My Conversation with Arne Duncan Part 3

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Here is the final blog about my interview with Arne Duncan. If you haven't already, check out Part 1 & Part 2.

Here are the final two questions I asked Mr. Duncan with some responses from me and follow-up questions I would ask if this was a face to face interview.


1. What was your greatest learning experience and how was it measured?

Mr. Duncan: I learned the importance of early education and educating the whole child firsthand in my mother's after-school tutoring program. In 1961, she opened a free, after-school tutoring program in a church basement in a poor neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. And from the time we were born, my brother, my sister, and I all went to my mother's after-school program every day. That experience was absolutely formative for us—and we have all tried to follow in her footsteps in various ways.

With the exception of my brother, my sister, and I, all the students in my mother's tutoring program were African-American. Despite the challenges they faced growing up in a violent, gang-plagued neighborhood, my fellow students in the tutoring program just wanted a chance to succeed. To see the extraordinary potential that every child has, no matter where they come from—that is what I learned from my mother's work—and that is what continues to drive me today.

Education Dreamer Follow-Up: I love this story and I hope that one day my three sons are inspired by my actions in the way your mother inspired you. I think back to the educators who inspire us and what we have learned from them. It's awesome that you had such a great example in your life.  You can't measure what your mother taught you and your siblings.

Follow-Up Question: Why do we try so hard to measure learning? Do you ever feel like our attempts to measure learning takes the joy out of learning? Is it a necessary evil? If so, why?

2. What's the future of standardized test? Do you ever see a time where we will have a national standardized test?

Mr. Duncan: Through the Race to the Top, our Department is supporting 44 states working to create the next generation of assessments to better measure whether students are truly on track for success in college and careers. These assessments will be an absolute game-changer in public education.

For the first time, millions of schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will have more immediate and reliable access to learn whether or not students are on-track for colleges and careers—and if they are ready to enter college without the need for remedial instruction.

Teachers will have a state assessment that tests not just knowledge but critical thinking skills and complex student learning, going beyond the existing fill-in-the-bubble tests of basic skills.
And for the first time, students will have more even footing from the education they receive, because children in Mississippi and children in Massachusetts will be held to the same standard and measured by the same yardstick.

Education Dreamer Follow-Up: I like the idea that Mr. Duncan sees the need to go beyond our current "fill-in-the-bubble test of basic skills" and look at "critical thinking skills and complex student learning". I'm going to remain skeptical of the "next generation of assessments" until I see them. I just think that measuring these things is beyond difficult. However, I am hopeful that they are better than our current assessments.

As a young teacher, before I had multiple children of my own, I would have loved the idea of students in Mississippi and Massachusetts being held to the same standard and measured the by same yardstick. Now that two of my kids are in school and my youngest is approaching pre-school, I see the need to move away from this. I'm think I'm ok with people being held to the same standards but why at the same age? My kids are 9, 7, and 4. They couldn't be more different and it would unfair of me to expect my 7 year old to be at the exact same spot his older brother was when he was 7. They are just too different from each other. I'm 32 years old and nobody expects all 32 year olds to know the same things at the same time. However, for some reason, we expect all 5-18 year olds to know the same thing at relatively the same time.

Follow-Up Question: When can we move away from trying to change assessments and standards and move towards how schools are structured? Do you think we'll ever have a national movement to allow students to move through school based on their ability and passions instead of their age?

Mr. Duncan, 

Thank you for interacting with me through emails and for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you are reading this and I invite you to continue the dialoge with me. I would love to do a live Google+ hangout with you. I just think it would be fun and a great learning experience. Again, I thank you for responding to my original tweet back in October, and for giving me this unique opportunity. I wish you the best of luck the next four years in office. 

Dream on,

Brett


Now it's your turn again. What thoughts do you have from Mr. Duncan's responses to my questions? What follow-up questions would you ask him if you had the chance?

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