“To out-compete the world tomorrow, we must out-educate the world today.” — President-elect Barack Obama
And with those words he appointed Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan to be the Secretary of Education. He’s a man carrying a great deal of controversial decisions on his back, including closing schools that can’t seem to improve and overhauling curricula.
Here’s how I feel about it…
Plus: He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard.
You can’t attribute that to politics.
Minus: He has no formal teaching experience.
Sometimes that doesn’t matter, but it still makes me nervous.
Plus: He’s for merit pay.
Most teachers are against this because the criteria for determining achievement is too subjective — which means that politics will trump ability. But if the program doesn’t take money away from those who aren’t kicking out the top performers, then what’s the problem? I’m for this 100%. As I’ve said before, my motivation is seeing my students accepted at the top colleges and then going on to do something incredible. Right now teacher pay scale is determined by seniority. And a teacher gets a pay bump each year regardless of the performance of their students. No tracking of students has been initiated on a large-scale level, and teachers aren’t told what happens to their kids down the road. Teachers basically have to work blind. Merit pay can be implemented only if there’s a solid record of the students’ abilities coming into the classroom and going out. These records can be compiled, reduced, and utilized to finally see what works and what doesn’t in *everyone’s* classrooms.
Minus: He isn’t for dumping NCLB.
In my opinion this is the worst educational program in my lifetime, and one of the worst in our nation’s history. Those who don’t spend time in the classroom working directly with students only know the theory behind the policy, and the theory sounds good. But in practice, it’s killing me as a teacher. There’s a belief that student achievement can only feasibly be measured with a standardized fill-in-the-bubble test. Only half of a teacher’s job is filling kids’ heads with knowledge and skills. The rest is inspiration. No one learns what they do not *wish* to learn. A student needs to be motivated. They need to *want* to learn. Much of that falls on the parents, but teachers must cultivate it. Testing them all the time brings a lesson in and of itself — that our goal for them is to be able to recite information and methods for our sake. What’s their goal for themselves? Shouldn’t THAT be the focus of any and all educational policies? NCLB has got to go.
Plus: He’s willing to shut down a failing school and fire the teachers.
This isn’t just a promise. He’s done it.
Minus: He does bring the stigma of being a political friend of Obama.
Obama is doing a decent job of selecting a diverse group of advisers and cabinet members from around the country. He should be allowed to choose someone he thinks is good while also being from his past. But in this case he had a pool of comparable choices for the post. Not a biggie, though.
Plus: He supports charter schools and the spirit of competition in education.
Without competition, how do you know if your school/doctor/mechanic/president is doing a good job?
Minus: Given his career, I’m unsure of his exposure to rural districts.
I always said one of the worst curriculum decisions that my old, urban school district made was the removal of Home Ec. That class was pivotal to teaching simple chemistry and measuring techniques to an entire set of students who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in those things. And it shows in the performance of those students today. You can say the same for shop class.
Plus: He’s for transparency in school performance.
Up until two years ago my state had a website that anyone could access with a slew of information about any public school in the state. Not only did I find this refreshing, and in some cases eye-opening, but I could also assign students the task of determining possible factors in student performance based upon the wealth of data they could access. That site has since been removed. I’ve contacted those in charge of maintaining that information and have been told that it was simply too time-consuming, and therefore would probably not be returning. If Mr. Duncan can force states to report en masse to a team of analysts who can then disseminate the information back out to the public, that would be a major achievement.
So overall I think it was a good pick. Let’s hope it was. Feel free to give your opinion on matters in the comments.