NBC News hosted their annual three-day Education Nation Summit in New York City on Sept. 23-25, 2012, bringing together more than 300 of the country’s thought leaders in education, government, philanthropy and media.
genConnect attended the event on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012 to listen as public officials from all over the country, including President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, gathered to address some of the most pressing issues facing America’s education system. Below are some of the highlights:
Obama vs. Romney
President Obama was set to appear at the education summit but due to a simultaneous commitment to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, he was unable to attend. However, “Today” show co-host Savannah Guthrie was onsite at the United Nations to sit down with Obama for an intimate one-on-one interview.
He addressed everything from the teachers’ strike in Chicago to early childhood education to No Child Left Behind. But the pillars of the interview rested largely on rewarding schools dedicated to reform and affordable college tuition.
“Ultimately, the most important thing, obviously, is performance and – and making sure these kids are doing well,” he told Guthrie. “But I do think that from the perspective of Democrats we can’t just sit on the status quo or say that money’s the only issue. Reform is important, also. And that’s been sort of the – the benchmark we’ve used in my administration, is to say, ‘we’re going to give more money to those schools that are serious about reform but we’re not going to let people make excuses and suggest that it’s just a money problem.’”
Another benchmark of the Obama administration has been working toward affordable college education. Obama highlighted his administration’s success in expanding Pell Grants and the creating of The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which is designed to help consumers on a whole range of financial matters and is working with schools to educate college bound students about the cost of college.
He encouraged parents and students to sincerely look at the cost before committing to a specific university, saying ”if [kids] have a chance of getting a great education without loading up debt … that might be the better option.”
“The best education is one where kids learn how to learn, and they learn how to think for themselves,” he continued. “My entire goal as a parent … and as a president … is to make sure that every child out here is equipped to compete and to be good citizens in an environment that is changing so fast.”
Next, it was Romney’s turn. After personally addressing the audience at Education Nation, sharing the success he has experienced in raising education standards and performance in Massachusetts, Romney sat down with NBC’s Brian Williams to tackle the Chicago strikes, his choice initiative and school testing. Romney particularly expressed interest in offering teacher incentives by tying money to test results.
“I do believe there should be some connection between the capacity of the teacher to move students grade level to grade level and their compensation,” Romney said. “And how you measure that, I’m sure we could learn from the experiences of different schools.”
“I want to have this Race to the Top program which will give grants to states to encourage innovation and specifically that say we’re going to compensate teachers, based upon their performance, which I think is the right thing,” Romney told Williams. “I like the fact that [Obama] encouraged those things but there are some other things I don’t go along with. [Obama] wants to promote at the same time a national curriculum; I prefer to let states and communities decide what their own curriculum will be.”
“We have proven that sending a lot of money to failed schools to pay the same teachers to do the same things will not make any difference,” Romney continued. “The real key is leadership in drawing the best and brightest of the profession, giving them the right incentives, promoting the very best, helping our students have discipline in the classroom, insisting on the participation of parents.”
Romney and Obama were not as polarized on the issue of education as other election issues – although they differ on issues regarding teacher unions, school and teacher-based incentives and the federal government’s role in state-level education. Both advocated for more parental involvement, affordable education, quality teachers and charter schools. But Obama highlighted what he believes is a ”big difference that I’ve got with Governor Romney in this election.”
“They talk a good game about reform,” he said. “But when you actually look at their budgets, they’re talking about slashing our investment in education by twenty to twenty five percent. So let’s not use ideology, let’s figure out what works, and figure out how we scale it up.”
Government’s Role in Education
Local curriculum received a lot of attention at the summit as state representatives, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, North Carolina Governor Beverly Purdue and Montgomery County, MD, Board of Education Vice President Chris Barclay, discussed what role the federal government should play.
“I believe in local control,” Villaraigosa said. “School districts need to be driven by teachers and parents but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working with the state and federal governments.”
Barclay was on the other side as he believed that “local schools need to determine what is best from them and then get technical support from the federal government.”
The debate will continue this election season as each candidate advocates for different federal roles – Obama encouraging more federal involvement and resources for state and county schools while Romney opts to stay out of local-level curriculum and encourages local communities to work “within the resources of your own state.”
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Learning in a classroom today is much different that in what before.
“It used to be the three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic, said Sheila Harrity, Principal of Worcester Technical High School at the Education Nation summit. ”Twenty-first century learning is about the four R’s: rigor, relevance, relationship and responsibility.”
With technology at their fingertips, kids are engaging in different ways, but many of the classrooms are playing catch-up. The exception to the rule is Harrity’s Worcester Tech, who is using vocational training and applied learning to work closely with the local business community – producing outstanding academic and job placement results. In ten years, the percentage of Worcester Tech students scoring at or above proficient on the state English Language Arts exam has jumped from 13 percent to 88 percent – a jump of 75 percentage points.
More than excelling in the classroom, Worcester Tech is finding that their students are more prepared for college and the workforce, thanks to their vocational work.
“We are building these campfires of excellence, ” said Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association. “They are superb examples of what can happen for kids. What we need is a brushfire – to bring this across the country.”
Succeeding in subjects like math and science is tough enough but mastering the material is even more difficult if English isn’t your first language. Nearly 10 percent of public school students are English Language Learning (ELL) and many of them are being left behind.
However, Geddes Elementary School in Baldwin Park, Calif., seems to have found a solution. Young students in the dual-language program are taught in Spanish 90 percent of the day until third grade. This approach has led to significant achievement gains, with 60 percent of third-graders scoring proficient or above in English language arts in 2011.
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For complete coverage from the Education Nation Summit, visit their website.
Reporting by Kelly Burke
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