Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama has picked a Secretary of Education

And his name is Arne Duncan.

In this post I talked about the great debate between two movements in the education system between the reformers and the traditionalists. Duncan, apparently, is both. He has a record of reform but has worked well and is supported by the Teacher's Union.

You know, Barack Obama, is really building up his cabinet with the emphasis of pragmatism and centrism. We'll see how all of this plays out, but I think it was pretty smart of Obama to pick someone without a strong ideological bent. They also know each other, both are from Chicago, and they play hoops with each other.

At this moment, I'm listening to a Diane Rehm interview with Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of education in Washington DC one of the worst, if not the worst, public school districts in the country. Rhee is a strong reformer and she wants to toss out tenure, double the salary of the best teachers and fire the worst. She's also a supporter of standardized tests as an important but not exclusive way to measure teachers effectiveness.

At this moment, I fall in the reformer camp, although its probably smarter to have someone like Duncan as the head of education nationally, since the worst thing we can do is enter into a situation of deadlock that can happen if he gets too ideologically bent. Pragmatism, centrism, and unification was what Obama ran on, and it appears that's also how he's going to govern.

Two more thoughts listening to Rhee: That we need a public school system that acts as the great equalizer, that all students have the opportunity to get high quality education so when they graduate they can go seemlessly into the university without remediation, or they can enter the work force immediately and be effective.

This hits home with me. Right now there's a growing trend that to get almost any decent paid job now a days, you have to have a college education. Why? College education is really expensive, and is only arguably necessary to do a vast majority of the jobs in the work force. I believe that for many students, our high schools are just not doing enough to prepare their students for life.

Way too many kids graduate with no clues on their career, and no confidence in their life skills.

That's a damn tragedy. Just yesterday, my colleague was talking about a speech given by Joel Spoelsky whose a big time computer software blogger and owner and founder of a software company. Somebody asked him how important experience was in hiring a computer programmer, for example, how much better is a programmer with 20 years of experience to one just out of college.

His answer is significant and has all kinds of implications on our school system. He said that the best programmers started programming at age 10, so those kind of programmers already have significant experience coming out of college, and the difference between someone with 10, 20, or 30 years of experience is probably not significant enough to matter, so a company should focus on hiring good programmers, not programmers with a lot of experience.

I think that's an extreme point of view, but still the underlying message is clear. That our kids should have the opportunity to explore their interests and passions from an early age. That high school should be a time for students to both firm up foundational knowledge, but also to explore and discover interests, and passions. So that they enter the work force ready, or they enter university system ready.

Also, Rhee has another good point, that the interest of the students should always take priority over whether adults get a long. And in that spirit she is making some serious waves, especially with the teacher's union.

Again, it will be interesting to see how effective Obama as well as the number of grass roots reformers and education advocates that exist throughout our country will be.

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