DENVER – The nation’s education chief was in Denver talking about national school reform on Tuesday and says U.S. children need to be in school more.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited two Denver schools Tuesday morning. He toured with Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who, until this year, was superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
During his visit, Duncan said American schools should be open six days a week, at least 11 months a year, to improve student performance.
“Go ahead and boo me,” Duncan told about 400 middle and high school students at a public school in northeast Denver. “I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short.”
“You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; 11, 12 months a year,” Duncan said.
Bennet showed the secretary reforms he made in Denver that could be replicated on a national scale. The Obama administration has released billions in school aid but vowed that reforms will come with it.
Duncan learned about a pay-for-performance teaching plan, and thoughts on making schools more autonomous.
Bennet and Duncan planned to tour Bruce Randolph School, the first autonomous school, and Montclair Elementary School.
“This is one of the fastest growing schools in achievement in the entire city of Denver,” Bennet said, before introducing Duncan at Bruce Randolph.
Duncan is looking at Bruce Randolph as a model for the country in turning around failing schools.
“The eyes of the country are on what you guys are doing here,” Duncan said at Bruce Randolph. “There’s something magical happening.”
Duncan added: “Teachers are really empowered here. They’re really running the show.”
Montclair is the first school in Colorado dubbed a “school of innovation” under a new state law. The law allows the school to make their own decisions on spending, length of school day and year, and teacher hiring and compensation.
“It’s motivating us to do a better, even a way better job than what we’re doing right now,” Octavio Morgan, a student at Bruce Randolph, said. “He could’ve chose any other school, but he chose Bruce Randolph ’cause we’re making a difference here in Colorado.”
While speaking to a group of mostly Latino high school students Duncan said he was “heartbroken” by the Colorado Senate’s rejection of a proposal to allow resident students in-state tuition regardless of immigration status.
The bill would have allowed Colorado high school graduates to receive in-state tuition even if they are in the country illegally.
Answering a student question on the tuition question, Duncan said some undocumented pupils came to this country as infants and that it makes no sense not to extend in-state status to those students.
The Senate defeated the bill 18-16 Monday.
Duncan hasn’t shied away from challenging Democratic positions on education since joining Obama’s cabinet.
Last month, he said that poor children getting vouchers to attend private schools in the District of Columbia should be allowed to stay there, putting the Obama administration at odds with Democrats trying to end the program. Duncan talked up school choice during his Denver visit, though he didn’t mention vouchers or elaborate whether he meant private schools, too.
“I’m a big believer that students and parents should have a choice what school they want to go to,” Duncan said.
Bennet, greeted by hugs from teachers lining the hallways of the two schools, sided with Duncan. Bennet told reporters he wanted to help steer any education reform proposals from the White House through the Senate.
“A change needs to come, especially in urban school districts, and it’s not going to be easy,” Bennet said.
He added, “I will do absolutely everything to get myself in the middle of that conversation.”
Colorado, along with other states, is prepping to apply for some $5 billion worth of federal education grants coming through the economic stimulus package. Duncan said details of how that money will be awarded haven’t been decided.
Already, the federal Department of Education has released $44 billion to the states for education. According to Colorado estimates, the state is due about $487 million for K-12 education. The principal at the high school Duncan visited announced to the students and teachers that the school has already received its portion, about $200,000.
“It’s here!” principal Kristin Waters cried, to cheers from the staff.