Fixing Education: Fareed Zakaria’s CNN Special Report

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria focused on education during his Sunday morning show GPS and had a prime time special with expanded coverage.  The prime time show kicked off with a video review of South Korea’s pressure-cooker test-driven system.  Fareed contrasted the Korean system with Finland’s lack of testing and focus on great teachers.
Fareed interviewed Bill Gates who discussed the foundation’s focus on teacher effectiveness. There was a little footage of teachers from grantee district Hillsborough FL that appreciated improved performance feedback.
The morning show (CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS) and the evening special featured a great interview with Secretary Arne Duncan.  The full (preliminary) transcript is shown below in full.
Some of Fareed’s concluding comments:

  • American workers face real global opportunity: wages are too high and education is too low.  Our decline in education has been accompanied by a decline in wages. McKinsey concluded that the achievement gap would add $1-2T add to the economy.
  • Gladwell said that it takes 10,000 hours to master a concept.  Our students have the shortest day in the industrialized world.
  • Getting great teachers is at the heart of great education, but the quality of American teachers has declined
  • Great schools have high expectations, great teachers, customized education
  • Cutting budgets won’t improve quality; we need to reallocate budgets and keep in mind the genius of American education: the ability to solve problems, learn what you love and love learning; and encouraging young people to think.
  • I’m so taken with Sal Khan, it’s an example of upending the old system, a whole new way of teaching, education that is more customized, personal, and interactive.
  • This might be seen as the time when we decided to fix education; there are folks inside and outside the system with a sense of urgency

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS Interview with Secreatary Duncan
ZAKARIA: If Bill Gates is one of the few people that has enough money to try to fix American education, Arne Duncan is one of the few that has the power to change it.  He is President Obama’s Secretary of Education.  Secretary Duncan, thank you for joining me.
ARNE DUNCAN, U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION:  Thanks so much for the opportunity.
ZAKARIA:  How does the United States compare with the rest of the world, particularly the rest of the advanced or the rich countries in education? If you were to put it very simply?
DUNCAN:  Not nearly as well as we should, and I think part of my job is to wake up the country. I think we’ve been far too complacent. Many different ways to measure it, if you look at college graduation rates among young people, we are now 16th in the world.  One generation ago we were first.  We’ve flatlined.  We’ve stagnated.  Fifteen other countries have passed us by. If you look at reading and math results, we’re anywhere from 15th to 30th.  So we’re nowhere near where we should be, where we need to be.  I think many Americans still think somehow we’re at the top in terms of these international rankings.  We’re not.  That’s the brutal truth.
ZAKARIA:  Why do you think it happened?  Why did we go from being the first in the world in college graduation to 15th?  Why did all these areas, a generation ago we were doing pretty well.
DUNCAN:  We weren’t doing well, we were doing great.  We were leading the world.  We were number one.  Fareed, we got complacent.  We got self-satisfied, and other countries were hungrier than us.   They invested more.  They out-competed us.  They worked harder.  They made this a national priority.  We have to stop resting on our laurels from 25, 30 years ago.
We have to understand that the jobs of the future — we’re not competing in our, you know, districts, in our cities, in our states or in the country, we’re competing for — with India and China and South Korea and Singapore to keep good jobs in this country, good middle class jobs where folks can own their own home, support their families.
DUNCAN:  Jobs are going to go to where the knowledge workers are.  And the world’s shrunk.  These jobs can go anywhere.  So if we want to retain these jobs in this country, we have to do a much better job of educating young people so that companies will want to invest and want to build here in the United States.
ZAKARIA:  And when you look at high school kids who are graduating and then go on to college, both at the high school level and at the college level, we have a huge number of dropouts, right?
DUNCAN:  On the high school side, it’s actually staggering.  We have about a 25 percent dropout rate from high school.  As you know, there are no good jobs, none, in today’s economy for a high school dropout.  We lose about a million young people each year from our schools to the streets.  To me that’s both morally unacceptable and it’s economically unsustainable.
ZAKARIA:  So what are we doing wrong?  I mean, one of the things I notice is the school year, and you’ve talked about it, and if you accept Malcolm Gladwell’s line that, you know, you’ve got to practice 10,000 hours before you get proficient at anything, well, the Koreans and even the Europeans, particularly Northern Europeans, they get to that 10,000 hours a lot faster than we do.
DUNCAN:  When I talk about us sort of being far too complacent, our academic calendar, our school year is based upon the agrarian economy. It’s a 19th century model. I don’t think your children, I don’t think my children are working in the fields anymore. And somehow our calendar’s still based upon when children worked in the fields in the summer.
Our children in this country are as smart, as talented, as committed, as entrepreneurial, as children anywhere in the world.  But children in other countries, India and China, South Korea, are going to school 25, 30, 35, 40 more days than children here.
ZAKARIA:  What does that add up to over a high school lifetime?
DUNCAN:  What this adds up to — I always use an analogy — if you’re a sports team, and your team is practicing five days a week, and my team is practicing three days a week, you’re going to beat me more often than I’m going to beat you.  I just want to level the playing field.  I want to give our children a chance to compete in this globally competitive economy.  We need longer days.  We need longer weeks.  We need to get rid of these long summer breaks, particularly for disadvantaged children.
We need to think differently. Middle class children, who have access to libraries and parks and museums in the summer, that’s OK.  But we have so many children where, during the summer, they actually fall behind. They come back to school in September further behind than when they left in June. That doesn’t make sense.  Children shouldn’t just be learning six hours a day sitting in a chair; 24/7 our children can and should be learning today.
ZAKARIA:  We have these bad scores in comparison to the rest of the advanced world, and yet we spend not just more but considerably more money. Is it fair for an American taxpayer to say, where the hell is all that money going?
DUNCAN:  It is a fair question. We have to invest, but we can’t invest in the status quo. So where we have crumbling schools and where schools lack math labs and science labs and computer labs, then we do our children and ultimately our country a great disservice, and we’re trying to rebuild that.
The president’s Job Act is asking for $30 billion to put into that. Where you see class size skyrocketing, that’s not good for children or good for education. We need to invest, and we need to invest wisely.
Other countries, these high performing countries do a couple things that we don’t do. First of all, they pay their teachers a lot more.  They really get great talent to come in. They also invest more in disadvantaged communities.  And so there’s — you don’t have the great disparities, the great achievement gaps you have here.
So do we have to invest?  Absolutely.  We have to do it in a much more thoughtful, strategic way.  And you have to do this cradle to career.  People look for one simple answer. It’s not that simple.
I stay up at night worrying about the challenges, worrying about the 25 percent dropout rate, worrying about making sure we got great middle class jobs in this country, but I know we can get this done.  We just have to challenge the status quo in ways we haven’t have.  And we’ll have to stop pointing fingers and work together.  But can America get this done?  I know we can get this done.
ZAKARIA:  Arne Duncan, thank you very much.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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Alfred A. Barrios, Ph.D..

I watched the Fareed Zakaria special, Fixing Education, this evening on CNN. What I saw tells me that the educational system still has not come up with the real solution to the problems in education today. It hasn't even come close. About the closest some people have gotten is to say that what we need is the best teachers. But their approach to getting the best teachers is all wrong. Hiring only "good" teachers and getting rid of the bad ones is not the answer. (The unions would never go along with that.) The solution is to first find out what it is that makes for a good teacher AND THEN TEACH IT TO ALL TEACHERS. And what is it that makes for a good teacher good? Well the first and most important thing is to for the teacher to have a strong belief in her students' capabilities and more importantly to know how to get the students to have this same strong belief. The second thing that needs to be done is to help students raise their emotional intelligence. The third thing is for the teacher to teach students all the learning skills they will need to succeed in school. In other words the three most important things necessary for students to succeed in school, and at the highest levels, are a high level of (1) Self-Efficacy (belief in one's capabilities); (2)Emotional Intelligence (control over one's emotions such that they don't interfere with learning); and (3) Learning Skills. I have used this approach to help students-at-risk from dropping out of school with great success. In the first application of my program I reduced the dropout rate of sudents-at-risk from 56% to 16%. One of the firat students to benefit from from this program is now the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. Another major advantage to the program is how easy it is to teach. I can teach it to teachers in a two-hour workshop, followed with at least one follow-up workshop. This also solves the union problem as it will make all teachers good teachers. I would recommend anyone interested to read my aticle on this program for reducing school droput in the articles section of my website,


Tom Vander Ark

Thanks Alfred

Loraine Green

Hello, I am working on a large progressive city's plan to spend $600million on rebuilding their schools and projecting into the future needs of their education system. Having seen part of this special, I explained to the architect I am collaborating with that in order to build schools to last 30 or so years, their design must be forward thinking and reflect the revolutionary ways in which kids are now learning (as reflected in the show). Currently, even green/LEED schools represent the current pedagogy and school system.
I would like to share this show with others working on the project. How can we view it? Thanks.

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