Coworker Keith Reid, who covers all things Lodi, received a phone call Monday from the office of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who is in Northern California this week.
Keith was offered the chance to conduct a 10-minute phone interview with Duncan at 11:45 this morning. Keith wasn’t able to be here, so I spoke with Duncan, instead (and Duncan called me “Keith” both at the beginning and end of our conversation, by the way, so I can see I made a big impression on him).
I figured Duncan probably didn’t know much specifically about Stockton, so my questions were pretty general. Here are my notes:
What will be the benefits of the coming Common Core Standards?
“One of the most insidious things in education was that many standards got dumbed down to make politicians look good. We were actually lying to children, telling them they were ready and prepared when they weren’t even close. Now, for the first time ever, children across the country will be held to international benchmark standards. Nationally I think this is an amazing step in the right direction.”
Stockton Unified began last month to implement $34.2 million in School Improvement Grants at seven of its K-8 schools. How is SIG going in schools that have been implementing the funds longer than one month?
“It’s fascinating. I’ve been pretty amazed by the amount of progress many, though not all, schools have shown: increases in graduation rates, decreases in dropout rates, drops in discipline issues. The work is hard and tough. There’s nothing easy about it. All of the schools have a long way to go. But to see the courage and hard work going on, it’s been fantastic. I’ve been to dozens of turnarounds. I talked to one young man, a senior, who said, ‘Arne, I wish you had done this a lot sooner. I would have a lot more of my classmates here.”
Can you go into a little detail about the keys to SIG success?
“This is, by definition, hard work. How you involve the community, how you use time, longer days, after-school programs, more support for parents … there’s a huge amount of creativity. We’ve tried to build a network of collaboration. If schools are interested we’d love to link them with other schools a year or two ahead in the process. About 1,300 schools around the country are being turned around. No one is in this alone. I want to commend the community for having the courage to take this on. I know how hard this work is. It’s extraordinarily hard work.”
How can the gap be bridged so that a means of evaluating teachers can be found that is effective, as well as acceptable and fair to teachers?
“Anyone who says one test score should determine an evaluation is crazy. You have to look at multiple measures. There are literally hundreds of districts that have done great work in this area. There are literally thousands of districts that have worked on this in a practical way. It doesn’t get media attention because people aren’t yelling and screaming. It’s eminently doable when both sides are willing to work hard together.”
Are you closely watching what happens with Gov. Brown’s Prop. 30 education tax, and are you concerned about the ramifications for California schools if it is voted down Nov. 6?
“I worry a lot about the lack of investment in education, not just in California but in the country. I just fundamentally think education is a good investment. We have to educate our way to a better economy. California’s cuts have been as severe as any in the nation. There’s no upside to that. I’m on the way to Sacramento to meet with a number of mayors and superintendents to hear from them first-hand, to hear what the situation is, how can we help. California is at a real fork in the road. I want to see the level of education improve in California. The challenges here are real. California once had arguably the best education system in the country. That’s no longer the case.”