White House pushes education reform

Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined has forces with two prominent leaders from both sides of the aisle to fight “the civil rights issue of our generation” – the public school system.

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Duncan joined forces with Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist and former Democratic presidential candidate, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to address the failing American school systems.

The three men appeared on various news programs Friday to push the administration’s plan for education reform.

“I absolutely believe that the fight for quality education is the civil rights issue of our generation,” Duncan said in an interview on MSNBC. “It's actually about a lot more than education. It's really a fight for social justice.”

The three are expected to visit Philadelphia, New Orleans and Baltimore and other major cities this year. President Barack Obama used the combination of personalities and political persuasions among the men to make the case that all Americans supported education reform.

“If Al Sharpton … and Newt Gingrich can agree that we need to solve the education problem, then that's something all of America can agree we can solve,” Obama said at the NAACP’s 100th anniversary celebration last month.

Obama is pushing Duncan to have the U.S. lead the world as the country with the highest percent of college graduates by 2020.

“We used to be there,” Duncan said of previous high levels of U.S. college graduation. “We've flatlined. We've stagnated. We've lost our way as a country. Other countries have passed us by. And we're paying for that right now. So it's a huge challenge, but we can unite the country behind it.”

Both Gingrich and Sharpton agreed with the White House, saying that all political ideologies need to be considered as the government begins to host conversations on education legislation.

“Education has to be the number one civil right of the 21st century and I’ve been passionate about reforming education,” Gingrich said on NBC’s “Today” show on Friday. “And we can't get it done as a partisan issue.”

“If there's anything Americans should be mature enough about to have a decent conversation, it's the education of their children,” Sharpton said on the program.