'Why are programs that put an emphasis on parents' education being eliminated?' asked one reader.

Recently, we asked eSchool News readers, via our daily newsletter, ‘What’s one question you’d like to ask U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan?’—and Sec. Duncan answered.

After reading our newsletter, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) contacted eSchool News and asked us to choose five reader questions for Duncan to address. We chose these five questions based on relevancy, general interest, and diversity of topic. While every question we received was worthy of a response, Duncan unfortunately could not answer them all.

Here, you’ll find Duncan’s answers to the selected questions (in no particular order).

Said an ED representative in an eMail: “Thanks very much for giving him the opportunity to speak to eSchool News readers, who share a special place in our hearts!”

1.  “Why do we keep trying to solve the problems of public education by continuing to do what is contradictory to what we know about how children learn? Children all develop cognitively, as well as physically, at different rates of speed.  Yet, in the classroom we insist that all children of a particular age should complete and learn skills and content for a grade level within a nine-month time frame.  We would never expect them to all grow at the same rate physically and weigh the same and be the same height. Why do we expect them to all grow at the same rate cognitively? This basic foundation of public education is creating the problems and producing dropouts.” —Nancy Self

Duncan: “Nancy, that’s a great question, and it’s one of the reasons that I believe the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) is really letting our students down. No two people progress at the same rate and in the same ways. While our goal is to ensure that all children are prepared for college and a career by the time they graduate high school, we also need to consider growth and gain so that we know whether students are making enough progress towards reaching that goal.

That means collecting data about what students are learning so that schools, parents, and teachers can see where students are on track and where they are falling behind. However, instead of focusing solely on students reaching an arbitrary bar on an achievement test, I would like to see us pay much more attention to their growth over a year. Ideally, we want every child to be at or above grade level, but that is not always possible within a year when students come into class far behind in a given subject. Instead, we need to reward and encourage students and teachers who have been able to achieve large gains, regardless of their grade level.

If a fifth-grade teacher is able to move a student in her class from a second-grade reading level to a fourth-grade level, that child and that teacher should be celebrated. Under our plan to reauthorize NCLB, schools and districts that show this progress will be highlighted—and teachers who produce such large gains will be rewarded.”