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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visits Huntsville, touts Common Core standards

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Huntsville on Tuesday.  He and senior officials stopped in the Rocket City as part of the Department's "Partners in Progress" bus tour.  He also made stops in Georgia and Tennessee.

The tour highlights the states' commitment to encourage reform, innovation, and help all students achieve success.

The main event of Duncan's visit was a forum on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.  Morgan Wagner, a Grissom High School student, also served on the panel.

During his stop, WHNT News 19 got a few minutes with the Secretary of Education to ask him about Common Core standards.  He is the nation's leading supporter of the standards, and we asked him why they are so polarizing.  He says groups have politicized them.

"When states reduce standards to make politicians look good, that's the wrong thing," said Secretary Duncan.

In his education tour through the South, Duncan expects to run into staunch opposition to Common Core state standards.  One Huntsville parent held a quiet protest outside the U.S. Space and Rocket Center during Duncan's visit.

He held firm on his position the standards increase a student's chance of success.

"We want to increase graduation rates, reduce dropout rates, and make sure our high school graduates are truly college and career ready," said Duncan.  "There should be nothing in my mind partisan or political about that."

Duncan has long been the foremost proponent of the standards, considering high standards, on par from state to state, as the most accurate gauge of a student's academic success -- as well as that state's.

"Many rankings put Massachusetts as the top state in the nation.  As many as a third of Massachusetts graduates going to two and four-year public universities in Massachusetts, [but] as many as a third are taking remedial classes. Even in arguably our highest performing state, there is a gap there."

In a significantly lower ranking state like Alabama, Duncan asserts the standards are necessary for students and their communities to thrive.

"If we're serious about keeping high wage, high skilled jobs in communities like this, in states like this and in the country, if we're serious about increasing social mobility and reducing economic inequality, the only way to get there is to give kids a high quality education," he said.

When it comes to the United States trailing in education worldwide, Secretary Duncan said he believes we've become complacent, and living, in his words, our "past glory days."

Space Camp tour

Prior to the STEM panel, Secretary Duncan made a stop at Space Camp.  U.S. Space and Rocket Center  CEO Dr. Deborah Barnhart greeted Secretary Duncan and gave him a personal tour of the Space Camp training center floor.  To date, more than 600,000 students have graduated from programs as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.  Duncan got an inside look in one of the orbiters and visited mission control where students from around the nation and the world were conducting a Space Camp mission.  Then he was taken through the mockup of the International Space Station.

Duncan also planned stops in Birmingham and Chattanooga on Tuesday.

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