Climate Change in Education?

USA TODAY reports that: “In his first major speech, the acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King apologized to the nation’s teachers…teachers and principals, at times, have felt attacked and unfairly blamed for the challenges our nation faces…All of us—at the local, state, and federal level, the Education Department included—have to take responsibility for the climate that exists,” he said. ”There is no question that the contentious tone has made it harder to have productive conversations.” (USA TODAY).


I have been thinking about climate in education a lot lately. Policy makers often talk about the structure of education and the data of gender or race in education because these are easy data to disaggregate and to analyze. Much harder types of data to collect are the tone of the administration, the tone of a certain teacher, and the tone of a student response. These are more subtle ways to take the temperature of a school but they are no less important.

Contentious Tone

But what has set schools on a more serious note is the criticisms from outside, the forced use of standardized testing and the evaluation of teachers by how well their students do on those tests. During the last eight years, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been responsible for creating a contentious tone for what is not working. Does the new Secretary of Education think he can turn this around especially since he was an ardent supporter of the last secretary, the new Common Core standards and the massive increase in student testing?

Productive Conversations

I would think that apologies are a great start. The new education law, recently passed, is also welcomed, with its new emphasis on professional development. Most productive going forward would be conversations around federal support for better instruction. I cannot say it enough: we have failed our students by failing to provide adequate preparation and in-service training for our teachers.

National Goals

Why not turn this federal apology into a national policy of educating every teacher well? Make the goal of federal support to construct the best conversation around what we need to do as a nation to turn this 4-million-member force into the inspirational professionals that all good schools deserve. One of the largest effects on student performance professional trained teachers who care, teachers who reach out and teachers who pull out the best performances in their students. Let’s make 4 million of these professionals through a constructive dialogue lead by the US Department of Education. Then let’s implement it to create the right tone and climate for student success.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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