Transcript: Arne Duncan on "Face the Nation," August 5, 2018

The following is a transcript of the interview with former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that aired Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with former Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He's the author of a new book: "How Schools Work," coming out this week.* Thank you for joining us.

ARNE DUNCAN: Good morning, thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure. It was interesting reading this because you find out more about you personally as well. I don't think a lot of people knew you played professional basketball for two years.

ARNE DUNCAN Long time ago it was a lot of fun, lucky to have that chance.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, some colors and personal anecdotes but you also really, it's not so much about how schools work, but really an indictment of how schools aren't working. It's a very critical take in this book about the education system and you say, "the education system runs on lies." What do you mean by that?

ARNE DUNCAN: That's a tough statement to make. But let me just give you a couple of notes. We say we value education but we never vote on education, we never hold politicians accountable local, state, or national level for getting better results, higher graduation rates, more people graduate from college. We say we value teachers but we don't pay teachers, we don't support them. We don't mentor them, the way they need to do their incredibly important, tough, complex work. And then maybe the toughest lie, for me, Margaret, is that we say we value kids and we've raised a generation of young people teens who have been raised on mass shootings and gun violence. And that simply doesn't happen in other nations, so I don't look at what people say. I look at their actions, I'd look at their policies, I'd look at their budgets and our values don't reflect that we care about education, we care about teachers or that we truly care about keeping our children safe and free and free of fear.

MARGARET BRENNAN Do you feel you made a dent in any of that when you were Education Secretary?

ARNE DUNCAN : We had some, you know, real successes. We had some failures but on the success side we put more than a billion dollars into high quality early childhood education, which I think is the best investment we can make. We save more than 300,000 teacher jobs around the country when the economy was really in a very tough spot. We put 40 billion dollars into Pell Grants about going back to taxpayers for a nickel to make college more affordable. So things that we're very-very proud of but this is not a mission accomplished moment, obviously. I feel a huge sense of urgency. We have to get better, faster as a nation. We're not top 10 in anything.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you though, before we go further about where we are now, to ask you about your own performance, because the Department of Education had a report-looking at School Improvement Grants program. You helped oversee and funneled, you said a billion there. There was total I think 7 billion --

ARNE DUNCAN: No, 7-7 billion, yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In the whole program-into some of the worst performing schools to try to improve them. The report I want to read you this quote found, "overall across all grades, we found implementing any school improvement grants funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores high school graduation or college and enrollment-enrollment." Excuse me, that's a pretty harsh criticism.

ARNE DUNCAN: Yeah--

MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you respond?

ARNE DUNCAN: No, I think investing in our lowest performing schools is some of the hardest and most important work we can do. Margaret, I don't want to leave any kid behind or say they can't make it. As a nation we had more than 2,000 dropout factories a few years back. We now have less than eight hundred.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But this sounds like a failing grade from the Department of Education.

ARNE DUNCAN: Yeah, no, you always to get better faster and again it is a short period of time they measured. Our high school graduation rates are all time highs. Those grants were a small piece of that there are many things that go into that. And again, this is, we've got a long-long way to go, but to see high school graduation rates at all-time highs to see-see many fewer students going to dropout factories. Those are things we feel really good about.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to talk to you more on the other side of this commercial break. But we have to take one. So stay with us. We'll talk more about your new book, "How Schools Work." We'll be right back with more of our conversation in a moment.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to "Face the Nation." We are back now with more of our conversation with former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Good to have you on. We've been talking about this book. You just wrote and in it, you're very critical of the state of our schools right now. You said there's a lot more work to be done. One specific criticism you say, it's, there's a distinction between proficiency and growth when you're measuring how students actually perform. You say not everyone understands that, including the current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. What do you mean?

ARNE DUNCAN: So what I'm interested in is how much students are improving each year. So proficiency is just on an absolute basis where you are today. I want to know how much you're getting better each year. So if you're learning to use a material for years instruction that's amazing work by the child. But more importantly great-great work by that teacher and we need to recognize that and reward that. Pretty basic concept for folks that work in education. Unfortunately, the current secretary of education didn't understand that one.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And what exactly is it that you think she is failing to understand or follow through on here? Because she has kept a number of the Obama administration programs.

ARNE DUNCAN: It's interesting you probably saw the news, for me, is this a crazy metaphor that about a week ago her yacht was found adrift, $40 million yacht just out there. And for me that sort of represents where they are in terms of education policy. There isn't one.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What does her  personal wealth have to do with it?

ARNE DUNCAN: It-it doesn't have anything to do of it, it's just that it-it. Her- The policy is adrift. There's nothing out there of substance. We should have some concrete goals as a nation. I would argue: high quality access to pre-K for every single child. We've got high school graduation rates to 84 percent. They should be trying to get that to 90 percent. We should try and lead the world in college completion. None of those are on the radar. They talk about small things and that for me is-it's- we're selling our nation short. This is- great education is our way to have a stronger economy. We have to educate our way to a better economy. You don't hear any of that. We don't have big goals. It should be bipartisan, nonpartisan.

MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the- things that the current secretary has been an advocate for in the past are school vouchers, also school choice. What is it specifically that you have a problem with when it comes to using some of these public fundings, in essence, to allow students to go to private schools?

ARNE DUNCAN: Yes, I think again public money should be used to support public schools, and that could be traditional schools, that could be high performing charter schools. I don't care the name of the school, I just want more high performing schools, less dropout—

MARGARET BRENNAN: Doesn't it—

ARNE DUNCAN: --factors.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --come as a reflection in some ways of greater parental involvement If they're trying to take that option?

ARNE DUNCAN:  We're all for parental involvement. I think public dollars should be used to support high quality public education. The vast majority of our children in our nation always have and always will go to public schools. We have to make sure we're absolutely as strong as possible. I should, I think, we need a different model. We need to think about a pre-k through 14 model.  We've had a K through 12 model for 100 years. I think that's a little outdated. We have to start earlier and a high school diploma is great. It's not enough. We got to think about some form of higher education, community college, four year universities, beyond that, as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In the book, you make a point that we're not training children who, to enter the current workforce, it's more sort of factory worker mentality.

ARNE DUNCAN: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What is it that you think needs to be added here?

ARNE DUNCAN: How we think critically, how we work in teams, how we solve problems. Those are the kinds of skills that all employers are looking for, not rote memorization, not just sitting in a class, you know, memorizing things. And, again, this is where- these are places where we could go much, much further and do it with a real sense of urgency. For me, the competition isn't in other countries, it's can we do it here ourselves. And we can do that. Our kids are extraordinary. We just have to give them a better chance. We have to meet them halfway.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you were Secretary of Education, the tragedy in Sandy Hook happened. We've seen yet another tragedy on President Trump's watch, now: Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. And those teenagers have become very politically active on- on the heels of that, but equally very little change at the federal level, all really at the local. Is that really what the expectation should be, that communities have to figure out how to fix this issue themselves?

ARNE DUNCAN: No I think we all have to do this. And I will say Margaret, this is our- I think our greatest failing is that we don't value the lives of our children. Children in other nations don't die like they do here. And, you know, the Sandy Hook massacre was the worst day of President Obama's presidency, was our worst day there. He went out the next day to visit families. The vice president and I went down a couple days later. None of us ever anticipated 20 babies and five teachers and a principal being slaughtered. And the fact that we got nothing done, zero in terms of gun legislation after that, - is heartbreaking. I've been very pessimistic on the- that issue. 

But the students from Parkland, Florida have given me a real sense of hope. And young people—whether it's in Parkland, whether it's back home in Chicago, of young people I'm working with here in D.C.—as I said earlier, we've raised a generation of teens on mass shootings, on gun violence. We have failed as adults and parents to protect them. And they're saying they're not going to tolerate it. And I'm actually very, very hopeful that the young people who are going to lead our nation, where we as adults have failed to take them, and that's to place free of trauma and free of fear.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The book is "How Schools Work." Arne Duncan, thank you very much for joining us. We'll be right back with our panel.

"How Schools Work" is published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS Corporation.