Michigan Class Queries Cunningham on ED Policy

Cunningham standing and talking to students seated at a table

After speaking with Tracey Van Dusen's class, Peter Cunningham engages "Rising Scholar" students brought by Dr. Victor Kennerly and Tyrone Weeks to a presentation of Ann Arbor Public Schools' innovative programs, such as their lab school. The goal of the program is to address achievement disparities by reaching out to a diverse stream of under-served but high achieving students.

When I began my year as a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, it was a priority of mine to bring my students into the experience as much as possible. My hopes were exceeded last month when my Advanced Placement Government and Politics students got a first-hand lesson in federal education policy from Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, Peter Cunningham.

After a morning visit with Detroit Public Schools, Mr. Cunningham traveled to my school — Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 21 . After giving us a brief description of his job, the Assistant Secretary talked about the Department’s work to recruit and reward high quality teachers and to support education reform taking place in schools across the country. He spent most of his time answering their questions, which ranged from inquiries about No Child Left Behind to whether he knows Rahm Emanuel.

I was proud of my students’ thoughtful comments about the importance of listening to student input when evaluating teachers, their concerns about “teaching to the test,” and the need for arts education.

“They’re more than just classes for me,” said one of Pioneer’s music students. “It’s who I am.”

While in Ann Arbor, Mr. Cunningham and I also conducted a round table conversation about education policy with teachers, and earlier the same day, we visited several schools in Detroit. I appreciate Mr. Cunningham’s visit, which provided a unique opportunity for me to visit and learn more about the Detroit schools and to give my students and colleagues a chance to contribute to our national conversation about education. When the bell rang to signal that class was over for my AP students, everyone was disappointed. After the kids applauded, Mr. Cunningham responded, “That was fun!”
And it was.

Cunningham looking over the shoulder of students

Peter Cunningham discusses with Western International High School students the real world applications of science experiments in understanding the damage of last year's Gulf oil spill. The high school is one of 34 Detroit Public Schools recently approved by the Michigan Department of Education to receive federal School Improvement Grant funds for turning around its academic achievement.

Cunningham talking with a teacher with Tracey Van Dusen standing on the left in a black coat

Cunningham and Van Dusen observe a 7th grade pre-algebra class at Burton International School for a first-hand look at Detroit Public Schools' new academic plan that provides students a daily "double dose" of reading and math. (Photos courtesy of Detroit Public Schools).

Tracey Van Dusen
Tracey Van Dusen is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow teaching AP Government and American Studies at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.