Arne Duncan, Harvard and MTR

 

This morning I read Arne Duncan’s (US Secretary of Education) speech at Harvard’s Askwith Forum that
he gave this past Tuesday.  I thought I would pull out four items he
discussed that have the most relevance to us at the MTR.
Remarks of Secretary Duncan at the Askwith Forum, Harvard Graduate School of Education; February 7, 2012.

1. Community Education-

As
a reminder, the MTR is more than a teacher preparation program.  We are
a teacher prep program that works diligently within a Community Education
model.  Academic gap-closing work is best done within a defined and
targeted neighborhood and in partnership with organizations that begin
work at pregnancy and help promote healthy lives through church,
education, health care, adequate and safe housing and multiple forms of
literacy, including financial and job skills.  In this way, all
resources work towards a poverty / economic-gap-closing work and a
healthy and thriving community.  It is our hope that the next generation
of MTR teachers will not fight as steep an uphill battle against
poverty and dysfunction in their classrooms. See Mr. Duncan’s discussion of this below: 

 

And don’t forget President’s Obama’s health care
legislation. Under the new law, the administration has provided more
than 275 school-based health clinics with about $100 million to provide
more health care services at schools nationwide. Those grants will
enable school-based health clinics to serve an additional 440,000
patients—a jump of over 50 percent.
In short, from day one, we have pursued a cradle-to-career education
agenda. And it is very much epitomized by our Promise Neighborhood
grants, which support a program of high-quality wraparound services and
strong neighborhood schools modeled after the
Harlem Children’s Zone.
I want to underline that great schools and great teachers are the
most effective anti-poverty tool of all. And that’s why a good school is
at the heart of every Promise Neighborhood.
Even back in Chicago, people used to warn me that we could never fix
the schools until we ended poverty. As I say, I am a huge fan of
out-of-school anti-poverty programs. I was raised in one. But I
absolutely reject the idea that poverty is destiny. Despite
challenges at home, despite neighborhood violence, and despite poverty, I
know that every child learn and thrive. It’s the responsibility of
schools to teach all children—and have high expectations for every
student, rich and poor.
Geoff Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and one of my
heroes, discovered firsthand that even a continuum of high-quality
wraparound services isn’t enough to dramatically boost student
achievement. You have to have a great school to close
the opportunity gap.
HCZ’s parenting classes, their first-rate preschool program, and the
supplemental services inside Harlem’s schools—the tutors, the computer
labs, the after-school reading programs—collectively they weren’t doing
nearly enough to boost student achievement.
So Geoff Canada decided he had to create an outstanding school.

 

2. Memphis is the Place…

Just
a reminder, Memphis is the center of urban education reform.  See Mr.
Duncan’s comments below… As he is working on this national hot-potato
of teacher evaluation, a Memphis teacher, Dru Davison, is right
in the thick of the conversation.  Takeaway: this is the right
place.  Memphis continues to change the world.  It’s what we do… 

 

Now, some folks will point out, correctly, that most
teachers don’t teach in tested subjects. So, how can student achievement
be factored in to teacher evaluation in non-tested subjects? It’s a
great question. But I have every faith that teachers themselves
can come up with solutions. They already are.
Just last week I met with Dru Davison, a fantastic music teacher in
Memphis. Arts teachers there were frustrated because they were being
evaluated based solely on school-wide performance in math and English.
So he convened a group of arts educators to come
up with a better evaluation system.
After Dru’s committee surveyed arts teachers in Memphis, they decided
to develop a blind peer review evaluation to assess portfolios of
student learning. It has proved enormously popular—so much so that
Tennessee is now looking at adopting the system statewide
for arts instructors. If we are willing to listen, and to do things
differently, the answers are out there.

 

3. Now is the Time-

“No
one predicted what rapidly unfolded…”  Gang, I really believe we are
at or near a tipping point of real progress.  It has been nearly 30
years since the bombshell that was A Nation at Risk report that
exposed in great detail the under-performance of our nation’s schools. 
And there has been more (and accelerating) progress in the last five
years than in the previous 25 years combined.  Things really are, as Mr.
Duncan says, rapidly unfolding.  So, while you fight
daily in your classrooms and, I’m sure, don’t always feel that there is
rapid progress, please know that it IS HAPPENING.  Not only is Memphis
the right place (see #2)… But, as we say, NOW is the TIME.  Your cause
is not a lost one.  Quite the contrary.  Just a reminder for the sake
of perspective.

 

In Chicago and in Washington, I’ve often been told:
“Don’t aim too high.” “You are going too fast.” Or: “It will never
happen.” But I think the skeptics underestimate the commitment to change
in the classroom—and the capacity and desire of teachers and principals
to advance student learning.
When the Obama administration took office, the President and I
started talking about the need for states to stop dummying down academic
standards. We said we had to set a higher bar for success.
Creating common, higher standards—college and career-ready standards
that were internationally benchmarked—was supposed to be the third rail
of education politics. It was never going to happen. But no one, not one
of the experts, predicted what rapidly unfolded.
Thanks to courageous state leaders, and with federal encouragement,
45 states and the District of Columbia, in a state-led effort, have now
adopted the Common Core standards. That is an absolute game-changer for
our schools, our teachers—and most importantly,
for our children. For the first time in our nation’s history, a child in
Massachusetts and a child in Mississippi will measured by the same
yardstick.

 

4. Be Great People…-

…not
just great teachers.  In this war that is urban education reform… we
are aggressive.  But our most aggressive work is through GRACE.  We do
not know it all.  We cannot change the world alone.  Be great people. 
Serve your schools, love your students, help your fellow teachers.  Seek
common ground.  Do your best and help others be their best.  Be like
Christ.  Collaboration, not isolation, is key. 

 

So, in closing, I’d encourage advocates to stop fighting
the wrong education battles. Seek common ground—knowing that it will
both take you outside of your comfort zone and require tough-minded
collaboration.