WASHINGTON -- It was just last year when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called New Orleans the "most improved school district in the country.”
We met him in the White House earlier this week and asked him if he still feels that way, and what he thinks about the future of education in Louisiana in terms of vouchers, charter schools and the prospect of a longer school day.
Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' school system was ranked among the worst in the nation, but not anymore.
“New Orleans is doing a fantastic job as far as improvement goes,” Duncan said.
But in many cases, kids aren't going to the same schools. Pre-Katrina only 1.5 percent of children attended charter schools; now 80 percent do.
“We want to make sure that the good ones, where folks are learning from them, that they're being replicated, those examples of success and best practices are being shared,” Duncan said. “And when charters are poor performing we want to see them close down.”
Duncan said he is a big proponent of improving public schools and against vouchers, something Gov. Bobby Jindal supports.
“My goal is to make every single public school and have that be a school of choice. When public schools are so underfunded in so many places, we want to make sure scarce resources are staying in the public system,” Duncan said.
Duncan said American schools are at a critical juncture. A recent study revealed American kids ranked average compared to their global peers. Twenty two countries beat American children in math, and 17 countries outperformed them in reading.
“I absolutely agree, particularly for disadvantaged children. Children in India or China are often going to school 30, 35, 40 extra days a year,” Duncan said. “They are just working harder.”
Duncan says longer school days and years cost more money, and that's difficult to come by in tough economic times, but it is something he's been pushing for and will continue to do so.