Education Secretary urges students to start social movement

September 19, 2012

A crowd of Emporia State students, faculty, staff and community members listen to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel during a town hall meeting in the Skillet Atrium of Visser Hall.Calling failures of the U.S. education system “the civil rights issue of our generation,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called on students of Emporia State’s Teachers College to start a social movement to prompt wide-scale changes.

Duncan and Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the United States, arrived on campus Tuesday afternoon as part of the Education Drives America tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.

Before meeting with students, Duncan and Van Roekel toured the National Teachers Hall of Fame, which honors career educations with more than 20 years service. The hall of fame was founded in 1989 by Emporia State University, Emporia Public Schools and the City of Emporia.

After the brief tour, the education leaders spent 45 minutes taking questions from future teachers — Emporia State students either just beginning their teaching internships or currently doing their student teaching.


Both Duncan and Van Roekel acknowledged the difficulties teachers face, especially in terms of low salaries that keep many from the profession. Using his own background as a math educator, Van Roekel explained Finland’s educational system in which equity is valued before excellence.

In Finland, Van Roekel explained, graduates with degrees in mathematics would find similar salaries offered for different uses of their degrees, whether they choose to work as an actuary, accountant or math teacher. That philosophy, he said, doesn’t force people with a passion for teaching to choose a better-paying field instead.

Duncan drew sustained applause when he told the students about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives student loans after time spent working in the public sector, which would include teaching.

“After 10 years of public service,” Duncan said, “the remaining debt is erased, forgiven.”

The U.S. education system is not only a civil rights issue for the disparity of resources, Duncan said, but it is an economic issue because teachers can’t afford to teach and also a national security issue because 75 percent of recruits cannot qualify for military service based on academic and physical qualifications.

Education reform, Duncan concluded, “is a movement whose time as come.”



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