Duncan: U.S. failing ‘core responsibilities’ on education

In the real world outside the Washington bubble, the vast majority of people aren’t debating if college and career-ready standards are needed. They’re not advancing false narratives about a federal takeover of schools by mind-controlling robots. They’re just doing the hard work of putting high standards into practice.

They’re not questioning if a thoughtful system of evaluation and support is needed for principals and teachers. They know that evaluation has been generally meaningless, has failed to support the development of teachers and principals, and that the system is broken. They are working together to help educators strengthen their craft–and to build real career ladders that recognize and reward excellence.

Even in my hometown of Chicago—less than a year after a bitter strike—a recent study shows teachers like the new evaluation system and want to make it work, even if they have lingering concerns about how test scores are being used.

In the real world, most people are not against meaningful testing. They know we need some kind of test to know if kids are actually learning and to hold everyone accountable, including students themselves.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have concerns about teaching to the test or narrowing the curriculum—and I absolutely share those concerns. But the idea that we shouldn’t gather real-time data on what students know and are able to do is absurd. The goal in education is not just to teach, it is to have students learn.

Working together, the vast majority of states are creating better tests that measure essential skills, such as critical thinking. States are developing these assessments because they want parents to know the truth about how their children are doing, and they want teachers to have the critical information they need to improve instruction. You can take a look at the sample items online—this will be a leap forward for everyone.

Outside the bubble, people are not arguing in 140 characters or less about whether or not we need to fix poverty before we can fix education. That, like so many debates in education, is a false choice.

Of course we will keep fighting poverty—protecting the safety net, providing wraparound services, feeding hungry children and families, creating jobs, combating violence, and providing greater access to health services.

But we can’t use the brutal reality of poverty as a catch-all excuse to avoid responsibility for educating children at risk—and for helping more of them to beat the odds, as thousands and thousands do, year after year.

Our children have only one chance for an education. They can’t wait for poverty to disappear.  In fact, for them and their parents, education is the way out of poverty—and they don’t want to waste a minute. They are chasing the American Dream with everything they have, and we all have to help them get there. We all share in that responsibility—no one gets a pass.

As those of us who have worked in disadvantaged communities know, poor kids need extra long-term support. But educators, nonprofits, and faith-based partners are working together every day to prove that poverty is not destiny.

In the real world, parents just want great public schools for their children. Most don’t really care if it’s a traditional public school, a magnet school, or a charter school. They just want a school that is safe, and that challenges students to excel and makes them feel cared for.

Parents don’t debate if it’s possible to turn around a low-performing school. They can see for themselves if something is working or not working. And they are helping lead these turnaround efforts themselves, with a remarkable sense of vision and purpose.

Parents listen to the voices that matter the most–their children—just as I did the other day with a panel of students from turnaround high schools from across the nation.

One young woman, who attends Benjamin Franklin High School in Baltimore, recalled the lengths that neighborhood parents used to go to avoid sending their children down the street to the school. Now, with federal support to improve the school, there’s a waiting list to attend. “People see that we have a plan,” she said, “and we are going to accomplish our goal by any means.”

I heard identical sentiments recently from students in San Francisco, who attend a turnaround school there. The before-and-after stories are jarring, troubling, and wonderfully-inspiring—all at the same time.

(Next page: The role of unions in education reform—and how the ‘dysfunction’ of Congress is hurting students)

eSchool News Staff

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