Final Session at National Service Conference Raises Stakes for Equal Education for All
New York City—U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan challenged service leaders to join him in remaking America's education system during a panel discussion at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service today, stressing the urgency and courage needed to ensure that every child receives a high-quality education that prepares him or her for the future.
Duncan asked attendees to use service to foster education reform and achieve greater results for students in four areas: increased learning time, parental engagement, teacher recruiting, and turning around our lowest performing schools.
“No matter what your race, your creed or your zip code, every child is entitled to a quality public education,” Duncan said. “Education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success. It is actually a prerequisite to success.”
Each year, 1.2 million kids drop out of high school, but 2,000 high schools produce half of the nation's dropouts, Duncan noted.
“We are challenging the country to stop looking for incremental change, stop tinkering around the edges, stop saying this is okay and poverty is destiny and these children can't learn,” Duncan said. “We're here because we believe the fight of education is so much more than education. It's a fight for social justice. This is the civil rights issue of our generation.”
After the keynote, Secretary Duncan participated in a panel discussion with Chancellor of New York City Department of Education Joel Klein, Director of America Reads Mississippi Ronjanett Taylor, Chairman and Senior Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP Bob Moritz, and Vice President of Worldwide Education for Microsoft Anthony Salcito, which was moderated by Wall Street Journal education reporter Stephanie Banchero. Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Patrick Corvington delivered closing remarks.
Ronjanett Taylor, who leads America Reads Mississippi, which engages 350 AmeriCorps members who tutor in 89 schools across Mississippi, told the audience about the measurable impact her program has had. More than 80 percent of students receiving tutoring have increased one letter grade in reading in one year, and most students showed improvements in behavior and attitude.
Taylor also noted how AmeriCorps is a pipeline to full-time employment for teaching, helping to address the potential teacher shortage expected in coming years.
At the conclusion of the forum, Patrick Corvington reinforced the panelists' sentiments that in order to fix poverty in America, we must first fix education. “Service is part of a legacy of social justice movements,” Corvington said. “We march in the footsteps of those before us who made tough choices and stood up to very, very difficult circumstances. So it's our time. It's our moment. But we can't seize it without being rigorous, without being strategic, without focusing relentlessly on results, but most of all we can't seize it without engaging our passion.”
The panel was the final session of the conference, leaving service leaders and volunteers with a bold challenge to break through the status quo and reform education nationwide.