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

346 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. Mr. Duncan:
    As a secondary school English teacher with more than 25 years of experience in schools from inner city to private, I encourage you to look into unique and innovative means of getting parents involved in their children’s education. Something that I see as a key to the success of our modern educational system. In addition, please listen to the needs and successes of private schools in your assessment of changes that need to take place in our educational systems. I would be more than willing to share my ideas with your staff.

    After all of these years still loving my job,
    Lyn Richmond
    Notre Dame Preparatory High School

  3. Yes. With 28 years of teaching (inner city, rural, suburban, urban, gifted/talented, and private, K-8) and 7 years as an elementary principal, I have served many schools, worked with many staff and a diversity of students. From this broad experience, I feel my perspective is valid. I do believe that high standards are extremely important, however, they need to be set by those most directly involved with students (certified master teachers WORKING WITH STUDENTS), appropriately and seriously monitored with close supervision from highly qualified administration, and those expectations need to be extended to the parent community and the greater community (court systems, etc.). In the school in which I am currently employed, our parents take their role as education advocates and supporters very seriously and it shows. This, along with STAFF who live with and support high standards, creates success for students.

  4. While NCLB had noble goals, it has had the effect of narrowing our focus, so much so, it seems education leaders are forced to wear blinders, the kind that horses wear to keep them from getting spooked. Howard Gardner proposes that we all have multiple intelligences, at least nine, last time I checked. However, the current manifestation of NCLB forces us to focus on two: linguistic and logical-mathematical. On the same source where I read about the listening tour, there was a link to an article about the importance of arts education to brain development:

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/education/bal-md.arts18may18,0,1345340.story

    The evidence is not conclusive, but it’s getting more compelling all of the time.

    Could we raise standards by providing more arts education? I teach at an arts magnet school, one where middle school students who need remediation are taken out of their arts classes and forced to focus on math and reading. I would like to propose an experiment: If students need help in catching up to their peers, let’s leave them in their arts classes. If they fail the standardized tests, let’s offer remediation in the summer, along with classes and lessons in the arts they do best. Let’s offer summer arts classes for everybody who wants them. Let’ s do this for students in grades 6-12 and see what happens over six years, not just in grades 6-9.

    It would be a bold experiment, and it might not work everywhere, but it’s worth a try.

  5. In California, the standards have been raised high enough. Now make it easier for teachers to have students reach and exceed the standards by:
    1) you yourself learning more, and encouraging all of us to do the same – teachers, parents, school administrators and students
    2) aligning instructional materials to standards. They still aren’t
    3) identifying everyday public school teachers who are out there making this happen. We have enough data in Ca for those schools to be identified
    4) eliminating those who are not making it happen

  6. I believe that raising standards is not the issue that needs to be addressed. Changing standards to meet the goals of 21st century living is the issue. The standards, as they are written are based on the factory model of education and lack application to today’s real needs and challenges.

    I have been in education, in one form or another, since 1974, and have seen the emphasis on standards and testing as a detraction from education young minds. Standards are essential, but they are not the goal. Standards are the measure we use to see if we are approaching the goals we have set for ourselves and our students. Skills are useless ingredients without the ability to put them into real world context using higher level abilities such as those identified in teh Partnership for 21st Century Skills found at http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/

    The world is changing constandly, our standards haven’t changed in more than 20 years. We tend to avoid change, but in today’s world the ability to be flexible and learn new skills on our own will be critical to meeting the demands of the 21st century.

  7. I am a public preschool teacher in an inner ring suburb of Cleveland, OH. I see on a daily basis the difference high quality preschool makes for young children. As we end this school year, I see a group of children ready to move on to kindergarten who have built confidence and independence, increased their pre-academic and literacy skills, learned to follow the routines of school and established a familiarity with the facilities, the staff and the technology of their school. Every year I hear from the kindergarten teachers the difference our program makes for children in kindergarten. I would like to be able to see our program or one that is similar available to all four year olds. I would also like to receive compensation commensurate with my education and experience and in line with my job expectations. I began as a teacher in this program in 1991 at a salary of $20,000. I now have a Master’s in Early Childhood Education and am currently making just over $30,000 this year. This inequity in pay between K-12 and preschool teachers needs to be addressed. Thanks for listening.

  8. Thank you, first of all for this forum. Letting educators and community share their opinions on education is brave and wise. Hopefully, they will all be read and the best of the best will be discussed. I have been an educator for the past 35 years and taught K-College students. My last seven years has been providing professional development and coaching for teachers and reading coaches. I even had the privilege of working with compliance for Reading First where I graciously observed 900 classrooms across the state of Illinois. My compliance experience was with the State Board of Education. Although, I loved working with my districts and schools, working for the state board was very trying. I would suggest that this is a place to start with raising standards. Unless the leaders can lead, no real progress can be retained. Pre-service educators, also need to be retrained with standards based education, data gathering, data analysis, progress monitoring, interventions, intrinsic motivation, bonding with students, rituals and procedure. Continued and embedded professional development within the school that invites students and parents to be at the decision table is a must. Community involvement that is not just financial, but mentoring, training, and guiding students and educators toward preparing students for work. A school must become a community center where the doors are open, the library is in use, computer labs are on during the evening for citizens to use, the gym is open for family fun, GED classes are offered online or in class, college classes are offered with full programs set up that adults can finish and easily attend. Schools are owned by the taxpayers and they need to be the hub, the heart of the community.
    Teachers who can not bond, can not motivate, can not help students learn and achieve should be given the choice to get training in their weak areas or leave. Administrators can not just come out of a social studies classroom, PE classroom, or coaching and lead an elementary school that is low in reading or math. These administrators must find ways to become aware and find people who can help teachers become the best they can be so the students can achieve more and more. It is not an unreachable task. Models are out there and should be used in all schools that are failing.

    Every child that enters kindergarten should be handed a laptop and many of their textbooks could be loaded on it. This laptop should follow them throughout their school experience and be updated year to year. It can be taken home so parents can also see what the students are learning. Some parents would learn from this too.

    Accountability is the biggest issue, however. With Reading First, the threat of losing money and materials were at stake if implementation was not done with fidelity. Now that it is gone, accountability is not there for Title One money. The Federal Govt. makes it sound like there is, but it is never stated and districts have told me, what will happen if we don’t improve or we don’t write a plan, or we don’t intervene? Even in this state, the state team for School Improvement RESPRO have nothing to stand on when they try to get schools to implement what they put into their plans. Accountability is so very important. When I went to schools and observed, I asked all stake holders to observe with me and then held a meeting that talked about what we saw. We narrowed down the comments and observations to what was vital to students and achievement and looked for trends among the classrooms. An action plan was put together for 2 to 3 issues and ways to implement it was understood, so that could be the focus until I came back in several months time. It worked well and their scores did improve. Please make sure that accountability is thought about.

    Last, high schools have to begin to see the real world. Most high schools are not aware of the number of students who can not read on grade level,nor do they know how to help them. The last high school I worked with I helped identify 66 of their lowest readers and assigned six students to eleven teachers. The plan was to help them know their oral reading fluency rate and give them a reading that was at their independent level so they could get better. They would practice the reading and then graph their results on a sheet. Once or twice a week, the teachers would check on their progress and give them a new reading to practice the next week. I also helped the teachers with taking a running record so they could diagnose some of their students’ reading problems so they could actually help them with some weak areas in their reading ability. The union nixed it all by saying that the 30 min. time we were going to use to do this was a noncontractual time and no teacher could instruct or work with students during that time. Unions can be a problem and that needs to be looked at also. I am all for teachers getting a fair shake, but I want students to learn and I want teachers to realize that sometimes it might take 30 extra minutes a week to help that students get better. Why go into teaching if you are not there to build strong learners?
    If high schools could make their schools more of an environment where freshman year is a place to get them motivated to learn more. Tests are given to find out what they are interested in and what they are good at. Then each year the students actually get to work in a company or a field that is in those areas. By sophomore year, they are still working in their fields, but they are getting into the education that they need to be in that field when they graduate. Junior year actually builds on sophomore year and builds their motivation and confidence in their areas of interest providing motivation for them to continue studying subjects that will become prerequisites for college classes or training classes. Senior year, they learn about money and life skills that will be needed in the real world and actually begin to do apprenticeships in at least two fields of study that they are intersted in. Community must be involved and junior and 4 year colleges must be involved. Students will be intriniscally motivated to choose a course of study that prepares them. I am so very passionate about the good of our society. It relies on the intelligence of our young people. Why don’t we all understand that? Why can’t adults just be adults and do the right thing?

  9. There seems to be several common threads in regards to the issue of standards. Very few people seem to disagree with higher standards. We all would like to see our students perform at their highest potential. The problem lies in accountability. Students learn at a young age that there is no or little consequence for not meeting grade level standards. By the time many students reach high school they are unprepared and have mastered very few of the essential standards needed to be successful. I agree with a previous writer in that the teacher is only 1/3 of the responsible parties that should be held accountable. Without accountability from students and parents it is doubtful that any change in the standards going to be effective.

  10. Hello Mr. Duncan:

    We have endured too many years of NCLB-forced legislation aimed at “proving” public schools inadequate. We have endured too many years of teacher bashing from politicians and media reports focused only on “failing schools.”
    It is now time for a change–the kind of change we can believe in, the kind of change we voted for as we voted for Mr. Obama to be our president.

    It is time for the Secretary of Education to stand up and tell America that NCLB is a lie, that it always has been, that NCLB is the educational equivalent of the WMD the Bush Administration said existed in Iran, but ultimately could not be found because they didn’t exist.

    We have had Standards in public education for much longer than the recent focus on Standards related to NCLB. No, we do not need to “raise standards” any more than we already have, but we do need to fund public education much more effectively than we do. We do need to allow teachers to do their jobs without Federal or State entities breathing down their necks and limiting academic choices teachers need to be able to make to help their students achieve. We do need multi-faceted assessments of student abilities and progress rather than “Standards-based Standardized Tests” which seem to exist only to further the myth of “failing schools” and/or to siphon money away from public schools to companies which make standardized tests. If we must keep NCLB provisions (and I hope we can dump what we have and start over with something more effective and real), then we must find more than one way for students to demonstrate proficiency/mastery of skills, we must find a more fair way for schools to demonstrate AYP, and we must find a more positive focus and approach to teaching and learning in our schools. Teaching must no longer be twisted into Testing, and laws regarding education must help rather than hinder teaching and learning throughout America. States have established appropriate Standards over the past several years, so let’s focus on how to help students actually meet them rather than continue to discuss whether or not we need “higher” standards.

    Public education under the Bush administration seemed to focus only on making students into happy consumers and training them for service industry jobs. Let’s have real teaching and learning again, and let’s teach our young people not only to master academic skills, but also to think and be creative.

  11. I appreciate that you are opening this discussion widely so that a variety of viewpoints may be considered. I seriously hope that somewhere in your discussions is a consideration of progressive education. Going back to John Dewey in the early 20th century, progressive education offers an entirely different framework for considering what education is and what it is for. The current conversation is dominated by what Thomas Armstrong (in his book “The Best Schools”) calls “Academic Achievement Discourse”. We take the assumptions of this discourse for granted, and that seriously limits our thinking with regard to educating our children. I encourage you to open the conversation more widely to include what Thomas calls “Human Development Discourse”. Human Development Discourse takes the student as the starting point and asks, What is developmentally appropriate? How can schools foster a love of learning, a sense of safety, and an attitude of curiosity and questioning? I hope that the conversation can be expanded to include those of us who don’t think it’s imperative that U.S. students are “better” than the students in other countries, who don’t believe that there is one right outcome for all students, and who value the local knowledge of caring, committed teachers.

  12. I believe in high standards but I don’t believe the way to establish them is through high stakes standardized tests which by their very nature create winners and losers. We need to gut both the structure and the culture of public education and begin that by making K-12 education something that happens all year, 24-7.

    It’s the only way teachers would have the extended time they need for engaging in professional learning communities, especially the kind that are modeled on the National Writing Project approach of “teachers teaching teachers.” We need to get away from the behavior modification mode of rewarding high performers and punishing low performers.

    The only “reward” students shoud get is the satisfaction of knowing something they didn’t know before, the “aha” moments we’ve all come to know, the ones that have transformed our lives, not the ones that earned us an A on a report card. I believe in the kind of assessment that informs instruction in such a way that individual students are addressed at what ever level they are, not based on external standards.

    Yes, I’m a Vygotsyan, and the zone of proximal development should be the “standard” by which a student starts and a teacher assesses. The recent article I read in the New Yorker about creating competitive charter schools in LA in which parents have an investment and a commitment makes a lot of sense to me. Without some kind of commitment from parents and guardians, teachers begin at a deficit. Holding teachers solely responsible for learning is unrealistic and ultimately desctructive, especially given the hugh number of students teachers meet every day.

    I have been teaching for 46 years and I see public education regressing, not transforming. The French have a saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The current drive to “raise” standards is based on academic, college-prep courses I took in high school back in the 50s. Kids today are wired differently in such a way that text has taken on a whole new meaning, yet we continue to pound them with curricula that was formulated during the agricultural and manufacturing eras.

    I hate to say it, but many time our unions get in the way of bringing about some of these reforms. I think teachers should be paid a decent wage with benefits, but if we are going to increase their pay and benefits, we should increast the number of days and hours they work. I’m oversimplifying but we need to fight the huge influence the multi-billion dollar testing business has and begin to develop assessments and learning activities that teachers develop based on what their students needs are, not on what some standard a testing company has established to keep them in business.

  13. STANDARDS-
    When asked to post the standards to each content area in my classroom (NYC-2nd grade) I was outraged. How will this help my students? The standards weren’t written in child friendly language. That was over five years ago. Now- I am glad to glance at them for my own reminding and refer my young students to the NYS standards, particularly for literacy which are more detailed than the other content areas. The standards has become ONE way of helping students become more aware of the expectations for their learning. The word STANDARDS become less offensive to me with this experience.
    However, some people want standards to lead to standardization which I will rail against, like others who have voiced their opinions here. I believe the standards can serve as a guide, especially when they are well thought-out and constructed standards. But we should be careful that standards don’t become the only goals. I draw on the concepts of using standards as a starting point when setting objectives for student learning, a la backward design (for planning- Wiggins and McTighe).
    Ultimately, National Standards could serve as a way of providing a connecting element throughout our national educational system and, perhaps, a national conversation, also raising expectations in areas we KNOW need to raise them. BUT the Standards should NOT be written in terms that suggest this is THE way. Because if there’s anything we have learned over the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s….ok looking over the history of education in the United States- we have learned that there is NO ONE WAY to reach our multitude of learners! Teachers need a variety of tools in their teaching toolbox. Standards can lead to good conversation and grounded thoughtful teaching…be SURE that the Standards are well written with ROOM for GROWTH…

    Please, keep me posted when you continue this conversation to
    standardized testing (which REALLY should be exploring meaningful assessment)
    and teacher education (Why don’t teachers have to update their professional knowledge with credits as nurses, doctors, lawyers,….?)

    Smiles, Mollie Welsh Kruger-educator

  14. I am not opposed to basic,general standards for everyone, but dividing those standards into a million parts is not the answer. Simplifying the paperwork is the answer. It seems like the people who plan all of this are not the ones to implement it, but at the planning level, there is no accountability. Perhaps the answer lies more in the laps of the parents and of the students and their own levels of personal accountability. It seems so many times that only one person is truly accountable: the teacher. This is only holding 1/3 of the participants accountable. With NCLB, everyone involved should be held accountable. In addition, the kids of today are tested in so many ways in high school: AP, PLAN, PSAT, ASFAB, ACT, SAT, GEE, and EOC. Each test seems to target a different area. Some consolidation at the testing level would be a nice change, especially for the students.

  15. A few more comments-

    We need ungraded schools in the elementary years so that children are not condemmed before they actually learn to read or do math. We need less focus on competition and more focus on collaboration and working together- that is actually how many adults work in their profession- And though I agree with having standards- an important point that has been made is that there is a difference in having standards and in the assessment of standards- Schools are currently driven by the testing- which is so completely WRONG.

  16. Dear Secretary Duncan,

    There are some great comments posted here. I agree with many that while standards are good to have, it must be realized that not all children from all backgrounds will be able to meet them- they should be used as more of a guide. I also agree with many that the current emphasis on testing is killing any creativity and innovation among our students and teachers. The testing also is serving to make schools focus on bringing up to speed the children that are struggling but there is less emphasis on providing appropriate challenge for the kids who are more advanced or even gifted- they are literally languishing in our classrooms due to the emphasis on testing- This is a travesty.

    Please do what you can to encourage innovation in schools, I think we need smaller schools that focus more on the needs of each particular community than the one-size fits all approach. And the emphasis also needs to be on Infancy and on Early Childhood so that children have a fighting chance when they get to elementary school to do well.

    And please listen to the many great comments that are posted here- lots of good ideas from teachers in the trenches.

  17. Mr. Secretary,

    My state, Virginia, does not do statewide adoption of textbooks, so our scores reflect national results of what happens in classrooms. From 1998 to 2002, Virginia’s 9th grade math computation scores on the Stanford 9 fell from the low 46th to the absymal 39th percentile. Then, per NCLB, Virginia stopped giving nationally normed tests. SO:

    1. When you reauthorize ESEA, have states alternate tests versus state standards to tests that have NATIONAL NORMS: as the Stanford, Iowa, Terra Nova etc. provided. These tests allowed national comparisons (and are as close as we may be allowed go get politically to national standards). As teachers, we all knew what those standards were.

    2. Test K-12 math computation separately from math theory. Math computation is essential in the sciences. Virginia’s drop was representative of the drop in computation nationwide after California’s 1980’s adoption of the NCTM standards, which all math textbooks but Saxon math adopted to be able to sell in the California market. The result: Last year, 22% of the Electrical Engineering Ph. D.’s awarded in America went to our citizens. We gave a higher % of EE doctorates to citizens of China and India than to children of the taxpayers whose sweat built our universities. Keep that up, and public support for education in America will evaporate.

    3. End the practice of letting states exempt who they want from the NAEP testing pool. The states tend to exempt children labeled “learning disabled” who were actually “curriculum disabled” by whole language.

    4. Re-fund the Reading First program. The NAEP LTT scores prove that once we actually test children who started Reading First programs in first grade, the rise in reading scores seen is substantial. Look at the Reading First 3rd and 4th grade scores for the children who started the program in kindergarten (and those scores are just now becoming available).

    5. Emphasize the teaching of non-fiction vocabulary when funding reading programs. Reading First fixed the phonemic awareness/phonics piece of the puzzle, but we need materials that address the language of finance, science, law, and the professions for children in poverty. Take a look at Core Knowledge as an exemplary (but under-resourced) program to develop reading comprehension for all children.

    6. Hold school districts strictly accountable to measurable standards based on tests that are reliable and monitored. Otherwise, the schools will continue to be run in the interest of the people who run the schools (and that’s not kids nor parents nor teachers). If school SYSTEMS do not improve, hold the leaders accountable, not the children and teachers who are the victims of school curriculum fads that do not work.

    7. Look at Union City NJ and Richmond city VA for science-based programs that saw urban students’ scores rise to above state averages. Great leadership led to great results, but you don’t hear much about it, do you?

    # # # # #

  18. If only changes did not cost a persons job and livelyhood. If the changes are for the better of all and less confusing. Then change is good.
    If change makes life more difficult, and the outcome is no better than what you have, then no.

  19. Hi Mr. Duncan,
    I am one of the Chicago Public School teachers that has been displaced and securing a position is not as easy as one thinks. It does not seem to matter that I left the business world and turned to education when I turned 40. I began as a sub and frequently was assigned to a special education classroom. It was an enjoyable experience, so much that I enrolled at DePaul University to secure a Masters in Education for Reading and Learning Disabilities. I graduated in 1998, passed the state tests for LD, EBD, EMH,and TMH. I was also dually enrolled at UIC in order to secure the educational background for THM, or severe and profound students.
    Working in the near west side, I began at Victor Herbert School on a PZZ. I was there for six years but only an FTB until I left and went to Dett Elementary also on the west side. Hired as an LD resource teacher, I also took upon becoming the school gardener, securing a first place Landscape Award in 2005, a third place in 2006 and a first place in 2007 as well as school photographer. Then in my second year at Dett I became the case manager, CTU delegate and pension representative while still being the LD resource person, gardener and photographer. The third year I became the LRE facilitator. Quite a plate full for one person. Then in 2008 I was displaced because of lower enrollment, and of course, a reduction in the SIPPAA for the next two years.
    Personally, I did not appreciate being displaced but expected it because I could see the writing on the walls. The area has been changing drastically and it was bound to happen. It was really disheartening to make a final student loan payment in April, 2009 and not have a position for the next school year.
    Why is it that CPS has an unwritten rule to release teachers who do go back to school to secure a masters and are over 40 with 14 years in but only 5 of tenure. Could it be my age????????
    My personal file has excellent and superior ratings. I was never out of compliance with IEPs. I rarely took any days off. I am the type of employee that stays and does all that she can for her school and the students in her care. Please explain it to me like I do not know anything.
    What is the purpose of letting go highly qualified LBS1 educators for recently graduated college students. They have few to no skills with classroom management. They feel that they can change the world until they realize that teaching is not just Kronos in and out, but planning, grading papers, dealing with children that have difficulties BOTH at home and in school.
    Then there are the turnarounds. Everyone is fired. All recently graduated teachers are hired. The problem is still within the school walls. It starts at HOME!!!! Parents must become parents and take upon themselves the responsibility of making sure their child does well in school. Teachers are the human component to provide education and stir up the emotions to LEARN for the pure sake of learning. We provide students with the possibilities of “yes, they can.” Why is it that there is such a TURNAROUND of teachers at charter schools? When CPS only provides 82% of funding to charter schools, where is the 18% then going to????
    I have been a substitute in the high school setting this school year. The transition has been a learning experience for me. Having a type 9 (grades 6-12)in social studies and a type 10( K – age 21) in special education, I have had interviews, but no position. There is a new term being offered to those not hired. You “don’t fit” into our school.
    Don’t fit? Please explain it to me like I am stupid.
    There is a Title IX about age discrimination. It is the main word most displaced teachers with tenur agree upon, as well as “forced retirement.” Remember, numbers speak louder than words. It is numbers that got Pres. Obama elected.
    Yes, education is changing. In Japan and China the elder members of society are RESPECTED. Where did the USA and CPS go astray? I have many years left and a world of experience to share with students and staff members. I have met former elementary students in the various high schools this school year. They all are thrilled to see me. Perhaps I did make that positive impression upon those students. There are even two special ed. students of mine that are now doing great things in high school. One student is no longer on an IEP, but taking AP courses. It is a “sin and a shame” that my style of teaching is not appreciated in the Chicago Public Schools.
    If this is how our country treats those that go back to school and secure masters,doctorates, and become National Board Certified, no wonder our educational system sucks. The system is letting the good ones go and opting for “newbies.” Then the ball rolls again, since there is little classroom management, little learning takes place, the school does not make AYP, then it is probation, closing and another charter. As for the charters, the overall test scores are not a whole lot better than the Union schools. Then in high schools, the Union schools do out perform the charters. Considering that charters have fewer students with disabilities and English language learners, they should be leaving regular CPS school in their dust, which is not happening. The charters are a choice but at the cost of NOT PUTTING CHILDREN FIRST, it is only a ploy to eradicate unions. The funniest thing is charter schools claiming that they are privately run schools. Then give back all the 82% CPS funding.
    Standards for across the board, K to 12 and beyond. Sure, go ahead. Then in a few years it will be something else. I remember phonics, then whold language for reading, then poor test scores because students could not read or write because they had NO PHONETIC Awareness.

  20. I was a high school English teacher for ten years before I became a teacher librarian and now I am also a literacy coach working on a Master’s degree in Language and Literacy. These varied experiences have taught me that we need to revolutionize how we think of reading, writing, and technological literacy from k-12. At the elementary level, here is too much emphasis on skills out-of-context, standardized testing, and fluency, and not enough is done to ensure comprehension and meaning-making. At the adolescent level, teachers are still too stuck on facts and not on the disciplinary literacy (way of thinking in their disciplines), inquiry learning, literacy strategies, and technology that students could use to learn subject. When presented with research-based strategies for helping students learn, content teachers often say, “I don’t have time for that, I have to cover the curriculum.” Maybe it’s time to get away from the five period a day, 180 day school year and actually give students time to learn! We need to review the “standards” for all contents as they now stand and find ways to teach them in ways that truly will prepare students for the needs of the 21st Century–collaborative, creative people who know how to learn, unlearn, relearn, and apply ideas and information as well as create new things with older information. They need to be able to use technology to do these things. As it stands now, very few schools are doing this at all, partially because the teachers themselves do not think in these ways. Many teachers are woefully technologically ignorant and cannot imagine how to change their curriculum to use hands-on technology to teach students that curriculum. Until we rethink school and what teaching looks like, I don’t see how we can truly reform schools for the future.

  21. The IB Program is international in scope and quite rigorous. I would recommend that more schools apply to, and if accepted, implement the program. However, it is not for all schools, and even the schools that offer it don’t offer it to all students.

    Yes, of course standards need to be raised, but which standards?
    According to Marzano, there are too many standards, and not enough
    time to properly teach them. He suggests coming up with Power, or
    Essential standards. Marzano describes the logic behind them and provides a statistical rationale for power standards:

    “[There are] 5.6 hours per [school] day x 180 days= 1008 hours per year x 13 years=13,104 total hours of K-12 instruction…[There are] 200 standards and 3093 benchmarks in national and state level documents across 14 different subject areas. Teachers need 15,465 hours to adequately teach them all.”
    Marzano, 2003, pp.24-25

    But the reality check shows that even this number is not accurate. How many instructional hours each day are actually dedicated to instruction of students? It ranges from a low of 21 percent to high of 69 percent. Taking the high, only 9042 hours are available for actual instruction (Marzano, 2003).

    Obviously, something has to give. If we are more interested in coverage vs. depth, we will have a country full of jacks of all trades, masters of none.

    But all this is theory, and not of much use unless implemented. Educators, administrators, school districts, states, and the United States of America need to actually put to use what they know about testing in order to improve it, reduce mismeasurement, and consequently enhance the learning experience of students. Popham (2001) closes his book (The Truth About Testing: An Educator’s Call to Action) with a series of action items he encourages every educator to initiate or support, in whatever way possible:

    1. Offer Assessment Literacy Programs for All Teachers and Administrators
    2. Provide Assessment Literacy Programs for Parents.
    3. Establish Autonomous Parent-Action Groups
    4. Offer Assessment-Related Briefing Sessions for Educational Policymakers
    5. Initiate a Systematic Public Information Campaign Regarding Local High-Stakes Tests
    6. Conduct Rigorous, Security-Monitored Reviews of the Items Found in a High-Stakes Test
    7. Implement Defensible Evaluative Schemes for School- and District-Level Accountability
    8. Demand the Installation of a More Educationally Appropriate High-Stakes Statewide Test (Popham, 2001, pp. 151-160)

    Following this prescription, schools might indeed look forward to a future not as automatons following Borg-like protocols, but as “artisans” as Houston (2000) so earnestly implores. School needs to become a place where students want to go. Educators need to educate (L. educare) students—drawing out the best in them and creating a better democratic society. When they do this, they will indeed be living up to the etymological origins of their name.

    Kevin Glavin, MAT, English Teacher, Claremont High School, Claremont, CA

    References:

    Houston, Paul. (2001, Feb. 15—last update). Superintendents for the 21st Century: It’s Not Just a Job, It’s a Calling (Online). Kappan Professional Journal. http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/khou0102.htm [Sept. 18, 2001].

    Marzano, Robert. (2003). What Works in Schools. Alexandria: ASCD.

    Popham, W. J. (2001). The Truth About Testing: An Educator’s Call to Action.
    Alexandria: ASCD.

  22. Here are three quotations to think about:
    “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.” Albert Einstein
    “Measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of education.” Linda McNeil, Rice University,
    “…the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving, and lovable people.” Nel Noddings, Stanford University

    When we talk about assessing education, do we really know what are the important areas to measure? I’d like to see an assessment model that measures how much time each day the child is smiling. How much time does he or she spend looking alert and involved, eyes twinkling? What percentage of his or her interaction with teachers involves critical thinking skills and means of expressing oneself? As a teacher when I reviewed a day in my classroom those things was as much on my mind as what concepts I had attempted to teach, or what standards I was focusing on. Childhood is a time of lively engagement. If it doesn’t look like that in the classroom, something is wrong.

    Children are genetically programmed to LEARN. They really are sponges. No matter what situation you put them into they will learn. The question is not “will they learn?” but “what will they learn?” They will take in along with the math or reading everything associated with the environment they learn it in. Will they approach new situations with confidence in the future? Will they smile when they see a book or math equation? Will they be devastated by “setbacks” or see them as the natural way of things? Where will the word “school” move the dial on the emotion meter? And how will that manifest in their lifelong attraction to learning?

    Alfie Kohn cites a national study of first, third, and fifth grade classrooms in more than 1,000 schools: “Children spent most of their time (91.2%) working in whole-group or individual-seatwork settings” and “the average fifth grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem solving or reasoning; this ratio was 10:1 in first and third grades” (Robert C. Pianta et al., “Opportunities to Learn in America’s Elementary Classrooms,” Science, vol. 315, March 30, 2007, p. 1795) This is what concerns me, not how those classrooms scored on multiple choice tests or what standards those teachers thought they were teaching.

    I frequently remind children who are frustrated because it is taking them longer to become fluent readers than some of their peers, that while some babies may have started to walk long before others, in the long run we can’t tell which were the early walkers or the ones who got their teeth first from the ones who got them later. Comparison is the bugaboo of the classroom, even when you don’t give marks, use standardized tests or expect everyone to be on the same page on the same day. It is a typical human reaction to look at your peer group and measure yourself by what you see reflected there. There are times when I accept competition as a positive motivator. Still, the concept of readiness must be remembered. Being “ready” means you have the tools to accomplish the next goal. While there may well be information, and concepts we as a society want to see included in every child’s education, I resent the assigning of grade levels to so called “educational standards”. I see them as a continuum. Everyone will get to the important concepts and skills over time, just not in unison.

  23. We have been raising educational standards in this country for as long as I have been an adult and unfortunately, I don’t see a positive impact in schools. If we really want to improve education, we must look beyond standards and look at the vast amount of research that discusses the deep-rooted problems in US schools and the possible ways to solve them.

    I have been a teacher for twenty five years, the past eight at the university level. I work with teachers in high poverty areas and see politics at its worse: moving teachers and principals from school to school, not allowing a community of learners to form, increasing class sizes, taking away special programs,and assessing the kids with often ridiculous tests, to name a few. Forcing teachers to teach a new “program” along with more assessments to improve their students’ test scores does not work!

    They suffer from a dangerous collaboration of politics and big business–the book and test publishing companies. The students are tested to death–no wonder many drop out before they graduate.

    We need to have all stakeholders’ voices heard and develop a new paradigm: one that values community learning, inquiry, and differentiation for example. I know we can do better.

  24. Any reform must address the stranglehold that teachers’ unions have on public education. Teachers should receive job security and pay based upon performance, not how long they have been in a job. The current economic downturn is causing schools to lose new teachers just because they have not worked as long, not because they are doing a bad job. Unions had their purpose, but they are no longer relevant. Teachers should decide whether they are professionals with advanced degrees or laborers in need of protection from managers. They can’t have it both ways.

  25. [I currently teach English on-line for Utah’s Electronic High School, but in the past I have taught all the grades from 3rd grade through junior college, and I spent fourteen years teaching at a public alternative high school.]
    “Raising standards” is a vague, general catch-phrase, and not very useful unless defined more specifically. What standards are we talking about raising? The state/district standards for subject matter required or taught at each grade level, or classes required for graduation from high school? Standards for test scores in certain subjects at certain grade levels? Grading standards? Standards for quality teaching? What would be the goal we hope to achieve by raising standards? Would raising standards actually promote the achievement of that goal?
    It is human nature to want simple, easy solutions to complex, difficult problems. “Raising the standards” is a good idea, but it will be only a token unless accompanied by multi-pronged, comprehensive, long-term efforts to address some of the reasons students don’t reach their potential. Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts on what we need to consider:
    1. President Obama has addressed one important issue: Parents, students, and society in general need to value education more highly. It needs to be COOL to be smart and get good grades. We honor athletes, actors, celebrities, and businessmen more than teachers, scientists, or professors. Even in school, students (especially boys) get more recognition for athletic prowess than intellectual achievement. Students will work hard to gain the approbation of their peers and adults in their lives – but they aren’t fooled by ‘lip service’ – which is what the annual awards assembly handing out certificates to the best students is.
    2. President Obama has also addressed another key issue: parents need to spend more time reading to and with their children, as well as playing games that involve math. There is plenty of research to support the idea that student reading achievement (which sets the stage for most other academic achievement) is strongly impacted by the amount of time parents spend reading to children, starting in very early childhood, but continuing on through middle school. Since time is a limiting factor, parents also need to turn off the television, video games, and computer for most of the day. If (as we believe) education is important to the welfare of our nation, it should be unpatriotic to veg out in front of the TV or computer or game console for more than an hour a day.
    3. The President is also right about getting rid of the poorest teachers. Principals, teachers and their unions need to stop protecting the men and women who are a disgrace to the profession. This is, however, not as simple as it sounds. In general, principals are the ones who have the responsibility of determining which teachers should be fired. Some principals became principals because they were poor teachers themselves, and in some cases, that was because they don’t understand what makes good teaching. Some principals who do recognize good and bad teaching have strong motivations NOT to fire bad teachers – they may be friends with the teachers, they may be afraid of getting sued or other conflicts, they may simply not want to take on all the extra paperwork and time spent to work with the poor teachers trying to get them to improve, and then document failure to improve. It is easier not to rock the boat. Unfortunately, many principals will work harder to get rid of a teacher with whom they have a personality or philosophical conflict than to get rid of a teacher who is ineffectual or toxic in the classroom. For these and other reasons, it is difficult to identify and fire the worst teachers.
    4. We must be willing to face the truth, and abandon politically correct but impossible goals like ‘every child will read/do math on grade level’. Every child CAN improve. Every child CAN learn. NOT every child can function ‘on grade level’ in every subject. Besides that, there is a small but significant group of children we don’t WANT to be on grade level – they should be far above grade level. Our goal should be that every child continue to achieve more and strive for more. Of course we should do as much as possible to help students overcome challenges, whether the challenges are internal (learning disabilities, mental health, brain damage, etc) or external (hunger, abuse, neglect, homelessness, etc). Rather than punishing schools for failure to do the impossible, we should reward schools whose students show improvement on an individual basis, and demand change from schools whose students are not making significant improvements.
    5. We need to do more to help students at all levels of achievement. One aspect of this effort may include varying the kinds of groupings. Research shows that students benefit academically when grouped with brighter students. For the benefit of lower-achieving students, heterogeneous grouping is useful,and this has become the norm in many schools. I wouldn’t suggest we abandon it altogether. However, our highest-achieving students should spend some time with each other, too, where they can benefit from the examples of students even brighter. In most high schools there are now AP or concurrent enrollment options that help facilitate this, but in elementary and middle schools there are few opportunities for the most gifted kids to interact with each other on a regular basis.

  26. Let’s hope NCLB is changed for the better. To date, it has been expensive and has set unrealistic expectations. NCLB needs to acknowledge responsibility of parents and community in the education of children, lightening the burden on schools alone. Too many times have teachers and schools been left “holding the bag” with much too little support from uncooperative and finger-pointing parents, who refuse to commit to their involvement in their children’s education.

    Formative assessment should be at the core of any NCLB evaluative requirements because learning is a process. “Failure” should be viewed as an indication that improvements and adjustments are needed, not as an indication that current methods should be dropped and the latest fad in education embraced. “Failure” should indicate that more communication needs to take place between educators, parents, and community to address the real needs of students in pursuing their futures and opening their horizons.

  27. I support the raising of standards for American educators and students. The standards work we’ve done in Washington State has had many positive outcomes for students and educators alike. My concern with this issue is inequity with which the meeting of higher standards is accessable for American students. With erratic, unequitable funding systems, teachers who are allowed to continue to teach despited years of documentation of their ineffectiveness, and school systems that far too often do not meet the needs of 21st century learners, rising standards is an exercise that will not change our outcomes if other issues are not addressed. We have or can create the tools, high standards being one of them, to educate American students on the highest levels. Do we have the committment and perserverance and dedication of resources to make this happen?

  28. Bring on the national standards!!! It’s hard to hit at 100% proficiency whenever teachers do not even know what standards they should be teaching. Uniformity in end-of-course/literacy exams must be a goal for the present administration. This policy would help highly mobile students who seem to especially be effected in inner-city school systems. National textbooks would be nice too. As a high school English teacher, I welcome high standards for student achievement; I only wish that the standards were the same across the board. Inner-city/high-poverty students need the best education possible; it would be ridiculous for us to think otherwise. Thank heavens that we have finally realized the following: “Oh, yeah. Inner-city kids matter too. Oh, I didn’t realize that our system is marginalizing the disadvantaged; we should do something about that.” Thankfully, politicians have finally started to pay attention to people. Another thought on standard testing would be to use ACT/SAT exams to measure student achievement. These tests are actually used in the real world. What a novel idea! How does scoring “proficient” on a literacy or math exam help a student if they scored a “17” on the ACT. Our students can score proficient on our exams but still miss the cut for college acceptance and scholarships. What happened to the real world? We should be focusing students on ACT/SAT exams starting in the 7th grade. What if our goal was for every student to score a “25” on the ACT (which is the starting point for most college scholarships). I do not think parents would mind if we mandated ACT/SAT testing in our public schools. Also, a focus on social behavior/citizenship would be helpful. Charter schools that have been successful in high-poverty areas have leaned to incorporate the teaching of social skills in their classrooms. Students are taught to work hard and act appropriately in social settings; this has led to higher student achievement. What happened to the Boys/Girls Scouts (and other programs that teach social skills/personal character)?

  29. Thank you for this opportunity to communicate to the leadership in the Dept of Education. I believe that there needs to be reform on the issues of restraint, seclusion and corporal punishment. I live in GA where ‘paddling’ of school children is still legal, and parents are reporting injuries from this practice. This issue seems to appear in our newspapers nearly once or twice a month. It’s embarassing that this is still legal in school. Can the Dept of Education strongly urge states to abandon the hitting of chilren, illegally and unsafely restraining and secluding special needs students and make these district implement positive behavior supports across the board. Currently our system is setting students up to fail and unless these mandates come from the top brass, I fear nothing will change. BTW, I have written my concerns to the state DOE, and yet nothing much has changed.

  30. Of course we should have high standards. Every child should be given the opportunity to learn and participate in education to the utmost of their ability. However, we are talking about children here, not machines. Those that cannot perform at some arbitrarily defined “high” standard must also receive an education appropriate for their abilities, not be viewed as failures!

  31. Reform needs to be triangulated in that the federal/state governments, teachers, and parents must all have active roles. I’m not sure that true reform will happen without these three parties working together.

    Several of the posts already submitted bring up the idea of an active parental role in his/her child’s education. Teaching in a rural district, I, too often, see students who have no instrinsic motivation to learn. That, unfortunately, tends to be supported at home. One of the responses indicated that if the parents see no motivation for learning, true lifelong learning, then their children will feel the same way.

    The impetus behind NCLB is good, but unless we can get all of our parents on board with the value of knowledge and what it means for the future of their students, we are fighting a losing battle. Simple legislation, that does not take into account that which teachers cannot control (i.e. parental support for the education, student belief that an education is the key to success, etc.), is just a piece of paper.

    I agree that this cannot be placed solely on the parents. Standards need to be continually reviewed and, where needed, raised to ensure that teachers are doing the most that they can to help their students attain a level of success. I do also agree with the comment that we need some help; we ARE working hard, every day to provide meaningful instruction for our students.

    If we can all get on the same page, then a real growth, in not only test scores (unfortunately, how teachers and students must be measured), but also in learning for learning’s sake.

    I applaud your efforts, Secretary Duncan. Hopefully, from your tour, substantive conversations can be held and real change can be made.

  32. No. Do not raise standards. Teach kids. Anyone who thinks standards are the flag by which an education happens is plain and simple, uneducated. They are also, most likely, wealthy, and elitest. They care nothing for the class of kids that really need to be taught.

    Only an uneducated person would say: ‘kids are dropping out at alarming rates, so let’s make it even tougher, so even more will drop out!’

    Why is this so hard to see? gh

  33. Having taught for the Chicago Public Schools for the past 33 years, I have seen high standards sacrificed so schools could have a high passing and graduation rate. Both goals are important and both goals impact the schools ability to meet NCLB mandates. Unfortunately, the latter is short term and immediate. Pressure to maintain high passing and graduation rates is placed on principals who, in turn, emphasize this at the expense of high standards. Students are not held accountable or responsible, nor are parents, but teachers must justify what they have done to remediate each student they fail. Everything a good teacher does includes remediation; it’s integrated into good teaching, so to expect every teacher to justify each students who has failed is to put the entire burden on the teacher. If the emphasis was on maintaining high standards, curtailing “social promotion” (which is an unwritten and covertly encouraged in CPS schools), expecting high passing and graduation rate to be a by-product of this policy, this would go a long way to improving our schools and the students who graduate from them.

    Finally, the policy of “turning around” schools by dismissing an entire staff, instead of addressing the many problems at Probation schools (that’s how it was done at CPS), is counter intuitive and not productive, but it’s politically expedient. I’d be happy to share my unfortunate experiences at Harper High School, where I devoted much of my teaching career from 1989 – 2008, when I was displaced, a casualty of being “turned around”. Treating dedicated employees in such a shoddy way is disgraceful, IMHO.

  34. Standardized testing is kind of sham. I would argue that it is impossible to do. Part of the conditions of a standardized exam is that all students take the test in the same manner. Most of the time, students take tests in conditions that are not even close. In some schools, the students take the test on computer. Some in a lab, others in their classroom. At the state level, the server sometimes fails and data is lost so students have to re-do the test or take it in pieces that do not make sense in terms of the way it was designed. Not all students get to finish the test. The people who design these tests at the programming level, forget to put an END TEST button and so students are unable to save their own work. But students still have to take incompletely designed tests and teachers are still liable for the results. During school, there are interruptions for administrative issues, music programs, and sports. Not all students are read the directions and invited to use the technology tools to help them navigate the test. Some schools have amazing computer systems and networks. Others, do not. Additionally, students in other locations take the test “old school” with paper and pencil. The first thing we have to do is divorce ourselves of the myth that standardized tests are standardized at all. Therefore, it would be impossible to have a nationally standardized test. We don’t even have statewide standardized ones. When we can walk away from the lie of standardization, then we are available to talk about what the scores that we may get actually mean and we can use them in ways that are useful, meaningful, and equitable for all stakeholders.

  35. I believe that we as educators deserve to be heard in our own venue. The bureaucracy of education is overshadowing the creative and innovative teaching in the classroom. I was told this year that I should only use one method that was scripted to teach special needs students in a self contained classroom. I used multisensory methods which helped these students get up to grade level range in reading and math along with the content programs.

    Teachers need support for learning not accountability for test scores. They need professional development that works and education resources which inspire creative thinking in students not rote memorization for tests. All students can learn when teachers personalize education using the variety of resources and creativity available to them. Having everything dictated such as methods, colleges, and other ideas for the classroom does not promote a democratic society but a controlled one.

  36. National standards will lower the standards of some states and schools. Students need to learn at their instructional level. The standards need to be a goal, not a requirement.

    Until the government is willing to fully fund education, NCLB will do more harm than good. Leaving no child behind also means teaching mediocrity to high achieving students. I teach English-5 sections of 35 students. Do the math. How many essays should I assign each grading period? How much time should I spend on each essay? When do the students get the time and attention they need when I have only an hour a day to plan, correct, grade, tutor, help with homework, talk to parents…?

    I teach in a district that is split by economics and race. The “Blue Ribbon School” that rates as one of the top 10 elementary schools in our state every year, is the school my children were fortunate enough to go to. On the other side of town we have a school that rarely makes AYP. Is it the teachers? I don’t think so. I have had experience with both and some of the most dedicated teachers are at that school because they CHOOSE TO HELP THE MOST NEEDY CHILDREN!!

    Accountability needs to truly reflect the stories of all schools. Imagine what the high achieving schools could do if mediocrity wasn’t valued.

    The high stakes tests need to go.

  37. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with raising standards as long as the standards are realistically applied to the target population. For students who are behind when they start school and never catch up with their appropriate grade level, raising standards for them will digging the hole even deeper and they may never climb out of it. However, enlisting parental involvement from the beginning–mandating their participation in their child’s education, can and will turn the tide. As a high school teacher in a large urban area, I know what will work and what won’t. Education reform has to begin with input from the students in order to get them engaged in the learning process. Students are no longer interested in being a receptacle of knowledge–they want to be participants, but “scripted” curriculum does not consider the student–only the educator. Additionally, we need to eliminate mediocrity in the classroom by demanding mastery of concepts. Change the grading strategy so that the only grade that matters is an “A”. I’ve had conversations with students who did minimal work and when I informed that I was starting a school which will require mastery of subject, they thought it was too rigid. When I asked what they would have done in my classroom, if they could only get an “A” or an “F”, they all replied, “I would have worked harder.” The system has to change how it does education in order for it to make a real difference in the lives of the students.

  38. As a teacher who left the profession for 17 years and just recently returned, it is striking to me that the peripheral responsibilities of my job have grown exponentially. I spend so much of my time documenting what I do,attending training and meeting accountability and response to intervention requirements that I have little to no time during my 45 minute conference period to plan creative, engaging effective lessons. Not to mention, I receive not one “break” all day unless you count my 20 minute lunch! Even working fast food I was assured more time to eat and take a break!
    I am also deterred from taking risks, trying new things, or taking advantage of spontaneous “teachable moments” because of the focus on high-stakes test preparation as a measure of accountability, not a source of insight to inform my teaching. If the test was given at the beginning of the year so that it measured the skills students had actually retained (the only true measure of quality teaching in my opinion), and if I then used the data to determine what my students needed to focus on NOW, not what they needed six months ago, it would put the priorites back where I believe they belong. But when you tell a highly driven person, such as myself, that their community, their school, their students and their performance are going to be measured by one test, it is inevitable that “teaching to the test” is going to occur. There is too much at risk if I don’t.
    We are creating a generation of teachers and students who are experts at tests, but who lack creativity, problem solving skills and the willingness to take risks – all the things students desperately need in the real world if we, as a country, are to succeed.

  39. Assessment only works when teachers know what to do with the results. So this must be put in place, and then it will drive instruction. Secondly, we need to teach our students how to be sure the information available to them (ON THE INTERNET) is valid. This is a brand new idea to most of them for who ever questioned the information in an encyclopedia. Let’s also remember there are other forms of assessment beyond end of chapter, end of unit, end of semester testing!

  40. I absolutely agree that raising the bar in our schools is essential to help every child become globally competitive and productive, motivated citizens. As a middle school teacher, building administrator, and now Professional Development chair, this is what I believe motivates success:

    1. High expectations communicated clearly for all stakeholders. Expectations that every child can learn. Expectations that every teacher will work hard to help every child succeed and continue to challenge herself as a professional.

    2. A shared vision for what the students will acheive, and a clear school improvement plan communicated to all stakeholders on how to acheive those goals.

    3. Performance based salary increases. There, I said it. In most professions, you earn a raise based on your performance. I don’t think student test scores are the key. I think demonstration of quality teaching in the classroom should determine one’s pay raise. That motivates teachers to work harder and be better.

    I support a set of national standards to help shape our nation’s curriculum. I also think a common practice of evaluating teachers based on best practices to determine salary increases will raise the bar in our classrooms.

    Thank you, Mr. Duncan. I am a fan of your work!

  41. The question frames the issue wrongly. To fix or improve a system, we must look critically at what is keeping it from working, and the entire approach to standardization currently in operation is not just flawed but fundamentally wrong. As we have it now and as it is currently envisioned, standardization is hurting our students and our schools. Raising the standards will not help but will only, perhaps, give more clout to non-educators seeking power over our school systems. Human beings begin their educational process as very young children. We need to meet them where they are, or we don’t meet them at all but just pass over them in our quest for numbers. Please start listening to people who understand early childhood development and education. Otherwise, you will just build a bigger house of cards.

  42. Dear Secretary,

    Raising standards is a great idea; however, several of our HS students are not meeting the standards that are currently in place. I believe that a “College Prep” program should be available, but not mandatory.

    Here is the main issue I have with standard raising. It is not funded properly. In my home state, 100% of students are expected to be proficient in math on the state assessment. That is a great goal. The problem comes in when it isn’t properly funded. This year, there was 84% proficient. Now with budget cuts, my class size may increase from 19 to 28. Larger class sizes are contradictory to the goals being set. If we could get 84% with 19 in a room, does it make any sense that our proficiency will go UP when we INCREASE the class size?

    Teacher turnover is one of the biggest issues. We have GOOD teachers in our classrooms. They are highly educated (many with Masters Degrees) and motivated to help students. Again, when their position is cut due to budget cuts, they go find other jobs with more stability (and more pay). Keep these teachers in the classrooms! PAY THEM FOR THEIR EFFORT!!!

    So, if you want to raise a standard, that’s fine.
    Just be sure you properly fund it so you set teachers up for success, not failure.
    Right now the Education system is set up to fail.

    Respectfully,
    John

  43. Please, PLEASE put grammar back into the curriculum!! In Maryland, they don’t seem to teach it after 7th grade. . .so when students arrive in their first year of college, they have some idea of how to “respond in a box,” but no idea how to craft sentences well. As a college instructor, I can tell you we’d appreciate it!!

  44. Why are teachers forced to pay for their own continuing education? If an accounting company demanded that I earn a CPA, they’d pay for it. Why does the Department of Ed insist that I earn 18 credits, but refuse to pay for it?

  45. Thank you for providing an online venue for educators and parents to post their thoughts.
    I’m writing from several perspectives; I am a mother, a middle school educator, and I am a veteran.

    I would appreciate standards improvement for educators and a national system of measurement for learning growth. I live in a military community, and my students come from all over the world….each with varying levels of skills and knowledge. Likewise, the parents arrive with varying expectations of “school.” Despite all of the challenges presented to our children with military parents (moving, deployment, etc.), there are different expectations from state to state. Likewise, services available and provided to special education students varies from place to place.

    Parent involvement is a major concern. I grew up with uneducated parents who always said “Just get a C, and we’ll be happy.” So, I got C’s until college. I see the same in my students. Parents have low or no expectations, and their children know it. Teachers were never supposed to replace parents, but more often I see students seeking confidence, support, supplies, and even a quiet place to do homework from teachers because their home life does not provide these essentials. Can you raise standards for parenting or parental involvement in school?

    The frequency of testing is concerning. Students are tested once per year to determine if they can meet the “minimum passing standard.” At certain levels (3rd,5th, 8th, and exit level) students are provided with multiple opportunities to pass this test. Students and teachers are stressed out!! I believe testing at set intervals(fall, mid-year, spring) for actual growth would be more beneficial. Instead of saying “pass/do not pass” we could say “you’ve grown…you’ve made progress”. One test on one day out of the year should not be the “standard” for determining a student’s ability or success.

    Thank you, again, for hearing us.

  46. Why not say every student should be an Olympic high-jumper and try to make it happen by simply setting the bar higher?? Or demand that every public-school basketball team score 100 points per game and try to make it happen by threatening to cut the coach’s salary for every point below that score?

    Ridiculous? Yet that’s exactly the system under which we public-school teachers have labored since NCLB. With so much solid research on how kids learn and what they need in order to learn, on the influence of family and community and nutrition and health in addition to (or instead of) the schools, on the importance of available reading material and available medical care and available preschool, on the critical issue of teacher quality . . . why is the public continually urged to cry out in bumper-sticker slogans for “higher standards” without any thought as to WHAT those standards might be or HOW they might be implemented. Shouldn’t the conversation–and any possible solutions–begin long before a student is given a standardized test?

  47. I doubt I’ll be allowed enough characters here to go into serious detail, but the short version is yes, we do need to raise standards (though we need MUCH better ways to assess students’ meeting of those standards than “standardized” tests, which are appalling). But before we can really do that, we need to fund education in a way that the U.S. never really has: compensate teachers for the hours it really takes to teach well (60-80 per week when school is in session), provide the resources schools really need (there’s no point talking about technology training when 1500 students share 40 computers, as they do in any number of schools to which I could point in my area), and reduce class sizes to 15-20 across the board (smaller still for students with special needs.) These are the things it’ll take to really implement high standards. We could do this with fewer resources if a wider spectrum of parents really supported high standards for their students, but since so many can’t or don’t, since the task of demanding excellence now does largely have to be done in the classroom, then we need these resources.

    Why? Because of the growing body of research indicating that the most influential factor on student learning and performance is the teacher. Because so many people who COULD be good or great teachers won’t go into a profession where they work seventy hours sa week for thirty thousand a year and don’t get lunch or bathroom breaks–and who can blame them? Because teachers are not saints, and should not have to be saints to do their job well, but martyrdom is consistently what’s required of them. Because while teaching is a “calling” for some people, there will never be enough such people to have one in every classroom: teaching needs to be treated as a profession, highly trained, highly skilled, highly paid (no one would think of asking every doctor to train and work for this kind of compensation or these kind of conditions.) Teachers who are just in it for the retirement package need to be removed and replaced by teachers who are the best at what they do–but we won’t get anything like enough of those teachers until the compensation and conditions are commensurate with the labor the good teacher puts in. And that labor, by the way, should be restricted to the classrom and to participating in the creation of meaningful assessment and standards, rather than diffused into coaching cheerleading, conducting lunch duty, and a dozen other non-instructional and ultimately irrelevant duties.

    Raising standards alone (including testing them by such invalid methods as standardized tests), without making it reasonably possible for teachers to get students to those standards, is simply spitting into the wind. NCLB has always been all stick and no carrot; you can’t achieve meaningful change that way. Teachers who are already overworked and overextended don’t change what they’re doing to meet standards that aren’t reasonably meet-able with the resources at hand; they simply leave the profession (which they’re doing in droves) for a job that allows them a living wage and a life. If you really want to raise standards, let those standards include teachers’ standard of living.

  48. I totally agree in nationalized standards and assessments. One other missing piece is for those assessments to be diagnostic in nature: to actually tell me something as a teacher about what a student has learned. In my state we receive levels no info on what areas of the curriculum the student has mastered and what he still needs to work on. How valuable that would be for the next teacher to see where to start building rather than having to learn that student in the first grading period and guess what needs to be done based on experience and their work samples.

  49. In working with teachers in Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia, I’ve solicited comments on the current system. An almost universal complaint I’ve heard is that testing and preparation for testing has severely curtailed their teaching time. Instead of really teaching, all they can do is cram content for the tests.

    So, we certainly need to improve the educational system. However, we can’t confuse raising standards with more testing.

  50. I invite — beg –implore — or merely ask Arne Duncan to visit our 6-12 public school. We serve many students affected by military deployments, being near Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base in Washington state. Many of our students struggle because a parent is deployed in an enemy zone, or because they’ve been moved from military base hither to military base yon (add being moved from public schools hither to public schools yon). At our school, teachers strive to meet standards for ALL of our students. We offer a (free! through the public school system! by request of the parent!) college preparatory program to all of our students. Yet we still struggle to meet the needs of our diverse student body. Please, Secretary Duncan, come to our school and see how NCBL has fallen short in improving achievement, especicially for our ELL and SPED students — the very students NCBL was meant to assist — because it negates the standarized test scores of those students most in need of assistance. Mr. Secretary, I am pretending that you are listening: I implore you to help the students that need it most by expanding extra learning support rather than penalizing those that needed help, but didn’t receive it. Sincerely, Dana Ohler

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