Town Hall for Students on December 15

Two months ago, Secretary Arne Duncan accompanied President Obama to Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., when the President made his nationally televised Back to School speech and challenged students to work hard and graduate. This month, Duncan will have a chance to check in on Wakefield students and find out how they are responding to the President’s challenge, as they gather for a national town hall for students.

Duncan will host the town hall in a special edition of the Department of Education’s television program, Education News Parents Can Use, live from Public Broadcasting System station WETA on Tuesday, December 15, at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. Throughout the hour-long event, he will take comments and questions from the students in the studio audience and around the nation via telephone, email, and video. The show will also feature an update on the Department’s “I Am What I Learn” student video contest.

Details about the special town hall for students on Education News are at

Students can contribute to the conversation right now by submitting a question or posting answers to one or more of the questions below. We’ll feature as many responses as we can on the December 15 program. Students may also call the show during the live broadcast at 1-888-493-9382, between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

Here are the questions:

• How can students assume responsibility for their own education?

• How can we do a better job of preparing students for college and careers?

• How can we encourage more students to become involved in community service and civic life?

• Who and what are the most important influences on today’s young people?

ED Staff


  1. I am a student at Bryant High School, (FCPS), Alexandria, VA. I am originally from El Salvador .

    Today the most important influences on young peoples’ lives, I am sure is the family. There are many influences in young peoples’ lives. In my own personal life, the most important influence is my family, especially my parents .Unfortunately they are not here with me, but I know they want me to be successful man in my life. Hopefully with God blessing my life, I would like to be the first one in my family who could go to college . I will show to my family how successful I will be just fo them. One day when I have reached my goal, I will be proud because my familly will know that everything I do I do just for them. I think all the young people who really want to be someone successful in their life, they really listen to their parents as I do. I know the parents they always want the best for their sons or daugther.

  2. • How can students assume responsibility for their own education?
    Making a free online university available throughout every citizen’s lifetime, makes the issue of responsibility mute, but more importantly it creates a truly democratic institution for all people. You see, when a person can at anytime take the first steps to a new carrier and life they will be participating in a truly democratic way that will strengthen a nation at it core. A nation where all of its citizens can participate and self-actualize is the very definition of Democracy. Today many people are left behind, due to economic disparities-which a free online university directly corrects or because our current educational system places an undue emphasis young to make life altering decisions in their attitude towards learning: The result of which, will determine the lifelong weight of their struggle to obtain access well paying jobs. Schools should rather, focus on exposing our children to as many occupations and interests as they can. Once inspired, a child will seek their own learning path: this is the heart of the issue.

    • How can we do a better job of preparing students for college and careers?
    It can take a lifetime for people to discover their natural talents and how they wish to participate and contribute to society. Free access to an online university will mean all people can prepare at their own pace for any career path or paths imaginable. I suspect millions of working poor already know what they want to achieve but lack the access, time or the desire to take on 40 to 100 thousand in student loans to achieve it. This reality is what the immature mind must act within and it is as unfair to them as it was for the working poor today.

    • How can we encourage more students to become involved in community service and civic life?
    We should focus on giving all our children a rich field of experiences from which to imagine and discover their many talents. It will be from this understanding that the lesser appreciated academic requirements will gain the significance they require. We need our successful adults to share their interests and talents to their younger generation. Frequent Field trips and after school programs that bring these two groups together will not only inspire, but educate in the most impactful way possible, by giving them a rich childhood experiences from which to draw upon.

    • Who and what are the most important influences on today’s young people?
    We all want to believe we can answer this question but key influences can be so varied from a moment before a object, person or place that is inspirational to them. But this line of questioning is misleading and symptomatic of our lack of emphasis on rich and diverse experiences in early education. By giving all people free life-long access to an online university, it will mean that all people will have the means to pursue their dreams when they are so moved. The key to all of this is that at the moment we find an idea worth investing our lives in, be it at six or sixty, in a true democracy we will have the means to achieve our goal while maintaining the life we have found ourselves already committed to. And to the extent that our technology will allow, we should give everyone access to accreditation for what has always been free information, only then can we truly proclaim to be the embodiment of democracy in the 21st century. But today that will mean creating a free online university for all Americans!

  3. My name is Fatima M and I am a student at Bryant High School in Alexandria, VA. I think the most important influences on today’s young people are our families. Our family is always with us through the bad times and good times. Also, our family is the one who encourages us to continue and finish high school. In fact, I am so thankful to God because my parents are with me. They give all the support that I need to be successful in my life. As you can see, our families are the most important influences on today’s young people.

  4. I think students assume responsibility for their own education by working hard. At school for me the teachers are the base to learn because teacher’s teach us new things ,and also they encourage us to continue our education. In my case, I have nice teachers that teach me a lot; every day I learn something new. In fact, when I finish high school my teachers and family will be proud of me.

  5. My name is Assanatu, and I was born in Sierra Leone. I came to the US when I was 15. I’m a student at Bryant High School in Alexandria, VA.

    In my whole life the most important nfluences on teens today are families and drugs. For me I’m very influenced by my grandmother because she encourages me to go to school, so I can get a better future and job. First, many teens are influenced by drugs beacause they are addicted to drugs. They can’t do anything if they don’t take drugs or drink. After that the most important influences for teens are their families because their families encourage them go to school. Lastly, i know most teens are influenced by many things such as sports, clubs, friends, boyfriends, and husbands. Still our families are the imost important nfluences in our life.

  6. I am very pleased that there is recognition that we must address education from birth to 12th. To intervene in the early years, it is essential we also provide initiatives for Family Literacy Programs. Low income, low literate, and ESL families are unable to support their children’s education without having the opportunity to gain English language and literacy and parent education. Family literacy which allows parents and children to attend school together is powerful and effective. We cannot effectively work with the very young child without working in partnership with the family.

  7. Our family’s comments and suggestions on what we would like to see improved in America’s school system:

    * Longer school day and block schedule. Wherever possible, work with Regional Transportation organizations to share resources to be more environmentally and fiscally efficient.
    * Study hall available for middle and high school students before or afterschool that parents may drop-off their pre-teen/teens and pay a small fee for like “safekey” programs. And have tutors available – other students or college students.
    *Web-based book instruction projected on a screen or smartboard in each class and reduced spending on printed books.
    *Income based Tax-credit to parents who pay tuition for private schools.
    *Better coordination with local nonprofit organizations to increase community and civic outreach. School districts need to be willing to reach out and support not discourage.

  8. As an English to Speakers of Other Languages teacher in South Carolina, it is rewarding to communicate more directly with Secretary Duncan. Regarding the questions suggested for the Town Meeting, fifth grade new language learners suggested that games be made up to help with their education.

    They wondered if there could be more emphasis on career education at the elementary level, i.e. more in-depth study of careers of interest to them. (When lawyer from D.C. came by to talk with them about his world travels, they were VERY excited. A student who wants to enter the legal field one day asked insightful questions about courtrooms and judges.)

    A colleague submitted a question as to how to motivate students for the future. Their possibilities are limited as college doors (that may be in their price range) close, and as companies are required to hire U.S. born workers. This lays heavily upon the hearts and minds of teachers and community members who value the culture, craftsmanship, and positive potential of new language learners.

  9. Students can be responsible for their own education by coming to school everyday and completing work for each class. First, students should be very responsibile for their own education by paying attention in class because if you don’t pay attention you don’t learn anything. After that being on time in class and being in your seat prepared to work with your pencils, pen, and notebook. Most importantly, students should pay more attention on their education because most them don’t ever have thirty minutes to read or do their homework, but they spend many hours just to drink with their friends. Finally, I know that every students have responsiblity for their future by coming to school everyday and completing work for each class because if you don’t you would never going to achieve you goal.

  10. Please take time to discuss school improvement with the students who have dropped out of school. We have a national “drop out of school” problem, wouldn’t it make sense to speak with the students who have dropped out?

  11. I am in 7 grade. My name is Concepcion. I was born in Mexcio.I have lived in the U.S. for 8 years.

    I have a comment for the for the Hispanic commnity: The school aged kids are getting educated by attending school and learding how to speak and write English. What about the parents?
    Someone should start ESL for parents somewhere near their house. I think it is a good idea because if they don’t know English they cannot have a better job. Understanding English would get them more money so they can help their famliy.I think the best idea to start ESL is if the boss can do it doing lunch time or the school or library can do it after school.I think if you help the parents they would help their childen in school too. They would be ready for school and have a good education.
    How would the Spanish speaking parents or school or library pay for this?
    I think that the students can help help raise money for the parents that need ESL.The student can do the fundraiser to help pay for the
    classes. The teacher can charge 5.00 for the book and workbook for every student. This way everybody can afford to take the class. Our parents could learn Englis like we do and feel more comfortable with their new language

  12. I have no problem with education at all levels being promoted by the government. However, it is dangerous to a free society to have government mandate what is taught to our younger children before they are old enough to discern opinion from fact. Don’t tell children current political views as fact rather than opinion. We have too many teachers who were taught by professors in liberal colleges that the liberal view is the only view that is acceptable and they try to pass this on to their elementary age students. Strong parent intervention in school subjects is essential to prevent the overtaking of young minds that will eventually be running our country. We must have true freedom of speech. THe government is reaching into a dangerous area if they go beyond funding to mandating certain types of education.

  13. Our contemporary educational issues are not with getting more students through the university system with more government spending, it’s about giving all our citizens access to rich multimedia materials throughout their entire lifetime, which can be provided today for free over the web. Making the material free online to those how have little time or money for traditional schooling will go a long way and free a whole generation of working poor who have no hope. Having community school space as, Obama’s administration has wisely concluded, available to schedule dates for testing, labs and skills work is also key.
    However, we must remove the pedagogically useless obsession of maintaining the appearance of a proper learning outcomes (the bell curve): Here educators are more involved with maintaining this classroom perception than addressing the particular issues and needs of a class of differing learning styles and degrees of retention among students. Educators should resist using vague or ambiguous questions intended to reduce overall test scores when the class appears too hard; or conversely, when the teachers appear too lax to resist more “soft” questions and extra credit, both meant to improve the expectations of a bell curve.
    The best way to gauge learning outcome is to monitor successful completions of modular course materials and raise the standards for completion to 90% or better. By doing this and maintaining a bank of vetted and relevant questions on tests we can accurately gauge educational outcomes and place students or working adults in the position of having to take responsibility for their own education.
    The whole issue of motivating our students is mute when we begin to offer everyone free lifetime access to learning and accreditation. In time people who will value education will be properly placed in our economy. No one will be left behind unless they really chose not to participate. Because of this, the approach should be to let students learn at their own pace with well developed rich multimedia learning modules and test only on relevant ideas and concepts thereby allowing the materials to be developed in the appropriate manner required by the subject of study and not by some arbitrary expectations and timeline.
    Teachers can then help each student with their particular needs. We need the educators of tomorrow to focus on our individual children’s needs helping them become good self learners and to remove this debate over motivation, which will free us all up for a 21st century educational system that will strengthen our country and allow us to compete with a global economy once more.

  14. Gracias/Thank you, Secretary Duncan for allowing us to ask questions at your forum. My question is simple. Most of the families in Fresno, CA live in poverty and the majority of the students are not prepared for higher education. I strongly feel prior planning prevents poor performance. Is there or will there will a curriculum in preparing k-12 for higher education? Currently, I see 7-12 but not k-12. It would be nice to offer a nation wide higher education curriculum from grades k-12 to school district who want to start from the beginning of Kinder. It is very much needed. I feel we need to start something different and include parents from all walks of life. I am Hispanic and born in Fresno, CA in 1957 and I was the first in my family to go to college at the age of 37. I didn’t have a clue on higher education in this neck of the woods during my early stages of life. We still have that problem in many areas of poverty. We are progessing however, I feel we need something a lot more tangible for parents and students from K-12th.

  15. Thank you, Secretary Duncan for giving us this forum. I am single mother of two pursuing a doctoral program. I was denied a GRAD PLUS loan and therefore have to take two more unsubsidized loans in order to continue with my education. Where can I get help to offset some of the costs associated with getting a higher education so that I can in turn offer my children a better education?

  16. When will the Dept of Education direct states and colleges to stop discriminating against US Veterans.

    Students who get SSI 10,000 year, Welfare 9,600 a year, food stamps 7,200 year, and many other untaxed benefits CAPI, section 8, ect don’t have to included on FAFSA applications but Veterans have to declare combat pay, BAH, and non-education and Education benefits, that THEY EARNED.

    Please they earned the benefits, the others didn’t

  17. I think it’s important that are kids are education in a manner that allows them to learn, not that prescribes how to learn. Too many of our public school systems are prescriptive and unable to adapt to the many learning styles of various populations/students/individuals. Schools needs to become more “student” focused rather than what works best for teachers. Also, the administration needs to assure that these kids will have jobs in the USA once they obtain their degree. It’s shameful to encourage children to become educated only to find out that there are no jobs available. Global education is key because many of our kids may need to leave the country to make a living.

  18. For the first question, “How can students assume responsibility for their own education?” This is probably the most difficult to answer of the four. For most students in high school, grades are not the most important compared with their social life. This can be attributed to the US culture, as it pertains to high school. What I mean is that there is less focus on driving students to do well in school, versus achieving in extracurricular activities such as sports. I think it is important for there to be an authoritative figure within the student’s life, one which drives the student to achieve and excel in their studies. This being either a teacher, parent, or mentoring figure. That being said I think students should have a mentoring figure to drive them to succeed and to push them to take responsibility for their education.
    How can we do a better job of preparing students for college and careers? In my opinion i think that increase in availability of Advanced Placement courses at high schools as well as high school internship and co-op opportunities are a great way to prepare for potential careers.
    How can we encourage more students to become involved in community service and civic life? As a part of an engineering project in high school, I drafted a grant proposal from the State of Indiana for a “Learn and Serve Indiana” grant. It was in an effort to help a local over-crowded human shelter, by having an engineering class design and a “shop” class build the dog houses to shelter the animals. I think an increase in funding and availability for programs that incorporate class work while also contributing to community service would be beneficial.
    Who and what are the most important influences on today’s young people? The biggest influences on people are simply their friends, whether that is a good or bad thing depends on those friends.

  19. I would like to thank Secretary Duncan for his demonstrated invested interest in the opinions of students. I think the town hall is an excellent idea, and shows the students of Wakefield High School, and the rest of the country, that the Obama Administration is listening, and is interested to hear student opinions about how best to motivate the next generation of college students.

    As a current college senior, I didn’t really feel accountable for my future, and driven towards my career until I reached college and starting taking classes that really fueled my interest. Reading this blog post, I started to think about what could have caused me to feel more motivated, and more accountable when I was still in high school.

    So, in answer to the first and second questions, “How can students assume responsibility for their own education?” and “How can we do a better job of preparing students for college and careers?”, I think the two are inextricably connected. Students need to feel accountable for the work we do, and in order to feel accountable, we need to feel like we have some stake in our future. That seems incredibly simple, but for many high school students, the world is made up of boring classes, lots of sports and activities, friend drama, and maybe a fleeting thought or two about college and a blurry notion that a job is something that will be pretty necessary in the far distant future. Students need to ignite a passion, and develop a clearer picture of the possible careers and interests they could pursue a tangible way.

    I have a friend who watched cable news channels religiously throughout middle school and high school and was lucky enough to know that broadcast news was something that really got her excited and interested. She fueled that passion into working hard in her history and journalism classes and was more motivated to succeed in her education than anyone I know. Throughout middle school and high school, I took a personality test or two, spent a couple days in home room discussing career development, and attended a few career fairs made up of a handful of tables, but never really felt particularly interested in a specific career path. Looking back, perhaps the lack of real interest or effort by my high school communicated to my 16-year-old self, that it wasn’t something I really needed to worry about right then. My friend and I were both highly motivated, good students in high school. The difference between us was the fact that she had found something she truly felt invested in learning about.

    How then, to make sure that more students have an experience like my friend’s and not mine? I think, especially in high school, that at least a portion of the curriculum should included exposure to a wide variety of careers, and discussions of real individuals and their career paths. Electives could be more tailored to student interest. If possible,advisers and educators should have real discussion with every student before they pick their classes to find courses that get them excited. I think at the heart of it, students need to be able to make the connection between what they learn in the high school classroom and what they could be doing for the rest of their lives.

  20. Regarding the questions for the Town Hall Meeting, they’re very lacking re: pertinent issues.
    If the purpose is to begin to improve the situation with our kids, more urgent questions should be up for discussion than some of those listed. I want to say, if you want to accomplish some “real” good, you have to “get real” first. A couple of these questions are total waste of time, and we have none to spare on them.

  21. I graduated in 1970; two adult children graduated in the late 80s, and 90s; two are currently in high school (my adopted gr.daughters); I have a gr.son in the 3rd grade at one of the “better” schools in our small community; I’m a freshman at a local university. I consider myself qualified to comment: It is my firm belief that we have urgent need to insist on NCLB (No Child Left Behind) reform. NCLB equates to the dumbing down of America, and further proof that Washington, and the people of the USA live in separate countries if that’s what “they’re” calling an improvement for “our” overall good. The good of whom we should be asking.
    When one of my teens was a freshman, at age 14, she had a class with a 19 yr. old young man. The principle explained to me that “students” can remain in school until they’re 21 yrs. old, and have classes with 14 yr. old students, and that instead of taking the better of two test scores, they would be implementing the “best of three” guidelines. What??? It’s about the test scores and money, not about educating our kids, and these are but a couple of examples of how this works. “NCLB is, in fact, leaving our kids behind in recored numbers.”
    As a final thought, some kids don’t show an interest in learning – why? One reason, in my belief, is that if they didn’t “get it” in elementary school, they feel lost and inadequate in mid-high and high school, and forget college – who would want to be in that environment and be inspired to keep going back? Imagine being at your job all week, being expected to perform at the same level as the “norm,” and knowing you can’t keep up. How eager would any of us be to go back day after day, year after year? Some kids don’t care, period. But what about the ones who do? How many kids only need “an edge” to succeed?
    Think about your own educational experience: Did you conform to a “one size fits all” method of teaching? Which teachers do you remember the most, and why? Those who recognized that you were bright and capable, even if you learned more by doing than listening, or if you learned more by reading than doing? Or do you recall the teachers who expected you to perform at your highest potential the same as “everyone else,” at the expense of your self-esteem and eagerness to learn? You may have learned more from visual, or hands on methods, for example, or perhaps you performed best mid-morning rather than afternoons. If a teacher knows certain kids fare better at a particular time of day, why not teach the more complex studies to those students at that time, or administer tests in the a.m. for students who perform better then, p.m.’s for students who do best in the afternoon? If a 2nd grader is better at reading a book while lying in an out of the way place on the floor, rather than sitting at a desk, why not let him? If a child does better sitting to themselves in a cozy environment with a lamp to read by – how hard is it to accommodate this style of learning? Conformity for certain aspects of their day teaches important structures they need in order to function in society. However, flexibility, recognizing through simple assessments, talking with parents, and making some simple adjustments in the classroom could make a massive change in how well and how much our kids learn. It could make all the difference in a child’s self-esteem, confidence, and how well he or she is educated in the end. There are but a few styles of learning, and each of us fits into one of them. Knowing where we fit in and slightly adapting teaching methods could change the entire future. It may a place to look as some are beginning to recognize the need for NCLB reform.

  22. Hello, my name is Ben, and I am a homeschooled high school sophmore. I recently watched Secretary Arne Duncan on Meet the Press, and I admired his support of charter schools and fresh educational methods. However, he never mentioned anything regarding homeschooling, and I haven’t read anything that conveys his attitude towards homeschooling. What are the views of Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education on homeschooling?

  23. My original country is Ethiopia (East Africa) I am american citezen and I was study my prenursing program in 2004 and 2005 after. I finshed my prenursing program by some reason I couldn’t join my nursing program. So I study medical assistance program for 10 month and I graduated with that and I started my job in 2007 nov in doctors office as nurse.But now I like to improve my education states.

  24. I hold a B.S. in Mathematics Education and I am certified to teach middle school students. I chose to go onto graduate school to obtain my M.Ed. before teaching, but will graduate next fall with tens of thousands of dollars of debt that a teacher salary will take years to pay off.

    One paradox is that everyone wants “Highly Qualified Teachers”, but we’re going broke in the attempt to satisfy that need. The other paradox is that my peers in scientific research are obtaining their degrees for free because there is more money in their field for grants and assistantships. When they graduate, not only will they be making more money, but will also be debt-free.

  25. Thank you for being interested in all ethnic groups in American schools. I am Hispanic and I am one of 7 Hispanics in my school system of Mathews County Va. We have a certified English as a Second Language teacher. She said to tell you the students are now called ELLs students–students who are English Limited Language students.

    Would Hispanic people like to get more involved in their new communities? Yes! Some are afraid to do this because they do not speak English so well. The children go to school and learn everything but the parents do not. How about the local libraries offering ELLs classes for parents and tell about the American government, too. This means paying someone to be the teacher and having books and workbooks for the parents like we have. Maybe a person who wants to do a good thing could pay for this little class.There is an ELL class for parents but in the next county. That is 15 miles away and 30 miles round trip. Our town of Mathews was awarded the Best Small Town Library in America! So little towns can also make a difference. I have learned in my civics class that if you know the information about your new country and you try to help yourself in a better life you can help others feel more a part of the community. I think this is a good idea. Thank you. I am in the seventh grade. Thank you. Conchita

  26. You ask: “How can students assume responsibility for their own education?”

    Who else has that responsibility?

    It is blatantly obvious that students are the primary parties responsible for their own educations. It is also just as obvious that there has been a lot of money to be made by convincing people that someone other than the student can be responsible. We need to go back to the basics, and do it quickly!

    In 2009 a simple project to help students assume responsibility for their own education was started in a Dallas inner-city middle school, the School Archive Project. It was a simple 10-year time-capsule and class reunion plan that focused students onto their role in their own futures.

    A 350-pound vault was bolted to the floor in a middle school lobby to function as the time-capsule in this attempt to increase the 37% graduation rate among the 96% Hispanic student body. Now as the 8th graders plan to move on to high school at the end of 8th grade they are given time to write letters to themselves about their lives and their plans for the future. What do they hope to be doing in 10 years and how will they achieve those goals?

    The first letters written in May of 2005 were written by the students who were members of the Graduation Class of 2009. At both of the high schools who receive students from this middle school that 12th grade class for 2008-2009 was the largest class either school had ever had in over 12 years! The dropout rate is going down! Something very positive was happening due to this less than $2 investment per child.

    With this success 4 more schools have had vaults bolted to their lobby floors this past summer in Dallas. Now entering students are writing letters the first months of middle school that immediately go into vault. The students know those letters will be pulled when they prepare to write their final letters at the end of 8th grade. They will read these 18 month old letters and then re-write their final letters for the vault that will stay there for the next decade. The letters are sealed into a self-addressed envelope and held by the students as they pose for a Language Arts Class photo in front of the vault with their teacher. They then line up and place their letters into the vault.

    The next day the students each receive two copies of that photo, one for them and one for their parents for safe keeping. On the back of each photo is a label with details about the planned 10-year class reunion, the rough date for it, and the phone numbers to call for information or to volunteer to help plan that reunion. They are reminded that at that reunion they will be asked to speak with the then current 8th grade classes about their recommendations for success. They are warned to prepare for questions from these decade younger students such as “What would you do anything differently if you were 13 again?”

    We have been watching class sizes past the 9th grade grow ever since 2006-2007 and are now beginning to see the increase in the graduation rate from this project.

    For less than $2 per students it is the best investment possible, an investment in the future that is popular with our students and their parents and teachers. A credible focus on the future is the simplest way possible to help students assume responsibility for their own education. See details and many reports on this project at

  27. I commend Secretary Duncan for his innovative approach to improve educational standards by monitoring how students have responded to President Obama’s Back to School speech at Wakefield high school. Duncan understands the importance of ensuring that the results of various efforts to encourage students to work hard and graduate are measured, and ultimately achieved. In response to the measures taken by Duncan, it is also important to stress the importance of strengthening student academic enrollment and promoting school mandates for students to participate in extra-curricular activities and internships to help diversify student skills. For example, I am required to have participated in an internship in order to graduate from the public university that I currently attend. In return, students will be better prepared and will have a more competitive edge when entering the job market following graduation. These advantages are now particularly important as globalization has been expanding and Americans are facing an increase in competition on a global level.

  28. I posted a comment with my own question, but here is my answer to the standard questions.

    1) How can students assume responsibility for their own education? Students don’t have answers. We need some guidance. Tell us how, give us some freedom to express ourselves, and take away some of the barriers to learning. Most of my friends know what we want to do when we get older. There are no subjects taught in school that will help us get more information right now about what it takes to do that job. That makes school boring.

    2) How can we do a better job of preparing students for college and careers? I think I answered this in question #1. School is pretty boring. Being homeschooled has allowed me to travel and learn about other cultures. I can also study as much as I want about my career and practice doing some of the things I love. I think school should be a training ground for what kids want to learn or want to be, so when they get to college they can be trained specifically in whatever interests them/us.

    3) How can we encourage more students to become involved in community service and civic life? My family is very active in the community. As a homeschooled student, I have service activities I participate in. Some I choose; some my mom selects. When I visit my dad in the caribbean, we go to all these events for people. This past summer, my aunt made me help out in a governor’s campaign in VA. It was fun and very interesting. I know many of my friends want to do different things, but sometimes can’t because we can’t drive. But when Disney or Nickelodeon asks us to get involved in our neighborhoods, it seems we can do that — maybe because we don’t have to drive.

    4) Who and what are the most important influences on today’s young people? My family is a strong influence for me. We do a lot of activities together. Also, music bands, actors, and the Internet. The Internet keeps all my friends together. Without it, I’d be lost and disconnected from what everyone is doing. We communicate often online so I must have my computer.

  29. Hello Secretary Duncan. My name is Colleen and I am homeschooled. For the past 2 years, I have taken all my courses through the virtual HS. Although I am 8th grade, I am able to take other courses that are reserved for high school students. I also have the opportunity to “study and learn” in everyday environments when I travel with my parents. While I sometimes miss having friends to interact with everyday, I do not want to be confined with lectures, sitting in a desk all day, not being challenged, and not being able to learn outside a classroom. Can’t we make school more interesting and exciting for kids? I think if we did, more kids would want to go and more would want to go on to college, too.

  30. Secretary Duncan.

    I am a 43 year-old family man who wishes to return to college to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I currently earn just enough to provide decent accommodations for my family, but earn too much to qualify for any type of aid. I therefore ask: How can working parents follow those dreams that they once held as graduating seniors from high school?

  31. Secretary Duncan has done a great job thus far as Secretary of Education, which mirrors his fantastic accomplishments as CEO of Chicago’s Public School system. His desire for an aggressive educational agenda for young people to become more prepared for higher levels of learning and the workforce illustrates his true understanding of what is needed in our current education, and economic, systems. Especially in the current economic state, Secretary Duncan realizes a strong education is the best way to obtain a job, and this town hall for students allows him to track how well students are comprehending the importance of an education. I look forward to hearing some of the questions/responses…

    In the meantime, one of the questions I found to be most interesting was, “How can we encourage more students to become involved in community service and civic life?”

    As a former Catholic school student, I can attest to the importance of community involvement. We were required to complete a certain number of volunteer hours each month or were penalized by a letter grade. This instilled in me, from a rather young age, the importance of helping others. A requirement such as this also keeps young people out of trouble, much like involvement in extracurriculars – another very important aspect of student life. Furthermore, I feel this experience was a driving factor in my current role as Congressional intern. Certainly work in the classroom is hugely important, but the time spent out of the classroom may be just as influential in shaping a young person’s future.

  32. I counted *maybe* five student comments posted here and NONE addressed your questions (below):

    Students can contribute to the conversation right now by submitting a question or posting answers to one or more of the questions below. We’ll feature as many responses as we can on the December 15 program. Students may also call the show during the live broadcast at 1-888-493-9382, between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

    Here are the questions:

    • How can students assume responsibility for their own education?

    • How can we do a better job of preparing students for college and careers?

    • How can we encourage more students to become involved in community service and civic life?

    • Who and what are the most important influences on today’s young people?


    So I will. 🙂

    1. How can students assume responsibility for their own education?

    Students must be taught skills of responsibility, starting with modeling by adults in their life…continuing through structured goal-setting activities…organization skills…and on to evaluation/demonstration activities which they are involved in planning. Once they learn required skills, they can be rewarded for being responsible and/or held accountable when they don’t measure up.Students lacking this modeling will need more support than students who experience responsibility in all aspects of their life.

    2. How can we do a better job of preparing students for college and careers?
    Integrate curriculum. Learning makes more sense to kids when connections to other knowledge can be made. We have lost that in the era of NCLB. And we can still keep standards to meet…just not in isolation.
    Create multiple pathways/goals for students’ graduation…all of them rigorous. Have it kick in at about age 10 or so…be flexible until age 12 (to be sure the child has made a good personal choice)…and then be the student’s committed choice after that. Some kids may choose science/math, others may go into writing/journalism, others to a third choice. It’s important to design these pathways well…for areas students will need to work in in the future. When they finish, they are job-ready or college ready…but THEY have some buy-in to their future goal (not just their teacher or their parents). Make them all HAVE to graduate to drive. They won’t like it, but…

    Ungraded schools at the elementary level. As some have said here, mastery of concepts should be required to move on. It’s WAY more complicated than that…but clearly passing kids from grade to grade does not work.

    3. How can we encourage more students to become involved in community service and civic life?

    Model it from an early age and provide opportunities throughout life. My granddaughter goes with her parents to help serve food at Thanksgiving…that kind of thing. Schools can provide similar modeling and experiences…add parental involvement and BINGO!

    4. Who and what are the most important influences on today’s young people?
    Rich sports figures, musicians TV/movie actors. As a teacher I don’t think they are the most important but the kids do. That will take a societal paradigm shift to change, but it needs to be done. Good luck! 🙂

  33. I was fortunate enough to go to what I would qualify as a great public high school. My high school had so many opportunities allowing students to find subjects they are passionate about. We had a diverse list of classes. I have always been personally interested in history and government, but for many students this is not the case. Our high school offered courses such as history in pop culture as well as a religion course so students could diversify their schedules and take classes that might be closer to their interest area. The same was the case with our science department. Not only did we have biology, but we had courses such as anatomy, genetics and astronomy. This diverse list of classes was paired with afterschool opportunities which enhanced what students were learning during the school day. It was a requirement of our government class that we attend at least three local government meetings. A program entitled We the People also allowed students who were interested in the government to further pursue these interests outside the classroom. These are the types of opportunities that get students engaged and interested in their education.

  34. I agree with Nora. I was the first in my family to attend college and it was very expensive. I finished my degree, started teaching, and have continued my education as I am now working toward administrative licensure. I have yet to pay off my loans. I am always hearing about forgiveness programs for teachers that started teaching after 1998…what about the rest of us? Anyone willing to work in public schools for the salaries that are being paid, to make a difference for children, should have their loans forgiven regardless of when they began to teach. Mr Duncan…Please address this!
    thank you

  35. Dear Secretary of Education Duncan:

    Thank you for taking the time to listen to the taxpayers comments about education. I would like you to address issues of paying the college bill after college graduation. On website (as of 11/13/09) there were 69 pages of complaints from every day hard working educated Americans who are struggling to pay their college loans.

    These citizens followed the plan you are endorsing for their future success. They did well in school, made it through college and sought their professional careers only to find out jobs were not available or their salary earned could not pay the college loan.

    Furthermore, many of those hard working college educated people and/or their parents are now stuck with high college loans, high interest rates, and accumulated interest rates (through forebearance or deferrment provisions). Everyday they are falling deeper and deeper into financial despair and there is no help. Even bankrupcy laws have been stacked against them.

    I have not added my story to the 69 pages of complaints on the consumer affairs website yet, but will. My husband and I have been paying on student loans for 15 years and the amount we currently owe is more than the original loan 15 years ago. The original loan was for $35,000. We have paid $38,000 and now owe nearly $50,000.

    Both my husband and I unexpectedly had our jobs eliminated in 2008 because of the recession. As skilled senior citizens, we are not being hired for skilled or unskilled work. We could file for bankrupcy to help solve some of our financial problems. But, as you know, student loans can not be bankrupt. Student loans only grow larger when you can’t afford to make payments.

    So, Mr. Duncan, as you look at education, please don’t overlook the back end of the spectrum. Many of us who followed the American Dream – the education plan for success are actually ensnared by college debt with no way out.

    Thank you for considering my comments for discussion. Any solutions you can promote for the issues I raised will be appreciated by many Americans. It would be wonderful if the bankrupcy laws regarding the student loans could be changed.

  36. I’m a junior in high school and I’m curious on what our President’s idea is on education issues facing many students in this nation. Does he plan oh throwing money at this situation like he has everything else so far, or is he thinking of good solutions bipartisanly. I believe we need not only bipartisan collaboration, but also high school student and college student collaboration with our politicians. I mean, who better to express the issues facing students than us students ourselves? I want to know when Obama plans on increasing funding to schools so that I won’t have to pay for my entire college education, which is what it looks like right now. I want to know why no Child Left Behind is still in effect if it is so flawed. Sure, every child derseves an education, but what about those who do not wish to pursue it? Our President says that we are behind other countries; I agree. We should do what they do: keep those in schooling who want to learn and put the rest in the workforce. I want Obama to raise our teacher’s salaries. They and all the other public servants deserve the entertainer’s salary for all that they do to educate myself and my classmates.

  37. My husband and I are a middle class hard working(2 jobs each), tax payng, insurance paying with 2 daughters. Where is the financial help for us? We have one daughter who has already graduated from a 4 year college and has a $15000.00 debt to show for it even with the help of some scholarship money. Her current hourly wage with this degree is $10.00 an hour. Not even enough to live on. We have another daughter entering college who has been unable to land any scholarships and once again we don’t qualify for financial aid, even though we too just make ends meet! There has GOT to be some help for the middle class somewhere… where?

  38. How do we get highly qualified teachers if we pay them poorly. Starting out salary for a teacher could be as low as 25,000 a year. The tax payers pay dearly to the school taxes. But the teachers are not being paid appropriately. Students that would make outstanding teachers usually don’t go to college to be teacher, because they want high- paying jobs like politicians,doctors,nurses or how about a football or baseball player? Its ridicules how much pro athletes get paid and actors also belong with these highly overpaid people that sometimes very bad influnces on our children. To turn this country around we need to pay teachers,policemen,firemen,emt’s and our military personell the salaries of pro ball players and actors and some rap stars. Also they all need combat pay especially most intercities school teachers. The pro athletes and actors need to be paid less. This is the american peoples fault,they care more about sports and stars than their childrens education. You can write as many acts and laws that you want but if the americans don’t step up and take responsibility for their children and their actions. The United States of America is going to go to hell in a made in china basket!!

  39. Why do the Philippine children get $5 million dollars while I have to borrow money in order to pay for higher education that will have me in debt for the rest of my life?

  40. Hello, My Name is Jasmine M, and i am a freshman at Wakefield high school in Arlington, Va. As i listen to Mr.Obama’s speech On Education i was really inspired and that i can do anything i set my mind to. I am also responding to Mr.Obama’s challenge. I ask my teachers for more help compared to last year where i would just sit in the classroom and not ask for help when i don’t understand. Mostly because i was shy and had a lack of self confidence. But That has change i am constanly asking questions and particpating more. Some day i Hope to attend Princeton or Harvard. I also hope to work for the United Nation in the field of humanitarian affairs and one day become The First African American Woman President of the United States and i know i can do it IF I SET MY MIND TO IT.

  41. First, I would like to applaud Secretary Arne Duncan for the work he has done in the Department of Education thus far. It is critical that this nation have leaders in education that are honest and straightforward with our students; we cannot tell them they are doing well when they are not. In an increasingly interconnected global economy, American students are no longer competing with their American peers for jobs and education-they are competing with peers from around the world. We must keep challenging our students rather than making excuses for them. Our children are our greatest and most precious resource for the future of this nation.

    Second, changes in education cannot happen without collaboration. I encourage schoold administrators, teachers, parents, students and all citizens to partake in the national discussion about the state of education in America. These town hall meetings and online forums are a good place to begin this effort.

  42. I am a current senior at a public university in the United States, and after reading this blog post, I think it asks several good questions, but I wonder whether any work is actually being done to answer them. We have heard talk of education reform and financial support for students for years, but I, like many students, doubt the realization of these reforms. In fact, the price of a my college education (like that of most others) continues to steadily increase each year. College is extremely expensive, an even more painful reality given the current state of the economy, and without financial help many students are forced into outside jobs and excessive borrowing. At least a basic bachelor’s degree is necessary to compete in the job market at this point, but affordability and a limited income stop many from being able to attend college at all, let alone take advantage of many of the opportunities that exist there. It is true that there can be many rewards that come with earning a college education, but we may have lost sight of the sacrifices people are having to make simply to attend and compete.

    According to US News and World Report in an article titled, “The Surprising Causes of Those College Tuition Hikes,”: “At public colleges, tuition has generally been driven up by rising spending on administrators, student support services, and the need to make up for reductions in government subsidies.” Furthermore, the article goes on to say, “After analyzing income and spending statistics that nearly 2,000 colleges reported to the federal government, it was concluded: Students are paying more and, arguably, getting less in the classroom.”

    Increased tuition costs, coupled with highers costs for housing, utilities, books, food, etc. makes it harder and harder for students to stay financially solvent and still take advantage of their college education and the opportunities that accompany it. For a student to take responsibility for his/her education, that student must make the most out of the opportunities and resources available. This certainly means studying in/for classes and working with teachers to learn and grow as much as possible. But it also means that the expensive classroom education must also be supplemented with other university opportunities: student organizations, studying abroad, sports and intramurals, etc. These unique opportunities teach students just as much, if not more, about the real world as anything they learn in a classroom. Unfortunately, with the cost of a “basic” college education rising steadily by the year, many students are forced to let these opportunities, with their additional costs, pass them by. The result is detrimental to all students: fewer students are able to take advantage of these “extra” experiences, which means less student involvement, less student learning, and less diversity among those students that are still able to stay involved. This lack of involvement and diminished diversity among involved students negatively affects the education of all college students (both those participating and those who are unable to participate).

    Again, the ideas of community involvement, civic engagement, and increased personal responsibility for an education are all very important. But, I believe that all of these ideas about progressive education can only begin to become reality once we have addressed some of the basic difficulties with earning an advanced degree in the first place, namely affordability.

  43. Because of the formula used to grade schools under NCLB my son is now attending a “D” school. It is a wonderful school and well known for its superb science magnet. Now his friends plan to transfer out because they can’t handle the stigma. Educated people used to know that it is self defeating to label people or places,yet NCLB has institutionalized the process. It is hard to believe that the Obama administration condones this stupidity. The practice of labeling veteran teachers as “low performers” because they are in an urban school is also questionable and leads to the same problem. What sane teacher would voluntarily risk his or her career at a high performing school and take a chance with low-level learners? The students and common sense are no longer in the equation. Please address this issue.

  44. Dear Secretary of Education Duncan

    We first want to thank you for visiting one of the schools in Rhode Island and speaking with the staff. We are writing regarding the Race to the Top. As parents of two school aged children we are concerned about current and future parent involvement in the school systems. As we read through the Race to the Top priorities, we noticed no reference that parents are being involved in the decision making or policy changes of their child’s education. As parents, we believe that education starts at home and we are responsible for our child’s educated. There needs to be an integration of parents into the two most important components of teacher’s educational life, the hiring and evaluation process. Parents need to continue to improve the partnership with their school for their children’s education. School personnel need to encourage and engage interested parents in meaningful two-way conversations. We have had many opportunities to be involved in our children’s education. Our children have a better understanding of what they need for their future; as well they understand why we are interested in every aspect of their education. By being partners with the various schools our children attended, our influence has helped to shape their lives as well as the lives of other children in our community. Because of Law 1118 we have been able to be active and involved in our children’s education, it has been a very long and windy road but an extremely rewarding one.

    We encourage you to continue the refinement of Law 1118 and push for more involvement of parents. Parents are the “customers” of the teachers in our schools and as such they should be empowered to evaluate and promote the achievements of those teachers that are pushing our children to greatness. In the same token those parents should also be empowered to reject those teachers that because of tenure are lacking the motivation to stimulate and cultivate our children.

    We as primary caregivers and educators for our children, strive to become the role models that will influence the decisions they will make for their future.

  45. I would really like to see someone discuss the National Debt and explain to the kids that it’s gonna be up to them and their kids to pay all this off! Also, you should explain that Social Security will no longer be around because the Government keeps taking money from it and aren’t putting any back.

  46. I am a college educated mother of 1, with a second child due in February 2010. My husband is faculty at a known university, and we relocated to the area for his employment. I left a middle management position to relocate and to start a family. I am currently taking classes part-time at the community college nearby in preparation for application in the Radiologic Technology program. The program is not offered at the university where my husband teaches, and besides, there is no benefit/tuition assistance for spouses of faculty. I am ineligible for Pell Grants/Perkins Loan because of my completed bachelors degree. We do not live beyond our means, and are still paying off student loans from both our educations. We would like to know what resources are available for me to return to school and pay for daycare for both children starting next fall 2010? What grants/scholarships are available? We consider my continued education as a good investment for not only our family, but for the country. There are educated, professional Moms like myself who plan to return to the workforce, and will need assistance in getting there. We represent a large number of the overall population who are willing and able to work and be competitive, especially in fields that are in demand (such as healthcare). We simply do not make enough money to return to school and be able to pay for daycare.

  47. I have many ideas and many concerns. Here are a few of both:
    * American History needs to include the folks who were already here before the Europeans arrived on Roanoke Island…a full inclusionary history of their existence, their lifeways, their removal, their present existence…in every state, mandated as an integral part of the curriculum, every day.
    * Personal Finances Core Knowledge for all: to include bill paying, budgeting, insurance needs and how-tos, taxes, buying a car, renting an apartment, buying a house, etc…basically all those things we as adults all NEED to know but were never taught in school.
    * Mandatory service learning for middle schoolers, co-ops for high schoolers, internships for college aged students
    * Mandatory grade school adopt-a program with Outdoor Education centers, whether it is a National Park, an environmental ed center, a historic site…
    * Technology as a tool and not as a replacement for learning.
    * Mastery schools, not testing schools…

  48. I grew up in the inner-city in the mid 1970’s on into the 1980’s.
    I personally don’t believe that there is a legislation available to cure some of the social ills in the inner-city. Why? First of all, you can’t legislate morality. All social behavior first begins at home then in the public school system. Secondly, you can’t legislate parenting. Parents have given their right(s) to parent to state, local and federal government. In my days, we didn’t need the government to tell us what to do our parents were the law. Also, the absentee father is a challenge in the inner-city. A child needs both parents for balance and structure. Also, we have too many young people (teens) having children who don’t have a clue as to how to train a child.
    Thirdly, we’ve taken prayer and the pledge of alliegance out of school. We cannot have strong school system without God (Jesus) and love for our country. Our public schools have become a reflection of the prison system. Fourthly, we’ve lost our love for children i.e. family. You can’t teach some thing you don’t have a genuine love for. Therefore, our children don’t know nor understand what love is and the cycle is repeated when they become adults. We protect animals rights but what about human rights. When I grew up we had a love for our american history and black history. We looked up to the great men and women (black and white) of the past. Our children don’t have any true role models today like Malcom X, Dr. King, Marcus Garvey, JFK, RFK. Here’s my solution: 1). Get more men involved in the public school system who have a love for children, 2) bring prayer back into schools, 4) corporal punishment reimplemented, 5) give parents back their rights to discipline their child, 6) bring the pledge of alleigance back, 7) Get more of the “Baby Boomers” involved in educating this generation, 8) screen all teachers to be sure they have a love for our children in order to properly teach them, 9) stricter requirements for a child to pass to the next grade. In other words, if the child flunks the 4th grade he or she stays in the fourth grade until they meet the necessary requirements to go to the next grade. 10) Help some business owners develop an Internship Program for High School (10th-12th graders) students to learn something about the workforce. Give these students a Stipend and a hope to get hired part-time after they successfully graduate high school. If it wasn’t for the Job Training Program back in 1986 that trained me and got me ready for the workforce and the teacher who took time out to teach me the little things about interviews.

    Thank for your time and patience,

  49. I am most interested in Secretary Duncan’.s call for a national conversation on values as proposed at Chicago on October 7,2009
    Is there any follow up on this? There is little chance of improvement in education if values are not addressed. The schools can be a key facilitator for this with very little strategic effort.

  50. My son is currently in private school and has been since 2nd Grade. I tried public school but found the guidelines and lesson plans inflexible to meet the needs of my son. Because the public system couldn’t meet what I wanted for my son, I feel my portion of the taxes going into the public school system should be used to pay his tuition in whole or in part through a voucher program or something similar. What are the opportunities to institute such a program in the next year or two?

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