want something dramatically different, we're willing to behave in different ways, we're willing to move outside our comfort zones, we're willing to collaborate, we want to put lots of money behind those places that will literally lead the country where we need to go.

GREGORY: Newt Gingrich--conservative Republican, former House speaker--why is this a vision that you support?

REP. GINGRICH: Well, first of all, education is the number one factor in our future prosperity, it's the number one factor in national security and it's the number one factor in these young people having a decent future. I agree with Al Sharpton, this is the number one civil right of the 21st century. So if you--if the president has shown real leadership--which he has. This is, a lot of places we fight. On this one he has said every parent should know whether the school's good. Every student should have transparency about a results. Every parent should have the right to choose a charter school. Now, I, I would go further. I'd like to have a Pell Grant for K through 12. But this is a huge step for this president to take.

GREGORY: Can we just take a minute to explain how a charter school works?

REP. GINGRICH: Well, Arne knows more than I do about this. But basically, a charter school operates within a framework of direct public funding but is allowed to be more innovative, have its own work rules, have its own model of activity, very often has a specialized focus. But do you want to expand on that for a second? Because you're the authority.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: I just want to say, as a country, we need more good schools.

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: And good charter schools are a piece of the answer. Bad charter schools are a piece of the problem. But we've seen, in many historically underserved communities, charter schools being part of the answer, where students are getting great educations. But as a country, our best schools are world class. We have a lot of schools in the middle. They're improving. What we have, though, is we have schools at the bottom where we're perpetuating poverty, we're perpetuating social failure. We have to stop doing that and we have to create options and opportunities for children and communities that have been underserved for far too long.

GREGORY: You want to pick up, though, on your opening thought.

REP. GINGRICH: Yeah. I, I just want to give you one example that we all visited, because I think every American should understand there is no excuse for accepting failure. We visited the Mastery School in Philadelphia. Second most violent school in the city, 25th percentile in outcome. Three years ago the state became desperate, took over the school, turned it over to Mastery, which is a charter school system. Same building, same students. Three years later, they're in the 86th percentile. And as one young man said to us, an 11th grader--everyone in the 11th grade plans to go to college in this inner city, poor neighborhood. And one man said--young man said to us, in the old school he fought because he was expected to. Now he doesn't fight, because it's not tolerated. So there's no violence and real achievement. Every parent in the country should demand that their child be in a school of that caliber and that the change be now, not in five or 10 years.

GREGORY: Al Sharpton, why is this a vision you support?

REV. SHARPTON: You know, I, I was challenged by James Mtume, who's a music icon and talk show host, on why I and National Action Network, our group, was not dealing with education. It was a civil rights issue. When he showed me the data--55 percent of blacks get a diploma, 58 percent of Latinos, 78 percent of whites--I looked at this achievement gap, which was almost identical to a 1954 when I was born, the year of Brown vs. Board of Education, and I said, "How are we ignoring this?" Then when I looked at the broader data, that we were--in 1970, we were like 30 as a country, now we're 15 percent of the people in, in the world that is dealing with graduates. We are going backwards in a technological age as a country, and in my community we're getting inexperienced teachers, unequal education. So if this means that we have to come together and make alliances to deal with the fact that almost half of the young people in my community are not even getting a high school diploma, I think the president is right.


REV. SHARPTON: And when the president challenged us, I think you've got to go beyond your comfort zone, because what we have been doing has not worked.

GREGORY: Can you both concede that both political parties have, have stood in the way of reform through disagreement about education policy? I mean, in 1995, Speaker Gingrich, you were an advocate of dismantling the Department of Education. Here you are as a champion for a vision from the Department of Education about school reform.

REP. GINGRICH: Look, I mean, if you ask me, in an ideal world, would I re-empower local school boards? Yes. Would I re-empower people to have a range of choices how to spend their money? I'd give every child a Pell Grant and allow every child and their parent to pick where to go. But in a, in a time when we have liberal, Democratic president who has the courage to take on the establishment in education and who's prepared to say every state should adopt dramatic, bold reforms, I think as, as--if politics are the art of the possible, our children deserve a chance to see us come together, to put their future above partisanship and to find a way to take on the, the establishment in both parties and try to get this solved.

REV. SHARPTON: I think that both parties have failed, but I think others have failed; I think unions have failed, I think parents have failed, I think communities have failed. I would not agree with Pell Grant, but I agree with him that we've got to find the common ground. And what President Obama said to us in the meeting in the Oval Office in May is if we agree on 70 percent, can't we achieve that? We've got to move forward. The problem is that we've all stayed within our battle lines, and the kids have suffered. When we have gone out in these cities so far, Dave, the kids don't care that he's a Republican, I'm a Democrat; he was the speaker, I'm a civil rights leader. They care that they say, "The teachers seem to have not cared about me, now I have teachers that do." It seems like no one has any expectations. The new racism, to me, is low expectations, where these kids are being told you can't be anything, you can't achieve something. They can, and we must make that happen.

GREGORY: Let me--all right, I want to talk specifically about Race to the Top, this effort and some specific challenges that you face. One of which is a disagreement with the unions on some issues, on the core issue of accountability. Accountability for this results problem. We know that the teachers union does not agree with the idea of standardized testing being an indicator of student performance. We've sought out some points of view from educators around the country that I want to be part of this discussion, interviews that we did. One of them was with Randi Weingarten, of course, who's the head of the American Federation of Teachers. She spoke to this accountability issue for teachers. This is what she said.


MS. RANDI WEINGARTEN: A part of why the union keeps fighting against the demonization and scapegoating of teachers who are really trying to do their utmost to help kids is because we know we have to create a culture of shared responsibility. Let's create systems that better support teachers, that mentor teachers, that help us do our jobs. And if there are people that are not making the grade, let's figure out ways, which we've tried to do now with peer review and other kinds of programs, to counsel them out and to remove them from the profession, but in a humane way. That's what we mean by us stepping up more.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: She talks about shared responsibility. But educators are saying where is the shared responsibility, the accountability among the unions? Michelle Rhee, who I mentioned, head of D.C. schools, talks about the accountability question from her point of view. Watch.


MS. MICHELLE RHEE: The one topic that is most important to address in public education today, in my opinion, is how we are going to implement a system of accountability. For far too long, we have had children in our districts who are failing academically, and all of the adults have been able to keep their jobs and keep their contracts and that sort of thing. And that really, that dynamic has to change.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: So here's my question, Secretary Duncan. Why should anybody believe that a Democratic president, who relies on interests like the unions who are out there organizing and who vote, why should somebody believe that he's really going to take them on, that you are really going to take them on to force accountability?

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We all have to move--at the end of the day, we have to have dramatically better results for children. What makes great education is the adults. Talent matters tremendously. In every high performing school in this country, you have great principals and you have great teachers. Student achievement is the purpose of education. We need to evaluate whether students are learning or not. We need to start to focus on outcomes, not inputs. And as both these two gentlemen said, we all have to move outside our comfort zones. Those old, tired fights of the past just don't get us where we need to go. Everybody's moving, everybody's willing to move. At the end of the day, we want dramatically better outcomes for students. That's the only reason we all work every single day.

GREGORY: OK. But so how you--how do you hold teachers accountable, and while at the same time hold the unions' feet to the fire?

SEC'Y DUNCAN: What we have said, which is a fundamental breakthrough, is we will only invest in those states and districts where student achievement is part of the evaluation.


SEC'Y DUNCAN: We've drawn, we have drawn a line in the sand.

GREGORY: But what, but what if, but what if states lie to you? Because I've talked to educators who say...


GREGORY: ...wait a minute, they can, they can just say, "Oh, yeah, well, we're, we're gathering the data."


GREGORY: But not really gather the data on student performance based on test results and still get the money.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: David, it's very simple, we simply won't fund them. This is--we're talking about everyone moving outside their comfort zone. Department of Education has been part of the problem. Let me be very, very clear. We have been this big, historical, compliance-driven bureaucracy. We are trying to move from that to being this engine of innovation and in--to invest it and scale up what works. We are only going to invest in those places that are doing the right thing by children. If they're not, we simply will not fund them.

REP. GINGRICH: Look, let me just say this is the heart of the matter. We are all three going around the country on what is essentially a hope. I, I have no idea, in the end, whether the president or the secretary will be as tough as they need to be. But I can tell you, we have been in rooms together now in Baltimore and in Philadelphia, Al and I have been in rooms in Tucson and in Montgomery, Alabama. And I have seen Reverend Sharpton, in the middle of the Philadelphia power structure, be amazingly blunt about the fact that, you know, Randi Weingarten talked about humane. There's nothing humane about a school which destroys children. There's humane about a school that has kids going to prison instead of college. And there's nothing humane about protecting somebody who can't teach so that they have a job for next year; but by the way, every child that sits in that room is going to have a terrible future. We had one young man on, on--in Baltimore who walked out, who said to us, the difference between the school he was now in--which I think was a KIPP school, if I remember--and the, and the school that he had left was in the first school, the, the one that was failing, the teacher would give them a reading assignment and she would either put her head on the table and sleep or she would end up doing e-mail while--without teaching.

REV. SHARPTON: During class.

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. GINGRICH: During class.

REV. SHARPTON: No, but it was--the other part is that's why I think why I think what the president's proposed as a collective works, because we need parent involvement.


REV. SHARPTON: I wish you had talked to Assemblywoman Inez Barron in New York. We need to have parents more involved. If parents are involved, they also hold the teachers accountable.

GREGORY: But wait a minute, Reverend. Now wait a minute. I totally--that's an important point.

REV. SHARPTON: Well, just let me finish.

GREGORY: But wait a minute. But hold on. On this union question, you have fights going on in school districts in this country.


GREGORY: In New York City, in your city...


GREGORY: ...rubber rooms, where teachers who are too incompetent or dangerous to be in a classroom can't be fired. You've got, you've got teachers in Washington, D.C., who are accused of sexual misconduct with their students who can't be fired. Is that sane?

REV. SHARPTON: And these things have to be dealt with, and this president has said he will deal with it. But at the same time, you have teachers that have taught long and hard and done great work that have been overlooked, and we've got to have the balance there. I think that NEA and Randi Weingarten want to be part of that conversation. I think that we--it is unthinkable to me that you have teachers in my community that cannot be disciplined. It also is unthinkable that I have had teachers that made the difference for me that get no reward and no incentive...

GREGORY: And don't get, and don't get...

REV. SHARPTON: ...to keep going forth.

GREGORY: ...commensurate pay, don't get adequate pay.

REV. SHARPTON: That's exactly right.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: Let me speak. Teacher evaluation in this country is basically broken. Great teachers don't get recognized.


SEC'Y DUNCAN: They don't get rewarded. We don't shine a shot--spotlight on them, we don't learn from them. Teachers in the middle don't get support that they need. And teachers on the bottom, who frankly need to find another profession, that doesn't happen, either. When a system is broken for every adult--high performing, those in the middle, at the bottom--if it's broken for every adult, it does not work for children. I spoke before the NEA convention with 5500 delegates, I spoke before the AFT convention with 2500 delegates; I said teacher evaluation's broken, everybody cheered. So we all have to change. This thing doesn't work. We all have to do some things very, very differently. At the heart has to be results for children.

REP. GINGRICH: Yeah, I just want to--because I think you've done exactly the right thing here, but I want to bring it down to what's wrong with Washington today. The three of us are making a positive gamble. We're each risking, to some extent, our, our reputation and our future, saying, "What if we come together and what if we actually achieve a breakthrough?" Now, we may not, you know. I mean, everything you've raised is exactly right. We may not. But I think this--the country is tired of politicians finding a reason not to try to work together and not to try to gamble on the future. On this topic, the president has said publicly in speeches, said it when he was a candidate and it didn't help him to get the Democratic nomination, that he favored fundamental change in education, even if it made the unions uncomfortable. And I just think we have a chance here to break through in very practical ways, but it does require a gamble on our part of good faith.

GREGORY: OK. We talk about accountability. I also want to talk about how we attract the best teachers, because this is just a huge challenge. Bruce Stewart, who is the former head of school for Sidwell Friends, a private school here in Washington, D.C., spoke to us about that with his ideas. This is what he said.

MR. BRUCE STEWART: When I began teaching in the '60s, we had that population of people. And since then, because greater opportunities have opened up for young women and for minorities, there's been a great brain drain from American schools. I think we want to get those people back. If you look at Singapore, look at Finland, the reason they consistently are testing their population of students in the top levels of international exams, it's the quality of their teaching force. They all come from the top third of their colleges, universities. In the United States, our tendency today is to have that pool of teachers coming from the bottom third of college and universities and from the bottom third of those classes. That's something we need to reverse and to change.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: How do we change it? You know, Bruce Stewart says we should have a national teachers academy like West Point.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We have a huge opportunity here, David. We have, over the next five to, five to eight years, as many as a million teachers, the baby boomer generation, retiring. And our ability to attract great talent and then most--more importantly, to retain that great talent over the next few years, is going to change public education for a generation, for the next 30 years. So how do you do that? We have to make teaching the revered profession that it is and should be. This is, to me, a call to service and a call to action. If you want to serve your country, if you want to make a difference in students' lives, there's nothing more important that we can do than to help get the best and brightest, the hardest working, the most committed, the people with the highest of expectations for children into the classroom. We have a chance to fundamentally break that logjam that he talked about and transform education literally for generation.

GREGORY: Newt Gingrich, what is the knowledge most worth having in 2010 if you are a high school graduate? What do you need to know? What should the end product look like?

REP. GINGRICH: Well, Jefferson said that religion, morality and knowledge being important, we need schools. That's the Northwest Ordinance. So I'd say the first thing you need to know is about yourself and your own values and your own concerns. The second thing you have to know is a good work ethic and a ability to be honest. And the third thing you have to know is how to learn whatever you're going to need to be successful.

But I want to pick up on, on what Arne just said. We were at the BASIS school, which, which Bob Compton described as the best high school in the world. It's in Tucson, Arizona. Eighty-five percent of the teachers there had no certificate, but they were PhD's in biology, they were--it's a charter school. Teach for America attracts world-class people, and among the best people in the country going to Teach for America. All too many schools have rules against it. If you talk to teachers who are really good, they need, they need provisions for discipline. They need, they need to go back to a classroom where the children learn and where the children are expected to behave and where they can enforce discipline. And here in D.C., that's a major problem. We have a friend whose daughter is now teaching in a school here where there have been 23 lawsuits this year over discipline in a school that's fundamentally undisciplined. And so teachers are told basically, "You can't get enough control to teach." And this is why, when you go out to the KIPP school and to other systems like that--and there are 82 KIPP schools in the country--they're very structured. The Mastery schools, very structured. These kids, for the first time in their lives, are being given discipline; and therefore, they can attract great teachers because they can actually focus on the kids.

GREGORY: OK, now I want to prepare--the economic impact of failure in public schools is severe. And we have one big fact, which we'll try to get ready for you in a second, about dropouts and what it means for their ultimate ability to get drobs***(as spoken), and that is that the steady employment rate among high school dropouts is only 37 percent. Only 37 percent. Should there be a national standard for curriculum, a national curriculum for our schools?

REV. SHARPTON: I think there should be a national curriculum, but I think it should be based on the competence of the teachers, not necessarily just their qualifications. I think that was the debate in the New York Times editorial the other day. And I think we must drive the students, going to your question to Mr. Gingrich, toward having a goal. I think one of the things that we don't prepare is our students for having a goal in life. You cannot arrive without a destination. And I think one of the things that we have not done is that every child believe they can achieve something and then use their educational experience toward that achievement.

GREGORY: Right. And on that point, I want to play this sound bite from the president, who spoke about his daughter Malia coming home with a, with a grade that he didn't--didn't meet his expectations. He talked about that. Let's play it.

(Videotape, November 4, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA: There was a time a couple years ago when she came home with like a 80-something, and she said, "I did pretty well." And I said, "No, no, no. That's"--I said, I said, "Our goal is, our, our goal is 90 percent and up." So she--but here, here's the interesting thing. She started internalizing that. So she came and she was depressed, got a 73. And, and I said, "Well, what happened?" "Well, you know, the teacher--the study guide didn't match up with what was on the test." And so, "What's, what's your idea here?" "Well, you know, I'm going to start--I've got to read the whole chapter, I'm going to change how I study, how I approach it." So she came home yesterday, she was--got a 95, right? So she's high-fiving. But, but here's the point. She said, she said, "You know, I, I just like having knowledge." That's what she said.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Parents matter. Parents have to say, "We have expectations for you."

SEC'Y DUNCAN: Absolutely. We all have to take responsibility: parents, teachers, principals, school board members, students themselves, most importantly. We all have to step up. Parents matter tremendously. Parents are always going to be our students' first teachers, and they're always going to be our students most important teachers. That's never going to change. Parents have to be full and equal partners with teachers. When that happens, great things happen with children. When that doesn't happen, when the adults fight, when there's adult dysfunction, guess what, children lose.


REP. GINGRICH: You know, let me just add, I, I actually wouldn't agree with the national curriculum, and there's a reason. I think if anything, we need to re-empower local school boards, we need to re-empower local communities. The challenge of a breakthrough in Detroit, where you have several generations without adequate parenting, you have several generations without adequate employment, trying to break through there, as Reverend Sharpton said, first thing these kids have got to learn is that they have a future. Because they currently have a self-image that says, "Why would I learn anything? I've got no future anyway." That's fundamentally different.

REV. SHARPTON: And I think that's not a self-image all the times, it's an imposed image. I think that parents matter. And as we've toured, I've held parents accountable. We go to kids--to schools with, with 3,000 kids and 10 parents at a PTA meeting. There's no excuse for that. But even where you don't have a parent--I come out of a single-parent home--the rest of the community must be that parent. We must preach, we must instill, we must tell them that they have the expectation of achievement. I never knew I was underprivileged, David, till I got to college. When I got to Brooklyn College, they told me if you come out of single-parent home, on welfare, food stamps, in the projects, you're underprivileged. I didn't know that because my mother, my pastor, my community didn't raise me to believe that I was underprivileged.

GREGORY: I'm going to make that the last word. Good luck. We'll keep asking questions and stay on top of this. Thank you all for being here.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: Thanks so much.

GREGORY: A programming note on education. Our friends at MSNBC's "Morning Joe" are going to New Orleans this Friday. They're going to be broadcasting live from the John McDonogh High School to kick off the Brewing Together Day of Service in partnership with Starbucks. They'll be stressing the importance of education as they reach out to a school still reeling from Hurricane Katrina. It's a special edition of "Morning Joe" coming up this Friday from 6 to 9 AM Eastern on MSNBC.

We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

— David Gregory and The Three Stooges
Meet the Press
Nov. 15, 2009


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