Secretary of Education Arne DuncanArne DuncanDems, GOP battle over pace of Trump confirmations The Hill's 12:30 Report Juan Williams: Big questions over Trump's pick for schools MORE said the Obama administration's Race to the Top contest has reversed the trend of officials lowering educational standards and misleading students into thinking they are prepared for college.
"As a country we've dummied down
standards. We've reduced them due to political pressure and, we've
actually been lying to children and parents telling them they're ready
when they're not," Duncan said on Sunday during ABC's "This Week".
He also argued the educational system in America has reached a crisis point that threatens the nation's long-term economic stability.
"We have to educate our way to a better economy. In this country, we have a 25 percent dropout rate," Duncan said. "That's economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable. We have to get the dropout rate to zero as quickly as we can. The status quo is not going to work for the country, we have to get better."
Duncan said there are no easy answers to improving American schools, but recognizing good teachers with better pay and increasing parental involvement are two of the most crucial steps. He said there are 300,000 teachers in California, but no one can identify which are the top 10 percent and which are on the bottom.
"We have to elevate the status of the profession. We can't do enough to recognize great teaching," Duncan said. "Great teachers are the unsung heroes in our society."
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said both sides share the goal of improving teacher performance, but the issue is how to evaluate which teachers are successful and which aren't.
"No one wants bad teachers," Weingarten said. "In terms of bad teachers, both the secretary and myself are one-note about changing the evaluations systems."
She also took issue with the notion that teachers' unions are a source of the problem, pointing out that states with larger unions tend to have higher levels of academic success.
"The issue is not a teacher union contract or a teacher union management contract," Weingarten said.
District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee said her district has renegotiated its contract with teachers to emphasize merit pay. Rhee said her district will soon announce its highest performing teachers, who will receive almost twice as much pay as their lower performing colleagues.
Weingarten pointed out that the Race to the Top and other such programs are promising, but only target a small portion of the overall student population in the U.S.
"I give the secretary a lot of credit, but we have to help all kids. Some of these programs, particularly the ones that are collaborative, we're going to have to see how they work going forward. The goal is to help not just some kids, but all kids," she said.