US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is visiting Delaware today. I attemped to score an invite to this event, but was rebuffed by event planners. This is my usual piss-poor procrastination at work, so I’ll forgive them this time. Though, something tells me I’d be denied entry if they knew the type of questions I’d like to ask the Secretary. Even though I’m unable to attend this event, I’ve got some folks on the inside. I’ve forwarded them the below questions in the hope they can be asked.
1) Sec. Duncan, you’ve made many positive comments in the past about the highest-needs schools providing “wraparound services” to the neediest of our children. That is, keeping the school doors open well past the closing bell with medical services, tutoring for students and GED and college classes for parents, and enrichment activities. Many teachers support this model. How could the federal government best help state and local governments with funding these initiatives?
2) Under the banner of “education reform,” we are seeing an influx of “corporate influence” in our public schools. That is, lots of businesses want to have their say in the classroom, even though they may not have the unique insight that so many teachers and support professionals on the populations we work with every day. How do you feel we can best pair with corporate partners without their influence becoming too heavy handed in driving policy discussions?
3) Let’s face it. It really is all about test scores. In so many of our schools, students hear little more than “raise the score! raise the score!” It’s become a bizarre ritual to see students quantify and qualify their successes based on a score that could have been derived from guessing an answer. By some calculations, testing is taking between 10-15% of the school year for many of our schools. How much testing is too much testing and what results are we really looking for?
4) The 10th Amendment provides that powers not granted the federal government nor prohibited to the States are therefore reserved TO the States. Does the ever-increasing Federal oversight of our schools — which aren’t powers granted by the Constitution — constitute a grave intrusion into local control? I’m speaking specifically of No Child Left Behind to a large extent and Race to the Top to a smaller extent.
5) No Child Left Behind is the law. It specifies that by 2014 ALL students will reach grade-level proficiency in math and reading…or else! Now, many states are applying for waivers because they realize those goals are too lofty and perhaps wholly unattainable. Let’s take this a step farther. How long can we continue to go down this “waiver” road before we figure out what “or else” means?
6) “Education reform” is a business. Let’s face it. There are thousands of people in edreform who stand to make profits based on untested theories they believe will help close the achievement gap. Ask teachers, though. We know what works. Smaller class sizes and increasing parental involvement. Privatizing schools and converting them to charters will do little without our addressing these greater societal needs. Shouldn’t we be listening to more teachers than MBAers when it comes to our students’ needs? We don’t see teachers invading corporate board rooms and dictating how they should pay out their dividends.
I’ve got so much more to ask. I’m hoping there will be Q&A and that some of these questions — or variants therein — will be asked.