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Twitter Town Hall with Arne Duncan

Kathryn Thompson

Did you catch the Twitter town hall meeting with the Secretary of Education last week?  I know Twitter is where it’s at and concision is a good thing, but there’s something humorous to me about a high governmental official answering questions in a format that requires him to keep his responses to 140 characters.  He acutally didn't keep his responses that short, which was a relief.

People submitted questions for several days with the hashtag #AskArne and John Merrow used some of them to conduct an on-camera interview with Secretary Duncan.  While they were talking, Arne people from his staff typed the key points of his answers into tweets and posted them on the US Department of Education Twitter page.

Here are a few highlights:

-He discussed the NCLB waivers and the added flexibility and that will be offered to states this September and said that most states are interested and seem pleased that he’s going this direction. 

-John Merrow asked whether he’s listening to teachers and he said that he talks to and listens to teachers every day and visits with teachers frequently.

-When asked if he was declaring Race to the Top a success, he said, “We have a long way to go but the amount of progress we’ve seen is pretty extraordinary.”

-Secretary Duncan was challenged about his views on charter schools and he said he’s a supporter of all good schools and that we need to close down bad charter schools and bad regular schools and reward success in good charter schools and good public schools.  We need to seek innovation.

-His reaction to the standardized test cheating scandals was that “the culture was morally bankrupt.” When asked, “Is there a causal relationship between high stakes testing and the cheating?” he said, “No.”

-John Merrow asked, “Do we test too much in this country?”  Arne Duncan replied that in some places we do and said that there’s real variation around the country.  He’s a big fan of ongoing formative assessments that are no stakes for the children but which the teachers can use to learn about their progress.

He says we do still need tests in this country.  We need accountability and we need to see how much kids are improving each year.  Teachers need the info on their kids’ scores so they can get better.

-“We need more time in school, not less”

-On teacher training, he talked about attracting top talent and rewarding it.  “Starting teachers should be paid 60k. Extraordinary teachers should be paid 120k. No reason great 30yo teacher shouldn't make 100k.”

-We need to invest in major ways in early childhood education.

-  John Merrow asked, “Teachers are feeling beleaguered and attacked.  What would you say to them?”  Secretary Duncan replied that it’s tough work but there is amazing work being done.  We need to support them.  “There’s no more important work for our country than great teaching.”

-In the end, he said that we all have to move outside our comfort zones and behave differently to see real change.  We need to stop pointing figures and everyone needs to do more.  “Parents have to turn off those TVs and the Wiis and demand more.  It is [the student’s] job to get a good education.”

-“We have to educate our way to a better economy.”

You can watch the entire interview here and I think you should if you want to know what was actually said.  It’s much better than the Twitter coverage.  If you dislike Arne Duncan and disagree with President Obama’s education agenda, then there probably wasn't anything in the town hall that would change your mind.  I think a lot of people are pretty polarized and pretty entrenched in their opinions.  However, I find myself agreeing with much of what Secretary Duncan says and while I don’t believe that he has concrete plans to enact all of the changes he wants and I don’t think he has the ability to enact the changes even if he had concrete plans, I do think he has his priorities straight and that he’s making a strong effort in the right direction.

What do you think?   Was it all just a mess of buzz words pre-packaged messaging or do you think the town hall was a real opportunity for Twitter-savvy citizens of this great country of ours to have a dialogue with Secretary Duncan?

Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler and a deceased betta fish. She can also be found at The Parenting Post, DaringYoungMom.com and occasionally the gym.

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