WASHINGTON (CN) – The nation’s top education official set out an ambitious agenda to bring U.S. students into competition with those from the emerging nations of the world such as India and China at an education conference in the nation’s capitol this week.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan listed increasing funds, lengthening the school day, and higher expectations as necessities in rerouting our nation’s education.]
“The days are too short. The week is too short. We are competing against children in India and China who are going to school 12, 13, 14 hours a day for six or seven days a week,” said Duncan.
The funding problem, however, she argued, has been largely settled. “We have unprecedented resources,” said Duncan, referring to the recent approval by Congress of $100 billion for education.
“We have the best opportunity of our lifetime to dramatically improve education,” said Duncan to the National Counsel on Educating Black Children.
As for our expectations, Duncan said, “we have an expectations gap,” in reference to the disproportionate amount of blacks who dropout of school as compared to other races.
While the numbers weren’t disputed, the reasons were. One black man, a publisher, took the stage to tell the story of how central his father was in establishing in him a respect for education. The son was a football player at the University of Pennsylvania and planned to visit Indianapolis in the summer. He got a D in Calculus, but thought little of it because he still passed.
But the day before he left, his dad got the report card and called off the son’s plans to send him back to summer school, where he later got an A.
The story stressed self motivation and discipline. “It’s not about saying I can. It’s about saying I will,” said the son. His dad had told him never to question the teacher, “She’s right. You’re wrong,” he preached.
The dad, who came on afterwards, said he realized the importance of education when he was turned away from being a pilot for the Air Force. “It wasn’t because I was black,” he said. “It was because I hadn’t educated myself.”
But many blamed the discrepancy on the school systems. One man said that successful black people who say that they are proof the system works are wrong. “No,” he said. “It means the system can be broken.”
“The achievement gap, the implication is that there is something wrong with our kids, but it’s a teaching gap…. Hello!” said the man. The teachers are not being held accountable, he exclaimed.
“American education was not designed for African- Americans,” said a black woman teacher. She pointed to European literature, like Shakespeare, and the quiet learning environment in schools.
“If the children haven’t learned it then you haven’t taught it. Teaching is to impart learning. If you haven’t imparted learning, you haven’t taught,” said the same woman.
The woman then told the story of a teacher who taught 9th grade English at one of the poorest inner-city schools to see if she could make a difference, to discover if change was possible. “The class was 99 percent African-Americans,” said the lecturer.
The teacher integrated the culture into the learning. She grafted rap to Shakespeare, and apparently this worked. “I got it. Shakespeare, he’s like Tupac,” she said, imitating the students.
Duncan, who was introduced as the “CEO of Chicago public schools,” addressed the poor performance of black males. A million teachers will retire over the next four to five years, he said. We need to make sure we hire male teachers, so they can serve as role models for our male students.
Teachers from 28 states attended the conference. They asked that Duncan let them know what they can to do to address the education problem facing the black community, and through it, this nation as a whole.
“The problem is very complex,” said Duncan.