Monday, September 12, 2011

Arne and Me

If you want to know how I got a chance to interview Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, please read my Random Thoughts post that provides some background information.

Last week, I was lucky enough to be take a student and meet Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I was invited by the Department of Education and they were kind of enough to make room for a student from our school newspaper at my request. We were able to get 10 minutes with Secretary Duncan and here were his comments. My student will have his interview and story ready in a couple of weeks and I look forward to sharing it with you when it is ready.

Question: What role can technology play in education today?

Secretary Duncan - "Technology can help us figure out ways to do more with less."

My thoughts: I think this makes sense for those of us dealing with funding issues. As we look at budgets, we need to start looking at the money we spend year in and year out and how tech alternatives might help save money in 2 or 3 years even if it costs more now.

Secretary Duncan on the value of mobile technology - "Access to content and information 24/7, not just 6 hours a day."

I think this is a great point as more and more schools look at the value of cell phones in the classroom. Secretary Duncan talked about a school called Tech Boston. At this school, students did their homework on their cellphones. Cellphones are a tool that crosses all demographics and can be utilized for educational purposes. My school switched to a policy that allows teachers to choose to allow cellphone use in class. If they want it, they place a green go light on their door. If they do not want cellphones, they have the red stop light on their door. I have only seen 3 green lights. One of them is on my door. There is a tremendous amount of information found on cellphones that can be used to connect students if they are shown how to access it. I think this is an area that really needs more exploring and promotion.

Secretary Duncan on iPads - "Our move from print to digital...we need to do whatever we can to accelerate that transition."

Secretary Duncan points to South Korea and their goal to be completely paperless in the next few years. He stressed that the US can either lag behind or become leaders. I agree with this sentiment. In my district, I look at it the same way. We can either sit back and see what everyone else is doing and try to play catch up, or we start looking ahead and become a leader.

Secretary Duncan on Education and Technology - "Education moves far too slowly." "Education has lagged other sectors (Business, Social, etc.) and we have to change that."

I couldn't agree more with this statement. It always seems that education is the last one at the party. Everyone is already wrapping up and heading to the next big event and we are just getting started. I would love to see us getting the party started for once. Sadly, there are too many people stuck in the old way of doing things making it very hard to make any positive strides in changing education. Not just changing education and the integration of technology, but other forms as well.

Question: How do we pay for it?

Secretary Duncan on technology funding - In these tough economic times the focus needs to be on "re-allocating existing funds." Migrating textbook funds to technology. The federal government spends $2.5 million dollars on Professional Development that the majority of teachers feel is ineffective. It's "time to re-think spending."

I really wasn't planning on asking a funding question, but he was talking a great game about getting technology in schools, it seemed like the logical followup question. I think it is time to seriously re-think the way that money is spent across the country. I've seen what some PD budgets look like recently and I am blown away. I truly have no idea where that money is spent because I have not gotten nearly that much value in 10 years of teaching. Some of the best PD I have received has been free or darn close. Edcamps (Click for info on Edcamps) have provided an amazing amount of PD at zero cost. Twitter and blogs I read have provided a better source of PD than sessions I have sat in during school in-service time. I think it is time for districts across the country to really evaluate the impact their PD budget  has had on their staff.

Question: Teachers are being blamed for the woes of public education. What would you say to a college student who was considering a career in education?

Secretary Duncan on teacher pay - "We should double starting salaries for teachers. Start at 60 - 65 thousand. Great teachers topping out at 130, 140 and 150."

Well, he is not going to get much of an argument from me on this one. He joked that teachers didn't get into teaching to be millionaires. He's right. I'm lucky to be teaching in one of the better paying districts in one of the better paying states. Teachers in my district can start at wages that are topping out points for teachers in other states. Where the heck do we get the money to double or triple what teachers are currently making? If you watch Fox News, all teachers are overpaid as it is.

I think it is a very easy thing to say. I think all mail carriers should make $200 thousand a year. It's nice that I say it. Mail carriers will love that I think it, but what does it really mean? If Secretary Duncan really believes that all teachers should make that minimum and top out at $150K, let's see some legislation introduced. Let's see some funding to support it as long as it is not linked to more test scores. Words are great, but this is something where actions would speak much louder.

Secretary Duncan on Teachers - "Anyone who thinks teachers are the problem, I think they fundamentally do not understand the challenges they are facing."

What happened in Wisconsin and in Michigan in regards to teacher rights was terrible. Teachers were under attack and I waited and waited to see Secretary Duncan or the President step up and say something. I wanted them to do something. Anything. Believe me, I wanted to ask Secretary Duncan on why he did not have a more vocal voice during these stressful times for teacher, but I didn't want to become antagonistic in front of my student and I wimped out. :-)

I think it is great that Secretary Duncan believes this, but I think he needed to be on the news every day during those dark days in Wisconsin. He should have been at the Capital with those teachers fighting for their rights. Those days were the perfect chance for him to speak up for teachers and talk about how they should be getting paid more, not less. I feel that is an area where he let teachers down.

Secretary Duncan's Final Thoughts on Teachers - "Teaching is not for the feint of heart. If you want to make a difference in the community, if you want to make a difference in the lives of young people, there's nothing more difficult, rewarding and inspiring than becoming a teacher."

Damn straight.

My final thoughts:

I reached out to my PLN for some questions and I was able to get a couple of them in, but I didn't have the time to get to some deeper questions. I know my questions were a bit softball, but I felt there is a time and place for everything and being a guest on his bus after having been allowed to bring a student would not have been the best time to put him on the spot.

Secretary Duncan was a gracious host who was happy to talk to my student and answer his questions and mine. I would have loved to asked him questions about Merit Pay, Charter Schools, Arts funding and do much more, put there just wasn't enough time. Maybe that is something to consider. There is so much that is ailing the education system, could a ten minute interview ever cover it all?

I want to thank my friends at the Department of Education for making this interview possible. They were able to give a student a once in a lifetime chance to interview the Secretary of Education, meet the Governor and meet the Mayor of Detroit. That authentic learning experience is going to stick with him for years.

I had a great time and had a chance to have a wonderful experience to share with my PLN.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Secretary Duncan's comments and my thoughts on them.

- @TheNerdyTeacher


  1. Nick, what a great opportunity you and your student had. I, too, would have loved to hear his answers on some of the tougher questions. He's not an idiot, he's going to give you (a teacher) the answers you want to hear, not always the truth or what can be done in the real world. Sure paying more would be nice, but it's not going to happen. Great job sharing your experience.

  2. Holy Smokes! You are a legitimate bad a$%! (I'll let you off the hook for not pressing Duncan on some of his answers). Way cool that you got to have that experience! Thanks for sharing it with all of us, I'm looking forward to the student perspective.

    Stay classy.


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