U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s tour of the Midwest brought him to Cleveland on Wednesday. More specifically, he visited East Tech High School to speak about everything from spending to teacher evaluations.
Before Education Secretary Arne Duncan showed up, folks from the community had set up shop in the hallways of East Tech High, one of Cleveland’s star schools. They’d put up poster boards showcasing medical services for students, post-high school opportunities, and after school activities. They came to show off how involved Cleveland’s community is in its schools, and they all hoped to catch a glimpse of Duncan.
But those like Lillie Hunter, the site coordinator at East Tech’s after-school program, would also have liked to ask him a question. “The things that they have in the successful high schools like computers, you know state of the art, we need them here in our inner city schools. We want to be as successful as they are, but we don’t have the material. What can we do?”
Hunter never got to ask Secretary Duncan her question, but education funding was a reoccurring theme during Duncan’s panel discussion. Duncan told the auditorium nearly packed with students, teachers, parents and Clevelanders, that he believes budgets don’t reflect numbers, they reflect values. And he says the Obama administration values education.
“In tough economic times, we have to continue to invest in education,” Duncan said over loud clapping from the audience. “It’s amazing to me that we quite happily without debate lock people up for 40 or 50 or 60thousand dollars a year, but we have these massive debates about an extra 1,000 dollars or 1,500 dollars per child to give them a good education…I think our priorities are wrong there.”
But Duncan insisted that the financial burden of education cannot fall on the federal government alone.
“We want to be a good partner and we want to put our money where our mouth is and walk the walk, but we‘re really going to continue to challenge governors and local leaders to make sure that in tough economic times we are investing. We have to educate ourselves to a better economy. That’s the only way we’re going to there,” he said.
Local educators aren’t the only ones Duncan was pushing to focus more on education. He said community members and parents are integral to creating good schools.
Joshua DuBois with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships said some parents are already active in their kids’ schools, but too many are missing.
“Parental engagement means both moms and dads,” DuBois said, but “so many moms are doing tremendous work to get involved in their schools, but we don’t see enough dads in the hallways.”
After the event, Duncan took time to answer a few more questions. He responded to complaints about Ohio’s investment in charter schools by saying the successful charters deserve the attention – and money.
“This is not intellectually difficult,” said Duncan. “This is a matter of priorities and political will and we need great charter schools and we need to replicate them and we need to learn from them. But schools that are drop-out factories, where it’s not working, we need to deal with that openly and honestly. And the same should be true for traditional public schools as well.”
As for the other hot topic in Ohio, teacher evaluations, Duncan said a new evaluation system needs to be created with one key ingredient: lots of ways to measure effectiveness. Duncan said he always wants to “look at multiple measures, whether that’s for a child or a district or a school or a state.”
But for all the talk about struggling schools, teachers and children, Duncan’s trip around the Midwest seemed to energize him more than it discouraged him.
“I think we’ve been scared to talk about excellence in education, and that’s a problem.”
-Education Secretary Arne Duncan
“I think we’ve been scared to talk about excellence in education, and that’s a problem,” he said. “We have amazing teachers and amazing principals, where they’re getting a huge amount of progress for students each and every year.Why don’t we celebrate that? Why don’t we recognize that? I think we demean the profession when we don’t do that.”
Duncan said Ohio should appreciate its teachers more. Otherwise, talented teachers will flee the classroom.
Watch Education Secretary Arne Duncan shake hands with a robot made by Cleveland students.