Town Hall With Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

15 Nov

In June 2009, I’d learned about the new secretary of education in Obama administration, Arne Duncan, when he’d said that children need to spend more time at school. I’d written about my views on his proposal “Does the Length of a School Year Help Increase Competitiveness?” I was opposed to increasing the length of the school day though I supported increasing the length of the school year.

Two and a half years later, I got a chance to attend a town hall with the secretary of education at the Mason Intermediate School on November 9, 2011. He talked with students and parents about what ails the US education system and how he is planning to address some of the issues. I was amazed by the depth of his knowledge of the education system, which, of course, you’d expect from the highest ranking official in education in the country.

Some of his comments:

  • Countries like India and China are out-educating us and out-competing us.
  • We need to overhaul our education system to remain competitive in future.
  • We have invested a lot of money in the last three years in education.
  • We are dropping lower on reading and science and math tests compared with other developed countries such as Singapore and Norway.
  • In other countries, the teaching profession is the choice of the top third of a graduating class whereas in the US, it’s usually people at the bottom.
  • We provided three meals a day to many children in Chicago to make sure they focus of studies. It’s hard to pay attention when you’re hungry.
  • The federal grant is only about 10-15% of a school’s budget. About 70% comes from the state and 15-20% from the city.
  • When there is a budget shortfall, the extracurricular activities are cut first. But these activities are the reason many children come to school. To lower the dropout rates, we have to keep them engaged.
  • The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, passed in George W. Bush’s term, is having a negative impact on schools. The schools are being forced to improve the results on standardized tests and lower the dropout rates. This has forced the schools to lower their testing standards and adopt dubious practices to make them look good.
  • We need to hire and retain good teachers. Many good teachers leave the profession because they get frustrated with the system.
  • There are more English-learning students in China than English-speaking people in the US.
  • Other countries are graduating more students from college than the US.
  • We need to send more students from schools to college, whether it’s a four-year college or a two-year vocational college.
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