Barack Obama finally got around to making the appointment I cared about: Secretary of Education. The man of the hour is Arne Duncan, who was most recently dealing with the challenges of the Chicago public schools. During his tenure in the Windy City, Mister Duncan was able to raise test scores and graduation rates. For this we say, "Bravo," and now get your hip waders on for the big swim.
Public education in the United States is in trouble. I know because I work there: in the United States, in public education. It just so happens that I work at a school named for the founder of American Education: Horace Mann. Way back in 1837, he wrote about the problems facing our schools. The six main problems he targeted were: (1) the public should no longer remain ignorant and free, (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public, (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children of all diversities, (4) that this education must be free of religious influence, (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society, and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers. One hundred and seventy years ago. What sort of challenges face Arne today? Pretty much the same thing?
I know that we in the teaching biz have until 2014 to make sure that every student can read and do math on grade level. To put it more colloquially, No Child Will Be Left Behind. But that's five years from now. That shouldn't be any problem, right? More than one in four students still score below basic on eighth-grade math and reading tests. The news is worse among black and Hispanic children, nearly half of whom score below basic on the same tests. Dropout rates remain high: One in four students quits high school. Among black and Hispanic kids, one in three drops out. How can we be saved? Duncan and Obama have lots of ideas. Some of which include merit pay for teachers, charter schools, and the revamping of the No Child Left Behind legislation. Not the dismissal, just the revamping. And longer school days. The Once And Future President said to a group of kids at a Chicago school just after announcing his appointment, "Well, let me tell you, kids in a lot of other countries go to school more than kids here in the United States," adding that he hasn't made any decisions. "The longer you're here, the smarter you get."
If only it were that simple.