Education Reform from the Roots Up?


Amid speculation about who will be the next secretary of education, recent efforts by the Obama transition team to solicit public feedback on health care reform suggest future opportunities for educators to voice their policy concerns.

In addition to the transition team’s use of online videos and blog posts to invite public comments on health care issues, former Senator Tom Daschle, who yesterday was officially nominated by President-elect Obama to be the next secretary of health and human services, has pledged to coordinate “thousands of health care discussions in homes across the country…where ordinary Americans can share their ideas about what’s broken and how to fix it.” Anyone interested in leading a discussion can sign up to receive a moderator’s kit at

A recent Washington Post article suggests the health care outreach by Daschle and the transition team may be the beginning of a wider effort to gather public feedback on a range of issues in traditional forums, such as town hall meetings, as well as in cyberspace. If this is a preview of what’s to come, will you be ready to speak for education?

What will you say if the next secretary of education asks you what’s broken and how to fix it so that all students can succeed in school? What would be your top priority or concern?


  1. Teachers make the difference. The largest effect on student achievement is teachers. All efforts should point to creating and keeping good teachers. This includes teacher training and professional development.
    Accountability is good. Schools work hard to avoid looking bad. The past 7 years of strong accountability may make a lot of people mad, but the effect on producing better teachers and better students is positive.

  2. My top priority concern is:
    That all children, regardless of race, religion, nationality etc. be given opportunity to attend a school that their parents believe best meets their needs. By this I mean, any school which meets certain minimal national and state standards. This would mean opening up government support for all schools that meet these high standards. Is this concept to radical for us?

  3. When Sputnik was launched by the Russians in 1957, the U.S. was motivated to rethink its space exploration efforts. Being “#2” in the space race was considered unacceptable. Being “#1” became the goal … and it was achieved.
    Why not the same goal for education? The U.S. has the best graduate schools in the world, so we know that being “#1 in Education” is achievable. What we need is the will, a plan and the resources.

  4. What’s most needed is good leadership in schools. Only schools with good leaders (instructional and otherwise) are consistent and strong enough to produce good learning for ALL learners. Resources, parent involvement, teacher preparation, etc., are all nice, but go to waste without good leadership. Put the best minds, programs, and most money into developing good leaders, whether at a current school or in preparation. Some districts and organizations are already doing this with success — let’s support and expand this proven way to produce better student outcomes.

  5. The ability of future generations to solve the network of complex global problems sure to confront them will depend on their capacity to think critically, communicate effectively, and look at systems (be they economic, political, or natural) in innovative and interrelated ways. Teaching students the skills they will need to survive and thrive in such an environment requires that educators, administrators, and policy makers take a second look at traditional standards.
    An education relevant to the 21st century emphasizes a more engaging approach to learning environments. Students need access to experiences that cultivate curiosity, creativity, and collaboration as well as basic skills. For all students to reach their unique potential and maximize individual talents they will need opportunities to wrestle with real problems in ways that integrate subjects and skills, providing a meaningful context for investigation and application.
    The accountability efforts of the past decade brought to light pockets of our school systems long hidden by tradition and complacency. However, it was a start, not a finish. Lasting reform that inspires both teachers and students must include the voices of educators in addition to reflecting a nuanced understanding of how the theory of multiple intelligences influences differentiated curriculum design.
    Our education dialogue would benefit from a vocabulary stimulus package. Hopefully the next administration will use terms such as engaging, relevance, rigor, integration, investigation, creativity, differentiation, whole child, creativity, application, communication, media-literacy, technology, service learning, and equal access in addition to accountability, standards, and basic skills.

  6. While leadership and all the other standard requirements for good schools certainly are important, the critical issue we need to face is how to DOWNSIZE the system (read that to mean “the bureaucracy”) and put our billions of education dollars into small, personalized environments for ALL students. Think about it: instant contact, support, belonging–all the human factors that kids need so badly–as well as transparency, giving rise to a whole new meaning for the term “accountability.” The industrial model of education has run its course. Now it’s time for Human-friendly schools, not factories; Critical and creative thinking, not testing; Collaboration and synergy, not politics. Yes, a vast sea change IS in order.
    Patricia Kokinos,

  7. President elect Obama should continue to enforce NCLB. For the first time in decades teachers and administrators are not deciding who is valuable or not valuable. They are making every effort to teach all children expecting them to meet the same standards. Even students with learning disabilities are cable of learning the same material with modifications on how the instruction is delivered. The one change I would make with NCLB is I would not focus so much on when students meet the standards meaning they all graduate in 4 years but more so do they finish even it takes 6 years. NCLB has increased the rigor for all students. I would also hope that President elect Obama does not forget that there are good paying careers in the trades and industry areas and that he continues to acknowledge all learning and education not just the 4 year degree.

  8. What everyone is missing is that since the inception of NCLB, the sole emphasis in all schools is to raise the test scores!! It does not matter if the children actually learn anything, as long as they know how to pass the test!!!! That is the only force that is driving all schools. I am talking as someone “in the Trenches”. I have been told by every administrator in our district that the only thing that matters is to raise thew test scores of our students. What we are doing is teaching the test. the students only know what will be on the state test and nothing more. Talk about a superficial education! Scrap NCLB and let teachers TEACH! Let School be fun again instead of a boring factory.

  9. The research has shown that reducing class size makes no difference in student achievement so take that idea off the table right away.
    I totally agree with those who say that administrators and teachers make all of the difference. There are schools all across the country achieving 100% proficiency in reading, writing, math, social studies AND science despite having 100% underrepresented minority, near 100% poverty, and more than half ELD (look at the Houston School District for some examples and Doug Reeve’s 90/90/90 and now 100/100/100 schools).
    What is really missing in leaders and teachers is the belief that all kids can learn. Teachers are filled with excuses why their students are different than the 100/100/100 students. They use parental support, laziness, lack of disipline, and other non-controllable factors as excuses. When they blame the students for not learning, then there is absolutely no reason to read research, change practice, collaborate, attend a conference, etc. Add tenure to that and you have a horrible vicious circle. I have taught at a struggling school and work with them every day and this culture is rampant in these schools.
    It will not take money, policies, laws, etc. to fix this problem. It will take the dissolution of tenure and strong accountability for administrators and teachers. As much as the teachers hate the idea, student achievement must be a major part of their evaluation. Teacher achievement must be a major part of the principal’s evaluation. Washington D.C. is headed in the right direction presently.
    NCLB is mostly good, but gets blamed for a lot of things that it has no control over. Class size; lack of art, science and social studies; and non-engaging instruction are often blamed on NCLB although they are all local problems with nothing to do with that policy.

  10. When all children’s intellectual development is the educational goal it needs to be based upon objective scientific understanding of the total human intellectual process. Scientifically it is now understood that human conscious learning, for physically normal children, begins at 2 1/2 to 3 years if age. This is when formal education scientifically begins. It is at this point when humans begin to make conscious survival choices that are the basis for what is called education.
    Starting the formal education of children at ages of 5 and 6 have only historical unscientific adult rational behind there accepted base as it related to natural intellectual development. This is why early childhood education is gaining importance in our collective educational mind set.
    For each individual human learning is the unavoidable aspect of life itself. Scientifically it is now known that humans can’t even stop thinking when we are sleeping. As those two words are commonly used in educational dialogue creates a delusional sense of control that is not naturally available.
    At this historical point in human education the most important need is the scientific understanding of the natural difference between internally motivated intellectual development and externally motivated intellectual development from birth not from the historic K-12 perspective.

  11. Oral language is extremely important. If you can speak it you can’t read it and you can’t write it.
    Maintaining the fidelity of the curriculum is crucial. We don’t want robots for teachers but there has to be a thorough understanding of the components of the curriculum, the time needed to execute each component, and most important of all the teacher’s understanding of the reading and writing process.

  12. Most education research has confirmed
    that small classes do yield benefits. My sixteen years’ experience as a fifth grade teacher, with as few as 16 students and as many as 33 students, supports this idea. Individual student needs (diagnosis, planning, assessment) are more effectively addressed in smaller classrooms. In addition, those weak teachers who will be there, despite the reasons they shouldn’t, will not influence as many students.


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