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'Meet the Press' transcript for Nov. 15, 2009

Transcript of the November 15, 2009 broadcast of NBC's "Meet the Press," featuring Hillary Clinton, Arne Duncan, Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the president is nearing his big decision
about the war in Afghanistan.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA: The decision will be made soon.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: How many troops are needed? Will there be a new mission? And is
Afghanistan's leader a reliable partner for the U.S.?

Plus, a controversial decision from the attorney general. The mastermind
behind 9/11 will leave the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and stand
trial in New York City, just blocks away from Ground Zero.

And the president's Asian tour takes him to China today at a sensitive
moment in the U.S. relationship with that country over national security
and the economy. With us from Singapore, the secretary of state, Hillary

Then a special discussion about America's failing public schools. The
president's education secretary calls them “dropout factories” and promises
sweeping change. He is touring the country with a political odd couple
who share the president's vision for reform.


FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): And I'm not sure on my side of the aisle
which was more confusing to my friends, hanging out with the Obama
administration or hanging out with Sharpton.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: With us this morning, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former
Democratic presidential candidate Reverend Al Sharpton and former
Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

And in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, as President Obama lands in China this
morning, we look back to 1976, when then CIA director George H.W. Bush
tries to explain a controversial Chinese invitation extended to an
impeached Richard Nixon.


MR. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: We can argue, and there's plenty of room for
opinion. And I have my own personal opinion, which I don't plan to
divulge to you, about how I feel about it. But I'm telling you how the
Chinese feel about it.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: But first, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is
traveling in Asia with President Obama. I spoke to her hours ago from

Secretary Clinton, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEC'Y HILLARY CLINTON: It's great to talk with you from Singapore, David.
Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: Let me begin by something that's very controversial back home,
as you well know, the decision by the attorney general to transfer some
of the high-profile prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, from the prison there,
the self-proclaimed perpetrators of 9/11, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and make
them stand trial in New York. As you know, the reaction has been fierce
on Capitol Hill among mostly Republicans, but some Democrats too, saying
that there's no reason to give these prisoners the rights of the common
criminal. On the other side, you have Mayor Bloomberg of New York saying
that it's the right thing to do, to make them stand trial just a few, a
few blocks away from where the World Trade Center stood. Where do you
stand on this?

SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, David, this was a very comprehensively examined
decision that the attorney general and the Department of Justice and the
Department of Defense reached in who would be tried in federal court, who
would be in the military commission system that the Obama administration
has revised. And, you know, I'm not going to second guess any decision
that the attorney general made. But I think it's important that Mayor
Bloomberg, that our law enforcement officials in New York, you know, all
believe that New York City not only can handle this, but that it is
appropriate to go forward in the very area where these people launched
this horrific attack against us. You know, I was a senator from New York,
and I, I want to see them brought to justice. The most important thing
for me is that, you know, they pay the ultimate price for what they did
to us on 9/11. And if the attorney general and, and veteran prosecutors
think this is the best way to achieve that outcome, then I think that,
you know, they should be given the, the right to move forward as they see

MR. GREGORY: Do you agree with those who say that this exposes New York City
to unnecessary risks of terrorism?

SEC'Y CLINTON: No. And I think Mayor Bloomberg, the police commissioner
Ray Kelly, these are, you know, people who put the interests of New York
above all else, and they clearly believe that this can be handled in New
York. I have the greatest confidence in the law enforcement personnel and
leadership in New York City. Obviously, it's, it's a very painful
experience for families to have to go through. That is something that,
you know, pains me. You know, but we are a, a nation of laws, and we have
two different venues for holding these people accountable, the military
commissions and our federal courts, and the individual decisions that the
Justice Department and the Defense Department have made, along with the
advice of veteran prosecutors, I, I think should be respected.

MR. GREGORY: When is a realistic deadline now for Americans to expect the
prison at Guantanamo Bay to be shut down?

SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, I think as soon as possible. But obviously, there
are some challenges. You know, I think that every American should
understand that closing Guantanamo was a commitment that President Obama
made. It was very well received around the world, because Guantanamo had
come to represent not the America that we all believe in and that we hold
dear, our values and the way we behave. And so closing it is a commitment
that the president made that he will follow through on. The timing is
kind of dependent upon how we answer all these other issues.

MR. GREGORY: Let me move on to another big issue, and that's Afghanistan.
When we are going to hear the president's decision about whether to send
more troops?

SEC'Y CLINTON: I mean, the president is going to be making that decision
when he is ready to announce it. I think he stopped at Elmendorf Air
Force Base in Alaska on his way to Asia, and I know that he told the
troops there that he's going to make a decision that will, you know, give
them the support they need for the mission that he asks them to fulfill,
and that he's also going to make the case to the American public both to
support the mission and, as always, to support our troops.

MR. GREGORY: Let me zero in on a key issue here. And that, of course, is the
issue of how many troops. We know General McChrystal's requesting 40,000
troops or perhaps more. General Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to
Afghanistan, weighed in on this topic and it was reported on this week,
as you well know. This is what The Washington Post said on Thursday, and
I'll read it for you: "The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified
cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about
sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Karzai's
government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and
mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise. ... The ambassador also
has worried that sending tens of thousands of additional American troops
would increase the Afghan government's dependence on U.S. support at a
time when its own security forces should be taking on more responsibility
for fighting." It's been reported that you actually support as many as
30,000 additional troops being sent to Afghanistan. Obviously, Ambassador
Eikenberry reports up to you. What is your response to those cables and
to that point of view?

SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, David, of course I'm not going to discuss any of the
confidential advice that anyone has provided me or the president during
this process. But I think what you obviously know is that there are many
different views about how best to work with the Afghan government. And
one of the points that we are stressing is that our goal is to disrupt,
dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda. That's why we're in Afghanistan. It's
about our national security. We do want to see the Afghans be able to
defend themselves, which means being able to stand up a security force
that is capable of fighting the Taliban, which is a part of the syndicate
of terror that was basically inspired, funded and directed by al-Qaeda.
But we're going to expect more from the Afghan government going forward,
and we've got some very specific asks that we will be making.

MR. GREGORY: Do you believe that President Karzai is an effective partner, a
reliable partner, and that sending more U.S. troops would actually be

SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, again, I believe that he has his strengths and he
has his weaknesses. Certainly, there are many improvements in Afghanistan
over the last eight years. But there has not been the kind of open,
transparent, accountable government that stood against corruption, that
delivered services to people that I think the people of Afghanistan are
seeking and that we would all like to see for them. And particularly, we
have some work to do to assist and mentor and train on Afghan security
force. You know, what I hear all the time from people in Afghanistan and
reports from others who are talking on a regular basis to people across
the country, is that the basic attitude in Afghanistan is they do not
want to see a return of the Taliban. That was a horrible period that they
remember all too well. They do want security. They want a government that
can protect them and can, you know, deliver at least services, whether
it's from the central government or the local district government. They
also want to make sure that we help them create a security force that can
then take over. You know, as one person memorably said, "Look, we want
your help to enable us to defend ourselves, and then we want you to go."
Well, that's a pretty good summary of what we want to do. We want to get
al-Qaeda, we want to disrupt, dismantle and defeat those who attacked us,
and we want to be able to give the Afghans the tools that they need to be
able to defend themselves. We're not interested in staying in
Afghanistan. We're not interested in any long-term, you know, presence
there. We came to do a job, and unfortunately it wasn't done over the
last eight years.

MR. GREGORY: Define the exit strategy, if that's the president's view.

SEC'Y CLINTON: I'm not going to define the president's view and I'm not
going to define the exit strategy from a mission that he hasn't even yet
announced to the American public. And I guess I would just put this in a
larger context with making these points, David. Number one, I have
traveled consistently for the last nine months. I think I've been in more
than 40 countries. I've met with countless leaders. I've done a lot of
public diplomacy, getting out there, listening to people. I don't think I
can overstate how damaged our country was in the eyes of people around
the world when President Obama took office. And we've been working very
hard to just get us back to a point where, you know, we can have the kind
of open, candid conversations that lead to decisions being made that will
benefit the United States and, and move us toward goals like, you know,
more peaceful, prosperous outcomes for us and--on many parts of the

Secondly, I think it's important to underscore that we see the fight
against al-Qaeda and the syndicate of terror in the security interests of
the United States. I think that kind of got lost the last eight years,
with a lot of talk about how it wasn't important to get bin Laden; that,
you know, we were there for some other reason. No. It's critical to get
those who attacked us. That what--that is what we are there for. And what
we are trying to do is to assess the best way forward so that we can go
anywhere in the United States and anywhere in the world and say the same
thing. You have to understand that we believe this syndicate of terror is
a threat not just to the United States and our friends and allies, but to
Pakistan, Afghanistan and many others.

MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to the issue of China, where you and, and the
president head next. The, the lead of a New York Times story out this
morning about the president's visit there says this: "When President
Obama visits China for the first time on Sunday, he will, in may ways, be
assuming the role of profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his
banker." With that as the backdrop, with China holding so much U.S. debt,
$2 trillion worth, what is your assessment of U.S.-China relations?

SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, I think that our relations are on a positive,
cooperative basis, with a comprehensive agenda that we are exploring
together. Secretary Geithner and I co-chair the strategic and economic
dialogue that we started this, this year because we didn't want to just
have an economic dialogue, we wanted to have a much more comprehensive
engagement. I think that there is evidence that there's some positive
results already. The Chinese have stood with us in the sanctions against
North Korea. The Chinese are part of the P5+1 effort to try to engage
Iran on its nuclear program. We are seeing signs of, you know, a
cooperative relationship.

Now, let me go, though, to the premise of your question. When I ran for
president, I started saying all the time, you know, that in effect we
were seeding our fiscal sovereignty and that China was our banker. So
it's not news that that's going to be in the papers on the eve of our
visit to China. We have to get back to fiscal responsibility. It, it
breaks my heart, David, that in 2001 we had a balanced budget and a
surplus; and if we'd stayed on that path, we were heading toward
eliminating our debt. Well, here we are eight years later, thanks to wars
that weren't paid for, thanks to financial collapses and so many other
crises that we inherited. But the president understands clearly that, you
know, we have to get back some control over time of our fiscal

MR. GREGORY: Can I ask you something different about China, which is in light
of the fact that China has a robust espionage policy against the United
States, that they are cooperating with Iran in international affairs, are
they hurting our national security interests?

SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, look, we are, we are well aware of not just one
country, but many countries that try to gain advantage not just
politically and strategically, but commercially vis-a-vis our own
country. And we're also well aware that many countries have relationships
with those with whom we do not. But I think it's more significant that,
you know, China signed on to our P5+1 statement in New York. China has
been at the table as we have been pushing Iran to fulfill what they
agreed to in principle, to send out their low-enriched uranium so that it
can be reprocessed elsewhere. So I think it's a much more complicated and
mixed story.

But, you know, I, I travel on behalf of our country and I meet with
leaders from all over the world ever day, and I have no illusions going
into any meeting that anybody stands for America's interests besides me.
The task is to look for where we can find common ground and common
interests. You know, it is significant that China signed on to the
toughest sanctions ever against North Korea, because we worked very hard
to make the case that those sanctions were not just something that
America or South Korea or Japan wanted, but they were in the interests of
China. Similarly, in my conversations with Chinese leaders, I make it
very clear that a nuclear-armed Iran will destabilize the region that
produces the oil and the gas that China desperately needs and for which
they have contracts. So why wouldn't we try to stabilize the region by
preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in the first place? So
that's what diplomacy's about. I mean, you don't--you start from the
premise of what are you--what are your security interests, what is it
that you wish to present; and how do you make the case that what you're
seeking is also in the interests of your counterpart.

MR. GREGORY: Before I let you go, you know, whenever I get a chance to talk
to you I like to ask you about a little bit of politics. And I know
you're over there in Singapore.

SEC'Y CLINTON: I'm out of politics, David. I'm out of politics.

MR. GREGORY: You may not have heard, you, you, you may not have heard, but
Sarah Palin has a new book out, and in it she writes this: "Should
Secretary Clinton and I ever sit down over a cup of coffee, I know that
we would fundamentally disagree on many issues, but my hat is off to her
hard work on the 2008 campaign trail." Is this somebody you'd like to sit
and have coffee with, and do you plan to read the book?

SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, I absolutely would look forward to having coffee.
I've never met her. And I think it would be, you know, very interesting
to sit down and talk with her. And I've got more than I could say grace
over to read, but obviously in the next week there's going to be a lot of
attention paid to her book. And I'm sure that, you know, I'll see
excerpts printed and, you know, snippets of interviews as I, you know,
channel surf in, in Singapore and in Shanghai and in Beijing. But, you
know, I'm ready to have a cup of coffee. Maybe I can make a case on some
of the issues that we disagree on.

MR. GREGORY: So maybe there's a summit meeting here. What do you think her
brand of conservatism--how, how does that impact the Republican party?

SEC'Y CLINTON: I truly am out of commenting on, on politics. That is
something that is not appropriate for the secretary of state. But I am an
active observer and, you know, obviously these are questions that you and
others are going to be asking. And I look forward to hearing what people

MR. GREGORY: It was worth a shot. Secretary Clinton, thank you very much.

SEC'Y CLINTON: Thanks, David. Good to talk to you.

MR. GREGORY: And up next, a special discussion here, educating America's
children. An unlikely trio: Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former House
Speaker Newt Gingrich and one-time Democratic presidential candidate Al
Sharpton have been touring the nation's schools and join us here today to
challenge conventional thinking and tell us what they have found. Plus,
as President Obama lands in China, this morning our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE
from 1976. Then CIA director, former U.S. envoy to China George H. W.
Bush on a controversial invitation from that same country, only on MEET


MR. GREGORY: What is the state of America's public schools? We'll hear from
some unlikely allies on the topic after this brief station break.

MR. DAVID MR. GREGORY: Back this morning for a special discussion about the
state of public education in America and how the Obama administration,
with the help of a political odd couple, is taking on this important
issue by challenging conventional thinking.

It is a road trip few would have imagined.


SEC'Y ARNE DUNCAN: This was a unlikely alliance, allegiance,

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former House Speaker Newt
Gingrich and Democrat Al Sharpton on a multicity tour of public schools.
The mission: to find out what works, what needs to change and what
students themselves expect.


Unidentified Boy: You can't just give your students a textbook and say,
"Here," and then put your head down on the desk and go to sleep or start
typing e-mails. You have to, like, really teach. You, you need special
teachers, teachers that want to teach.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: This trio of political polar opposites is trying to solve a
massive bipartisan problem with a workable bipartisan solution.


REV. AL SHARPTON: If we could come together on education, I think it's an
example to the kids that some things should be above our differences.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And for the first time, they have the money to do it. Duncan has
received an unprecedented level of discretionary spending, $4.3 billion
in his Race to the Top Fund, where states compete for their share. But
will this competition lead to real results, or will it cause further
friction between teachers and administrators, leaving the students
without the reform they so desperately need?

And we're joined now by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the
Reverend Al Sharpton and the secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

Welcome to all of you. This is such an important topic and you are all so
committed to it. I want to start by defining the problem; what is, above
all else, a results problem in public education. These are facts. I spoke
to the head of public schools here in Washington, D.C., D.C., Michelle
Rhee. Fifty percent dropout rate in Washington, D.C. Only 9 percent of
kids going to a D.C. public school, only 9 percent, will go on to
graduate college within five years of completing high school. A huge
achievement gap between black, white and Latino kids.

Secretary Duncan, this is what you said about public schools this fall.
I'll put it up on the screen. "What we have to give up on is academic
failure. What you have are dropout factories--you have places that for
the overwhelming majority of students are simply not doing them justice.
To perpetuate something that has chronically underperformed, how can we
be wedded to that?" So, simply stated, what is this president prepared to
do about it?

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We have to get dramatically better. We have a time of
economic crisis in the country. We've been arguing we have a time of
educational, academic crisis. We have 1.2 million dropouts a year in this
country. How can we sustain that? So we have to dramatically reduce the
dropout rate, we have to dramatically increase the graduation rate and we
have to make sure many more of our high school graduates are prepared to
be successful in college and in the world of work.

MR. GREGORY: So the Race to the Top Fund and program means what, in a brief

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We want to reward those states, those districts, those
nonprofits that are willing to challenge the status quo and get
dramatically better, close the achievement gap and raise the bar for
everybody. And what's been so encouraging is before we spent a dollar, a
dime of Race to the Top money, we've seen 48 states come together to
raise the bar, higher standards for everyone, to stop lying to children.
We've seen states remove barriers to creating new, innovative charter
schools. We've seen folks get rid of firewalls separating student
achievement data from teachers. There's been this extraordinary movement
in the country before spent $1. Now we have a chance to spend billions of
dollars to help encourage that, that continued improvement.

MR. GREGORY: I should point out, you used to run Chicago public school’s
system. And we'll get to some of the specific challenges to Race to the
Top that I've identified through my reporting this week. But what's
striking about this is this is saying to the country, "We're not going to
dole all this money out, billions of dollars," which education
secretaries don't normally have at their disposal. "We're going to make
you show us something for it. Go out there and compete. Show us reform,
and then we'll give you money."

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We all have to take responsibility. And simply perpetuating the
status quo is not going to get the kind of dramatically different results
we want. So where states, where districts, where nonprofits, where
universities, parents, teachers, community leaders, where we all come
together and say we want something dramatically different, we're willing
to behave in different ways, we're willing to move outside our comfort
zones, we're willing to collaborate, we want to put lots of money behind
those places that will literally lead the country where we need to go.

MR. GREGORY: Newt Gingrich--conservative Republican, former House
speaker--why is this a vision that you support?

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): Well, first of all, education is the
number one factor in our future prosperity, it's the number one factor in
national security and it's the number one factor in these young people
having a decent future. I agree with Al Sharpton, this is the number one
civil right of the 21st century. So if you--if the president has shown
real leadership--which he has. This is, a lot of places we fight. On this
one he has said every parent should know whether the school's good. Every
student should have transparency about a results. Every parent should
have the right to choose a charter school. Now, I, I would go further.
I'd like to have a Pell Grant for K through 12. But this is a huge step
for this president to take.

MR. GREGORY: Can we just take a minute to explain how a charter school works?

REP. GINGRICH: Well, Arne knows more than I do about this. But basically,
a charter school operates within a framework of direct public funding but
is allowed to be more innovative, have its own work rules, have its own
model of activity, very often has a specialized focus. But do you want to
expand on that for a second? Because you're the authority.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: I just want to say, as a country, we need more good

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: And good charter schools are a piece of the answer. Bad
charter schools are a piece of the problem. But we've seen, in many
historically underserved communities, charter schools being part of the
answer, where students are getting great educations. But as a country,
our best schools are world class. We have a lot of schools in the middle.
They're improving. What we have, though, is we have schools at the bottom
where we're perpetuating poverty, we're perpetuating social failure. We
have to stop doing that and we have to create options and opportunities
for children and communities that have been underserved for far too long.

MR. GREGORY: You want to pick up, though, on your opening thought.

REP. GINGRICH: Yeah. I, I just want to give you one example that we all
visited, because I think every American should understand there is no
excuse for accepting failure. We visited the Mastery School in
Philadelphia. Second most violent school in the city, 25th percentile in
outcome. Three years ago the state became desperate, took over the
school, turned it over to Mastery, which is a charter school system. Same
building, same students. Three years later, they're in the 86th
percentile. And as one young man said to us, an 11th grader--everyone in
the 11th grade plans to go to college in this inner city, poor
neighborhood. And one man said--young man said to us, in the old school
he fought because he was expected to. Now he doesn't fight, because it's
not tolerated. So there's no violence and real achievement. Every parent
in the country should demand that their child be in a school of that
caliber and that the change be now, not in five or 10 years.

MR. GREGORY: Al Sharpton, why is this a vision you support?

REV. SHARPTON: You know, I, I was challenged by James Mtume, who's a
music icon and talk show host, on why I and National Action Network, our
group, was not dealing with education. It was a civil rights issue. When
he showed me the data--55 percent of blacks get a diploma, 58 percent of
Latinos, 78 percent of whites--I looked at this achievement gap, which
was almost identical to a 1954 when I was born, the year of Brown vs.
Board of Education, and I said, "How are we ignoring this?" Then when I
looked at the broader data, that we were--in 1970, we were like 30 as a
country, now we're 15 percent of the people in, in the world that is
dealing with graduates. We are going backwards in a technological age as
a country, and in my community we're getting inexperienced teachers,
unequal education. So if this means that we have to come together and
make alliances to deal with the fact that almost half of the young people
in my community are not even getting a high school diploma, I think the
president is right.


REV. SHARPTON: And when the president challenged us, I think you've got
to go beyond your comfort zone, because what we have been doing has not

MR. GREGORY: Can you both concede that both political parties have, have
stood in the way of reform through disagreement about education policy? I
mean, in 1995, Speaker Gingrich, you were an advocate of dismantling the
Department of Education. Here you are as a champion for a vision from the
Department of Education about school reform.

REP. GINGRICH: Look, I mean, if you ask me, in an ideal world, would I
re-empower local school boards? Yes. Would I re-empower people to have a
range of choices how to spend their money? I'd give every child a Pell
Grant and allow every child and their parent to pick where to go. But in
a, in a time when we have liberal, Democratic president who has the
courage to take on the establishment in education and who's prepared to
say every state should adopt dramatic, bold reforms, I think as, as--if
politics are the art of the possible, our children deserve a chance to
see us come together, to put their future above partisanship and to find
a way to take on the, the establishment in both parties and try to get
this solved.

REV. SHARPTON: I think that both parties have failed, but I think others
have failed; I think unions have failed, I think parents have failed, I
think communities have failed. I would not agree with Pell Grant, but I
agree with him that we've got to find the common ground. And what
President Obama said to us in the meeting in the Oval Office in May is if
we agree on 70 percent, can't we achieve that? We've got to move forward.
The problem is that we've all stayed within our battle lines, and the
kids have suffered. When we have gone out in these cities so far, Dave,
the kids don't care that he's a Republican, I'm a Democrat; he was the
speaker, I'm a civil rights leader. They care that they say, "The
teachers seem to have not cared about me, now I have teachers that do."
It seems like no one has any expectations. The new racism, to me, is low
expectations, where these kids are being told you can't be anything, you
can't achieve something. They can, and we must make that happen.

MR. GREGORY: Let me--all right, I want to talk specifically about Race to the
Top, this effort and some specific challenges that you face. One of which
is a disagreement with the unions on some issues, on the core issue of
accountability. Accountability for this results problem. We know that the
teachers union does not agree with the idea of standardized testing being
an indicator of student performance. We've sought out some points of view
from educators around the country that I want to be part of this
discussion, interviews that we did. One of them was with Randi
Weingarten, of course, who's the head of the American Federation of
Teachers. She spoke to this accountability issue for teachers. This is
what she said.


MS. RANDI WEINGARTEN: A part of why the union keeps fighting against the
demonization and scapegoating of teachers who are really trying to do
their utmost to help kids is because we know we have to create a culture
of shared responsibility. Let's create systems that better support
teachers, that mentor teachers, that help us do our jobs. And if there
are people that are not making the grade, let's figure out ways, which
we've tried to do now with peer review and other kinds of programs, to
counsel them out and to remove them from the profession, but in a humane
way. That's what we mean by us stepping up more.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: She talks about shared responsibility. But educators are saying
where is the shared responsibility, the accountability among the unions?
Michelle Rhee, who I mentioned, head of D.C. schools, talks about the
accountability question from her point of view. Watch.


MS. MICHELLE RHEE: The one topic that is most important to address in
public education today, in my opinion, is how we are going to implement a
system of accountability. For far too long, we have had children in our
districts who are failing academically, and all of the adults have been
able to keep their jobs and keep their contracts and that sort of thing.
And that really, that dynamic has to change.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: So here's my question, Secretary Duncan. Why should anybody
believe that a Democratic president, who relies on interests like the
unions who are out there organizing and who vote, why should somebody
believe that he's really going to take them on, that you are really going
to take them on to force accountability?

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We all have to move--at the end of the day, we have to have
dramatically better results for children. What makes great education is
the adults. Talent matters tremendously. In every high performing school
in this country, you have great principals and you have great teachers.
Student achievement is the purpose of education. We need to evaluate
whether students are learning or not. We need to start to focus on
outcomes, not inputs. And as both these two gentlemen said, we all have
to move outside our comfort zones. These old, tired fights of the past
just don't get us where we need to go. Everybody's moving, everybody's
willing to move. At the end of the day, we want dramatically better
outcomes for students. That's the only reason we all work every single

MR. GREGORY: OK. But so how you--how do you hold teachers accountable, and
while at the same time hold the unions' feet to the fire?

SEC'Y DUNCAN: What we have said, which is a fundamental breakthrough, is
we will only invest in those states and districts where student
achievement is part of the evaluation.


SEC'Y DUNCAN: We've drawn, we have drawn a line in the sand.

MR. GREGORY: But what, but what if, but what if states lie to you? Because
I've talked to educators who say...


MR. GREGORY: ...wait a minute, they can, they can just say, "Oh, yeah, well,
we're, we're gathering the data."


MR. GREGORY: But not really gather the data on student performance based on
test results and still get the money.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: David, it's very simple, we simply won't fund them. This
is--we're talking about everyone moving outside their comfort zone.
Department of Education has been part of the problem. Let me be very,
very clear. We have been this big, historical, compliance-driven
bureaucracy. We are trying to move from that to being this engine of
innovation and in--to invest it and scale up what works. We are only
going to invest in those places that are doing the right thing by
children. If they're not, we simply will not fund them.

REP. GINGRICH: Look, let me just say this is the heart of the matter. We
are all three going around the country on what is essentially a hope. I,
I have no idea, in the end, whether the president or the secretary will
be as tough as they need to be. But I can tell you, we have been in rooms
together now in Baltimore and in Philadelphia, Al and I have been in
rooms in Tucson and in Montgomery, Alabama. And I have seen Reverend
Sharpton, in the middle of the Philadelphia power structure, be amazingly
blunt about the fact that, you know, Randi Weingarten talked about
humane. There's nothing humane about a school which destroys children.
There's humane about a school that has kids going to prison instead of
college. And there's nothing humane about protecting somebody who can't
teach so that they have a job for next year; but by the way, every child
that sits in that room is going to have a terrible future. We had one
young man on, on--in Baltimore who walked out, who said to us, the
difference between the school he was now in--which I think was a KIPP
school, if I remember--and the, and the school that he had left was in
the first school, the, the one that was failing, the teacher would give
them a reading assignment and she would either put her head on the table
and sleep or she would end up doing e-mail while--without teaching.

REV. SHARPTON: During class.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. GINGRICH: During class.

REV. SHARPTON: No, but it was--the other part is that's why I think why I
think what the president's proposed as a collective works, because we
need parent involvement.


REV. SHARPTON: I wish you had talked to Assemblywoman Inez Barron in New
York. We need to have parents more involved. If parents are involved,
they also hold the teachers accountable.

MR. GREGORY: But wait a minute, Reverend. Now wait a minute. I
totally--that's an important point.

REV. SHARPTON: Well, just let me finish.

MR. GREGORY: But wait a minute. But hold on. On this union question, you have
fights going on in school districts in this country.


MR. GREGORY: In New York City, in your city...


MR. GREGORY: ...rubber rooms, where teachers who are too incompetent or
dangerous to be in a classroom can't be fired. You've got, you've got
teachers in Washington, D.C., who are accused of sexual misconduct with
their students who can't be fired. Is that sane?

REV. SHARPTON: And these things have to be dealt with, and this president
has said he will deal with it. But at the same time, you have teachers
that have taught long and hard and done great work that have been
overlooked, and we've got to have the balance there. I think that NEA and
Randi Weingarten want to be part of that conversation. I think that
we--it is unthinkable to me that you have teachers in my community that
cannot be disciplined. It also is unthinkable that I have had teachers
that made the difference for me that get no reward and no incentive...

MR. GREGORY: And don't get, and don't get...

REV. SHARPTON: keep going forth.

MR. GREGORY: ...commensurate pay, don't get adequate pay.

REV. SHARPTON: That's exactly right.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: Let me speak. Teacher evaluation in this country is
basically broken. Great teachers don't get recognized.


SEC'Y DUNCAN: They don't get rewarded. We don't shine a shot--spotlight
on them, we don't learn from them. Teachers in the middle don't get
support that they need. And teachers on the bottom, who frankly need to
find another profession, that doesn't happen, either. When a system is
broken for every adult--high performing, those in the middle, at the
bottom--if it's broken for every adult, it does not work for children. I
spoke before the NEA convention with 5,500 delegates, I spoke before the
AFT convention with 2,500 delegates; I said teacher evaluation's broken,
everybody cheered. So we all have to change. This thing doesn't work. We
all have to do some things very, very differently. At the heart has to be
results for children.

REP. GINGRICH: Yeah, I just want to--because I think you've done exactly
the right thing here, but I want to bring it down to what's wrong with
Washington today. The three of us are making a positive gamble. We're
each risking, to some extent, our, our reputation and our future, saying,
"What if we come together and what if we actually achieve a
breakthrough?" Now, we may not, you know. I mean, everything you've
raised is exactly right. We may not. But I think this--the country is
tired of politicians finding a reason not to try to work together and not
to try to gamble on the future. On this topic, the president has said
publicly in speeches, said it when he was a candidate and it didn't help
him to get the Democratic nomination, that he favored fundamental change
in education, even if it made the unions uncomfortable. And I just think
we have a chance here to break through in very practical ways, but it
does require a gamble on our part of good faith.

MR. GREGORY: OK. We talk about accountability. I also want to talk about how
we attract the best teachers, because this is just a huge challenge.
Bruce Stewart, who is the former head of school for Sidwell Friends, a
private school here in Washington, D.C., spoke to us about that with his
ideas. This is what he said.


MR. BRUCE STEWART: When I began teaching in the '60s, we had that
population of people. And since then, because greater opportunities have
opened up for young women and for minorities, there's been a great brain
drain from American schools. I think we want to get those people back. If
you look at Singapore, look at Finland, the reason they consistently are
testing their population of students in the top levels of international
exams, it's the quality of their teaching force. They all come from the
top third of their colleges, universities. In the United States, our
tendency today is to have that pool of teachers coming from the bottom
third of college and universities and from the bottom third of those
classes. That's something we need to reverse and to change.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: How do we change it? You know, Bruce Stewart says we should have
a national teachers academy like West Point.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: We have a huge opportunity here, David. We have, over the
next five to, five to eight years, as many as a million teachers, the
baby boomer generation, retiring. And our ability to attract great talent
and then most--more importantly, to retain that great talent over the
next few years, is going to change public education for a generation, for
the next 30 years. So how do you do that? We have to make teaching the
revered profession that it is and should be. This is, to me, a call to
service and a call to action. If you want to serve your country, if you
want to make a difference in students' lives, there's nothing more
important that we can do than to help get the best and brightest, the
hardest working, the most committed, the people with the highest of
expectations for children into the classroom. We have a chance to
fundamentally break that logjam that he talked about and transform
education literally for a generation.

MR. GREGORY: Newt Gingrich, what is the knowledge most worth having in 2010
if you are a high school graduate? What do you need to know? What should
the end product look like?

REP. GINGRICH: Well, Jefferson said that religion, morality and knowledge
being important, we need schools. That's the Northwest Ordinance. So I'd
say the first thing you need to know is about yourself and your own
values and your own concerns. The second thing you have to know is a good
work ethic and an ability to be honest. And the third thing you have to
know is how to learn whatever you're going to need to be successful.

But I want to pick up on, on what Arne just said. We were at the BASIS
school, which, which Bob Compton described as the best high school in the
world. It's in Tucson, Arizona. Eighty-five percent of the teachers there
had no certificate, but they were PhD's in biology, they were--it's a
charter school. Teach for America attracts world-class people, and among
the best people in the country going to Teach for America. All too many
schools have rules against it. If you talk to teachers who are really
good, they need, they need provisions for discipline. They need, they
need to go back to a classroom where the children learn and where the
children are expected to behave and where they can enforce discipline.
And here in D.C., that's a major problem. We have a friend whose daughter
is now teaching in a school here where there have been 23 lawsuits this
year over discipline in a school that's fundamentally undisciplined. And
so teachers are told basically, "You can't get enough control to teach."
And this is why, when you go out to the KIPP school and to other systems
like that--and there are 82 KIPP schools in the country--they're very
structured. The Mastery schools, very structured. These kids, for the
first time in their lives, are being given discipline; and therefore,
they can attract great teachers because they can actually focus on the

MR. GREGORY: OK, now I want to prepare--the economic impact of failure in
public schools is severe. And we have one big fact, which we'll try to
get ready for you in a second, about dropouts and what it means for their
ultimate ability to get drobs, and that is that the steady
employment rate among high school dropouts is only 37 percent. Only 37
percent. Should there be a national standard for curriculum, a national
curriculum for our schools?

REV. SHARPTON: I think there should be a national curriculum, but I think
it should be based on the competence of the teachers, not necessarily
just their qualifications. I think that was the debate in the New York
Times editorial the other day. And I think we must drive the students,
going to your question to Mr. Gingrich, toward having a goal. I think one
of the things that we don't prepare is our students for having a goal in
life. You cannot arrive without a destination. And I think one of the
things that we have not done is let every child believe they can achieve
something and then use their educational experience toward that

MR. GREGORY: Right. And on that point, I want to play this sound bite from
the president, who spoke about his daughter Malia coming home with a,
with a grade that he didn't--didn't meet his expectations. He talked
about that. Let's play it.

(Videotape, November 4, 2009)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: There was a time a couple years ago when she came
home with like a 80-something, and she said, "I did pretty well." And I
said, "No, no, no. That's"--I said, I said, "Our goal is, our, our goal
is 90 percent and up." So she--but here, here's the interesting thing.
She started internalizing that. So she came and she was depressed, got a
73. And, and I said, "Well, what happened?" "Well, you know, the
teacher--the study guide didn't match up with what was on the test."
So, "What's, what's your idea here?" "Well, you know, I'm going to
start--I've got to read the whole chapter, I'm going to change how I
study, how I approach it." So she came home yesterday, she was--got a 95,
right? So she's high-fiving. But, but here's the point. She said, she
said, "You know, I, I just like having knowledge." That's what she said.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Parents matter. Parents have to say, "We have expectations for

SEC'Y DUNCAN: Absolutely. We all have to take responsibility: parents,
teachers, principals, school board members, students themselves, most
importantly. We all have to step up. Parents matter tremendously. Parents
are always going to be our students' first teachers, and they're always
going to be our students most important teachers. That's never going to
change. Parents have to be full and equal partners with teachers. When
that happens, great things happen with children. When that doesn't
happen, when the adults fight, when there's adult dysfunction, guess
what, children lose.


REP. GINGRICH: Hold on a second, I, I actually wouldn't agree
with the national curriculum, and there's a reason. I think if anything,
we need to re-empower local school boards, we need to re-empower local
communities. The challenge of a breakthrough in Detroit, where you have
several generations without adequate parenting, you have several
generations without adequate employment, trying to break through there,
as Reverend Sharpton said, first thing these kids have got to learn is
that they have a future. Because they currently have a self-image that
says, "Why would I learn anything? I've got no future anyway." That's
fundamentally different.

REV. SHARPTON: And I think that's not a self-image all the times, it's an
imposed image. I think that parents matter. And as we've toured, I've
held parents accountable. We go to kids--to schools with, with 3,000 kids
and 10 parents at a PTA meeting. There's no excuse for that. But even
where you don't have a parent--I come out of a single-parent home--the
rest of the community must be that parent. We must preach, we must
instill, we must tell them that they have the expectation of achievement.
I never knew I was underprivileged, David, till I got to college. When I
got to Brooklyn College, they told me if you come out of single-parent
home, on welfare, food stamps, in the projects, you're underprivileged. I
didn't know that because my mother, my pastor, my community didn't raise
me to believe that I was underprivileged.

MR. GREGORY: I'm going to make that the last word. Good luck. We'll keep
asking questions and stay on top of this. Thank you all for being here.

SEC'Y DUNCAN: Thanks so much.

MR. GREGORY: A programming note on education. Our friends at MSNBC's "Morning
Joe" are going to New Orleans this Friday. They're going to be
broadcasting live from the John McDonogh High School to kick off the
Brewing Together Day of Service in partnership with Starbucks. They'll be
stressing the importance of education as they reach out to a school still
reeling from Hurricane Katrina. It's a special edition of "Morning Joe"
coming up this Friday from 6 to 9 AM Eastern on MSNBC.

Up next, our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE. This morning, President Obama lands
in China. Back in 1976, then CIA director and former U.S. envoy to China
George H.W. Bush appeared on this program to try and explain China's
controversial invitation to a former president, an impeached Richard
Nixon, only on MEET THE PRESS.

MR. GREGORY: We are back with our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE. President
Obama arrives in China this morning for his first visit there. Back in
1972, President Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit
that country, taking a major step toward normalizing relations between
the two. Four years later, after the Watergate scandal and Nixon's
impeachment and resignation, Chinese officials invited the former U.S.
president back to their country; an invitation that did not sit well
politically here at home in part because it was seen as a slight against
President Ford. Then CIA director and the former envoy to China George
H.W. Bush appeared here on MEET THE PRESS back on February 22nd, 1976. He
was asked about the controversial invitation.

(Videotape, February 22, 1976)

MR. ANTHONY LEWIS: From your experience as head of our liaison mission in
Peking, why did the Chinese invite former President Nixon to go there?

MR. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: You know, I was thinking of that coming over
in the car. They do have a thing there they call friends of China, and
it's people from all walks of life. There's no formality to it, but it's
an expression used. In my 14 months in China, we heard over and over
again that President Nixon was a friend of China. There also was a
certain nostalgia connected with the timing of the visit, because it was
four years ago to this day--or yesterday, I guess, that he, that he went
there. And then I'd say there's an additional point that the Chinese
recognize in President--former President Nixon somebody who presented to
them our national self-interest, but also they saw in him somebody that
was very understanding of the, of the threat in the world. And, you know,
they, the president's visit was successful and I, I think that this
visit, on a very different, private basis, is good. I think they believe
in our relationship. They want a good relationship with the United

MR. LEWIS: You say you think the visit is, is good, and you spoke of
symbols. But, of course, some in this country...

MR. BUSH: I think that's what they say about it.

MR. LEWIS: Some in this country may well see a different symbol. He's a
president who was disgraced, left office, received a pardon for any and
all crimes he may have committed.

MR. BUSH: And that's the problem in this...

MR. LEWIS: And accepted the pardon. I mean, do they understand what that
means in this country?

MR. BUSH: I don't think that concerns them, because they say--now, I'm
not saying whether it should or not. Please don't put me down as--I'm
just trying to answer a question based on my experience in China. They
say Watergate makes no difference. I mean, that's--they actually
quote--that's a--that could be a direct quote. It's awful close to it. So
you see, they aren't dwelling on Watergate. Now, we can argue, and
there's plenty of room for opinion. And I have my own personal opinion,
which I don't plan to divulge to you, about how I feel about it. But I'm
telling you how the Chinese feel about it.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: CIA Director Bush, of course, went on 13 years later to become
the 41st president of the United States. This week his son, the 43rd,
made his first post-presidency public appearance in Texas to announce
plans for a public policy arm of his forthcoming presidential library at
SMU. The George W. Bush Policy Institute will focus on education, global
health, political freedom and economic growth.

And we'll be right back.

MR. GREGORY: That's all for today. Check out our Web site this
afternoon, We'll talk a little politics and Sarah Palin
with Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton. That's our Take Two Web extra.

We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.