PEABODY — Martha Kanter, the U.S. undersecretary of education, was in Peabody yesterday to speak with local school officials — college presidents, superintendents, teachers, principals and students — about federal initiatives and to listen to ideas and concerns from those on the front lines of American education.
“Help us understand where government on the state, federal and local level can be most effective,” said Kanter, a Massachusetts native who attended Salem State University. “Great ideas do not come from Washington. They come when we understand where excellence is happening and try to learn from that.”
The undersecretary was in Peabody yesterday at the request of Congressman John Tierney, who is on the Education House Committee and sat at the lead table with Kanter as she spoke to the few dozen in attendance about President Barack Obama’s education goals and took questions. The forum took place in an auditorium at the Peabody Municipal Light Plant.
“The nation is losing too many people,” said Kanter, referring to the nation’s subpar college graduation rates. “We need to graduate more college students with the skills they need. (Massachusetts) is literally leading the way in excellence, but we need to do more.”
College-educated students have a better chance getting a good job and of being civic leaders in their communities, she said.
“That’s our character as a nation, and I think we’ve lost that over time; it takes discipline, and we’ve lost that and need to get it back,” she said. “In one generation, we went from first in the world (in college graduation rate) to 16th. We’re behind Canada. That really frustrates me as an American.”
Most states are now cutting funding to both K-12 education and higher education, she said.
“America is not acting as if education is an investment,” she said.
The educators in attendance spoke to Kanter and Tierney about a wide range of topics from distance learning to over-regulation to not enough regulation to lack of funding, high tuition rates, undocumented college students and the challenge of getting up-to-date technology in the classroom.
“We’re very thankful that you’d come here, to actually get to talk to you directly and perhaps take our ideas to Washington is extraordinary,” said Wayne Burton, president of North Shore Community College.