U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Oakland’s Merritt College and Berkeley’s Longfellow Middle School today. The news media were not invited to a roundtable discussion at the community college this morning (boo!), so all I have for you is a snippet from a press conference afterward.
I asked Duncan what he thought about Tony Smith’s vision for Oakland’s public schools. Here’s what he said, after praising U.S. Representative Barbara Lee:
The second reason why I’m here is that I’m a big fan of what Tony Smith is doing. I think Oakland — I’ve said repeatedly this morning — Oakland as a district, all of us know, has struggled for a long time, and I think Oakland with his leadership, the board’s leadership, the union’s leadership, with the community’s leadership, with the business community’s leadership, Oakland coming together, I think, has a chance to make fundamental and dramatic progress and can help demonstrate to the country how urban school districts can revitalize themselves. And so I’m extraordinarily encouraged by his leadership, by his courage.
This is hard work. It is not easy. The status quo here simply isn’t good enough. I said it in the earlier meeting, if you look at Oakland’s ninth graders and you look at Oakland’s 12th graders amongst African American and Latino ninth (and) 12th graders, we lose half. We lose 50 percent. That is unsustainable. That is morally unacceptable. And so we have to be willing to be challenge the status quo.
Tony’s leadership is going to be huge, but he can’t do it by himself. It’s got to be the entire community rallying behind these efforts. And I think Oakland — three, four, five years from now — could be one of the highest performing districts in the country. I absolutely believe that, and I will do whatever I can to be a good partner and to see this progress happen as rapidly as it can. I feel a huge since of urgency. We can’t keep losing half of our children to the streets. We can’t do it.