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VIDEO: Education Secretary Praises DISD But Says Improvement Still Needed

Bill Zeeble
Adam Medrano (left), Secretary Duncan at the microphone, Mayor Mike Rawlings (right)

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a rare Dallas visit Tuesday, and praised improving graduation rates here. But he said there’s much more to do, urging direct school involvement by community leaders and faster education reforms.

Secretary Arne Duncan started his Dallas tour atL.G. Pinkston High School, in West Dallas.

Graduation rates have been rising here in recent years. At a press briefing after his walk-through, Duncan said the district has made real progress, but now’s no time to settle for the status quo, because Dallas dropout rates remain unacceptably high.

"When young people drop out of high school today we know they’re basically condemned to poverty and social failure. There are no good jobs out there for them. Of high school graduates, far too few are truly prepared for college or careers. They’re taking remedial classes, they’re struggling to get through," Duncan said.

But the Secretary added Dallas is on the right path. The DISD was just named one of 61 finalists for Race to the Top money, because he said recent reforms to improve graduation rates reflect the department’s own goals.

"Our team is encouraged by where you’re trying to go. The President has challenged me to have our country lead the world in college graduates by 2020. I think our goals and Dallas’ goals line up very closely," Duncan said.

Here is DISD's video of Tuesday's meeting at Pinkston High School:

Dallas’ goals are outlined in Superintendent Mike Miles’ Destination 2020, his blue print for reform. Miles said there’s an important quotation in the plan.

"And it goes something like this. Incremental change isn’t going to get us to where we need to go. We’ve got to be much more ambitious, we’ve got to be disruptive. And it turns out the person who said that, it’s in Destination 2020, is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan," Miles concluded.

As part Miles’s plan, teachers and principals are receiving advanced leadership training. School feeder patterns have been revamped. That effort focuses on solving student and school problems at each grade, so that by the time the child is a senior, he or she graduates, because those problems were fixed when they were found.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who joined Duncan at Pinkston, said it’s essential the city work with the school district, the Department of Education, and business, civic and other leaders for the health of Dallas.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Secretary Duncan visited Pinkston High School in West Dallas, speaking with Mayor Rawlings and DISD leaders before addressing the Dallas chamber.

"More and more people are coming up to me and saying, 'We’ve got to have a great school district. My kids are long gone but my property values are tied to how well our local school does.' Sense of pride, the professionals we’re able to bring into the city, everybody’s getting this. We’ve got to demand it higher and faster. At the state level , local, federal," Rawlings said.

Secretary Duncan said keeping that community leader team intact over time may be a secret to success.

"I’ve been gone from Chicago four years, they're on their 4th or 5th superintendent since I left. Not a recipe for success. You’ll have bumps in the road but if you can stay together as a city behind this effort together for a while then it starts to get exciting to me," Duncan said.

The Texas Education Agency says some things may be working already in the Lone Star State. It cited a report just out from the U.S. Department of Education ranking Texas Number Onein high school graduation rates for Asian and white students, and tied for third nationwide for the best graduation rate among all students. Graduation rates for African American and Hispanic students also rank near the top.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.