Friday, April 24, 2009
Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center - Great Hall
It's up to everyone to get serious about real reform in education, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan spoke to an audience of more than 1,000 people in the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the University of Northern Iowa campus. Duncan was interrupted by applause numerous times as he discussed the $411 million in economic stimulus money targeted for Iowa education, priorities in education reform, and changes to improve the No Child Left Behind program started by the Bush administration.
Among his ideas for reforming education are doing a better job of tracking student progress, especially in a way that can be measured against international benchmarks; improving the teacher/administrator evaluation system; developing a compensation system that rewards excellence in teaching and being more aggressive in turning around low-performing schools.
Part of the key to real reform, said Duncan, will be a willingness to be open to new ideas, such as charter schools, totally turning over the staff and administrators in severely underperforming schools and changing the school calendar. "The school calendar is still based on the agrarian calendar, which no longer makes sense, even in a farm state like Iowa," he said.
Duncan outlined steps to improve the No Child Left Behind program, saying it had too many goals and was too prescriptive about the solutions. He called for fewer, more well-defined goals and fewer mandated solutions.
Teacher training also needs to be closely examined, according to Duncan. He praised UNI's practice for teaching students to receive at least 150 hours of hands-on classroom experience before they graduate, so they are well-prepared for their first job.
Duncan addressed a group of high school students in the crowd who were at UNI to attend a Challenge of Teaching conference. Duncan said they were the answer to replacing the million-plus teachers expected to retire in the next decade. Duncan called on those students and professionals already in the workforce to consider a career in education.
Duncan closed by saying he regards improving education as the civil rights issue of our generation. " With opportunity, guidance and support, our children can do extraordinary things, no matter where they come from."
RealPlayer streaming video of Secretary Duncan's entire speech (Requires the free RealPlayer)