U.S. Secretary of Education visits CMU

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, accompanied by other noted officials involved in the education sector, ended his sixth annual “Ready for Success” back-to-school bus tour at Carnegie Mellon University on Friday. Secretary Duncan’s main initiative with this tour has been to reach out to schools in the United States, and share his thoughts on where the president’s cabinet stands on the state of education in this country. Secretary Duncan assessed the past efforts of the department and where that will take the department in the future, touching on the challenges the nation still faces.

Students at Carnegie Mellon come to realize the growing importance of education in today’s world, and the student body’s appreciation of it to leads to successful, fruitful lives. By addressing the issues of college access and affordability, and promoting a discussion about the efforts we can take to remedy them, Secretary Duncan believes he is helping the nation move closer to a better, brighter future.

Upon his arrival, Secretary Duncan was greeted with music by the Pittsburgh Public School Drum Team, which is mostly comprised of young students with diverse backgrounds. The rest of Kirr Commons was filled with many Carnegie Mellon student onlookers, who happily waved to the panel upon their acknowledgement, as well as graduate and post-graduate individuals involved in the education sector.

With this talk on education, Secretary Duncan’s hope was to nourish students’ thoughts on their own path to success, and how they correspond with their current positions on said path.

Executive director of the Garble Foundation Gregg Behr talked about the use of science and technology in the classroom for this very purpose, and how interactive learning has aided in the retention of information. As a result of this, Behr said that studies have shown there to be a “doubling of algebra learning over a school year” as well as a five-time retention rate increase in the sciences by increased physical interaction.

Carnegie Mellon University students have privileged access to world-class education. This privilege, however, and the desire to take advantage of it, is rare in the modern United States; according to the latest figures by the Atlantic, only a third of 27 year-old citizens in the United States have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree or higher.

Duncan’s lecture plays into a national conversation on how to improve the state of US education, and the litany of available but underused education resources.

Pittsburgh public school superintendent Linda Lane noted just how important Advanced Placement (AP) exams are for high school students, and how this resource has been underutilized for a long time. Over the last five years, AP exam participation in the Pittsburgh area has increased by 49 percent, and the African-American student participation increased by 220 percent. These impressive numbers received an enthusiastic applause from the audience. AP exams have been shown to be a substantial indicator of high school success, and Pittsburgh’s rates are moving in the right direction.

One audience member noted that tests are an important factor for assessing our knowledge, but it is important to note that they are certainly not the only measurements of our intelligence — simply a major factor that is easy to measure.

Other factors, such as children’s attendance rate, their interaction with others, and their cooperation in and outside of the classroom, should also be taken into consideration when assessing a child, Lane said.

No discussion of education can avoid the topic of teachers. According to Secretary Duncan, three key features should be instilled in all teachers: knowledge of the content they are teaching, a heart full of compassion for their kids, and cultural competency. This was in response to a question about the immigrant population at certain schools.

“Teachers should reflect the diversity of our nation’s students, and our nation’s students today are majority minority,” Duncan said. According to him, teachers should be able to teach all children, no matter their culture, background, or state of being. Without these wide-ranging perspectives, certain children benefit more than others.

One of the major milestones of a good education is graduation. High school graduation is usually considered a day signifying freedom, adulthood, and independence — a very memorable day for some people.

It is often viewed as failure in the United States if a student does not achieve enough to get to this point, but high school graduation does not have to be the end of their educational journey. “You can’t just drop kids off at graduation and hope they make it to postsecondary [school] if they told you they were going,” Lane said.

Lane believes that parents shouldn’t remove themselves from their children’s lives and and hope for the best at this point. If anything, this is a time when young adults need support and guidance more than ever.

Many amazing things can come out of teamwork and collaboration, and these are believed to be two necessary components to improving education in America. Secretary Duncan and his guests are prime examples of teachers who have put an incredible amount of time and energy into their students’ education.

We are a part of a country that is always looking forward, and it is through the quality education of our younger people that we will achieve extraordinary things, knowing that the next generations will be prepared to continue the journey we leave behind.