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Obama Education Chief: Complacency Caused U.S. to Slip to 16th in World College Graduation Rates

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By David Chalian

Mitt Romney has said he would like to possibly fold the federal Department of Education into another agency or, at the very least, significantly shrink its size, but that doesn't stop President Barack Obama's Education Secretary form agreeing with Romney that education is the "civil rights issue of our era."

In fact, Secretary Arne Duncan suggests that Gov. Romney may have picked up that characterization from the Obama administration.

"I think he's heard that someplace else. It's something we've been saying for a long time," Duncan told The Daily Ticker interview in the accompanying video.

However, Secretary Duncan suggested that the Romney endorsed budget plan passed by the House of Representatives containing significant spending cuts would undermine the president's efforts to create "transformational reform" in the US education system which he sees as inextricably linked to a stronger American economy.

"If Governor Romney is embracing Congressman Ryan's budget, that would lead to huge scalebacks in access to Head Start, that would lead to huge scalebacks in access to Pell Grants. We can't cut off our nose to spite our face," Duncan said. "We need a lot more young people having a great start at life. We need a lot more young people having the opportunity to go to college. Anything that takes us in the opposite direction actually hurts our country."

The United States has dropped from first to 16th in world college graduation rates. It's a statistic that elicits gasps when Secretary Duncan shares it in his public appearances. He blames the slippage on complacency here at home and a failure on the part of the American people to understand the stakes of failing to transform our public education system

"Our competition is not in our district, or in our neighborhood, or our state, or in the country anymore. Our competition is India, China, Singapore, and South Korea," Duncan said. "These guys are innovating. They are investing. They are going to the next level. And jobs are going to go to where the knowledge workers are."
Duncan noted the 25% high school dropout rate in America and suggested the days of being able to land a job and raise a family without a high school diploma are long gone. "You are basically condemned to poverty and social failure if you drop out of school today," he said.

As for the fix, Duncan said that even in these fiscally challenging times the US must invest in "cradle to career" education.

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