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Arne Duncan, All-Star Ambassador for 80 Percent Graduation Rate

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I'm a huge fan of comedian Kevin Hart, and Michael B. Jordan, but I tuned in to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game to see someone I admire take the court: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

It was the third consecutive year Sec. Duncan has participated in the game. Wearing number 80, the 6-foot-5 former Harvard basketball team co-captain ended up winning the MVP award for the night by racking up 20 points, six assists and 11 rebounds. I suppose when you are playing against competitors like Snoop Dogg those numbers are not shocking, but I was impressed just the same - and not just for his command on the basketball court. 

In a piece for the Huffington Post, Sec. Duncan explained why he chose number 80 as his jersey number. He said that it represents the latest available set of high school graduation numbers (for the 2010-2011 school year). In the post, Sec. Duncan praised the areas that have shown the most improvement in heightening graduation rates - Cleveland, Seattle, the District of Columbia and the entire state of Tennessee.

The former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Sec. Duncan is no stranger to the pressures that accompany urban schools and the tremendous weight that is placed on the shoulders of the people who teach at and run them. As such, Sec. Duncan gave credit where it was due: teachers and administrators. He said that the "best ideas come from outside Washington D.C." and I couldn't agree more. There will never be a way to sidestep education legislation from above, and perhaps it is necessary to reach common goals as a nation, but the real generation-changing work happens on a smaller stage, at the classroom and school levels.

Agreeing to play in the celebrity game, as well as thinking critically before choosing what number to wear, raised my respect level for Sec. Duncan even higher than it already sat. In the midst of Common Core backlash and Race to the Top questioning, he chose to make his public platform at the All-Star game one of positivity. Beyond that though, he made his message one of awareness - praising the high achievements of educators and students and fueling a desire to set even loftier goals.

As he pointed out, there is still a lot of improvement to be made when it comes to the graduation rates across the nation. One in five students dropping out of high school so close to the single-most important factor in quality of life is simply too many. Sec. Duncan, along with educators and parents across the country, are not satisfied with the number though so I'd like to think that there is a lot of hope on the horizon. The number 80 is progress but far from acceptable.

As Americans, we are far from a plateau when it comes to our collective graduation rate, and really when it comes to our collective knowledge and potential to learn more. As the K-12 landscape continues to evolve to meet the needs of a growingly diverse group of learners, educators must be ready to adjust and help students reach their full potentials, starting with the basic right of an earned high school diploma.

I enjoyed watching Sec. Duncan in the game and as an educator, appreciated the way he accented the public spotlight. For all of our areas that need improvement, there is a lot to celebrate in K-12 education too - and that is something worth the All-Star treatment. 

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.


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