U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, addressing a hotel banquet room in Minneapolis packed with the nation's top state education officials, said Friday morning that college leaders and K-12 leaders "have frequently acted as if they occupy different universes.''
Duncan said both have to work much more closely together if the United States expects to achieve the goal set by President Obama of regaining its standing as the most educated nation in the world. In recent decades, about 10 other industrialized democracies, mostly in Europe, have surpassed the U.S. in the percentage of population with higher-education credentials.
Duncan went on to praise as "absolutely historic'' the first-ever joint national meeting of the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which met in coordination this week at the Graves 601 Hotel.
The moment was especially sweet for James H. McCormick, chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MNSCU), who is nearing retirement and serving as chairman of SHEEO this year. McCormick by all accounts in his decade as chancellor has made a mark improving Minnesota's public college system, in part through better alignment of curriculum for careers and the workforce. Integrating primary and secondary school systems with higher-ed systems has been a "hot idea'' for at least a decade, McCormick said, and "we can't succeed if we don't work together... I'm excited this first meeting is here in Minnesota.''
McCormick gave credit to the top staff officials of the two national organizations, Paul Lingenfelter of SHEEO and Gene Wilhoit of CCSSO, for the complex planning that made the historic joint meeting possible.
In an intriguing public conversation between those two leaders, preceding Duncan's address, Lingenfelter noted that in the early 1970s, about 70 percent of the U.S. workforce had a high-school diploma or less. That minimally educated segment has been reduced to about 40 percent, but it's not nearly good enough for the knowledge-based economy of the future. "We're going to have to change, and we're going to have to change a lot'' to achieve further progress, Lingenfelter said. (Growth & Justice has advocated a goal of 75 percent higher-ed attainment in Minnesota by the end of this decade, meaning only 25 percent of the population will have a high school diploma or less.)
Wilhoit called for more reliance on "evidence-based research on what it is in K-12 that leads to success in higher-ed'' and added that "what we do in higher ed has to be consistent and aligned with what we're doing in K-12.''
Duncan urged more collaboration and promised that he and other federal Education Department officials would do everything they can to hasten and increase coordination between systems.
"We'll be there... This is a big, big deal for us,'' Duncan said.