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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As a parent with two kids who were poorly served by conventional instructional schools, a key issue that could be tackled by the Obama administration educational braintrust is to facilitate "Many Educational Paths", that is creating a regulatory environment and federal facilitation that promotes rather than works against profoundly alternative schools. A key way of facilitating this change would be to encourage states to develop more robust and holistic evaluation methodologies for schools, rather than the reductionistic high-stakes multiple-choice testing that promotes "teaching to the test" and favors conventional instructional schools (that focus on teaching a certain set of facts) over alternative schools that would focus on more skill-focused, in-depth or learner-driven learning.

Cooper Zale
The greatest need I see is for real fiscal incentives for teens to work their own way into college that they can start on as soon as they turn 13. Almost all college-oriented scholarship dollars are applied for in the junior or senior year, but that is too late!

The U.S. needs merit-based college access for teens. e.g. a series of Savings Bonds that you earn from your own school and out-of-school academic efforts from the time you are 13 - a "Teen GI Bill" (standing for Global Innovation), to encourage and support 21st Century knowledge and skills needed for U.S. participation in the global economy.

The in-school and out-of-school learning that qualifies for bonding should be required to integrate technology, global communications, entrepreneurship, and the science, engineering mathematics and fine arts (media arts especially) in small team and leadership and creativity-evoking learning situations that achieve measurable educational outcomes.
All societies have a moral obligation to educate their children effectively. We know how to educate children effectively. The research on this is substantial and powerful. We know that children learn in different ways, at different rates, and have different levels of motivation to learn. Yet, we educate them in groups of 30 or so inside classrooms. This group-based, classroom-situated teaching and learning holds instructional content and time constant and allows learning to vary. Consequently, many children are left behind.

Why not hold learning constant and allow instructional time and content to vary? We can do this by providing children with customized, personalized, student-centered learning experiences and that would not leave any children behind. Think about it. If children are receiving learning experiences that are tailored to their needs, interests, abilities, and learning styles, how in the world could any of them be left behind.

So, the most important issue for the future of education, in my opinion, is to transform entire school systems to become learner-centered. The technology to do this is available. The change methodologies to facilitate this transformation are available.

Transforming school systems in ways that abandon the old paradigm of teaching and learning (group-based, classroom-situated) will not be easy. The field of education is full of entrenched stakeholders in that old approach. Just look at some of the recommendations for improving education coming from the new Administration and from educators who have influence in the Obama education camp. None of those recommendations aim to move us toward a new and needed paradigm for teaching and learning. They all seem to sustain the old paradigm.
A grand bargain must be made. The Secretary of Education must use the "bully pulpit" to move our education system away from "risk aversion" in order to stimulate the innovation we need to close achievement gaps and improve equal participatory opportunity. Administrative micro-management and tinkering won't get us to where we need to be, soon enough. Innovation is inherently risky. Not everything works as it's intended.

A good starting point is to open up the use and access to the Internet and social media in the classroom. Remove the limitations designed to program out all risk and possibilities of a "failure." Start from the position of "trusting" the classroom teacher. (Some will betray our trust and must be dealt with on an individual basis, but it should not be the canon of administrative rules that eliminating one mistake takes precedent over a spirit of open access and innovation for the vast majority of teaching professionals who possess a lot more innovative spirit and creativity than they are given credit for by a system of risk/liability management.)

So, the grand bargain is: Open up access to the Internet at the classroom teacher level. Give teachers and students more responsibility and freedom for access choices and tools (i.e., social media and new applications). Allow tech staffs to play "advisory roles." But we need to move away from the position of "tech autocracies." It severely limits creativity and innovation in teaching in an era where five socio-technology trends (social production, social networking, a semantic web, media grids, and biology as the mother-science of the 21st century) redefine the meaning of knowledge and learning. In exchange for open access, prepare the community, school administrators and "leadership," and education professionals for less fear of the consequences of risk and mistakes.
I second that! As I've been teaching professional development I have found schools where even the tools the districts want them to use (ie. twitter, ning) are blocked for the faculty!
Please use experienced teachers and teachers who are still in the classroom in order to produce the most useful and successful programs. Many of us who are involved in education are sick and tired of the same failed programs with different names.

The probable end of NCLB

One of the nice effects about living near or in New Hampshire is being able to meet Presidential candidates up close and personal every four years. Right before the New Hampshire Primary my wife, some friends and I decided to re-politicize ourselves and take part in both an Obama and Clinton rally. Thinking back we all realized we haven’t done this in many a decade.

At the Clinton rally I was allowed to ask how the candidate felt about NCLB. She stated it was a failed program the Bush Administration refuses to finance. She stated that if elected she would either scrap or change it so it could work. She eloquently stated she understood accountability was important but the idea schools in trouble should be penalized simply did not make sense.

She also stated a test should not have the power to both define the student and equate if a school is successful. She understood many states ‘dumbed’ down their tests in order to succeed in a program without any thought of how it was hurting their students. Hillary Clinton went on to state too much time is being wasted teaching to a test that literally means nothing. This test-taking time and preparation was simply taking time away from educating the children of our nation.

OK, it is obvious Hillary Clinton was speaking to the choir about the failures of this program. But, it was heartening for me to hear the potential powers understand that this program is a total failure. As a teacher I am still being forced into programs and curricula I know will fail. As an educator I am dismayed over the time and money being spent in order to do nothing. I pray there is a light at the end of the tunnel when we once again will be able to teach our students what they need to know in order to succeed in their lives and not on a test.

OK, so what should take its place? A little over a decade ago there was a program called, “The School Improvement Program”. Basically what it stated was individual schools were responsible for their own success. I am not talking about whole districts; I am talking about individual elementary, middle, and high schools. As far as accountability the schools would be responsible for how well their students do. The students would be followed throughout their term so that any problems could be determined before it got out of hand. I am not talking about tests here. I am talking about programs like New Hampshire’s “Follow the Child Program” that could help our students succeed.

Also when a child graduates from high school he or she should be followed to see if what they learned helped in their lives. The best way to perceive if a school is successful is to see if the student is successful after they leave the school. This can be done by following their terms in post-secondary education, the work force, and even the military.

The concept the NCLB program is a failure is a universal one. It should be scrapped as soon as possible with a more viable program put in its place that has more emphasis on our children and not on the program itself. If anyone has any comments, either pro or con I sincerely welcome them.
Carol Broos will be talking with the administration about these key issue. All of us are encouraged to sign a petition through in support of " a public education system worthy of a democracy, one characterized by strong public schools, equity of educational resources, and an informed, involved citizenry."

Taken from a letter from John Goodlad:
The Forum for Education and Democracy has been putting together a web-based national petition campaign to elevate the needs of young people and public schools. The goal of this campaign—launched yesterday—is to build on the optimism of the recent presidential campaign (“Yes We Can”), address the shared anxiety about our uncertain future (“Will We Really?”), and turn those feelings into the promise of collective action (“Yes We Will”).

To learn more—and to share your voice—we urge you to stop what you are doing for just five minutes and visit to watch the powerful short film that frames the issues of our movement, sign the petition, and help us turn energy into action. Together, we can turn the hopeful energy of the presidential campaign into the actualized promise of not just a better society for our children, but also a more hopeful future for our democracy.

Yes We Will.

We are hoping for a extraordinarily large and highly visible outpouring by educators, parents, students, and citizens to make the needs of young people and public schools a top priority of President-elect Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office (and beyond). The time is now.
Cordially, John

Nadine Ball
When I just started to teach it was a norm to teach a class; now, 20 years later, I am trying to teach 32 individuals in this class, and then repeat that 5 times with 5 classes every day. It's not just me, the whole system's moving to individualized education, which means: to identify the needs of each student in each class in the subject I teach and meet these needs.
The only way we can do that is by making sure that each student has a computer where he or she can keep all the work.
The rest will fall in place if we start with the hardware :)
1. Rework the NCLB legislation. There is way too much focus on test scores and too little attention to the amount of time, money and effort to produce required reports. Way to much money is spent before it ever reaches the classroom.

2. Fully fund IDEA
Carol... I posted my support at the link you suggested.

Cooper Zale
I believe the biggest misconception of the Federal Government is that the needs of schools are exactly the same across the country. Over the past 10 years, local autonomy over educational issues has been whittled away through high stakes testing, mandates, certification requirements, etc. While I do not feel all of these things need disappear, modification does need to occur. In addition, I would hope the new Secretary of Education brings with him/her an objective view when it comes to accountability. While there is much schools can do to ensure academic success, the factors students face outside of school must be considered before sweeping mandates or legislation is passed in regard to school accountablity.
We need to create a culture of education in this country. Early childhood education is the foundation piece for the rest of the children's lives. Tied together with this needs to be health and human services so that children and families have their basic living and health needs met as well as support to develop the family and community relationships and cultures that promote and support education.

Instructional technology holds much promise to help individualize education for students, but it requires significant professional development for teachers. Begin by giving every teacher in every classroom the technology tools, training, time, and support needed to utilize technology to engage, motivate, and individualize learning for students. Bridge the digital divide by providing last-mile broadband connectivity to the most rural schools.


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