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Friday, March 27, 2009

“The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens.”

President Obama gave another stirring speech about education. Is it just a lot of yadayada?

America will not remain true to its highest ideal... unless we give them the knowledge and skills they need in this new and changing world.

For we know that economic progress and educational achievement have always gone hand in hand in America...

The source of America's prosperity has never been merely how ably we accumulate wealth, but how well we educate our people...

So let there be no doubt: The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens -- and my fellow Americans, we have everything we need to be that nation...

The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, it's unsustainable for our democracy, it's unacceptable for our children -- and we can't afford to let it continue...with the right education, a child of any race, any faith, any station, can overcome whatever barriers stand in their way and fulfill their God-given potential.

(bold added)

But the president is not blinded by his own dazzling rhetoric. He knows what all veteran educators know.
Of course, we've heard all this year after year after year after year -- and far too little has changed.

It is easy to lose optimism and fervor.

Certainly it hasn't changed in too many overcrowded Latino schools; it hasn't changed in too many inner-city schools that are seeing dropout rates of over 50 percent.

Even more maddening, the problem with education in America is not scarcity of ideas and resources.

It's not changing not because we're lacking sound ideas or sensible plans -- in pockets of excellence across this country, we're seeing what children from all walks of life can and will achieve when we set high standards, have high expectations, when we do a good job of preparing them.

So what is our problem?

Instead, it's because politics and ideology have too often trumped our progress that we're in the situation that we're in.

A good example is the kneejerk opposition to charter schools on the left, and the equally kneejerk opposition to teachers unions on the right. While adults engage in turf wars, America falls further and further behind. We must set aside ego and listen to each other with open hearts.

Secretary Duncan will use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It's not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.

But in the meantime, it would not hurt to unify behind the President's top three priorities for education:

1.Early Education—It is essential that foundations for future academic achievement be solidly laid in early childhood. The attitudes children acquire at a very young age can propel or hinder academic achievement.
2.World Class Standards—American do not give their children enough credit. It is possible to have much higher expectations and standards without destroying childhood. In fact, higher standards, well done, have the potential to enhance childhood.

Several years ago I began facilitating biology and chemistry laboratory experiences for homeschooled junior high and high school students. Moms tried to occupy the younger siblings with other work, but the younger siblings were curious about the fascinating experiments of their older brothers and sisters. Soon I allowed the little kids to participate.

I discovered children as young as eight years old could use the equipment just as capably and responsibly as the older kids. The little kids could record data just as accurately. They could form conclusions and discuss their results as intelligently. What they could not do as well as the older kids was write the lab report. And that was fine, no problem.

A wonderful side effect was the increase in inter-age respect. Multi-age interaction is more like the real world than self-contained groups of same-age peers.
I'm calling on our nation's governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.

3. Quality Teachers---Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers

From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents, it's the person standing at the front of the classroom. That's why our Recovery Act will ensure that hundreds of thousands of teachers and school personnel are not laid off -- because those Americans are not only doing jobs they can't afford to lose, they're rendering a service our nation cannot afford to lose, either...

And if you do your part, then we'll do ours. That's why we're taking steps to prepare teachers for their difficult responsibilities, and encourage them to stay in the profession. That's why we're creating new pathways to teaching and new incentives to bring teachers to schools where they're needed most. That's why we support offering extra pay to Americans who teach math and science to end a teacher shortage in those subjects.

Schools should not only work harder to keep their best teachers, schools should also seek out the veteran non-practicing teachers in their communities. Schools should eliminate the arbitrary obstacles that block out-of-district teachers and offer incentives to attract them back to the classroom.

There are many great teachers in America who moved from one district to another, for whatever reason, to find themselves virtually unemployable. Some of them, like me, are math and/or science teachers. A few of them taught in our Department of Defense Dependent Schools overseas, and now back home, they find, like I did, that they are out-of-district in every single district in America.

Now, here's what that commitment means: It means treating teachers like the professionals they are while also holding them more accountable -– in up to 150 more school districts. New teachers will be mentored by experienced ones. Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement, and asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their schools. Teachers throughout a school will benefit from guidance and support to help them improve

Money cannot be allowed to remain an excuse for blocking veteran teachers from returning to the classroom.

We can afford nothing but the best when it comes to our children's teachers and the schools where they teach.

4. Innovation and Excellence—even if innovation and excellence is found in a charter school. Learn from the best charter schools, adopt their best practices in public schools, and follow John Wooden's advice, “Don't whine, don't complain, and don't make excuses. Just get out there and do your best.”

5.Higher education---College is the new high school.
6.The Bottom Line---Personal Accountability

Of course, no matter how innovative our schools or how effective our teachers, America cannot succeed unless our students take responsibility for their own education. That means showing up for school on time, paying attention in class, seeking out extra tutoring if it's needed, staying out of trouble. To any student who's watching, I say this: Don't even think about dropping out of school. Don't even think about it...

No government policy will make any difference unless we also hold ourselves more accountable as parents -- because government, no matter how wise or efficient, cannot turn off the TV or put away the video games. Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your child leaves for school on time and does their homework when they get back at night. These are things only a parent can do. These are things that our parents must do...

So today, I'm issuing a challenge to educators and lawmakers, parents and teachers alike: Let us all make turning around our schools our collective responsibility as Americans. (my bold)

Reactions to the President's Speech.

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