Secretary Arne Duncan Takes Listening Tour Online, Invites Comments on Raising Standards

Secretary Arne Duncan listens to faculty and staff at a roundtable discussion at Eagle School Intermediate in Martinsburg, WV.

Secretary Arne Duncan listens to faculty and staff at a roundtable discussion at Eagle School Intermediate in Martinsburg, WV.

Last week I went to  Berkeley County, West Virginia, to begin an open, honest conversation about education reform.

I wanted to hear ideas about how we can accomplish President Obama’s goal of providing every child in America a complete and competitive education, from cradle through career.

As we prepare for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, I want to hear from classroom teachers and other educators, parents and students, business people and citizens.  What’s working, and what’s not?  What do we need to do that we’re not doing, and what do we need to stop doing – or do differently?

I will be going to 15 other places across the country to continue this conversation.

There is one more place I will be going to listen and learn.  Here.

In the coming weeks, I will ask questions here.  Topics will include raising standards, strengthening teacher quality, using data to improve learning, and turning around low-performing schools. I will be reading what you say.  So will others here at the U.S. Department of Education.

Today, I want to start with a simple set of questions:

Many states in America are independently considering adopting internationally-benchmarked, college and career-ready standards.  Is raising standards a good idea?  How should we go about it?

Let the conversation begin!

Arne Duncan


  1. Hello Secretary Duncan. I am greatly concerned about NCLB not because it requires schools to make AYP, but because the progress by which schools are measured is data from the previous years student population. Since we don’t have the same students each year we are basing our data on students who have moved to the next grade level. Our school has failed to make AYP for the past two years, so now we are an ARRA school, and on our way to becoming a Title I school. We also have a new principal who is charged with turning our school around. The problem is our staff is suffering from extreme low morale and many are slated to leave at the end of this school year. We are a hardworking teaching staff, but many have no experience working with diverse populations; our school is 56% Hispanic and 27% African American.

    Most of our teachers are White, 7 are African American, and two are Hispanic. Our new principal is Hispanic, and she is ruling with an iron fist in her attempt to move us forward. We need help and there is none to be found in Las Vegas. I have been teaching special education for five years, and I love teaching but I am moving closer to making the move to higher ed. instead of remaining at the secondary level. Our governor continues to cut money from schools and we are down to bare bones, and he continues to cut more. Perhaps you should make a trip to Las Vegas to see the state of our schools, not just the empowerment schools that they will encourage you to visit, but Bob Bailey MS, Mack MS, and others who are in the trenches. Respectfully submitted.

  2. One possible solution could be to implement video structured lectures from an expert in the subject matter into the classroom. This would require teachers overseeing the lecture and explaining any misunderstanding to the class either after the end of the lecture or the next day. The class could work examples and the teacher could spend more individual time with the students that require it without slowing down the entire class. I had a high school physics teacher that would show videos given to a college class. The video demonstrated the math and theory behind the underlying concept as well as provided history into the development of the ideas with useful real life examples.

  3. Secretary Duncan,

    Listed below are some suggestions to Improve the American School System.

    1. Switch over to the Metric System. We are the only major country in the world that doesn’t implement it.

    2. Mandatory School Uniforms

    3. Raising the Bar (Expectations) for students

    4. Full Day Kindergarten

    5. Stressing the Fundamentals from Day 1

    6. Set the Framework of being a Good Student

    7. Full and Required Physical Education, Art and Music Programs from Primary throughout the Secondary.

    8. Mandatory Language Program from Kindergarten through Year 12.

    9.Restructuring the School Year to a Year Round System.

    10. Study the British and Australian School Systems both Private and Public. The Asian School Programs are too extreme.

  4. Whether intended or not, the reality in far too many schools is that NCLB causes high achieving and gifted children to not have their academic needs met. When a school doesn’t meet AYP, even if only a very few children cause the deficiency, typically the entire school is turned upside down and all resources go toward the lower performing kids and the higher performing kids are subjected to grade level teaching when they are capable of working above grade level. I do not mean to say that the lower performing kids should not get their needs met. But all too often the school simply takes teachers from high level classes and plops them into classes with kids they have no idea how to reach. Then the low level teachers are put in high level classes to teach low-level, rote test prep and the result is the school declines further. How do we help the lower performing children while not hurting the higher performing children? To say it doesn’t happen or shouldn’t happen is not a good answer because is certainly does happen whether intended or not.

  5. I am a Math teacher of Murry Bergtraum High School in New York. I completely support your ideas of educational reform.

    You are known as an opponent of the “firewall between students and teacher data” and a supporter of merit pay. Do you think that students’ scores, passing rates and individual progress should be also taking in account in identifying of so-called “bad” teachers or decisions on termination of tenured teachers should be based only on personal judgments of supervisors?

  6. There are many things to consider when standards of learning for our nation’s school children are debated and/or set down. First of all one must accept the fact that what children know and are able to learn is affected by the wide and wider community. Standards can not be set in stone. They must be based on reality, how children grow and learn, and what are the best ways to help our nation’s children attain the highest levels of learning and citizenship. When should community organizations and parents be included in what goes on in schools. My teaching experience has been primarily in inner city elementary schools. It is my constant hope that the kinds of children I taught shall all be able to reach their potential. Inner city and rural school children will be aided in becoming good scholars if they are able (1)to be cared for in subsidized excellent day care and start public school at age three. Classes should be small. Parents should be able to attend classes in parenting and How to Speak English Well. The texts for this latter class should be children’s books, many of which contain sophisticated vocabulary. Inner city kids have limited vocabularies which hinders their ability to become successful readers. All I have discussed and more must be considered when setting standards for each our nation’s school children.
    I might add that in France (which is # one in health outcomes) subsidizes day care and the children start school at age three. French schools begin at 8:30 am and end at 5:30 pm This school time schedule makes life easier for helping working mothers.

  7. If the intention is to evaluate teachers based on test scores, individual growth should be measured rather than using standardized testing which only measures grade level content knowledge and ignores all the socio economic factors that influence proficiency levels.
    Special needs students in particular should be given the opportunity for measured individual growth and perhaps the idea of benchmark testing could even be used for all students. Years ago, our school district’s Child Study Team did bench mark testing in the fall and spring. I always looked forward to this individual growth measure, as it was encouraging to me when I would see how all my hard work with intellectually disabled students did produce progress. This progress although evident, and monumental to my students, would not show on state assessments, which we must give at grade level with no regard to intellectual or reading level. Please consider additional measures for special needs students that evaluate individual growth and evaluate fairly the special needs teacher who has to give much more time and effort, than some regular education teachers, in order to produce skill level proficiency.
    The idea of benchmark testing of individual growth could be used for all students as it would eliminate so many of the valid arguments concerning state testing and also provide classroom teachers with important information for lesson planning. Every child could be tested one on one in reading comprehension (there are tons of reading tests out there that give instructional, independent and frustration levels) writing (most schools already have all students write a base line essay) and math, in September and then again in May. Basic Skills Teachers, State workers, could give tests or even part time substitutes or temps (there are so many unemployed people with college degrees) and the results could be handed to the principles by the next day. As skill deficiencies are documented, the teacher could focus on these skills in small group, class work or learning centers. If you teach every day, pay attention to all the students in your class, every child that attends school should make growth. Unfortunately, if the children in a class have made no individual growth then the teacher is at fault and the data to support this is valid. On the other hand, the effort that went into any skill level advancement should be documented and appreciated even if the final goal of grade level proficiency has not yet been achieved. A State Assessment proficiency score in three digits that the teacher does not see until the school year is over does nothing to assist any educator in the academic progress of her students for which she will be held accountable. The state assessments also do not provide the proper information to evaluate teacher performance or help that educator ensure that the student who is already far behind is not left in the dust.

  8. Before we talk standards — perhaps we should talk about the value of an education. How much are we as a nation willing to pay for our children’s education, health, and safety? We spend approximately $9300 (on average) for a child’s education per year. We pay a public school teacher (on average) $32,000. We pay Congressmen an average of $174,000. Some of this nation’s highest paid state employees are the coaches of sports teams (e.g., Arkansas, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Nebraska).

    What’s a child’s education worth to you?

  9. Yes, we should raise standards, but not the ones you are thinking about.

    When a child is born, parents are told about standards of care: careful monitoring for developmental milestones, good nutrition, lots of interaction, lots of talk etc. We know these things count for critical brain development and school success. So I propose we focus first on these standards: health care for every child, prenatal care for every woman, infant stimulation for babies with problems, parent education and preschool. Only when these basic standards are met can we even begin to think about academic standards. There is much research on the critical importance of early childhoold. We need to heed this information.

  10. I don’t know anybody who has a problem with the general idea that there should be teacher accountability through standards, but couple that concept with a public view of apathy toward educators and the state of education in general, and it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Accountability and standards mean different things to different people. Raise standards for students, for teachers, for school leadership? Sure, but then what? And what does it mean to stakeholders involved? We wear more hats in one day than many people could deal with in a week for little pay compared to the work and commitment we put forth. We don’t leave our work in our classrooms, we bring it home, whether in the sense of grading papers or lesson preparation, or in the sense of which students are still on our minds at the end of the day. Teaching is not only a professional job, but an emotional job as well.

    And as a professional job, isn’t it interesting that some teachers I know have at one time qualified, or nearly qualified within a few hundred dollars, as being classified for the free/reduced lunch programs? Teachers don’t have a problem working hard, most say we’re not in this for the money, but isn’t it fair, that as professionals, we garner the financial stance that other professional careers like doctors and lawyers, for instance, can expect to attain after completing a course of study and intern hours? The expectations for teachers are high, and they should be, but pay and other incentives, and an overhaul of the educational structure needs to take place.

    Teacher certification standards should be challenging. This would help to instill confidence in teachers who have worked hard to get where they are. If we are going to have a national certification standard, it should be high, and then it should be honored nationally, rather than by certain states. Teacher education programs should be difficult to get into to begin with, having renowned programs who produce high-quality educators that are well known and sought after, like Harvard Medical School, through an application process that has high standards to exemplify the high level of expectations for a high level profession.

    Taking a look at the achievement gap, differences in expectations for minorities that help to contribute ultimately to at-risk labels and higher drop out rates for minorities need to be considered. Looking at teacher beliefs and understandings about minorities should be a part of the teacher programs at the college level, and should be a part of the dialogue in schools themselves. There’s a lot of research that supports things that could be done, but it can’t be done through a method of plugging in a program here and there, it has to be a top-down understanding and change from within a school. While discussing the idea of our students’ standards, I worry every day about those who are graduating now in this economic climate. If they make it to college at all, it is through the baggage of expensive student loans, and then if they graduate, will there even be a job for them? Schools and colleges need to be preparing students for these economic realities, and they should be adjusting their programs accordingly. Just because you have a college degree does not guarantee a job. That’s a bleak realization to put on hopeful students ready to try it on their own. We have to help them face this reality in a proactive way that avoids lowering educational and achievement standards.

    The number of teachers who do not continue their education beyond a bachelor’s degree is hindered by the fact that in many states, having an advanced degree will currently only increase a teacher’s salary by something like $500/year. Teachers are getting a mixed message here. Schools want highly skilled educators in the classroom who are qualified to help students achieve higher academic standards, but we don’t want to adjust pay scales that honor the educator’s time and effort at this level. It says something very backward to an educator, when their own further education isn’t honored by the system they have chosen to work for. If we value higher education, incentives for teachers should be in place.

    I’m sort of a veteran teacher at 13 years now, and I love what I do for a living, but teaching and education needs to be a priority. There are many dedicated teachers who do their jobs in spite of their own teaching environments, in spite of their students’ home environments, in spite of last year’s scores or some kind of socioeconomic printout about their students. Teachers need to be met halfway. We’re doing the work in the trenches, but we need the tools and the support to do our jobs to the best of our abilities, whether we are in small suburbs or in inner city schools, recognizing unique challenges that face unique school communities. While we can’t change the context of our student’s homes, SES levels, etc., we should be providing a level playing field while students are at school. Our educational system needs a new road, because the one we’re on isn’t working for us, and more importantly, it isn’t working for our children. If our students are our future, then we owe it to them to create a proper avenue for them to get there.

    4th Grade Writing Teacher, Texas

  11. I am concerned that all we talk about are preparing students for college and careers. I think our most pressing concern is to prepare students to be good citizens. This is the main purpose for education and we seem to veer away from it. We lose focus of the true mission and vision for K-12 education by focusing only on career and college and on math, science and language arts. We need to empahsize citizenship and democratic strutures in education reform so students of today can be true leaders of tomorrow!

  12. Eric, your suggestions about IEPs are illegal under federal law. It’s clear you don’t understand many students who are special education cannot be held to the same standards as the regular population, i.e., mentally retarded, etc. Not to mention many who have behavioral issues (autism, mental illness, etc.) also cannot be held to the same standards as the rest of the student population in terms of behavior.

    Frankly, most students who are forced into being sped outside of those I mentioned above are there because of rotten curriculum choices by school districts, i.e., whole language garbage being shoved onto little kids who need to be instructed in phonics, spelling, etc., and forced into being taught algebraic concepts LONG before they can handle abstract concepts. Both of these nutty ideas have created a second-class group of students, and it is unacceptable.

    But education’s biggest problem is structural, as I mentioned above, and that has to do with the complete lack of accountability of administrators, who can do anything they please because nobody is watching them. School boards are worthless.

  13. I totally disagree with teacher ten year(I am not sure if this how you spell it sorry).I don’t think a good dedicated teacher is going to disagree with me.To me it’s like a liecense to get lazy.I’m not saying that this is true of all tenyeared teachers,but it seems as though hands are tied when a bad teacher is discovered.I also think teachers hands have been tied in the classroom,as far as being able to punish bad behavior.The last school year was filled with my children coming home with stories of The Same children disobeying and being disrespectfull and disruptive in class and they were pretty much allowed to do so-there was no moving of seats-to remove the bad behaving children from the children who actually were interested in learning-this is RIDICULOUS and when did we as the parents and taxpayers stop being the ones to have a MAJOR say in how things are done?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. I have read many of the above posts-not all- but I have yet to hear anything about holding parents and students accountable for the individual students performance and success or lack there of.I work in a public school cafeteria,at the school where two of my four children go-I have observed a HUGE amount of disrespect,disobedience and just generally bad,obnoxious behavior.This I know for a fact is the norm in our country.Now president Obama wants to take moms out of the home even more-he wants them to go to their now jobs and then go to school in their”spare time” I guess you just leave children a little longer in daycare or your afterschool program.I am not against higher education AT ALL,however if you have decided to have children I feel you should have also decided that you want to raise your children.I know in todays economy some families are finding it necessary for mom to go to work-but my husband and I faced that and we were always either both or at least one at home with our children.There are ALOT of things today that I hear people call “needs” that are in actuallity “WANTS”.I truly feel there NEEDS to be a return to REAL family values-parents raising their own kids-not daycare of afterschool activities.Think about it,who is teaching your children right from wrong,and why?I feel that most if not all the problems in our public schools CAN be traced back to the decline of the American Family.I’m sure this is not a popular view but it is mine and I am not alone.

  15. Dear Mr.Duncan,
    You proclaimed accountability while really teachers are evaluated without any relation to their students’ test scores. The same people who evaluated teachers unsatisfactory at the same time accepted their students’ report card scores which were better than in the other classes. Evaluators never questioned and changed students’ scores that they should do in order to support their evaluations by objective evidences.Charges of ” incompetence and inefficiency” seeking teachers’ termination were based only personal judgments of supervisors.
    In the beginning you announced that you were going to implement tests by computer to know true situation, but later perhaps you changed your mind and did not mention this innovation any more. Teachers’ evaluations by “performance observation” ,especially in math, continue to be only tools of harassment and retaliation. Thus, unfortunately, nothing changed.However, until test scores are credible , there are no chances for academic fraud, and teachers’ evaluations are objective, all money invested in education are wasted.

  16. To Peter:

    EXCELLENT post. As a teacher who has worked to meet that challenge for over 20 years, I agree with most of what you say. And you have a gift for self-expression. 🙂

    One question for you…do you think NCLB has been a help or a hindrance in meeting the needs of our children?

  17. Tell me what can I do as a single mom to help get these parents involved in this education process, and I will do whatever it is that is ask of me;because we are losing to many of our youth to the streets, graves, and jail house, it must stop somewhere and why not here and now.

  18. Special education is completely broken! This must be fixed. How?

    1. Eliminate, or severely diminish, the power of the IEP to exempt SPED students from meeting the academic standards for promotion to the next grade level. Currently, students can be promoted simply by meeting the IEP goals which are frequently set at a minimal level. If all students are expected to pass the criterion tests under NCLB, then passing these tests should not be an acceptable exemption in the IEP. Nor should exempting these students from meeting the requirements for passing grades, as a student’s grades should correlate to their test scores.

    2. Eliminate, or severely diminish, the power of the IEP to exempt students from behaving and receiving punishments according to the school’s discipline code. Currently, SPED students are allowed to behave much worse than their regular ed peers while receiving less severe punishments when their behaviors are acted upon. This is crazy. It simply makes those students an obstacle to success for themselves and their peers.

    Besides SPED, there are a host of issues which hurt achievement. To name a few:

    1. Create a common curriculum for all states in each subject at each grade level, with some leeway provided for subjects such as state history (which should be taught in each state at the same time).

    2. Create a common assessment to be used in each state, grade level, and subject for use in determining AYP. Each state should be required to meet the same standard on the same test to meet the federal mandate.

    3. The common assessment should include multiple choice and open-ended response questions. Too many current criterion tests only use multiple choice, which makes it too easy to guess your way to a passing score.

    4. Expand the mandated subjects for AYP to include all the core subjects of Reading, English, Math, Science, and Social Studies.

    5. Require students to pass each subject area test at each grade level before moving on to the next level of instruction.

    6. Mandate that test scores cannot be used alone in determining the promotion of a student to the next level of instruction. Students must also meet a minimal standard of achievement as measured in their class grades to earn promotion. Again, the standard for promotion would be to pass both the criterion test and the class grade in all core subjects at each grade level. Students could be retained on a subject by subject basis, allowing those who have earned promotion in Math 4 to move ahead to Math 5 while retaking Science 4, which that student failed.

    7. Require every administrator at each school to teach at least one class each semester (not one class period, but an actual course of study from the beginning of the semester to the end). The subject to be taught would be completely up to the administration. It could be an elective course of some kind, a core curriculum course, SPED, ESOL, etc. Administrators would benefit from regularly dealing with students in a classroom setting.

    There are many other suggestions that I have based on my ten years of teaching experience, but this is a good beginning.

  19. Testing for standards and thus higher standards has arisen because of perceived views of poorer educational outcomes. Reading over many of the comments by teachers on this site we hear talk about students who are rude, lazy, dishonest, unmotivated and who come from disadvantaged areas. I read of parents who don’t care and the conflict over whether the problem is bad teachers or bad parents. Some have commented on the need to develop thinkers, collaborators, communicators and there is talk about the 7 dimensions of learning.

    May I be bold for a moment and suggest a slightly different view of the world. We live simultaneously in TWO worlds. One world is the PHYSICAL environment and the other is the EMOTIONAL environment. Learning is affected by BOTH. Standardized tests, core courses, fixed lesson plans, computers, technology all refer to the PHYSICAL process of imparting knowledge and learning. This is what teachers typically deal with when they teach a course or lesson and one person described as the WHAT of teaching. Some on this board have discussed the HOW of learning and eluted to such things as imagination, collaboration, inquiry and other elements that I would suggest are affected by ones VALUES and our VALUES directly impact our EMOTIONAL environment. When teachers complain about parents what they are most often upset with is students who come to class unprepared, uninterested, disrespectful or lacking any desire (all related to their EMOTIONAL state) to learn from the PHYSICAL process of teaching. As I read Rafe Esquith’s books what strikes me is his ability to address BOTH environments (Physical and Emotional) and by doing this encouraging greater achievements from his students.

    I know many educators do not feel it is their job to be responsible for the EMOTIONAL environment of their students. Parents are suppose to be responsible for imparting social VALUES like empathy, respect, tolerance, cooperation, sharing, fairness, honesty, integrity, desire, trust, etc. to their kids. However, we need to recognize that today less than 10% of kids come from 2 parent families where one parent stays home. Fifty percent of parents are divorced. Many children come from dysfunctional families, and bills, problems and stresses often make family life anything but the “Leave it to Beaver” lifestyle of the past. A child who comes to school filled with hate, anger, fear, contempt, distain, insincerity, distrust, animosity, insecurity and/or hostility will not have the EMOTIONAL mindset to learn, regardless of how well a teacher prepares their PHYSICAL environment. Instead of Teachers blaming Parents and Parents blaming Teachers let’s recognize this reality and address it. The good news is the EMOTIONAL environment can be RESET (and has been by some) once you understand what needs to be done. Moreover, the actual cost of doing it is a lot, lot less than cost of outfitting the PHYSICAL environment for learning.

    How do you improve the EMOTIONAL environment of an abused, neglected, frightened, angry, hateful, distrustful, selfish, disruptive, insecure, hostile, irresponsible child? You create an environment in which they feel safe, secure, happy, loved, challenged, excited, friendship, promise, opportunity, tolerance, respect, fairness, trust and hope. When these proper EMOTIONAL elements are in place the child is ready, excited, willing and eager to learn.

    How do you create this EMOTIONAL environment in a schoolroom? By establishing an environment based on desired VALUES. You value tolerance, the child will value tolerance. You value trust and the child will value trust. You value friendship and the child will value friendship. You value safety, respect, fairness, opportunity and a challenge and so will the child. A child who comes into school EMOTIONALLY challenged for whatever reason must be comfortable that while in school the VALUES expressed in the classroom are ones that alter his or her EMOTIONAL sense. He or she must FEEL this change on entering the schoolroom. This is a place I enjoy. This is a place that is interesting. This is a place where I’m treated fairly. This is a place with justice. This is a place I feel safe. This is a place where people are kind. This is a place where I have friends. This is a place I have a chance to try new things. This is a place I can ask questions. This is a place I feel happy. All VALUES have rules but all RULES require explanations. What is tolerance? What is fair? What is respect? What is cooperation? What is honesty? What is cheating? What is punctual? What is courtesy? What is trust? What is responsibility? What is excellence? What is improvement? What is trying? The expectations and children’s adherence to social VALUES change as they age. The good thing is SOCIAL VALUES change slowly so the same VALUE set (just higher expectations) can generally be used throughout all their years in school. It costs almost nothing to do this, just time and effort.

    What do you do to facilitate this EMOTIONAL environment in the classroom? Set goals, expectations, provide opportunities, create challenges, encourage and recognize outstanding ability, show patience, respect and hope, provide leadership, encourage cooperation, practice tolerance but do not neglect discipline, be fair, work to improve skills not just criticize weaknesses, be resourceful, encourage hard work and reward it, seek honesty and truth. These are the VALUES some of the comments have already mentioned – I’m just placing them in a different context now.

    Each classroom and child is different. Efforts must be age appropriate although the degree of sophistication, required motivation and expectation will change with age. Thus a field trip to a local zoo or aquarium may motivate very young children and excite them while older children may be better motivated by a trip to a play, movie or museum. Encouraging physical exercise and self-improvement in physical abilities should be part of every school day as well as team sports. Team sports provide a chance to teach cooperation, logic, physical improvement, sportsmanship and challenge. Literature should also be part of every school day. The youngest children should be READ stories that are both INTERESTING and full of IMAGINATION. Older children should discuss classic literature, character traits and qualities, plot, meaning and relevance to life. Some type of art (drawing/painting, sculpting, music, dancing, singing and/or acting) should take up part of every school year to allow children to find themselves and the kind of art(s) they enjoy. Because art is driven by expression and imagination, talent and effort it provides each student an opportunity to do something they enjoy while encouraging their imagination and effort to improve themselves. Great teachers in the arts are under appreciated for the VALUES they provide to the EMOTIONAL environment of students. Not everything children learn can be taught in a classroom. Many of the most important lessons in life occur outside of math, science, history and reading/writing. Many of those lessons affect a child’s willingness, desire, motivation and eagerness to work on the core courses of a curriculum and expand their horizons.

    I wrote this mostly because of the decline I see in the leadership throughout this country in business, politics, religion, society. The decline in our shared social VALUES has encouraged greed, hate, fear, anger, distrust, misunderstanding, conflicts, war, divisions and waste. Just as some examples: we show less civility, don’t respect others or care what happens to them and so our society becomes less humanistic, less responsive and less caring. As our sense of fairness and justice beings to extend only to ensuring we get what we want, we begin to be more self-centered and less concerned about how our society works and functions. As our tolerance becomes a measure of our willingness to put up with differences instead of an effort to understand and accept them, we begin to embrace divisions and separations in our society based on distrust and misunderstanding. As honesty and truth become attributes that are based relative to our particular perspective of the world and not on a more holistic view of it, we further the hate and anger produced by that narrow minded thinking. As self-improvement and effort become dependent on how much we must do in place of how much we can do, we rob society and ourselves of our talents and ability to contribute to this world. As excellence is something we more frequently ignore entirely and seldom strive to achieve, we prevent the attainment of greater scientific discoveries, feats of engineering and advancements in medicine and accomplishments in the arts, music and literature that might otherwise be realized. The deterioration of our social VALUES seems to encourage a steady erosion of social cohesiveness. We spend greater amounts of time, money and effort dealing with the consequences of simply being less cohesive and less time, money and effort expanding our talents, abilities, horizons and visions of the future.

    I see the education of the next generation as the place to try and begin to reverse this process. However, I don’t see it happening unless we recognize the two worlds in which we live and the need to deal with both if we want to truly optimize our educational outcome. Those are just my thoughts for whatever they are worth.

  20. Secretary Duncan,

    I have just completed my 8th year as a middle school math/science teacher in a small town in Maine. In those 8 years I have seen my math standards change twice, once when our “learning results” were reviewed and updated and now again (2 years later) when we switched from our MEA (Maine Educational Assessment) to the NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) because Maine can’t afford to give our own test. Now I am trying to figure out what I am supposed to teach so that my students will do well on the test. (Yes I commit the mortal sin of teaching to the test. I don’t want to be responsible for my school ending up on the front page of the local paper for not meeting AYP) As much as I can’t stand buerocrats telling me what I am supposed to teach I am so tired of having to change my curriculum or having to spend months with students from other states that are at a significantly different place then my students are. The nice thing about National Standards would be the consistancy across the states and perhaps a nation wide assessment. With a common assessment we can accurately compare state results and collaborate with states and ultimately the teachers in those states. Instead of punishing a school for not making the improvement that the federal government thinks appropriate have them work online with a teacher that has been making the improvement. Let us help each other to improve, let us work together to improve education around the US and let us be the professionals that we are.

  21. 1. We should develop standards that are appropriate to our education system, which attempts to educate all children, regardelss of economic background or academic ability.

    2. We should assess students using a variety of methods, of which multiple-choice testing should only be a small part.
    a. Assessments should take into account excellence in one area of study and balance it with lesser ability in other areas.
    b. Progress should be measured starting with what a student can accomplish at the beginning of the accounting period.
    c. Assessment should take into account coursework as well as testing instruments.

    3. Standards upon which assessments are based should be comprised of levels based on student ability and inclination. Standards should be based on the reality that not all students will go to college, and that there is value in other post-secondary fields of endeavor.

  22. Back in Nov. 2004 IDEA did away with decrepancy model that identified the gifted kids with learning disabilities. How does this fit into NCLB?

    Four generations of Puerto Rican minorities left behind in this country, due the Bush administration/Kennedy Bigotry. Change, I don’t see it.

    All I see is a lot of rich people high jacking the money for children with disabilities while getting rich off promoting culture, and fat off the suffering of humanity. Its always been that way, and forever will.

    Its just Like in the poem by Carl Sandburg, the People Yes. We’ve been tricked over and over and over again. When will we learn? That Democracy is a game no poor Puerto Rican gal from Queens New York will ever win. Its only about the RICH. When will we learn that? Only then we’d realize what a complete waste of time public school is and how minimal it is. Meet the norms, the watered down norms.

  23. We should raise standards by adding more breadth and depth to our curriculum at each of our grade levels. This can be addressed alongside structural changes to the school year calendar, including days, even a month, to our calendar to compete against other nations. Our current school year calendar still revolves around agricultural beginnings despite the several systematic and structural changes to our economy. Teachers should be paid at or more than their current hourly rates for these days, since many of our best teachers have to take second jobs over the summer, many of them outside the field of education, which is a waste of their talents and the quintessential great resource of America, their ability to teach.

  24. I am a non traditional special education major in Wisconsin. I moved my family to Wisconsin as I could not protect my children’s confidential information in the State of Illinois. I need to move my children back, but again I am told, in writing by my school district that I need a court order to keep people out of my children’s confidential records. Here in Wisconsin my children’s school is alarmed and wonder why and how a superintendent could make such a statement and the answer is because no one in the State of illinois nor the Federal Government have ever made the school follow the laws. You see schools are not failing just because they do not meet the standards, they are failing for they are breaking laws. Not every school does this and my case is unique. My son’s principal did an interview with the local paper releasing both of my son’s confidential information to the press, and I turned this into FERPA, they released the findings of the complaints I filed which again I sent to FERPA, the school has where they share information that is available via the internet adn again FERPA does nothing. I sent information to FERPA where an aunt was gaining access to my children at school and when I tried to get a restraining order how the school shared my son’s records, my son’s records left the school and went to the court with my sister in law, never having a court order for those records, and again FERPA would do nothing. My son had a health concern, and because of his health concern the sister in law, as PTA treasurer in Illinois was allowed total access to my children and their records. No state agency was called such as DCFS over the health concern. This all happened after I filed for due process, which we won the case and no one had heard a hearing officer or read of a hearing officer literally telling off a school district as was done in my case. We have been away for five years. I need to move back home to Illinois and now I am told again I need a court order. Why is it that there is protecttion of records in one state but once that child crosses the state line such as in Illinios the records are open to all?

    I think the federal government needs to understand a few things. One thing is this, that not every child will be on their level of grade they are in. Some children may never learn to read efficiently but there are programs for those children to help them such as voice activated software and reading programs. Some children will always struggle with math, and other things such as that. YOu cannot judge a school on their scores alone, you must look deeper and look at cases such as I mentioned and realize there are schools that are failing our children in much worse ways and maybe our government needs to fix problems such as what I have written about first, and that is the abuse of the system.
    Some children cannot do well on standardized testing. I am a horrible test taker. It does not mean they are failing. I also have concerns as we are struggling in education adn with finances, why create an agency to protect chldren that is not doing its job? How much money do we spend on FERPA every year that coudl be saved since they evidently do not do the job the government created them to do. I do have proof of everything I have stated, and it is sad when one school can do so much to try to avoid a due process and to release information to those who do not have rights to any of it, on top of it lie in their interview to teh paper, which can also be proven, and it is allowed. I am torn becuase i need to move back to Illinois to get help with my son, but if I move I give up all rights to confidentiality. the government needs to start protecting our children and realize at the same time one shoe does not fit all students in this country. your system is not working, not working at all.


  25. We need schools for The 21st Century Student. See

    We don’t need to do more work on standards, at the moment. We need to eliminate subject-based, lock-step classroom instruction, except for the students who can only thrive in classrooms, and create online courses that integrate multiple subjects into a simulation that approximates reality with math, ethics, science, English, taxes, laws, politics, cooperation, individualism, manners, and more all combining into a story that is so compelling that students won’t want to stop learning.

    Standards aren’t one-tenth of what’s wrong with public education. It’s the perpetuation of an 18th century instructional model that can’t possibly adapt fast enough to the modern pace of change.

  26. Mr. Duncan,
    I have taught 7th grade history for 6 years in the inner city. While I agree that we need high “standards,” the history standards I teach have very little to do with the lives of my students. The amount of history they are required to learn (everything in the world between a.d.500 and 1800)leaves little time for their questions about the world they live in. Example: while the Supreme Court listened to arguments about the legality of strip searching a 7th grader (high interest material to a 7th grader) I found the perfect opportunity to teach them about the three branches of government, separation of powers, and some specifics about the judicial branch of government. This came at the cost of teaching within the 7th grade standards. Yes, we need high standards, and yes we need school reform. But, can we please put the students first? Every “professional development” at our school this year was geared towards raising test scores. Administrators talked about numbers and categories. They NEVER talked about students. With all the talk about getting rid of “bad teachers,” we hear very little about “bad principals.” How can we teach students when our administrators and those who create the standards and the standards tests are so disconnected from our children and our students.

    Thank you,

  27. As a veteran English professor in a community college, I have been raising the bar for smart and capable students who have been bored and dumbed down by lackluster secondary schools.

    Follow the logic: Capabilities have little relationship to social class. Virtually all young children are lively and bright. They are dumbed down by regimentation, either falling behind or being bored. They are “society smart” rather than classroom smart, and realizing that teachers are ill-paid and undervalued by society, they opt for other activities.

    Education receives plenty of money; much of it goes to administrative functions, and the decision-makers in the bureaucracy have little academic talent or vision, even though many sport Ph.D.’s that resemble MBA’s. Mostly they are obedient “people-movers.”

    Solution: Decentralize education. Stop looking for a national test, especially bubble exams “One Law for the Lion and the Ox Is Oppression,” writes the English poet William Blake.

    I would like to serve on a committee or think tank that really tackles the issues.

  28. Would high standards work better if every child could read? Would we compete with the Japanese and Germans if magically all our children were literate? Could we go back to teaching literature, music, art, and science at the elementary level if we didn’t have to teach reading and spelling after the second grade because we have universal literacy? Is there a way to eliminate 75% of learning disabilities associated with reading? Why, yes, there is! Reform English spelling so we have sound/letter correspondence. Does that sound like cheating? The Japanese have it. The Germans are reforming their spelling. The Spanish have reformed their spelling. The kids are already reforming spelling with text messaging. Spelling reform has been around for over 100 years. If you really want to have Education reform, don’t raise the testing standards. Level the playing field. The reason Johnny can’t read is because English spelling makes no sense.

  29. Though a national curriculum/test sounds plausible, local school boards and taxpayers might feel otherwise. Those decisions have historically allowed local input. It is a part of our democracy that a significant number of citizens feel they can participate in. They need to feel part of their child’s education. To nationalize this process would be efficient, but it would diminish the community’s voice in their children’s lives. I don’t believe these local discussions should be dismissed, even though some views may be strident–that’s what makes democracy work. Children are more likely to be taught to value the democratic process if they can experience it in its primal form–a school board meeting determining the importance of what will be taught and the value placed on a variety of assessments.
    I have observed districts who are praised for doing well on annual yearly progress one year, but fail to make adequate progress the next. In my experience there are too many variables when dealing with different classes to expect continual upward scores. The prevailing conditions don’t respect individual differences and abilities. Somehow it has become politically incorrect to assert that some children will take longer than others to learn regardless of our best efforts. I do not believe we are creating a balanced approach to educating young humans when standardized test results have become the yardstick by which children, teachers, and districts are measured. Solid teaching/practice of strategic thinking, reading, and writing skills and less dependence on technology I believe would make a measurable difference. I strive for both good tests scores and developing problem-solving techniques that don’t depend on instant answers. Time and the human touch of a caring teacher are essential if we expect learning to mature into wisdom.

  30. As an educator of 13 years in the state of Florida, both as a teacher and an administrator, and still very much passionate about education, I welcome and support Mr. Duncan’s vision of creating national standards for reading and math. However, upon reading the various updates in my local newspaper, I am beginning to worry that $350 million set aside to develop tests to assess the common standards is wasteful and pointless. If we agree about the benefits of standardized benchmarks, why not create one assessment common to all states? The competition will lie in the various states developing curricula that are designed to teach effectively. Then it will be up to the various states to foster teachers who will impart learning effectively and purposefully. Common benchmarks and one common
    assessment will save dollars and create a nation of learners ready to tackle the challenges of our new global era.

  31. I do not have a problem with the concept of raising standards for our teachers and students in general. I do, however, have a problem with setting standards so high that students with cognitive disabilities cannot possibly meet. Students with cognition below grade level should not be held to grade level standards. As a Special Education teacher, each year I witness high school students that still struggle with the concepts of basic money (recognizing nickels vs. quarters) crying while taking a grade level designed assessment which asks them to evaluate quadratic functions. While the NCLB standards allow for up to 3% of students in a school district to “fail” the test and still meet AYP – that does not help districts such as ours. Parents move to our district from across the country because of the services we provide to the most significantly challenged students. We have more than 3% of our district population with cognition below grade level. There needs to be another answer for these students other than “you failed”. There seems to be a problem with the federal government’s understanding of percentages. A percent means it is an average – some have more, come have less. We have more students with cognitive disabilities other districts have less.

  32. I have been an educator for 38 years. I have been a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, and now direct a DOE Teacher Quality Enhancement grant at the university level. Throughout my career, I have worked to improve my practice. I was a teacher who had a reputation for having high standards. As a principal, my efforts were to foster learning among the high school staff. As superintendent, I worked to encourage learning among principals. Now, as director of this grant, I have deepened my understanding of the kinds of initiatives it takes to truly change educators’ practice (including my own).

    Though we can and should have the best standards in the world, standards alone are not sufficient. Curriculum does not teach children, teachers do. Yet I am becoming more and more discouraged with the ways we choose to help teachers improve instruction. In our grant, we have learned that there is a great difference between increasing knowledge, improving attitudes, and developing skills and actually examining and changing behaviors. (Pheffer & Sutton call it “The Knowing-Doing Gap”). It takes time, patience, and intentional efforts to support each of us to change our behaviors and take responsibility for the learning of our students. Unfortunately, our profession has too long blamed external factors such as parents, lack of textbooks, inadequate time,
    kids’ behavior, “ability”, or low standards for our failings.

    I recently visited my granddaughter and had the chance to look at some of the schoolwork she brought home for parental review. She is struggling in math (as is the entire district, according the AYP report). Yet there was no evidence that the teacher used the information from these samples to instruct her in what she did not understand. To me, it was clear that she did not understand how to compute area, though she understood calculating perimeter. It was obvious she did not understand order of operations, for her answers were wild at best. It also seemed that she does not carefully read directions, since she omitted one number necessary to compute the mean. (She did understand the definition of the mean and performed the operations correctly.) Throughout, answers were only marked wrong;
    there were no questions, cues, “see me’s” on the sheets.

    If I were using the data I gathered from reviewing the work, I would ask the teacher to look at using these assessments to ascertain the status of the student’s understanding and to devise interventions around these obvious gaps. This is not a standards problem, but a teaching problem.

    Every study that I have seen points to the need for good teaching. I have seen some that point to low expectations as problematic, especially for some children and some systems. However, I have never seen the evidence that says improved curriculum or higher standards, alone, make a difference.

    I implore you, please redirect your efforts toward improving teaching. This should occur in teacher training, of course. However, most of what we learn as teachers comes from our experiences, both as students and as teachers. School cultures produce the teachers that reflect the assumptions of the systems. Often these assumptions have never been questioned. Making schools into true learning environments is vital.

    I agree that we need more time in schools and would certainly support year round schooling with longer mid year breaks. Children (and adults) need breaks, but everyone forgets much over a long summer. Few folks have to tend the crops anymore, the original reason for the long summers off. Further, the starting and stopping of schools diminishes learning time greatly. In addition, we must also look at how we use the time we have. How much of the end of school is devoted to treats such as field days, parties, and movies? How many days are devoted to testing? Again, we need to examine our practices.

    I thank you for considering my thoughts. We must begin to examine our assumptions and compare them to evidence and then create new approaches to schooling. At this point, we have much evidence that what we are doing does not work. Tweaking the system, even getting tougher, won’t do it. The system needs thoughtful examination at all levels.

  33. I quote from an article I co-authored with Don Perl.

    With regards to high stakes testing and NCLB…

    “Any high stakes test score is at best only a broad stroke of a person’s “true” understanding of material. In addition, ethics in testing are of utmost importance, especially when children, teachers, schools, and our fragile democracy are at stake.

    “In this high stakes era, curriculum has narrowed and stifles and punish. We advocate that school curriculum should “lead out” (from the Latin word educare) maximizing the potential of each student. As Einstein so wisely said, ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.’

    What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.

    ~George Bernard Shaw~

    …the principle goal of education is to create men and women
    who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating whatother generations have done—men and women who are creative,inventive and discoverers, [who] have minds which can becritical, can verify [rather than] accept everything they are offered.
    ~Jean Piaget~

  34. Mr. Duncan:

    I am a public middle school educator of 11 years in New York State, dually certified in language arts and English as a Second Language. Recently I came across documentation of Finland’s 2003 upper secondary national curriculum standards. Since your time is understandably limited, I would refer you to five pages solely (23-27): the cross-curricular themes. I’ve provided the link and a sample from them below.

    I would urge you to consider whether these, or related standards, are adequately represented or articulated on a national level in America. It is my personal impression that the holistic vision this document provides– a common, nuanced understanding of the “why?” of education– is missing in our country. The current movement to create national standards is one which gives me hope that such a vision may be established and nourished. Any national content-specific standards can only be strengthened by that vision. Indeed, I would argue along with countless educational researchers that without such a guiding vision– one that moves beyond mere functionalism or economic utility– content-specific standards are rendered impotent, lacking genuine commitment from both educators and students.


    Dina Strasser,27598,37840,72101,72105

    The need and desire of students for life-long learning must be reinforced.

    Cooperation, interaction and communication skills must be developed by means of different forms of collaborative learning.

    Upper secondary schools must develop students’ abilities to recognize and deal with ethical issues involving communities and individuals.

    Education must help students recognize their personal uniqueness.

    Education must stimulate students to engage in artistic activities, to participate in artistic and cultural life, and to adopt lifestyles that promote health and well-being.

    Students will be capable of facing the challenges presented by the changing world in a flexible manner, be familiar with means of influence, and possess the will and courage to take action.

    An upper secondary school community must create prerequisites for experiencing inclusion, reciprocal support and justice. These are important sources of joy in life.

    Human beings must learn how to adapt to the conditions of nature and the limits set by global sustainability.

    Upper secondary schools must reinforce students’ positive cultural identity and knowledge of cultures.

    Students will observe and critically analyze the relationship between the world as described by media, and reality.

  35. Before we consider raising standards–or even think that having educational standards is worthwhile–we should remember the first principle of human behavior: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

    What makes any of us think we can make students–at any level–drink “rigor-enriched” water when so many of them aren’t drinking the plain water schools now provide?

  36. Respect; respect; and respect, along with Discipline; discipline; and more discipline! I have been teaching for over 14 years in an inner city middle school. We were one of the best schools in the district when I first arrived in 1996. The reason why I say it was one of the best is because our students have the opportunity to attend school out of their district if they apply early. Many students attended our school from out of district. Many of these out of district students were in the Young Scholar Program which is a Math, Science, and Technology advance program. We were also one of the middle schools that were accredited the first year it was in place. Now, 2 years ago we didn’t score high enough to be accredited. Though the accreditation has been re-established the discipline is slipping. This seems to be a fact throughout the system.

    It seems to me that NCLB has caused a decrease in discipline because the numbers for funding and the test scores has become more important than the development of our student.

    First of all, we must hold more than just the teachers accountable. Teachers are so pressed to cover the required materials that there is little time for remediation or creativity in the learning process. Teachers are forced to sometimes work on their own time to remediate students that are having trouble. Not to mention teaching the things that is missing when they come to school like manners, respect, and simple communication skills.

    I will never forget what my supervisor told me my first year teaching. He said, “You will never teach anything if you don’t have the student’s attention.” Now, I understand that it is a lesson components that help with this task, but without discipline none of this will work for the majority. The strong will always survive.

    Another thing, that we need to keep in mind, is that education is a people business. People are created different for a purpose. We can’t just expect children to just fit into a mold. With this issue I see a lot being done for the high achievers, but not as much for our underachievers. Many educators are frustrated with this group because they seem unmotivated to help their selves. My question is, “where does this attitude come from?” A child doesn’t come in this world with ill attentions. We must bring back Vocational Education for the lower achievers.

    Also, we somehow need to form a partnership with social services to go into the homes more. We are losing some of our children in kindergarten and elementary school. This is the foundation is what they need to stand.

    Lastly, school accreditation should not be determined by just scores on a test. I must be at least one more component added in this process. Some of the students still don’t take the test seriously. They may have a bad day on that one particular day.

    Thanks for giving us a chance to express our concerns and recommendations. I think must of us love our children and want the best for them. God Speed and continue to push forward with reform that will help us administer a Public Education that we can once again be proud of.

    R. A. Barnes
    Technology Education Instructor

  37. Over the years the curriculum has been weakened by society’s attempt to make a one size fit all education. In Elementary school, when was the last time real geography was taught? Our children do not know their own country but they know how to write to the test.
    Our goal to provide an equal education to all children has diminished own educational system. What is equal to one child is not equal to another child. We need to measure the individual growth of each child from one year to the next. We need to stop the madness.

  38. Thank you for this dialogue. If we raise standards, we need to improve the access to early childhood education, adult education and school-readiness programs by continuing to fund Adult Education and Family Literacy. Programs like “Preschool For All Children” in Illinois and Even Start at the federal level are key to involving both parents and children in literacy education.

    As the Director of an Adult Education & Family Literacy program, I can testify that these programs WORK to effectively break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy in the next generation – and truly help parents become partners in their children’s education.

    Adult Education is vital to children’s success in school – and to meeting the standards of NCLB – due to the fact that “Children of parents who are unemployed and have not completed high school are FIVE TIMES MORE LIKELY TO DROP OUT of school…” and “Children’s literacy levels are strongly linked to the educational level of their parents” (National Coalition for Literacy: We need to keep funding Adult Education and Family Literacy programs in order to prepare the next generation to succeed in school.

    Please consider investing 7 minutes in viewing this “Did you know” video about Adult Education:

    And PLEASE fund Adult Education and Family Literacy at the national level so we can help low-literacy and low-income families have access to education and the opportunity to help their children succeed and meet the demands of NCLB.

    Thank you,

  39. My feelings on whats working / not working and awareness regarding access to helping children succeed in school, and increasing better outcomes may start with:

    Education of ALL teachers (not JUST Special Education Teachers) on:
    1. Barriers (diagnosis) that impact the students in their Classes.
    2. Respecting – not judging children/families
    3. Not creating a “big deal” – but an empowerment of “this is who you are – and this may help you move forward.
    4. Use /access of technology

    Education to all students – with the realities of understanding their barriers (diagnosis) that impact their ability to learn and “get along with others.”

    Educational recourses and opportunities for families to improve their ability to parent and understand /overcome their barriers.

    Recognize – Some of our families who are struggling and have children who struggle are NOT always tapped into the technology that is out there. Reading/writing may be their barrier – how do we reach, empower, and, support them better?

    I do believe schools / preschools/ childcare centers/ Pre – K programs are one of the “centers – or hubs” for our families.

    Working with Schools to bring our families in and embrace their individuality and gifts can go a long way in raising esteem and positively sharing educational outlooks – as some of our families now raising children, may NOT have had positive school experiences themselves.

    May be strategies to recognize and help prepared students – children – families to support their children to come to the classroom ready and eager to learn and able to get along with others.

    Continue to Recognise that “traditional” instruction may not work for everyone.

  40. I can’t believe that the question, “Should we raise standards?” is even asked!!!! How obvious must it be? Nation-wide our students are not reading, writing or doing mental math at the level it was done twenty -thirty years ago! The question is not ‘Should we?’, but, ‘How will we?’

    I recently heard about a large business owner complaining about the poor job being done by public schools. As he berated educators, the system, curriculum,…. an attendee’s spouse who happened to be a teacher, sat in the audience. She bravely and passionatlely stood to address the speaker: “Sir, in your business of making one of the nation’s best and most popular ice creams, you proudly state that you use nothing but the best. Your company insists on the finest milk & cream, the highest grade of fruits and nuts, the best eggs & chocolate. Do you agree that this is a key ingredient in the success of your product?” Of-course, the business exec. proudly agreed. “Well sir, that is the main difference between your product and the product of our schools…. You see, we don’t select the best from the rest. We aren’t allowed to cull the ones that will not perform at the highest level, we cannot choose only those students who will test high and cause our test scores to soar. We have to use anything and everything that falls into our ‘churn’. And using anything and everything, we are criticized for not doing a better job. I wonder what your ice cream would taste like if you used inferior ingredients instead of selecting only the finest?”

    The business exec. was speechless. The teacher sat as others in the room stood to applaud her ‘common sense’!!!

    We have taken the responsiblity of educating our children almost completly away from parents!! We have placed the full blame on schools! WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE??? I’ll tell you.. It takes a village to raise a child! Until parents are also held accountable for their child’s education, public schools will continue to be the scapegoat.

    I believe that before a child enters Kindergarten, he/she must be able to recognize so many letters, numbers, colors…. Set some criteria to engage parents/guardians in the shared responsibility of this education. We don’t expect doctors to ‘heal’ our sick children w/o us also making sure they take their meds, get rest, etc. Why should education be so different???

    I also believe that ALL subjects should teach and expect students to write. Writing is not an isolated skill! Schools should demand that math, science, history…. teachers add a writing component to their curriculum. And these same teachers need to also model this concept. How impressive it would be to see the P.E. coach, the Principal, the math teacher model writing.

  41. There was a very interesting program about school reform on Democracy Now a few weeks ago. Amy Goodman asked people to e-mail stories regarding US schools. I wrote to them about the Milwaukee WI Public Montessori Schools and mentioned our daughter,Jessica Foster, an excellent Milwaukee Pulic Montessori School teacher. Here is what I wrote:

    Please look into the success of the Public Montessori schools in Milwaukee WI. After the success of the first one, Mac Dowell Montessori, which was in the heart of the poverty area of Milwaukee, teachers who were well aware of the success of Mac Dowell and the growing desire by parents for more Public Montessori schools worked toward having a Montessori training school established in Milwaukee for 1st – 5th graders. MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) eventually opened three more elementary Montessori public schools.

    Our daughter, Jessica Foster, an outstanding,creative, and very dedicated public Montessori teacher, attended Mac Dowell, the first Milwaukee Public Montessori School, when she was a child. She thrived and when attending college felt strongly that children who attend public schools should have an opportunity to have an educationally invigorating Montessori education such as she was able to have. Jessica first taught at MPS’s McDowell Montessori and now teaches at the MPS Fernwood Public Montessori School.

    Please google Milwaukee Public Montessori Schools.
    The following is copied from that site: ABOUT MONTESSORI

    Children, from birth on, want to learn. Children at different stages of development are drawn to different things. The young child from birth through six wants to learn the facts: the names of objects, how to do a task and the care of self and their environment. The child from six to twelve wants to learn about relationships between people, places and things. A child needs help in making sense out of the many aspects of the world.

    Providing that help is the idea behind the Montessori method of education. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, was frustrated by the rigid form of education she found in the early 1900s. She observed that from birth to age six children have an �absorbent mind� that gives them the ability to take in and remember all the details of their environment, from the daily routines, to the names of objects, to the way people like one thing and dislike another. Children from six to twelve years have a �reasoning mind� and seek to learn about cause and effect in the universe, as well as how people relate to each other throughout the world. Children need to organize and classify all this information. Dr. Montessori believed adults could best help the child do this by creating a �prepared environment� that offers both structure and freedom. The structure comes from the order of the classroom and knowing how and why to use different materials. The freedom comes from the children�s ability to choose their own tasks, work at their own pace and move ahead as the desire to know more and something different becomes important.

    Thank you for considering an education philosophy that works due to it’s inherent understanding of the developmental stages of children and because it honors each child’s uniqueness, humanity and innate love of learning.

  42. I am for raising the standards. Our children need to be competitive not only here in the United States, but globally. I question our ability to measure whether the standards are being met or not. I do not feel the testing used by our State, NH, does so adequately.

    Specifically I question our ability to measure progress of special education students. The measurement of this sub group can have significant impact on the entire school and school district. I would suggest taking a closer look at how this sub group is tested and measured for progress.

  43. Perhaps a system with common national assessment of core standards and a requirement that states supplement with additional assessment methods that drive sound instruction in areas of greatest need would work.

  44. State standards need to be accompanied by models for effective instruction and meaningful methods for assessing whether students have met the standards. Too often, state assessments drive instruction away from meeting actual standards and toward doing well on assessments with minimal rigor and cut scores so low, that the “meeting or exceeding expectations” mark means almost nothing.

  45. Dear Secretary Duncan,

    Please support early childhood education, birth to five and prek to third grade. This needs to be accomplished through developmentally appropriate practice and researched methods by highly qualified teachers.

    Also, we need to have a program that supports family literacy because the parents are the children’s first teachers.

    The achievement gap is apparent at the age of five and generally is not reduced throughout the school years. The best way to help improve education is through supporting high quality early childhood education.

    Thanks for listening.

  46. As an only child i was desperate to go to school. However, the reality did not live up to expectation. My experiences may give some insight into what is and is not appropriate in educating children. The first 4 years of grammar school: large class size (often as many as 50 children)was no detriment to learning. I learned to read, write, do math, and was motivated to learn. However, classtooms that were characterized by total silence, total obedience, run by fear, favoritism and instant and unreasonable punishments (having to kneel for an hour because I left my seat to sharpen my only pencil which broke when the teacher was out of the room; made to stand all morning in wet clothing in an unheated corridor in winter because, though no fault of mine, I was late for school.) The school library was under lock and key, available on a limited basis to those favored children. None of this good for helathy emotional deelopment. Transfering to another school for the remainder of grammar school- no fear, no punishments, no favoritism, but also no substance. The administration (?) wnt from classroom to calssroom scouring them for underachievers (those selected trailing along with them) who would be put into special classes. Even we achievers were humiliated for those being exposed to the scrutiny of schoolmates. In 8 years of grammar school there were classmates that I never spoke to. In addition never were you allowed to express an opinion that was contrary to what the teacher presented. High school was a joy insofar as it provided opportunities for friendship, for actiivities and learning- but I always felt that what was learned there should have been taught in grammar school. Two contrasting experiences in senior year- one teacher never taught anything. We were expected to sit quietly; there were 4 written assignments which appeared on the exam so we all got great marks- but learned nothing. Another teacher was dying and spent a semester talking about life; he was replaced by a young, inexperienced teacher who had to teach the entire course in one semester- and did so to the point that everyone did extremely well on the final exam. College continued discouraging original thought- you were supposed to be respectful to the greater knowledge of teachers and professors. It was a shock to be in graduate school, faced with the need to express opinions, to know how to do research, to be original.

    What saved me: The public library- opened doors, stimulated a thirst for knowledge and experience.

    Number of students in a classroom is irrelevant. Order is neeeded but not through fear. Needed are compentent, responsible, involved teachers (who have good grammar and knowledge), teachers interested in stimulating and motivating students, expecting more than the minimum, respecting students’ ideas, teachers who are not just putting in time, or are so ego driven that they are unable to accept that students may interpret facts differently. More emphasis is necessary on reading skills, writing coherently, knowing history and the Constitution and Bill of Rights, understanding math concepts and doing math without calculators, having courses available that would make students aware of responsibility to environment (include botany, ornithology, etc.)Enrichment in art, music, theater, dance for a well rounded individual. Also less emphasis on doing your own thing in a classroom and/ or working jointly on projects- socialization will take place without this in a healthy classroom. Not studying for grades, but competing with oneself, to better oneself…. For each student to reach his potential and WANT to reach that potential.

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