Make Our Schools Work

President Elect Biden is currently searching for new staff for his department of education:

Biden Names Education Transition Team: This week, President-elect Joe Biden named his 20-person education transition team. The team will be led by Linda Darling-Hammond, who is the first Black woman to serve as president of the California Board of Education. Many other members include individuals who served in the Department of Education during either the Obama or Clinton Administrations. Some progressives have expressed concern that the list of transition team members is heavy with former Obama administration staff, whose policies ultimately alienated some teachers’ unions, parents, and members of Congress, while Conservatives have expressed concern that four of the team’s members come from national teachers’ unions. According to an anonymous source for the Washington Post, the first step will be to “figure out what damage she [DeVos] did and then stand up a department.” [The Washington Post, subscription required]”

—Whiteboard Advisors; Washington Post, November 11, 2020

The Department of Education is poised for a new role in the life of teachers and students in the K-12 system of public schools. Although the Department is a small player in the state budgets of education, the policy it sets can be influential to and implemented at the local level. As President Elect Biden considers how to staff his department of education, a group of problems and policy solutions might be offered here:

A Short List of Problems to Address

  1. Equity in Learning; only a third of our students get a high quality education
  2. Access; Only parents who move get the access they need for their children
  3. Teacher Quality; Less than a third of public school teachers are fully trained in their domain and can support their teaching with a professional use of standards, assessment, literacy, social emotional growth, etc.
  4. Illiteracy; Only 1/3 of our students attain reading proficiency by third grade.
  5. Overcrowding; The ideal size for a classroom depends on the ability of the teacher to address each student’s learning needs.

A Short List of Federal Policy Solutions

  1. Revamp all of teacher learning through peer-to-peer professional development. Instead of wasting teachers’ time with standardized professional development once every month, build networks of teachers to support each other on relevant and pressing problems of practice.
  2. Rebuild teacher education and base the learning in the practice of schools, much like teaching hospitals.
  3. Translate educational research into practical advice for teachers so that it becomes portable into classrooms and results in change for how we teach and how we learn.
  4. Connect schools to neighborhoods so they become the facilitator of community.
  5. Reorganize funding to make equity and access a reality.

Whatever the new president elect considers, his department of education could make an impact of a lasting nature by considering the role of teachers as leaders, the role of proper funding of schools, and how the federal role can support the school’s role in making community. The impact that the President Elect seeks can be much more robust if he considers coordinating federal policies for the benefit of the educational outcome for all stakeholders: parents, teachers, administrators and students.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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