Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Wishes for Public Education in the Next Four Years…

Cheryl S. Williams's picture

Candidly, and not surprisingly, I’m delighted that Barack Obama was elected to a second term as President of the United States.  As someone whose entire professional career has been devoted to public education and life-long learning, I believe that President Obama’s values and priorities are closer to mine than his opponent’s are.  

Having stated my delight in the President’s re-election, I also want to enumerate my hopes for his administration’s leadership in strengthening and improving public K-12 education over the next four years. I fervently hope that:

  • The President, Secretary of Education, and administration leaders will STOP saying that our public school system is failing.  We all know that there are serious inequities in the current system that need to be addressed and that a collective effort needs to be made to increase the rigor of instruction in many of our schools.  But, most public schools in this country do a good job; indeed, a better job than has ever been done before.
  • The President, Secretary of Education and their spokespersons will STOP saying that the current teaching force is largely recruited from the weakest students in any given class.  The statement is not accurate, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be helpful in attracting young people to the profession.
  • The Department of Education will STOP dictating “turnaround strategies” for low performing schools that are not based on research or proven effectiveness. It will, instead, devote time and resources to gathering data on what does work in schools and districts that are “turned around” and concentrate on sharing that information widely.  In addition to taking leadership for sharing successful school and district improvement approaches, it will also fund those strategies in the schools and districts most in need of support.
  • The Department of Education will back down from the overemphasis on standardized test scores.  Indeed, data is useful and necessary to monitor student progress and teacher effectiveness.  However, data around student achievement and teacher effectiveness needs to be multi-modal, ongoing, and used primarily to assist teachers in getting better at their craft and students in addressing areas in which they need extra help.
  • The President, Secretary of Education, and administration spokespersons will STOP making international comparisons in a manner that implies we’re “losing” at something.  Of course we can learn a good deal from other countries whose education systems are working well, but we should put that learning in the context of the culture in which the system thrives and the outcomes it produces.  Does Finland, Korea, Singapore or Shanghai have people from all over the world clamoring to immigrate to their countries in the same way the U.S. does?  Are we “losing jobs” to the international community because foreign workers are better educated or because they cost less?  And what can we appropriately learn from countries that outscore us on standardized tests?  For example, Finland spends none of its education resources on testing its students and concentrates on early education in a way that delays academic instruction until children are seven years old.

My final hope for the next four years is that education leaders from the K-12 community, most of whom are represented in the membership of the Learning First Alliance (LFA), will be invited to the table to contribute their wisdom, expertise, and insight into policy initiatives and funding priorities at the national level that will help all our public schools.  We should collectively commit to building on the strengths of the current system to make it better, not denigrate the entire K-12 public education system with language that labels all involved as “failing.”  In this regard President Obama and Secretary Duncan have an unprecedented opportunity to do a better job providing visionary leadership in the second term ahead.