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Arne Duncan on the future of education in the U.S.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan addresses the opening session of the first federal Bullying Prevention Summit August 11, 2010 in Washington, D.C.

Jeremy Hobson: Well when House republicans passed their budget plan last month it included cuts to education. Those cuts have been taken off the table for now by Senate Democrats/ But at the state level education budgets are being cut.

Let's talk education funding and more now with the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He's with us from Washington. Good morning.

Arne Duncan: Good morning, thanks for having me.

Hobson: Thanks for being here. Now you've called for a overhaul of the No Child Left Behind law. What do you want Congress to do?

Duncan: We want to fix it. We think a lot of it is broken and we want it fixed before the August recess, so we can go back into the new school year with a law that's much fairer, that's much more focused, and a lot more flexible.

Hobson: I've seen that 82 percent of schools might fail the goals that are set in the law this year. Why do you want to keep this law?

Duncan: Well we want to fix it. And the law's far too punitive; there are many, many ways to fail. No rewards for success. It's led to a dumbing down of standards, which is a huge problem. And it's led to a narrowing of the curriculum, and we can fix all of those things.

Hobson: You've said we have to educate our way to a better economy, but many states seem to be doing just the opposite: they're making steep cuts to education budgets. What would you say to state lawmakers about how to cut education smartly?

Duncan: If governors have to cut, there are smart ways to cut, and frankly, there are dumb ways to cut. You have some governors who are cutting early childhood education. I just simply can't support that. Our three- and four-year-olds don't have lobbyists, but if we want to close achievement gaps -- if we're serious about giving every single child a chance to be successful -- we have to enter kindergarten ready to learn and ready to read.

Hobson: On to college education now -- you need more than a high school degree to make it in this economy, but college tuition is going up. Do you think poor kids are going to be left out in this new economy?

Duncan: I don't. You see some universities, to your point, raising tuition. You see some universities that are actually reducing costs. You see some universities going to three-year programs. You see some going to no-frills campuses. And I think our students and their parents are smart and they're savvy and where universities are escalating costs in ways that just don't make any sense, I think they're going to lose market share.

Hobson: What do you think is a reasonable percentage of people that we should expect can get a college degree in this country?

Duncan: What's been so interesting, Jeremy, is that one generation ago, we led the world in college graduates. And we've fallen from first to ninth. And the president and I just fundamentally believe we have to educate our way to a better economy, so he wants us a decade from now to again lead the world in college graduates. We'll have to go from about 42 percent of our 25- to 34-year-olds to about 60 percent. That's an ambitious goal but I'm convinced we can make it.

Hobson: Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education. Secretary Duncan, thanks so much for joining us on the Marketplace Morning Report.

Duncan: Thanks, have a great day now.

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