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The Bioethicist

Monday, January 12, 2009 12:00 AM

Chicago public schools chief Arne Duncan goes before a Senate committee on Tuesday for a confirmation hearing. To help him set priorities, Post reporter Valerie Strauss asked folks in the education world to provide their best advice on key issues. Here is a response from Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics, University of Pennsylvania.

The new secretary of education faces huge challenges but, I would suggest bold thinking (which the proposed secretary seems comfortable with!) as the necessary response. So, To begin, how about letting a bit of fresh air into the No Child Left Behind program? Accountability is important but teaching to rigid, unyielding standards that allow no experimentation and squash innovation is to make teachers and students accountable to cramped, static thinking. Permit a bit of innovation with commensurate accountability but admit creativity back into the curriculum.

Next, explore ways to boost science literacy both among those likely to pursue careers in science and technology and those certain to vote on their governance. Every scientist, doctor and engineer ought be offered (read strongly encouraged) the chance to spend a day at junior or senior high school explaining their work. Or, better still, bring a group to their workplace. The new Secretary should make sure their bosses know that, like blood drives, this is public service that universities and companies ought to encourage and reward.

Lastly, a bit of money please to be set aside for travel for teacher education. There isn't any, every elementary and secondary teacher complains about that fact and the inability to get to continuing education programs is hurting teaching quality and morale. No need to send those eager to pursue intellectual growth to the five-star haunts grudgingly being abandoned by bankers and investment managers. Just enough dollars in their pocket so that the teacher who wants to travel to a workshop for a day can cover the tolls, pay for the gas and grab a couple of meals. The road to better education often lies well -- down the road.

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