Renewing the American Dream: Education, the Great Equalizer

Frankie was born on the island.  I was born stateside, in Alabama, spending my childhood and adolescence on constant flights to San Juan followed by the subsequent drive to visit family in Caguas.  We now occupy offices 500 feet apart at the U.S. Department of Education.  Like so many others in and out of government, we’ve been spending countless months, weeks, days and hours thinking about how to improve public education in the United States and Puerto Rico.  As the Department’s representative on the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, I’ve had the opportunity and honor of engaging with island stakeholders about how to overcome the education challenges specific to Puerto Rico.

Following up on the Task Force’s Recommendation, we have been working with the White House and local stakeholders to hold a Puerto Rico Education Summit with Secretary Duncan, which will take place on Monday, October 17, 2011 in San Juan.  At the summit, we are convening education experts, stakeholders, practitioners, elected officials, as well as the business and non-profit community to discuss the importance of improving public education in Puerto Rico.  Secretary Duncan will also meet with teachers, parents, and students during his visit.  Nothing could be dearer to my heart or more important to Puerto Rico.

I’ve experienced first-hand some of the real difficulties on the island.  My grandmother’s home in Caguas was once part of a thriving neighborhood not too far from the town center.  That same street is now littered with empty, decaying homes and frequented by sex workers.  My mother loves that house (she kept it after my abuela passed away)—she and her sisters grew up there, and so did my brothers and my cousins.  Sadly, it just doesn’t feel safe anymore.  For me, like so many challenges we face in society, it all comes back to education.

Because we know the power of a great education.  We’ve known that education is the best anti-poverty program since Horace Mann best explained it in 1848: “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery….it prevents being poor.”  And President Obama has been clear that “countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”  That’s why it is our responsibility to ensure that every child in the U.S. and Puerto Rico receives a world class public education.

President Obama is giving the Department the dollars and the flexibility to help Puerto Rico and the states achieve those goals.  With programs like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhoods, the Department has spurred innovation, and sparked a national conversation about education reform.  Still, at the end of the day, the hard work rests at the state and local level.  Principals, teachers, parents, students and communities must be vested partners in every student’s success.

Secretary Duncan says that “Education is the civil rights issue of our generation.”  He’s right.  Puerto Rico, like so many places, faces real challenges to improve its public education system.  And it is our job to ensure that no matter where you are born or where you live, you have the opportunity to get a great education.  The 450,000+ K-12 public school students in Puerto Rico are counting on it.

Eric Waldo is Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education and Frankie Martinez-Blanco is Director of Advance at the U.S. Department of Education

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

4 Comments

  1. For me, early learning is very important and it starts at home. Children can learn at an early age. Parents or care givers play an important role here. This is just my opinion but I believe that the first thing we should focus on is the kids’ reading and comprehension. And we do not need to wait until they are school age to teach them reading. If they can read and comprehend well, children can even teach themselves. So if we can find ways to improve the comprehension of the children it would be very beneficial for them.

  2. Think outside the box. This idea was emphasized throughout my childhood, but I think a more appropriate phrase in modern-day America would be ‘think inside the bubble’. Within the last sixty years, standardized testing has been pushing children out of the box and into learning by fill-in the bubble answers and strict writing outline formats. Standardized testing hinders student’s ability to gain a passion for learning, and is an inaccurate biased way of measuring the aptitude for retaining knowledge. By completely reorganizing America’s education system, standardized testing could be replaced by portfolio based learning, and measure the improvements of a student rather than merely meeting State standards.
    Pressure to get a college degree has been building since the job force has become more advanced in the United States because of the greater populated manufacturing-based countries which we are in competition with. This has increased the importance of tests such as the ACT and SAT. A day-long, timed test that affects your future is just a way of pushing students to the breaking point of their knowledge. A University of Michigan research article, What’s So Bad About Standardized Testing, discusses the effects on students who’s results on standardized testing are sub par, “After doing poorly on a test, low-achieving students become disillusioned and less motivated which leads to less effort to learn, starting a downward spiral that is very hard to break out of”. Test anxiety has become common among many young people; studies show that 43% of students have test anxiety (Hayes). The timed element itself is unrealistic. In most real-world careers, time is not a factor in your ability to do a job well, but rather a benefit or skill. Making an already important test timed is just further increasing the pressure of the situation at hand. Many students suffer under pressure. Standardized testing also does not take into account pupils that may have learning disabilities or do not think by multiple-choice answers. How a student is feeling and the environment in general on the day of the test affects how their scores will come out, therefore affecting their future.
    Starting at the elementary school level, standardized testing limits teacher’s possibilities to teach to their full ability. Schools depend on standardized test scores for their government funding, therefore; teachers spend weeks, even months, preparing students for a one-day test. Techniques on how to ‘beat the clock’ and ‘smart guess’ are being taught to mere third graders. Teachers are being blamed for bad test scores, but not praised for the improvement of their students. “Prospective teachers are rethinking whether they want to begin a career in which high test scores matter most, and in which they will be pressured to produce these scores”, comments Alfie Kohn in her article Standardized Testing and Its Victims. Less and less teachers are entering the educational field because of the lack of creativity and flexibility they are given, not to mention having their jobs depend on test scores. Standardized testing also does not give teachers results that they can benefit from, nor does it show the progress they are making, but rather shows if a student is learning at a rate that the State thinks is age appropriate. “Classroom surveys show teachers do not find scores from standardized tests very helpful, so they rarely use them. The tests do not provide information that can help a teacher understand what to do next in working with a student because they do not indicate how the student learns or thinks”, states What’s Wrong With Standardized Testing, highlighted on a website committed to changing the standardized test system. Due to negative test scores, many schools have been shut down, and many teacher and principles have gotten pink-slipped. Studies show that other than parents, teachers are the most influential adult figures in children’s lives. Standardized testing is taking away and discouraging our great educators who have such an enormous influence on our next generation.
    Standardized testing is prejudiced towards students from low-income families and minorities. Jonathan Pollard comments on this fact in his article, Measuring What Matters Least, “Test results don’t necessarily indicate achievement, but rather, tend to be much more accurate indicators of the size of a student’s house or the income of the student’s parents.” Research shows that questions are written for students with privileged backgrounds; well-off families who can afford to have their children take test-preparation and send their children to schools that offer such courses. In the 1940s when standardized tests were first being created and used, they were made specifically for wealthy students, whose families could afford private schooling. Back in that era only the wealthiest, most intelligent percentage of students in the United States furthered their education. The fact that we are still using this system in the modern day when a majority of students plan on attending college is astonishing. The system does not fit the change, America is a melting pot of people from many diverse backgrounds; our education system should reflect that.
    In the education system the United States currently uses, standardized testing is necessary for the government and perspective colleges to judge how students are performing. Therefore, our education system would have to completely be revamped to make way for a more accurate, efficient way of ranking students. Firstly, added resources would have to be given to schools. Schools recently have been cutting programs- arts, after school activities, recess, sports, etc.- because the State can no longer provide the funds to support them. It has always been emphasized in the United States that education comes first and is a right to citizens, which is not evident when the government is cutting funds left and right. The idea of progress should be more valuable than merely meeting a standard. Standardized testing has become more of a profitable organization, comments Ben Gose and Jeffrey Selingo in their essay The SAT’s Great Test, “Roughly 1.3 million high-school seniors per year take the [SATs], and more than half take it twice, yielding an annual revenue stream of more than $200 million.” This monopoly of deciding schools and children’s futures has to change. Rather than putting insurmountable pressure on students to do well on an all-day test, the government should put resources into making a nation-wide, nonprofit, portfolio based grading system. Portfolios would not only show students’ strengths and weakness that would ultimately let teachers alter their lessons and teaching habits, but would also show the progress of a student over time. This would also give teachers more room for creativity and customized lessons that benefit their individual students’ needs. No longer would “gaming the test” be needed, as well as “teaching towards the test”. Teaching would be remade into the passionate art it once was.
    As the world rapidly changes around us our education system needs to also morph and reflect the change we hope to see. If this adjustment does not happen the United States will slowly be swallowed by the countries we are in competition with. Even worse, children will no longer have a drive and passion to learn and grow. Standardized testing is stunting the growth of students and teachers- the system is in desperate need of change.

  3. Jose Jaramillo

    16 October 2011

    Standardized Testing

    Standardized tests, such as the ACT and SAT, are known to frighten many people. Why? Because they are a major factor of the admission decision in the college that one applies to. Therefore, these tests are created as a way to distinguish student’s intelligence which scares many students . In addition standardized tests, test to see which kids are the best test takers from all over the country. However, many people, scholars and parents, disagree with the idea that students should be tested or even prepare for a standardized test during class time. For example, many teachers are bothered by the idea that kids don’t learn the material that is necessary because they have to practice for this test that does not relate to what they are being taught. They also don’t test kids on how much they learned in class but rather on what they can do to score highly on some test. In addition, kids are not taught the material necessary for this test properly, whether it referring back to kinder-garden and beyond. For example, when they are taught certain subject teachers tend to move on without realizing if their students have fully understood the material or not. Another issue involves language, language prevents people form scoring high on a test because if English is not learned as a first language it is a struggle taking the reading comprehension and writing section. Preparation for standardized test also hinders a student’s ability to preform well on the test because of insufficient money that is needed to buy materials to learn the test. Ultimately, due to the financial class one is born into preventing enough money to pay for a good education, having a first language that is foreign, the situation in which not many kids are taught the material properly, the cutting of leisure time, and gaming the test makes standardized tests an unjust way to determine a kid’s ability in academics.
    “The tests are biased” ( standardized testing and its victims). Standardized tests test are biased due to the fact that only people with privileged backgrounds preform well or better than those who are not. Affluent and opulent families are able to afford more products or have enough money to pay for the items, SAT book or SAT class, that are necessary to study for the test . On the other, hand those who do not come from affluent families usually preform poorly on this test. Mainly including those with a Hispanic, Native American or African American background. As noted by David Miller, author of the article Test Problems, “ In Louisiana parents requested that the office Of civil rights investigate why minority and poor children are scoring poorly on these tests.” As observed, minorities and under privileged people struggle the most financially and therefore have the hardest time passing these tests. As evidenced, standardized testing is not the best way to observe and the infer on how student will perform in college.
    Language also plays a huge role in how one preforms on a standardized test. The usage of the English language affects scores on standardized test. Over half of the test relies on how well you can read and write in English. As evidenced, people who do not have English as their first language have trouble with scoring high on the test. For example, those with a his panic background may have learned Spanish as their first and struggle with English. Overall, people that are unprivileged tend to struggle more with these standardized tests, proving one point at which one can say standardized tests are unfair.
    Lack of teaching hinders the education system in many public schools. It affects many of the kids who attend this school. In relation, to standardized tests, lack of teaching play a vital role in putting kids at a disadvantage for this test. Without a proper education, one struggles in many areas whether it being Math or English. Eventually, making standardized tests harder for those without a proper education.
    Recess time for minors and other leisure time, fun activities, is cut out just so these kids have enough time to practice or take a standardized test. As stated by the author of Standardizing Tests and Its Victims, Alfie Kohn, “schools across the country are cutting back or even eliminating programs such as art or recess in order to augment the time needed to teach about the test to the students.” Standardized testing, the killer of leisure time, should not interfere with activities that give students a break.
    In relation, standardized tests, SAT, test kids on how well they know the test rather than the knowledge they posses. Gaming the test, is a procedure in which one learns certain techniques to take the test and improve their scores. It has nothing to do with your knowledge, and it deals with how well you can spot out errors without even doing the problem. The issue with this is that many kids are not learning material in school that is necessary, but they take the time to prepare them to take a standardized test, in which they just learn tricks to score high on this test.
    Solutions that are relevant to standardized test can involve a whole reform on the school system. Reforming the whole system involves teachers actually teaching the material. A teacher should realize whether or not his or her student really comprehended the material that was taught to them. In result, as kids move on to higher level of education they will be prepared for any kind of standardized test. In addition, the test in general should be altered. Standardized tests are known to not really test kids on how much they learned in school but on how much they learned about the test. This situation arises many conflicts such as killing time in school in order to practice for this test which is inconvenience. No one wants to learn how to game a test, it is unnecessary. Lastly, if both previous solutions mention work out. Standardized tests should not intervene with a students leisure time. Students wear out during school, therefore a break is needed once in a while. If a break is taken then it is guaranteed one can preform better on any test.
    In conclusion, standardized tests are unfair, due to the fact many kids are born into unprivileged families who struggle in paying for a good education, whether it being for school or classes needed for the SAT. In addition, teachers are not properly preparing their students for higher levels of education, that later on is needed to preform well on a standardized test. Lastly, standardized tests are invading school time which is needed to teach material that is necessary. Ultimately, standardized tests are only detrimental and frustrating to one, and is not the best way to predict how a student will perform in college eliminating it out of the admission process.

  4. YOUR COMPANY’S NAME]EDUCATES YOUTH ABOUT AMERICAN POSSIBILITIES
    First let me say that CURRENT CORPORATE INFLUENCE in America has ALMOST NO IMPACT ON THE FUTURE OF OUR YOUTH. [CORPORATION] EDUCATES YOUTH ABOUT AMERICAN POSSIBILITIES, is ESSENTIALLY, THE BEST WAY that CEOs can RE-PATRIATE their CORPORATE COFFERS. IT BECOMES AN NVESTMENT IN THE FUTURE.

    THE FIRST ASPECT of EDUCATES YOUTH ABOUT AMERICAN POSSIBILITIES involves BEGINNING AT THE BEGINNING, AND ENDING WITH RECRUITMENT. (K-R, KINDERGARTEN, thru RECRUITMENT) Here is how it would work. COMPANIES SEEKING PARTICIPATION WOULD APPLY TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO BRING OFF-SHORE MONEY HOME, BUT USE 50% OF ANY MONEY THAT COMES HOME WITH NO TAX, to HIRE (14), AT LEAST 12 PEOPLE PER SCHOOL & 1 PER COLLEGE, TO REPRESENT THE COMPANY IN THE TOWN, WHERE THAT COMPANY EXISTS. 1 RECRUITER WOULD BE HIRED, ALSO, UNLESS THE COMPANY ALREADY HAS ONE. THE FACT THAT SO MANY COMPANIES, ARE SO DIVERSIFIED LEAVES OPEN THE POSSIBILITY FOR GENERATING THOUSANDS OF JOBS. EXAMPLE: ALL AMERICA TOWN, USA, HAS 1 FACTORY, HAS K-12, AND 1 COLLEGE. The factory has at least 14 people who are ready to RETIRE. OF COURSE, THE TOTAL NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES PARTICIPATING WOULD DEPEND UPON, THE NUMBER OF SCHOOLS, THE NUMBER OF COLLEGES AND THE NUMBER OF COMPANIES THAT A PARTICULAR CEO WANTS PARTICIPATING IN A GIVEN TOWN. However, A RETIREE WOULD BE SEEKING, ONLY PART of their PENSION or SOCIAL SECURITY; whatever the case may be. They WANT TO STAY INVOLVED WITH THE COMPANY & COMMUNITY. AT LEAST 14 NEW ENTRY LEVEL JOBS are FREED UP FOR COMPANY INHOUSE HIRE; from SANITARY MAINTENANCE to ASSEMBLY, to MID-MANAGEMENT, to EXECUTIVES, to OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD.

    Of course, the ideal person to fill COUNSELOR positions would be one that started out as a JANITOR and ENDED UP an EXECUTIVE, but BARRING THAT QUALIFICATION, the person WOULD at LEAST, HAVE TO BE A PEOPLE PERSON, WITH WORK ETHICS. The WAGE would be MINIMUM. Titles: POSSIBILITY COUNSELOR or RECRUITER. Each counselor would have the ability to provide a course geared towards a Kindergartner or a College Student. It would take someone who could be CREATIVE AND ENTERTAINING WHILE INSTILLING THE WORK ETHIC, IF YOU WILL. The course would be the CLASS at the end of THE FIRST 4 DAYS OF THE WEEK, and REQUIRED. THE 5TH DAY, FRIDAY, WOULD BE COMPANY REFRESHER DAY, WHEN COUNSELORS & RECRUITERS KEEP UP WITH THE CUTTING EDGE GOING ONS IN THEIR COMPANY. SCHOOL & COMPANY RECRUITERS PROVIDE OVERSIGHT. GIVEN ALL GRADES & COLLEGE, IMAGINE THE Q & As ABOUT EACH COMPANY. AUDITORIUM CLASSES EACH GRADE/DIVIDED INTO GROUPS/HELD EVERY HOUR/HOW CORPORATIONS WILL CATCH TODAYS STUDENTS UP WITH CURRENT TECHNOLOGY.

    SECOND thing that corporate participants should do “ATTRACT RETIREES W/NATIONAL MARKETING”.

    THE THIRD thing to do is RE-INTRODUCED to the AMERICAN STUDENT, one of the MAIN REASONS for GETTING AN EDUCATION. NOT THE ONLY REASON, BUT THE MAIN REASON for GETTING AN EDUCATION is to GET A JOB THAT EARNS YOU A LIVING. STARTING FROM KINDERGARTEN TO COLLEGE, YOUR COMPANY PROVIDES THE YOUTH WITH Q & A THAT ALLOWS THEM TO DECIDE WHICH CAREER AFFORDS GRATIFICATION & PURPOSE, FOR THEM. People, from the cradle to the grave, must have a purpose of being, which begins with Family and Ends with Family. IN BETWEEN THEIR PARENTS’ CONVICTIONS TO EDUCATE THEM, AND “THEIR PARENTHOOD” “LIES THE PREPARATION, FOR A JOB”. CREATIVELY & ECONOMICALLY MARKET THE PARENTS & SCHOOLS

    ENGAGE the PARENTS by developing PARENT/CHILD projects HIGHLIGHTING CAREERS IN YOUR OGANIZATIONS. TOOLS would range from COMPANY ORIENTED PUZZLES for KINDERGARTNERS & PARENTS to PRODUCT SAMPLES for MIDDLE SCHOOL PARTICIPANTS and PARENTS, to COMPANY ORIENTED INTERACTIVE GAMES for COLLEGE STUDENTS & THEIR PARENTS. BE ECONOMICALLY CREATIVE, then, MASTER all the POSSIBILITIES.GET A NEW GROUP OF RETIREES EACH YEAR, IF YOU CHOOSE.

Comments are closed.