The challenges that face the U.S. education system are often overlooked during an election year, but COVID-19 has thrust the needs of parents, teachers, and students to the forefront. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the pandemic’s effect on the national education system and why the K-12 model needs fixing as the debate over virtual learning continues to be hashed out in school districts across the country.
Secretary Duncan, now a member of the Emerson Collective — a social change organization focused on education, immigration reform, the environment, media and journalism, and health — tells Yahoo Finance that fundamental changes need to be made to the U.S. education system.
One measure he believes would better serve American children better is year-round schooling.
“We need to reinvent. We need to reimagine what education looks like … Why do we have summers off? It makes no sense. We have so many kids that are so far behind now. Our kids aren’t working in the fields anymore. Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy. ... We need more time. We have to get that to them.”
Duncan tells Yahoo Finance that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the deep disparities and inequities across American society, and education isn’t immune from those harsh realities.
“So we know the children, the communities who are most marginalized, most vulnerable have been the hardest hit by this. We have to really do all this work with an equity lens, with a real sense of what’s fair and how do we help every child reach their real potential.”
The former education secretary tells Yahoo Finance that political discord must be set aside in order to fix the U.S. education system.
“Education is the ultimate bipartisan, nonpartisan issue. There’s nothing Republican or Democrat about more kids having access to pre-K. There’s nothing Republican or Democrat about raising high school graduation rates. There’s nothing liberal or conservative about having more young people prepared to go to college and being able to afford it.”
Duncan is also calling on the federal government to get U.S. schools the needed PPE equipment necessary to protect students and teachers from COVID-19.
“We have to invest our school system still don’t have the PPE they need. They don’t have the cleaning supplies they need. We just need to have a major investment. When you see property taxes, sales taxes, and the local state level go down so significantly. The only way to backfill is that the federal level, and again, the absence of leadership there has been unbelievably disturbing,” he said.
Duncan ended his time on Yahoo Finance by issuing a challenge to voters this November:
“I will challenge all of us, frankly. As voters, wherever we are in that political spectrum to vote for political candidates at the local and state and national level who will put their reputations behind improving educational opportunity. And that’s honestly what does not happen. We don’t go to the voting booth thinking about education. And I, again, I don’t really blame the politicians. I put the onus on us is voters.”
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.