Education Policy & Practice

Archive for the ‘President Barack Obama’ Category

President Barack Obama talks with Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching winners in the State Dining of the White House January 6, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

First, let’s note the obvious in this photo and then move on — White women.  Where are the men?  Where are the men of color (Call Me Mister)? Where are the women of color?

Now, I understand why, as a nation, we are looking to strengthen our math and science intellectual capital.  I understand the relevance.  However, literacy has been eclipsed, and my fear is that such an unbalanced focus will actually serve to perpetuate the competency gap, particularly among white students and students of color.

I simply fail to recognize how high school students, for example, who are reading on a sixth-grade level will excel in science and mathematics.

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A student with “Obama” clipped into his hair listens to President Barack Obama speak at Wright Middle School in Madison, Wis., Nov. 4, 2009. November 4, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Educate to Innovate

Today, President Obama unveiled his “Educate to Innovate” strategy.  This campaign is intended to drastically improve STEM education, particularly math and science education.  The goal: Move the United States to the top in science and math education in the next decade.

In his remarks, President Obama asserted that “we can’t allow division and indifference to imperil our position in the world.”  This sounds very much like the tune of Rev. Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich, who recently pointed to the need to elevate education “above our differences.”

For more information visit:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/educate-innovate

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President Obama speaks to students

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Earlier today, President Obama held his first online town hall meeting and answered questions about health care, home ownership, employment – and education.   In response to a question asking the President how he intends to restore education as a right and core cultural value in America, he addressed the issue of teachers with the following remarks:

Number two, let’s focus on the most important ingredient in the school, and that’s the teacher.  Let’s pay our teachers more money.  Let’s give them more support.  Let’s give them more training.  Let’s make sure that schools of education that are training our teachers are up to date with the best methods to teach our kids.  And let’s work with teachers so that we are providing them measures of whether they’re effective or not, and let’s hold them accountable for being effective.

My quibble is not with what he said; I take issue with what was not said.  When we think of teachers as instructors only, we ignore the multidimensional and complex role that each teacher fills, one the supersedes grade level and content area.  Teaching is NOT just about content and pedagogy.  So when we talk about improving teacher preparation and professional development, we are consistently missing the mark, in my opinion.

We must improve teacher quality; nothing is more important than getting a great teacher in front of every single classroom in this country. And there are many strategies, from national board certification to alternative routes into teaching to get more talent into the pool to rewarding excellence through performance pay.

However, we KNOW that a student does not check all of his/her problems at the schoolhouse door.  On the contrary, hunger, physical/mental abuse, violence, drug or substance abuse, poverty, poor self-esteem, gang activity, promiscuity, and a host of other challenges are sitting right there in the classroom.   Ignoring these issues in conversations about teachers and teacher preparation (including the aforementioned strategies) is naive and is a recipe for continued failure.  We have to face the reality that we must reconsider our understanding of what it means to “educate” and what it means to be a “teacher.”  So, in addition to stepping up our game when it comes to content and pedagogy, we must also simultaneously figure out how to train and support teachers to effectively address the specific needs of today’s students.

Whether we like it or not, the role of teacher has dramatically changed, and it must adapt to the reality of this time in history within which we presently live.  A student can easily spend more time with a teacher and other adults in a school building than with his/her own family or caretakers.  What an awesome responsibility a teacher has!  I do not suggest that the burden falls solely on the shoulders of teachers; we must certainly engage other adults and agencies and organizations in a coordinated, strategic, and sustained effort if we are to ever have a hope of educating our children.

We can’t continue to reduce the teacher to some kind of content and pedagogy automaton. Having been a teacher, with an interest in returning to the classroom later in life, I feel strongly about changing the conversations about how we train teachers. The better prepared our teachers are, the better served our students will be, and the greater the likelihood that our society can be strengthened.

Want more?

  • A link to the video of the town hall meeting is on the right sidebar of this blog.
  • You can read the full transcript of the town hall meeting on the WhiteHouse.gov website.

Education Policy & Practice

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