I had expected the room to be packed but all the seats were not filled. Secretary Duncan and Senator Murray toured the room, going to the back to meet students and look at robotics exhibits (Patty Murray scored a goal before Arne Duncan. I'm pretty sure he would have stayed as long as it took to do it.) The students selected were very well-spoken. The room was full of education go-to people like Eric Lui (who was the moderator), Tom Vander Ark (Gates' first head of his education wing of his foundation), Trish Dziko (head of TAF), people from LEV, Stand for Children and CPPS, etc.
Eric Lui led a panel made up of two students, the Aviation High principal, a former Boeing ex who is running the capital campaign fro Aviation, a private sector guy and a former Microsoft ex, now a teacher at Aviation. And then there were Murray and Duncan. What I think the idea was here was to push the idea of innovation without charters. No one mentioned them (until Trish Dziko did later on) but the whole idea was how great Aviation High is with project-based learning, one-on-one mentoring, etc. They have no football or basketball team; the principal said they do "sports of the mind" including the Science Olympiad. They have students from districts around Washington State, 2 from out of state and 1 from out of the country. Impressive.
The private sector guy, Peter Allen, said that Aviation is less about STEM and more about baseline foundational learning, critical thinking, and working in teams. The teacher said he spent time asking students what worked and didn't work in his class. This is a model I know that many college professors hear about when their classes are evaluated by students. A smart teacher learns from mistakes and what excites students and motivates them.
Arne Duncan said he was optimistic about the future because of schools like Aviation. "We need to have 100's more of these," he said. He said there should be an effort to replicate good schools and that "good ideas come locally".
Patty Murray said the Congress needs legislation that is precise in what it delivers both in deeds and dollars.
Eric Lui then asked questions of various people in education in the audience. Mary Lindquist, the President of the WEA, said that there was worry over getting good programs in place and then losing funding. Arne Duncan said his biggest worry was over losing thousands of teachers and that's why Congress needs to pass the emergency bill to prevent those teacher layoffs.
Randy Dorn made a good point about there being other innovative schools like Aviation, namely, Delta High over in the Tri-Cities (another STEM school). I was really pleased he brought that up but I sure wish someone from Seattle - the Superintendent, a Board member, someone - could have pointed out the innovative programs we have in our district.
Bill Williams of the PTSA said that parents needed to be part of this effort. He said that he knew if he asked individual parents if they would like a school like Aviation, they would. But, that parents all want a safe environment and, as well, that a focus on test scores creates a risk-adverse environment to create innovation.
Trish Dziko of TAF (Technology Access Foundation) was asked about common threads. She said that it is good to try new things as long as you do no harm. She spoke about the TAF Academy in Federal Way and its student population. She then said instead of charters which silo districts (most charters operate independently of districts and therefore are not working in a district vision), her school works with their district. Great point.
Arne Duncan then said that the country needs people like Trish who will challenge the status quo. He then made the following points:
- the need for great principals
- the need for more legislators who are PTA parents or have served on School Boards or who were teachers; in short, people who know something about education
- worried again about teacher layoffs if the emergency bill was not passed
- the need for teacher voices and dialog
- he said that the two states that won the initial RTTT money had buy-in from their unions. He also said that the governor of Tennessee had gone so far as to go to other candidates for governor to get their buy-in so that whoever was elected was on-board with it. They all agreed.
So after it was over, the press got to ask him questions. I had planned to ask him about the role of parents but when he repeated the "innovation or charter" line, I had to ask. I told him that one of our School Board members had traveled to D.C. and gone to the the Dept of Ed and was told, specifically, that charters were the only form of innovation accepted. He shrugged and said the language of the application does not say that and that it doesn't matter where the innovation is, as long as it is in the application.
So there you have it. Was he shining me on? Harium was the one who told a group of parents at one of his community meetings about this trip. The only thing I think is specific is that it has to be within one district. I plan on letting Harium know what the Secretary said. I should look at the application and see if he was trying to throw me off (and, if he was, I plan on letting Patty Murray know).
I wish that there had been a broad-based view of what we are doing in Washington state - I think he would be impressed with our foreign language immersion schools, Everett district's turnaround on graduation rates, Delta High, Aviation High, the creation of a STEM school in Seattle. All without charters.