Arne Duncan, Julius Genachowski: What We Need in Education

By

As part of the September "bus tour across America," Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his team came to Silicon Valley: they toured some local hot spots including Coursera, Udacity and the Khan Academy. On Tuesday, Duncan and FCC Commissioner  Julius Genachowski joined a group called the LEAD Commission for a chat about the future of education led by EdSurge's Betsy Corcoran. Here's an excerpt from that conversation:

Share two things you're proud of during the past three years in Washington and a "wish"--something you'd like to change.

Genachowski:  The agency I got to four years ago was unfocused, confused.  The communications world is complicated. Our staff was not waking up every day and thinking about how to seize the opportunities. Today the conversation is focused on the opportunities of high speed internet, of wired and wireless access for everyone in our country. The Erate program spends over $2 billion a year. We took a program that was capped and indexed around inflation and helped schools get more for their money. My wish: that we do the right thing together and translate theory into reality for our kids and across the country.

Duncan: To see 46 states raise standards not because of federal mandates or sticks but because of carrots and incentives. I think that's an amazing game changer over time, not overnight. It's the first time in the history our country where folks have raised standards and done it together. The implications for kids and tech and teachers and parents are pretty extraordinary as we go forward.

Second: The fact that we increased Pell grants in this year 10 million young people have access to college that couldn't go before -- gone from 6 million to 10 million just in the past 2 year-- that's a big big deal.

The area where we've been pretty spectacularly unsuccessful is in pushing on the demand side for education reform. I think we're facing an education crisis in this country. We have not done nearly enough to get parents, white black Latino inner city suburban rural -- we don't have enough parents demanding change and demanding all of us to do more.

The biggest critique [my team] always gives is that we're going too fast. I think we're going far, far, far too slow.  I wish we had a lot more pressure from the community, saying our children deserve a world-class education.

Are teachers feeling inspired by what they hear out of Washington?

Duncan: I think it's mixed. There's been a tremendous embrace of higher standards, of the common core, from teachers, from the teacher unions, which is a very courageous move.

Some of the things we encourage in RTTT, like better teacher evaluations, and taking into account student achievement -- some people like that some people don't. It's very scary.

Moving away from test scores and looking at growth and gain -- I think it's a big step in the right direction. But is it universally beloved? No. We've talked a whole lot about this next generation of teachers. There are 1 million teachers retiring, one third of the work force and our ability to attract retain teachers over the 4-5-6 years will shape education for the next 30.

We think the entire teacher pipeline is entirely broken. How we attract the pool coming in, how we train them, how we mentor them, how we compensate them. How we move forward. How we support great talent. The entire thing is basically broken. We're looking at radical change. It may be a little scary. But it may be the biggest gift we can give to the country.

Does the government have a role in helping schools [not pay too much for network access?]

Genachowski:  E-rate: is a government program and we should make sure it's run as efficiently as possible. We can't let bandwidth be a constraint in harnessing the benefits of technology.

Do MOOC and open source education change (reduce) the value of standardized tests?

Duncan: Udacity, Coursera, Sal Khan -- they're literally helping to change the world.

But those international benchmarks are still extraordinarily important. We're competing for jobs not with states districts, but with India, Singapore, South Korean and others.  I absolutely want to know how our children are doing relatively to other places. So people can learn across the globe, learn 24 x 7. That's fantastic. But I still want to know : are our graduation rates going up, are our drop out rates going down. Are our children competitive?

Is there a role for talking about Mastery in education?

Duncan: Competency versus seat time? Yes we're moving away from seat time moving toward competency learning. You're seeing that on the higher ed side, in some of our waivers to states around NCLB. But there's still evaluations on the back end.

Do we test too much?

Duncan: In some places we do.

What's an example?

Duncan: Where folks have had local tests, state tests, multiple different tests, in conflict with one another. That doesn’t make sense.

I draw a distinction between testing and evaluation, high stakes and low stakes. I want to look at growth and gain, year over year. And want to see how students are improving. Black, white rich poor it doesn't matter. It's really important. Having low stakes, no stakes assessments whether every week every month, now every day, to understand, did that child learn in 5th grade math - so that teacher can act differently, parents be different… and let students take ownership of their own learning.

Is there a place for Maker activities in our national dialogue?

Duncan: It has a huge place - whether it's looking at those kinds of things, or the growing research and data around resiliency and grit, noncognitive side of things…. So we're looking at a whole spectrum of things… our character, are we giving young people the skills they need to be successful, toughness,  to be life long learners.

Is there enough money for teacher development?

Duncan: Quick quiz to the audience; What does the federal government spend each year on professional development? Last year: $2.5 billion, add in the states and it's more like $5 to $6Bn.  I'd argue that's by far the worst money we spend. We get the least bang for the buck. Are we invested enough? Probably not. But we need to get a hugely better return on investment on what we do have…. As a country, a "D-" would be a generous assessment of where we are today. The question is:  how much better can we get and how quickly can we do that.

What would you like to be able to accomplish if you have another four years in office?

Genachowski: Four years from now, I want to be able to say we executed on some big bold ideas that changed the course of technology and education. A few months ago, Arne and I announced a goal around moving the country from where it is to digital textbook world in five years. Well, let's get there.  Now is the time to identify and roll out the big bold ideas. One of the hard things to do when you're in daily government is to say here's a five year plan, a ten year plan--and commit to it.

What would you like to be able to accomplish if you have another four years in office?

Genachowski: Four years from now, I want to be able to say we executed on some big bold ideas that changed the course of technology and education. A few months ago, Arne and I announced a goal around moving the country from where it is to digital textbook world in five years. Well, let's get there.  Now is the time to identify and roll out the big bold ideas. One of the hard things to do when you're in daily government is to say here's a five year plan, a ten year plan--and commit to it.

 Duncan: Four years from now we have to have college graduation rates up significantly. One challenge to this community: Can we have every child in this country have a tablet or device? Can we get this community to step up and think about every child learning 24 x 7? I'd love to see-- soon than later -- every single child have that kind of access. 


Also see:

Stay up to date on edtech. Sign up to have top stories delivered weekly.

Who we are

EdSurge helps schools find, select and use the right technology to support all learners.
© 2011-2016 EdSurge Inc. All rights reserved. Every student succeeds.