Secretary of Education Discussion 1: The Most Important Issue

Carol Broos is one of twelve teachers who have been invited to participate in a round table discussion concerning the direction of education with the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Jan 21. She was sent five questions in preparation for the meeting. This is the first one:

What is the one most important education issue you wish Secretary Duncan to focus on during his tenure and why?

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We have to support quality teaching by taking away "teaching to tests." Instead, the ways we teach and assess require authenticity. Learning might not always be fun, but it ought to be relevant and engaging.
Why would you teach to the test? I would hope you are more creative than that. You picture tells me you are newer to education and teaching than I. My students take state proficiency exams and National( Advanced Placement exams) I don't teach to the exam and the students do very well.
Kristi... My wife and I were involved in a startup charter school in California that was based on the educational ideas of John Dewey, focused on conflict resolution instead of rewards and punishments, and on principle, did not teach its students how to take standardized tests. The school had a high percentage of minority and Title 1 kids and was evaluated as a poor school by the district and the state because the standardized test scores were low, even though the most kids enjoyed coming to school and most of their parents were very happy to send them there.

In order to keep from being shut down by the district, the school negotiated to re-charter as a more conventional school and now "teaches to the test". Their standardized test scores have improved enough to barely make the grade, but their alternative Dewey, student interest driven curriculum has been greatly diminished and they are basically now a small conventional instructional school, not that different from any vanilla neighborhood school.

Cooper Zale
Los Angeles
www.leftyparent.com
I want my students to do well on 'the Test' for probably all the wrong reasons: I want them to feel successful; their parents demand that they do well; their graduation is tied to it; I want to keep my boss happy; I want to keep my job; our school will get its name printed in the newspaper if we fail to meet "adequate yearly progress."

Now I wish my kids could pass the Test on their own, but they won't. I resent having that be the sole measure of my merit as a teacher.
School districts must map their curriculum to be able to make instructional, curriculum and assessment decisions, facilitate collaboration, align with standards, and address issues of gaps and repetition in what we are teaching. There is no way to improve what you are doing unless you know what you are doing. In many districts, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing because there is no centralized, accessible, articulated map of what is actually taught, when it is taught, if it is taught, and how long it is taught, K-12 or horizontally.

Curriculum mapping must happen in every district, and it must be a priority.
The single most important item the new Secretary of Education and this nation must address is the high school dropout epidemic that is crippling this nation and threatening our future. Only 1 in 3 students who enter their freshmen year of high school actually graduate and that number raises to 1 in 4 for students of African-American and Hispanic descent. Economists estimate that of those students that do drop out, it is a lost in nearly $320 billion dollars in tax-generated revenue not to mention the high prison population that this demographic contributes to with nearly 2.2 million people of color locked up. If we are to truly be a nation of opportunity, and hope, then this issue of high school dropouts and identifying and supporting efforts to scale, quality programming must be not only on the top of the Secretaries agenda, but on the agenda of every single, mayor, superintendent, principal, and concerned American that wishes to see educational equity for all.
You're absolutely right! If between one-third and one quarter of our population is so completely disengaged with their own education that they drop out, we've got to change something. I believe that all of this needs to be weaved together - like @Lucy and @Nathan are saying, *we need funding*. We need funding for programs that will bring education up-to-speed, current, and engaging (as @Jim said). These programs will probably involve a ton of technology and 21st century skills (@Kathleen & @Eric), like creative projects and social networking. Summary: the most important issue is the drop-out rate, which can be addressed with a range of opportunities that increased funding would provide.
I think the most important issue is funding. Good education is not cheap; let's get over our expectations for school districts to be miserly.

(My other priorities would be infrastructure, design and 21st century skills. Let's make our schools places where kids thrive!)
Funding public education is one of the most important issues. Funding depends on a community's commitment to education and overall wealth. This creates haves and have-nots, major and minor leagues. Every child deserves a great education, regardless of where they live. The playing field needs to be leveled.
I think 21st century skills is key, but must be assessed in a way that is fair. Teachers and schools must be held accountable, but this is tricky with these skills.
More than that, we need to acknowledge that what might be adequate in one area of the country might be miserly in another area of the country, and vice versa.
The issue that has to be addressed is engagement. Today our dropout rate is extremely high. One of the main reasons students drop out is boredom and a lack of their classes being meaningful. I have the opportunity to visit schools. During classroom visits I often see students in a passive mode and not involved in what they are learning. The teachers are the not the blame. They are told to teach the test and the curriculum not the students. Creativity is being driven out of K-12 education just when we need it most. We need creativity in teaching, learning, and as a 21st century skill.

If our students are going to compete the will need to be creative problems solvers.

Jim

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