Arne Duncan, Mom Congress, and Me

Parenting Magazine and the U.S. Department of Education had a great idea: let's create a Mom Congress Town Hall about Education and have Sect. Arne Duncan travel to various places and, well, talk about education. So on November 9, Emily Rempe (Delegate from Ohio 2010), Cathy McManus (Communications Director at The Parenting Group) and I met to meet and greet the Sect. I was happy to attend and listen to the questions that the audience had as well as to hear what the Sect. had to say about the "state of education" today, especially as the ESEA re-authorization goes forward. Here are some notes:

NOTE: these are my notes as the Sect. addressed the audience then participated in a Q & A. So if there are any misquotes, it is my own fault as I was trying to keep up with all the information! So, don't quote my quotes or you might be repeating a misquote. 

Right now we have a problem. Our children in education do not have a level playing field. We have to ask "How do we get better faster?" especially as we face tough economic times. In education our children only get ONE chance. In Ohio there were 165k 9th graders but only 119k 12th graders graduated. Ohio is losing 46k students between 9-12th grade. In fact, according to PISA scores MA has the highest scores, but if MA was it's own country, it would rank 17th overall, and Ohio? Well, it would rank 43rd. 

We must invest in education and stop thinking of it as an expense. We can educate our way to a better economy. 

NCLB is broken. It is punitive. Education has to be non-political and parents are full and equal partners who MUST challenge the status quo. We, as a country, have become far too complacent. Our children deserve and need more. 

Question: "why are students dropping out in Ohio?" Answer is complicated. Symptom of other issues. Some students are bored and not challenged, sometimes the work is too easy. Also students have complex home and community issues and need a mentor or other support to help them achieve their goals. Raising rigor reduces the dropout rate, creating strong adult mentoring relationships, and to stop cutting extra curricular activity. 

You can predict in kindergarten who will drop out by looking at the attendance rates. Those that miss a great deal of school in the early years tend to miss the boat in high school. We know what children need support so we must invest in a different way for the long term. 

Question: "not just looking at the data, but shouldn't we look at the methods of other countries as well?"

If you look at Singapore and other nations they have elevated the teaching profession by providing better pay and career support. The top 1/3 of graduates go into teaching, in Finland, the top 10%, and if you are the bottom, you can't become a teacher. We may spend more per pupil but others spend more in disadvantaged schools/communities and put incentives in place for teachers to want to teach there. We need to tap into the IT, into the tech, and use data to inform the instruction. By 2015 South Korea will no longer use textbooks, everything will be digital. So will the United States be a leader or a follower? We are missing opportunities. 

Sect. Duncan spoke about the Common Core State Standards in response to a question about perhaps shifting from selected response to more of a show of knowledge. CCSS is not a federally led program, and yes there was a $350 million investment but CCSS is a balance between state and local and voluntarily adopted by 45 states to raise the standards. Currently there is competition between the two consortia, PAARC and Smarter Balance (and if you are interested you can read more about this in a recent Ed Week article by Catherine Gewertz) and that neither set of assessments will be perfect coming out of the gate, but that the competition will help in the choice for the states. 

Again, more Common Core: when you have 50 different states with 50 different standards you end up with a "dumbing down" of situations. For example, in Tennessee they said that (according to their standards) 91% of 4th graders were proficient. However, when they really looked at and had to readdress the standards, they found that only 38% of 4th graders were proficient. The numbers hurt, but they are more accurate. So the CCSS must go forward, we need to measure by the same yardstick. And our budgets must reflect our values/priorities. 

Are you still with me? Okay, go get a sip of water, then come back. I'll wait. 

Are you back? great, let's continue...

Not a fan of charters, a fan of high flyer charters. We need to replicate what works, whether charter or public school. We need to help students pay for college, 40 billion in Pell Grants, help with loan repayments, and community colleges. Year round school: no longer an agrarian culture so when another nation like India goes to school 30-40 more days they will outpace us. Charters have longer hours (9-5), Saturdays, and summer and after school. They have a thoughtful strategic plan, different than what most public schools provide. And a school can be the heart of the community, they don't belong to the superintendent, the principal, or the teachers, they (schools) belong to the community. We need to help address all issues of students if they are going to be able to learn. 

My thoughts: The Sect. was accessible and willing to answer questions. He talked long after the event way over, answering questions of attendees. His staff that stayed to participate in a parent round table were polite and personable, staying long past the one-hour allotment. 

We must better understand the role of the DOE, in order to better understand what role we have in education. There are some things the DOE cannot do, and policy often prevents certain actions. But rather than ask the Sect and his staff what they will do for us, or point out what they are doing is wrong, we need to present ourselves as partners, willing to do the work as well. 

Parents: we give our children "roots and wings." Let's work together to make sure those roots run deep and that they have enough strength to fly. 

Early Childhood education: imperative. 7 million for early childhood, 500 million to states because we have to invest early.

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