Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asked audience members to join in the fight for education reform at the Phillips Brooks House Association’s annual Robert Coles “Call of Service” Lecture and Award Friday night.
Duncan discussed racial inequalities in education, the need for education reform, as well as the importance of public service during his talk.
“If you can ride on the front of the bus, but you cannot read, you are not truly free,” he said.
Duncan lamented that many students who graduate from high school are not ready for college because they have been “socially promoted,” a term which refers to placing a student in the next grade despite their not being ready. A disproportionate number of these students are African American or Hispanic, said Duncan.
To address these inequalities, Duncan said that he and President Barack Obama are “making an unprecedented federal commitment to these areas.” The federal government’s $5 billion Race to the Top program funds efforts to accurately measure students’ progress in 44 states in order to ensure that students are on track for graduation and college.
“Our children have one chance, one chance to get a quality education, and they cannot wait,” Duncan said. “We remain too complacent about education reform.”
Duncan also discussed the importance of initiatives directed at college students who are committed to public service. To help these students, Obama and Duncan started the Income Based Repayment program in July 2009, which pays a student’s loans after they have completed 10 years of public service.
“It’s an opportunity to learn from others and enrich your own life while enriching the lives of others,” Duncan said.
Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds presented Duncan with the Robert Coles “Call of Service” Award and thanked him for his commitment to education.
Governor of Massachusetts Deval L. Patrick was also at the ceremony and introduced the honored guest, referencing Duncan’s time at Harvard and his co-captaincy of the basketball team.
The Robert Coles “Call of Service” Lecture and Award was established in 2007 to honor a leader in public service and bring him or her to the College to inspire students to become more involved in service at Harvard and in the community. Past recipients have included Al Gore in 2008 and Geoffrey Canada in 2009.