Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared on the Colbert Report Tuesday evening where he stressed the importance of both preschool and post-secondary education to host Stephen Colbert.
“Why do you want to take our children away from us when they are at their most adorable?” the comedian quipped about the administration’s push for universal preschool education.
Duncan came armed with a reply. Studies have shown there’s a seven to one return on investment when children attend preschool, he said. Preschool attendees are less likely to become involved in crime, get pregnant or drop out of high school, and they are more likely to attend college, he continued.
“So if I invest in one pre-Kindergartner, “Colbert asked, “I get seven of them when they graduate?”
“Yes, that’s exactly right,” Duncan said.
“Well, I’m in!” came the reply.
Joking aside, the education secretary took the opportunity to tell an audience that may not follow education news closely about Obama administration initiatives like Common Core, a set of academic standards about what kids should learn in school, and Race to the Top, an initiative partially aimed at increasing college attendance and graduation rates.
But Colbert couldn’t resist the opportunity to inject a little humor, much to the amusement of the audience.
‘Why does everything have to be about race with this guy?” he asked.
The nation, Duncan said, now ranks 12th when it comes to college graduation rates. A generation ago, the United States led the pack.
“We need to make sure every child -- rich, poor, black, white, Latino, doesn’t matter -- has a chance to get a great education,” he said. “That’s what this is about.”
The satirist asked Duncan whether a college education is the only viable path. The Obama administration has repeatedly stressed college as the key to success. While Duncan didn’t give an explicit answer, he said people who drop out of high school are basically “condemned to poverty,” and that “some form of higher education...is right for everyone.”
The two also talked about the administration’s push to phase out traditional textbooks and go digital.
“Those textbooks are obsolete the day we buy them,” Duncan said, adding he hopes to move from print to digital as fast as possible.
Colbert joked the move might not be such a good thing for some kids.
“When I was in high school,” he said, “the only thing that kept me from being stuffed in my locker on a daily basis was that it was full of books.”
The audience laughed at Colbert’s joke, but a remark from Duncan about the impact of real teachers on the ground garnered the biggest cheers.
“The best ideas in education frankly don’t come from me, don’t come from anyone else in Washington, they come from local teachers,” he said. “we have to listen to them.”