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

With Race to the Top funds, Tennessee’s Achievement School District is getting growth rates in the lowest-performing schools that match the statewide average and is beginning to close achievement gaps. Tennessee has trained tens of thousands of teachers to implement new and more rigorous college and career-ready standards.

Kentucky is boosting AP participation among minorities and low-income students. They have one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country—and they are one of the first states to assess students based on the new higher standards.

Florida is linking STEM students with working scientists. North Carolina has a new STEM recognition program that helps educators share best practices in areas like curriculum, teacher training, and linking students to jobs. And New York City is training music, art, and drama teachers to work with special education students.

Many communities are expanding critically important wraparound services to address social and emotional issues that get in the way of learning—issues that are compounded by poverty and violence.

I just finished an 1,100-mile back-to-school bus tour of the Southwest that included a stop at an early learning center in Santa Fe. The governor in New Mexico, a Republican, is boosting spending on early learning. More than a dozen governors around the country—Democrats and Republicans alike—have done the same, even in the midst of a tight budget crunch.

Lawmakers ought to get out of DC and go see for themselves what these states are doing with early learning—and then come back here and invest resources so that the federal government can partner with states to help them expand access to high-quality early learning for every four-year-old.

This simply isn’t a partisan issue in the real world. Educators, parents, business, law enforcement, faith-based leaders, and even military leaders all agree that high-quality early learning is the single-best investment we can make—returning seven dollars in savings for every dollar invested. An extraordinary, unusual, and broad-based coalition is developing to make this happen.

Here’s another place I’d love members of Congress to visit: Columbus, New Mexico—right on the border. There, children born in an American hospital to Mexican parents cross the border every day to go to school.

The Columbus community has welcomed them for more than 60 years, and despite the journey those children have to take every day, Columbus Elementary School has near-perfect attendance. That dedication—and that profound understanding of the importance of educational opportunity, which I saw from both children and staff, is something I will never forget.

Lawmakers in Washington ought to see this community and then come back here and work together to reform immigration, so families who just want to have a better life and contribute to America’s economy can do so, together. No parent-teacher conference should ever have to take place via Skype because mom and dad aren’t allowed to even visit their child’s school to attend a play or watch their child’s musical performance.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, I went to Midway Elementary School in rural Socorro, where they are using technology to broaden the curriculum and personalize learning. They’re not debating whether or not computers will replace teachers—that will never happen. That’s another spin-your-wheels argument that you hear in the alternative universe.

In the real world, outside the Washington bubble, schools are just doing what every organization, business, and household in America is doing. They’re getting online and using the infinite resources of the Internet to get smarter faster. Technology can be a hugely important tool as we strive both to increase equity and raise the bar for all students.

We need to expand and accelerate that access—which is why I am so excited that the Federal Communications Commission has answered the President’s call to vastly expand broadband access in schools.

In El Paso, Texas, I went to TransMountain High School, an Early College High School where most students are Hispanic and poor. TransMountain has a STEM concentration. All students can complete an associate’s degree by the end of their junior year and have the opportunity to attend U.T.-El Paso during their senior year.

Lawmakers ought to go visit to TransMountain and see how a school with high expectations and a commitment to rigor is transforming lives. They should visit the labs where 14-year-old ninth graders are doing college-level biology experiments and getting college credit, while just a freshman in high school! Then they should come back here and give us the resources to recruit, prepare, hire, and retain 100,000 new STEM educators to create many more programs like TransMountain’s.

When students are both challenged and supported, it’s amazing to see what they can do. Every student should have the chance to earn college credits while in high school.

In Scottsdale, Arizona, some of my colleagues saw first-hand an example of a system working to improve outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities. Through collaboration among general and special educators, as well as school psychologists, the district has significantly reduced the numbers of students identified as needing special education.

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eSchool News Staff

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