A Missed Opportunity By Secretary Duncan…

As I wrote over the weekend, Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the National PTA Convention in Memphis.

The Department of Education has just made the transcript of his speech available. It has a great title: “Beyond Bubble Tests and Bake Sales: Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the 114th Annual National PTA Convention.”

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a missed opportunity.

He says all the words that everybody would expect and support about family involvement/engagement, though it would have been nice if he had tried to distinguish between parent involvement and parent engagement.

After he said this:

We need parents to speak out and drive change in chronically-underperforming schools where children receive an inferior education. With parental support, those struggling schools need to be turned around now because children get only one chance at an education.

I wish that he would have also considered reframing part of the issue by following it with something like this (which is part of what I write about in my book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools and which you can read more about in an article I wrote for Public School Insights):

(Again, this is what I wish he would have said)

Our administration also recognizes that many issues affecting student achievement are based outside the schoolhouse walls. And we recognize that in many communities, schools are some of the largest and most trusted neighborhood institutions. We are developing an effort to encourage and support schools to not only have them engage with families about their children’s schoolwork, but at the same time to ask them about the other pressures that affect their families — the lack of affordable housing, neighborhood safety, citizenship, jobs.

We want to provide incentives to schools to help connect families who have the same concern with each other and with other concerned local institutions. We want schools to regain their historical importance in developing and reinforcing social capital in their communities. One of the most important responsibilities our schools have is to prepare our young people to become active citizens in a democracy. Schools can do that by helping their students’ parents do the same. And by making that kind of connection with parents, and by taking an active role in improving their local neighborhoods, we can help our students reach high levels of academic achievement.

Oh, well, one can always dream…

On a different note, Secretary Duncan also said this:

Only by moving beyond basic skills and bubble tests, can children develop the critical-thinking skills that will one day give them the ability to compete successfully in the global economy.

I was struck by this comment for two reasons:

One, it seems to me most of his education agenda is targeted towards increasing the importance of bubble tests, not moving beyond them.

Secondly, though I understand the job and career preparation is a key part of what happens in schools, I wish he would have some of the other purposes behind a well-rounded education, like becoming an active citizen in a democracy.

What’s your take on his speech?

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