Thompson: School Readiness
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan celebrated the opening of the nation's 6th Educare early education center in Oklahoma City. He noted the contribution of Warren Buffet's wife, Susan, in inspiring this public private partnership. Duncan also praised the House of Representatives for passing a $10 billion early education bill. Even better, he helped persuade the editorial board of one of the most conservative newspapers in America to support early childhood programs as "the best investment we can make by far" to break "cycles of poverty."
When asked about about the use of test scores to drive teacher evaluations, as opposed to complementing or supplementing the evaluation process, Duncan praised the questioner as a great teacher, and asked the crowd to give him an ovation. So, as I have always said, Secretary Duncan is destined for greatness ...
I can do no more than hope that Duncan doesn't really believe everything he says about growth models in his promotion of Race to the Top. But we have come a long way since advocates of early education were ridiculed by the Education Trust. Along with philantropists like George Kaiser, educators are now helping to fulfill "the birthright of opportunity" for poor children. The Daily Oklahoman praises the "relatively new focus on even younger children."
Now, community schools, community colleges, and career techs are seen as part of the solutions, and not just "excuses," and much of the credit must go to Duncan and President Obama.
This week I heard testimony from a retired superintendent in Coal County, where more than 40% of students were on IEPs and the bonding capacity was $95,000, meaning that mobile classrooms were the most that the district could afford. (If you do not understand the intensity of poverty in the worn-out coal fields of "Little Dixie," see John Sayles excellent movie, Matewan.) This incredible leader, Teri Brecheen, said that the first step in turning around the district was recognizing that "we're talking about human beings, not test scores." Other superintendents, she said, "were not worrying about kids before the 4th grade" when testing kicked in, and then the rule was "fake it until you get a fictious score."
By concentrating on school readiness (using methods similar to those described by Gordon MacInnes in In Plain Sight) her district's API score increased to 1374 on a scale of 1500. Now three and four year olds in one of the poorest counties in America post reading readiness scores that are four times above the national average. By the way, Ms. Brecheen says that all administrators should be required to teach first grade because, "you don't know where zero is until you teach 1st grade." Now those are the words of a truly great educator. - John Thompson