Debate questions on education for Obama, Romney

 


(Marvin Joseph / THE WASHINGTON POST)

Nobody is expecting President Obama and Mitt Romney to talk much about education in the remaining two debates, but if they did, here are some questions that Brian Cory, vice principal at Tenafly High School in New Jersey would like them to answer. Cory was named the New Jersey Visionary Assistant Principal of the Year in 2010.

By Brian Cory
Imagine if President Obama and Mitt Romney actually debated what matters in education. (Hint: It’s not about dollars and cents.) Here are some suggested questions to vet the candidates:

1) Unless a miraculous sea-change emerges, my 5 year old and 3 year old sons will experience an eerily similar K-12 education as graduates of 2024 and 2026, respectively, to the one I experienced. They will eventually join the country’s workforce, which will need lots of skilled workers and entrepreneurs. Lee Graham on GetDegrees.com posted insights to the future workplace in a feature titled, “Top 60 Jobs That will Rock the Future.” Some of the specific jobs include: bioinformatician, seed production technician, waste management consultant, computer forensics analyst, and Sarbanes-Oxley specialist. Of course our country will continue to need automobile mechanics, dentists, carpenters, computer technicians, and nutritionists. What kinds of work would your administration engage in to ensure K-12 education is a conduit to meeting these needs? For example, would you consider overhauling secondary graduation requirements? Would you encourage states to design multiple pathways to a high school diploma? Would you allow requirements and pathways to differ among districts as well as among states to meet the nation’s vast array of needs?

2) In 2010 Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “One-quarter of U.S. high school students drop out or fail to graduate on time. Almost one million students leave our schools for the streets each year.” According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s bulletin article, “The G20 in 2050,” China will become the world’s largest economy in 2032 and will grow to 20% larger than the United States by 2050. The study also indicates that Brazil, China, India, Russia, and Mexico will comprise nearly 60% of G20 economic growth over the next forty years. Assuming you believe there are connections between education and the health of our economy, how exactly will standards, testing, and school choice be able to reverse the drop out data as well as to grow the economy?

3) Earlier this year, the Council of Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security published a report that: called on governors to adopt and expand the Common Core State Standards; advocated for changes to empower students and their families to choose which schools they attend; urged the U.S. Department of Education to launch an annual national security readiness audit. As Commander-in-Chief, would you utilize these recommendations as your priorities for education? If “yes,” please explain how. Feel free to share additional priorities you would hold for education.

4)  The Answer Sheet column in the Washington Post featured a post by Sean Slade, the director of Healthy School Communities. Slade offered insights to three countries which are often referenced in education reform conversations: Singapore, Finland, and Canada. He included quotes from leaders in these countries who are focused on topics such as citizen skills, play and physical education, the arts and music, individual student strengths and talents, and enlisting educators in the cause of better education. As president, will you join these leaders in focusing on these topics?

5) The nation recently watched the teacher strike in Chicago. Assessing the results, what do you deem as the positive outcomes for students and why? If not a longer school day and longer school year, what other topics do you think could have held promise to transform Chicago schools?

6) Let’s come up for air and have a little fun. As a parent, what time do you think the school day should start for high school?

7) Fun over. Besides standardized testing, what are some other forms of assessment to measure the growth of our students? In your opinion, do we currently assess what we value? How could we honor social, emotional, and behavioral growth?

8) Besides funding rewards and merit pay, would you support the concept of rewarding districts, schools, and educators with greater autonomy in the schooling they design and provide for their communities when they meet established targets? And if “yes,” what might that look like?

9) There appears to be an increased federal- and state-level influence on education policy. Yet, some argue that the country is either built or broken by local communities. With local communities in mind, how could we deepen relationships between schools and their communities in new ways? For example, could you foresee a future in which schools serve as hubs not only for curriculum but also for the delivery of primary-needs’ services such as health and dental care, mental health services, family counseling, child care, and career training? If “yes,” how might it be funded?

10) Sequestration. What would be your plan for schools?

11) No Child Left Behind. What would a reauthorized law look like under your administration?

12) Higher education. With the increased cost of tuition trends, do you have any ideas regarding alternative pathways for students to pursue to develop the skills necessary for the jobs of the future?

13) Investment in education is at unprecedented levels. Are these levels sustainable? Specifically, how do we provide ongoing funding to recruit, develop, and retain highly effective school leaders and educators for all schools? What role does the federal government play? What role do the states play? What role do the local stakeholders play?

14) Many folks still refer to the “achievement gap.” I’d like to get your thoughts on another gap, the “opportunity gap.” How would your administration close the opportunity gaps which persist in education for students? Please offer three tangible ideas.

What we choose to debate matters. We can’t afford to punt.

The article in its entirety is accessible here.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | October 16, 2012