Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was one of several edu-dignitaries who dropped by Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High to kick off American Education Week on Monday morning.

Now in its 90th year, the week is the National Education Association’s annual celebration of the teachers, librarians, custodians and other support staff who make schools tick.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan (Associated Press)

Duncan swung through the school accompanied by a scrum of student reporters, photographers and videographers. He spoke one-on-one with teachers -- who happily dug into pastries and coffee provided in their honor -- and then departed, leaving Superintendent Morton Sherman and NEA president Dennis Van Roekel to talk with a roomful of teens.

The students, told beforehand to discuss “the importance of a world class education to compete in the 21st century,” asked what the NEA is doing to keep college tuitions from spiraling out of control.

They also wanted to know what educators are doing about the fact that a lot of kids lose academic motivation in middle school — and then can’t regain it in high school. And they launched into their on-the-ground frustrations with the teaching-to-the-test consequences of No Child Left Behind.

“The purpose of this standardized testing is currently promoting basic knowledge,” one teen said. “We’re not promoted to excel as much as we could be.” What are you going to do about it?

All Van Roekel and Sherman could do was agree.

“We need to change that public policy,” said the NEA president. Sherman urged students to write to Congress. “Tell them it’s time to change that law,” he said.