Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is calling on special educators to take personal responsibility for the success of their students after graduation.

“Today a significant gap exists between our aspirations and reality,” Duncan said of students with disabilities. “The graduation rate, postsecondary education rate and employment rate are all increasing but they are all still, frankly, far too low.”

Duncan’s comments came during a keynote speech Wednesday night at the annual convention of the Council for Exceptional Children being held in Nashville this week. More than 6,000 special educators from across the country were estimated to be in attendance at the group’s meeting.

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Despite strides, far more work must be done to fulfill the promise of equal education for students with disabilities, Duncan told the crowd.

The nation’s top educator pointed to the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary Education and Secondary Act, more recently known as No Child Left Behind, as a “historic” opportunity for students with disabilities.

Duncan said he and President Barack Obama believe that under the revised law all children — regardless of ability level — should leave school ready for college and career.

“I’m asking all of us to redouble our efforts and redouble our supports,” Duncan said. “High expectations must be the norm, not the exception.”