Education Chat

Tough Choices: Preparing Students for Global Competition

Guests took questions on how schools must change to better prepare students for the jobs of today and the future.

March 14, 2007

Tough Choices: Preparing Students for Global Competition

Guests: Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy and vice chairman of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce; and Thomas W. Payzant, former superintendent of the Boston schools and a member of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s chat on how schools need to change to prepare students for the jobs of today and the future.

We have a large volume of questions, so let’s get the discussion started ...

Question from Nell Pederson, Staff, Arizona Education Association:
Help me understand the advantage(s) in having educators employed by states rather than districts?

Thomas W. Payzant:
States would have to develope the capacity to manage a complex human resource organization. The advantage would be setting uniform standards and expectations, aligning them with certication requirements, quality control, efficiencies of scale, a single collective bargaining contract in states with public employee collective bargaining, establishing incentives to attract educators to work in hard to fill positions, e.g. math, science, english language learners, special education,and making salary adjustments based on variations in cost of living in various areas of the state. However, educators would still have to be hired by schools from the state pool.

Comment from R. Howard:
I agree that to be able to compete in a global economy, students must be well-educated and creative. I would like to say that creativity is not always dependent on being well-educated. Additionally, “What does it mean to be well educated?” For example, in the US today, we are assuming that educating the future is a “one size fits all” approach. The problem with this philosophy is that not all students are the same. We assume that students who don’t fit this model are unintelligent or are not creative. If anyone is interested in how we have attained this mind-set. It is called NCLB.

Question from Michael Paul Goldenberg, Rational Math, LLC, Ann Arbor, MI:
Isn’t the notion of competition as a focus for education contradictory to the main purposes of education? Doesn’t it make school a place to determine present and future “winners” and “losers”? Sounds quite good for big business and globalization, and quite bad for human beings to me.

Thomas W. Payzant:
Standards-based reform is a radical idea. All students must reach much higher standards which we educators expected only the select few to meet in the past. There is no room for losers. A high school diploma is not good enough unless it prepares all to go on to some type of post-secondary education without remediation. Competition is not bad if we get the accountablity system right with higher quality, but fewer tests that are syallabus based and allow students to demonstrate what they know and how to apply it. Those schools with educators that believe that quality instruction and leadership make a difference in student learning will demonstrate that all can learn and the gaps will close.

Question from Janet Nolan, Co-founder, Inter-American Magnet School:
How important is it for our students to acquire a solid foundation in a second language (in addition to English)?

Marc S. Tucker:
The report did not address this question. In my own view, it is much more important for all American students to understand the history, culture and values of other countries than to know one of their languages.

Question from Anne Ward, School Board Member, Duxbury (MA) Public Schools:
How important is K-grade 12 foreign language instruction and/or a program in international studies to a 21st century U.S. curriculum? How can public schools make time for these types of programs in an already limited instructional schedule and where do we find qualified teachers in these areas? Thanks for taking my question.

Thomas W. Payzant:
One of my regrets is that I never mastered a second language and when I have travelled to different parts of the world I hear people speaking several languages and worry about the smugness of Americans thinking the only international language should be English. I believe having a second language should be a high school graduation requirement and we will be hard pressed to match many of the countries with whom we compete if we stick to the 6 hour school day.

Question from Lew Frederick, Education Communication Consultant:
What strikes me is the narrow vision that seems to accompany this issue. That is, the solutions seem to come from a small focus on rote learning, test questions and strict repetitiveness. At the same time my contact with Pacific Rim and European educators indicate a desire for increased creativity in the students and future workers because it is unclear how much mundane work will be taken up by electronic means. How do we address the encouragement of creativity in the accessments tied to rote learning test answers?

Thomas W. Payzant:
I agree with you that rote learning should not be the focus. Knowledge is important, but it is how we use it to think, solve problems, create and innovate that will continue to enable us to maintain the competitive edge in America. Good assessments will give students an opportunity to demonstrate these skills. We should have fewer tests, but ones that are syllabus-based and of higher quality. There are international examples and benchmarks. Yes, the costs are higher because the best tests focus on open response, not multiple choice and require human beings to grade them. In short, save money by eliminating many of the less expensives assessments and use the savings for a few high quality assessments.

Question from Tim Nevels, Co-Founder, Onyx House, Inc.:
Why haven’t we turned high schools into mini colleges? Allowing those who can not attend college some techincal training to at least compete in the world. A MSCE program for seniors would help.

Marc S. Tucker:
I do not view technical training as something for young people who cannot do academic work. In a world in which most auto dealers are recruiting their entry level mechanics from among community college graduates, almost everyone will at least two years of real college level work. But I do think that many very bright students literally hate traditional academic instruction and would be much better served by a more hands on style of instruction that has a lot of intellectual content. We should have whole spectrum of teaching and learning styles available for students who prefer different styles.

Comment from Bruce Wilcox, Project Inkwell:
More a comment than a quetion -- US schools are leading the world in the integration of widely disparate populations of learners. In short, we are facing the ‘diversity’ challenge ahead of the rest of the world. Only recently has the UK been challenged with a burgeoning population of non-English speaking learners, only recently is the UK designing accomodations for these learners. The US, on the other hand, has been effectively integrating diversity for years. Thus, the ability of the US system to accomodate a more diverse learner pool (which is reflective of the borderless flat economic landscape of the future) suggests that we may be developing a more resilient and elastic school system at a time when this will be a basis for economic competitiveness. Of course, our instructional model, and tools used to support diverse learning styles, may need some enhancement, but, at an organic level we already are a step ahead. Best, Bruce Wilcox

Question from Lundie Spence, director COSEE SE:
Do you any recommendations how to “train the trainers,” to address science and technology in precollege courses, i.e.,preservice teacher programs in universities/colleges, inservice providers, such as COSEE and many science/technical organizations with outreach capacity(NOAA Sea Grant,JOI, NSTA). Sorry I work with marine/ocean science and am not familiar with the hundreds of other educational professional development providers.

Thomas W. Payzant:
In my experience the National Science Foundation has been one of the best sources of funding for training teachers in science. The standards for getting grants are high and accountablity for results is taken seriously. When partnerships among states, school districts and higher education institutions are successful, the results are impressive particularly when there is involvement of the science faculites in colleges and universities as well as from the world of work.

Question from Carmen Andrews, Science Supvisor K-12, Bristol Public Schools:
Currently, all science decisions in school districts are made for the most part, by people who have little or no formal education in the natural sciences. Will science decisions be made exclusively by science experts under these new guidelines?

Marc S. Tucker:
We need teachers at every level of the system , starting with elementary school, who have strong backgrounds in mathematics and science, much stronger than is now common. That will not happen until we are prepared to pay market rates for teachers in different subjects, something the report strongly advocates. And we need teachers in our elementary schools who specialize in math and science. And we need to go back forty or fifty years to the time when our science curricula were created by the leading mathematicians and scientists in the United States.

Question from Brenda Gustafson, Senior Communications Officer, Portland Public Schools:
Where does a core curriculum fit in this discussion?

Thomas W. Payzant:
If we are going to educate all students to high standards that will prepare them for continuing their education beyond high school, we have to agree on what we mean ready for post-secondary education without remediation. There is increasing consensus that the same “soft skills” and “academic skills are necessary in the work place and in higher education.

Question from Mark Chamberlain, substitute teacher and first year teacher:
I have read that some schools have cut back on science and the arts, what is your opinion on these subjects and are they vital to the well-being of our children when it comes to competing against other nations in the same area?

Thomas W. Payzant:
Last year I was in China for a week and visited schools. I asked what are the most important subjcects - the answer was Chinese,English, Mathematics and Science. And then I was told about the other subjects that were important too, including the arts, physical eduction, etc. This can not all be done in a six hour day, 175 or 180 day school year. Are we prepared to make the commitment to more time and higher quality?

Comment from Susan A. Bingham, Chairperson Business and Computer Education, Aquinas Institute, Rochester, New York:
Technical savvy kids need Technical savvy education. Students today want the WOW factor in instruction and to do this teachers need to have media available to use in lesson content. I would like to be able to get current event news footage to enhance instruction from something as simple as Charles Gibsons report on General Motors to Donald Trump and The Apprentice. Enhancing instruction is important to keep kids interested in learning. Once students get this information they can learn it and then expand on it educationally. There needs to be ways to do this without infringing on copyright laws.

Question from Joe Gerzina, Educational Consultant, Riverview IU 6, Clarion, PA:
The logo on the PA Department of Education website says that their purpose is "...inspiring productive, fulfilled, lifelong learners”. Please comment on what “fulfilled” means to you.

Thomas W. Payzant:
My answer may not be what PA intended. To me one is fulfilled when something is accomplished - a goal is set and met, something which seems beyond one’s capability is achieved, the impossible is indeed possible, but not without effort, perserverance and sometimes frustration. Fullfillment is never final because learning is continuous.

Question from Dave Ramage, Coordinator of Technology Staff Development, Souderton Area SD:
Although there is some flexibility and creativity suggested in the implementation of the steps proposed, the report is crystal clear that, “The one thing that is indispensable is a new system.” How can we bring about such a great, cultural change in such entrenched institutions as K-12 schools? What is the best “next step” toward a new system instead of incremental change?

Marc S. Tucker:
This is a larger question than I cannot adequately address in this compass, but I will do my best. Our Commissioners signed their names to this report because the data we put before them persuaded them they had no choice. That is what we have to do with the nation as a whole. We have begun to go state-to-state, presenting the same case we presented to the Commission. Our experience thus far is that when we do that, and have enought time to do it in some depth, we get the same result that we did with our Commission. Many more people than you might think believe that what we have been doing for thirty years or more has not worked, and we MUST do something else or see our country slide into history.

Question from Holly Greathouse, Education Specialist, STScI:
Many of the recommendations are good sense for society-at-large today, and aren’t only necessary for staying competitive. How do you expect districts to respond to these recommendations in the face of NCLB and testing demands. How do you balance accountability in schools with encouraging innovative thinking and creativity? Many of the recommendations are in line with a similar report from the commission in 1990. Sadly, little to nothing has changed significantly in public education since that time.

Thomas W. Payzant:
Conditions have changed since 1990. The issue is not just one of low-skill/low-wages and competition off shore from those who have low skills but are willing to work for even lower wages than our low-skill workers. Now it is high-skills/high wages in America competing with high-skills/lower wages in many other countries. The 1990 report did not anticipate this dramatic change. The global context is very different today and we must take the 15 to 20 year view or the American standard of living will be at great risk and decline. This change means that the system of education in America must change if we are to maintain our standard of living and role in the world.

Question from Rose Snyder, Professional Development, DCPS:
With regard to teacher preparation, how would the shift in pedagogy be dealt with in a timely fashion if such a drastic change in the high school model takes place?

Thomas W. Payzant:
The quality of instruction must improve and reflect what is expected in any learning organization in the work places which will demand higher skills.This means independent workers and learners, learners who can work in teams with the results of the team being greater than the sum of the individual team members’ contributions and incentives that reward creativity and innovation in workplaces that create cultures which support this work. Teachers can no longer work in isolation, alone in their classrooms. What other professionals do? Collaboration, shared learning, joint problem-solving,use of data to reflect on the effectiveness of their work are a few examples of changes that are necessary.

Question from Diana Skiles, 7th & 8th grade Science Teacher, Jacoby Creek School / Science and Math Education Advisor, Humboldt State University:
I am curious about the logic of shifting from district control to state control. I teach science in a high-performing (API above 900) public one-school district (400 students K-8th). Our autonomy has allowed us to focus our individual and collective energies on educating our students, rather than on navigating multilevel bureaucracies. When we assess a need, we can address it efficiently, reflect on effectiveness immediately. . . we can act! I love my job (am in my 16th year), and am active in recruiting science and math undergrads to consider teaching as a rewarding career. I’m not sure how that will all translate if we lose our autonomy to state-level control. What would that look like, I wonder? I’m open to change . . . but need convincing that this is change in the right direction. Diana Skiles

Marc S. Tucker:
This is a very reasonable question. I think many educators in districts with high income bracket parents will be asking this question in some form. Our top performing districts get their results in part because they can attract the very best teachers, offer the best facilities, and most important, offer their students the company of other students who, for the most part, have very high aspirations, a lot of intellectual and emotional support from home and the self-confidence needed to go the distance when the going gets tough. That is great for them, but concentrating these very scarce resources in a handful of districts gives the nation as a whole no chance at all of reaching for the stars. Every single nation that we have seen that has high achievement overall has a strong central education authority that is highy respected by professional educators and has the lead role in formulating education policy. We have never had that in the United States, and so it is hard to imagine. But, for those of us who have looked hard at these issues all over the world, it is hard to imagine how we will have a competitive education system unless we do whatever is necessary to build strong — and much admired — state departments of education. They should not, repeat not, operate in an autocratic way, but rather make their will felt through the respect in which they are held. In the countries I am thinking of, the best ministries of education are thought of as “us,” not “them.”

Question from Jeffrey L. Peyton, Founding Exec. Dir., Puppetools:
If we want innovation to flourish in U.S. schools, our system must let go of the counter productive practice of force-feeding content and testing--just for the purpose of job preparation. With a new paradigm and language residing in Play,(a major focus of brain scientists wanting to see the fruits of their research applied in schools) educators can begin speaking a language of innovation that can create new products and businesses. What can be done to challenge the current bias against Play and other creative teaching and solutions in the learning culture?

Thomas W. Payzant:
We tend to polarize our discussions around teaching and learning when we argue about substance and process, content and instruction, preparation for work or for life, testing for accountability or testing for constructive feedback and reflection on what is working or not working for our students, top down or bottom up decision making and the list goes on. There is a middle ground between most of these poles. Knowledge has its own virtues but it is what learners do with it that leads to creativity and innovation. I think one of our most important obligations as educators is to help us students develop the capacity to know what to do when they don’t know. This could help us all get to the middle ground between the various poles.

Question from Elizabeth Schwerdtle, Parent:
I’m from Idaho, where we already have all funding of schools from the state (i.e. no funding from local property tax), therefore we have the finance system in place to implement this report. If you were our State Super. of Schools, where would you start?

Marc S. Tucker:
You are way ahead on finance, but not all the way there yet. You would have to replace your current funding formula with one of the sort we recommended, what the school finance people call a pupil weighted financing system. But you probably could not do that until you had also found a way to level up school finance state-wide, as we said in the report. The report’s idea for finding the money to do that entails many other initiatives that we described in the report.

Question from
Both of your have been in leadership roles at critical points in school reform during the last 15 plus years. What have your disappointments at various points taught you about new approaches in the future? For instance, have we got our understanding of effective school leadership all wrong?

Thomas W. Payzant:
The pace of change and improvement in student achievement and closing the achievement gaps has been agonizingly slow. In the last four to five decades the impact of special interest goups and their impact on decision-making in the public sector has increased significantly. This advocacy in some areas has been essential, but reponding to every inerest on every issue can result in decisions that don’t reflect the commitment for public education to serve the common good and all children. There are still too many inequities that must be addressed.

Question from Dr.,Wally Holmes Bouchillon, teacher educator, University of West Florida:
How do you see career academies in terms of impacting student skills for the future workforce?

Thomas W. Payzant:
Career academies are successful when they recognize that the skills demanded in the work force are not unlike those required for high school students going on to some type of post-secondary education without remediation. They also provide opportunities for internships and jobs as part of the high school career pathway programs which connect the academic skills work with the workplace skills expectiations. This can help motivate students to embrace and acquire both the “soft skills” and the more “academic skills” required in the world of work they will encounter in the decades ahead.

Question from Diane Matthews, Director of Education, Technological Research & Development Authority:
What are your thoughts on youth entrepreneurship education programs to help produce workers who will keep generating innovative products and services?

Marc S. Tucker:
I like entrepreneurship programs, especially those built around the competitive development of business plans, but I would not mandate them.

Question from Vicki Viviano, Future Teacher & Parent, St. Johns County, FL:
If our workers are competing with highly educated foreign workers, most of whom are bilingual, why isn’t foreign language instruction a priority and why isn’t it being instituted in K-12 curriculums?

Thomas W. Payzant:
I think Americans, albeit slowly, are recognizing the importance of including second language requirements for high school graduation. We can no longer be smug about English continuing to be the only international language.

Question from Dr. John Colantonio, Assoc. Prof, Clarion Univ. of PA:
If I recall correctly, the findings of the Commission were reported in the NASSP Newsleader. One of the recommendations cited was the notion that, if American engineers expect to be more marketable than their Chinese and Indian counterparts,that they would need to be highly qualified in math, science and technology AND english, history and the arts and humanities. Given what schools are doing to meet the demands of NCLB, that is, minimizing the role of non-tested areas of the curriculum, is NCLB now have the exact opposite impact for which it was intended.

I agree that states should hire teachers, more adequately fund education, AND extend the school year to more closely resemble those of Japan and others. According to data collected by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, we have to deliver a larger curriculum in a shorter period of time. What do you think?

Marc S. Tucker:
I agree with you. Narrowing the curriulum was an unintended consequence of NCLB and the problem needs to be addressed. A broader (and deeper) curriculum and more time to learn it need to be part of the answer.

Question from Albert Wat, State Policy Analyst, Pre-K Now:
Your plan includes a substantial investment in quality pre-k for all 4 year olds and at-risk 3 year olds. From an economic or workforce perspective, how would you respond to critics who believe that state-funded pre-k should only be provided for at-risk children?

Marc S. Tucker:
To my knowledge, no one is proposing that the state should fund K-12 public schools only for low-income children. We have now established that, from a strictly educational standpoint,pre--kindergarten education is no less vital to a young person’s growth and development than kindergarten or grades 1-5. So it is hard for me to understand the logic of saying that the state should fully fund k-12 education but not fully fund the education of younger students. All the more so when, as in our case, we are saying that we could actually do this with virtually no net increase in the total cost of pre-college education.

Question from Terry Davis, Principal, Port St. Lucie High School:
Pertaining to the 16-year-old exams for immediate entry into community or technical colleges, what recourse would a student who chose that pathway have if, later in life, the student wished to change course and pursue a different pathway in education?

One of the most compelling features of our current system is that it allows for flexibility and choice throughout life. I’d be very concerned if this feature were restricted; if, say, a student who chose a technical college at 16 were precluded as a result of this choice from later applying to a four year university.

Thomas W. Payzant:
Probably eighty percent of those in the workforce today will still be working 15 to 20 years from now. That is why “Tough Choices or Tough Times"addresses adult learning and the opportunity for continuous education. It all begins with an account for each child at birth funded by the federal government with the single purpose of growing an individual fund that can only be used for education. Individuals, families, employers, states and/or the federal government could contribute to the fund. This would provide for continuing education opportunities that are consistent with what you suggest and the expectation that in the future people will change both jobs and careers much more frequently than in the past.

Question from Diane Davis, teacher, Autrey Mill Middle School:
In recent years, society has told students that everyone needs to go to college. In my state every student takes the SAT, whether they want to go to college or not. This has lowered our test scores dramatically. Will the same groups that insist that all students take the SAT (just in case they want to go to college later) object to the plan of allowing students to move to technical colleges at 16? If this occurs how will you try to win them over to your idea?

Marc S. Tucker:
I don’t know the answer to your question. My guess is that the move to get more students to take the SAT is part of a more general interest in raising aspirations, which is a very sound instinct, since aspirations are generally far below where they need to be. Our report, obviously, also calls for a broad and steep rise inspirations, and, in fact, is designed to motivate students not only take tougher courses but also to work harder in school. If I am right about what is going on, the move to get more students to take SAT’s will not make it less likely that states will be interested in adopting the recommendations made in the report.

Question from Loretta Garcia Williams, Director of Education, World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth:
One of the questions I consistently get is that not all students are college students. While that is true, in order to work and function is a global economy most people will have to be college graduates, correct?

Thomas W. Payzant:
Many high school students graduate today with eighth grade level skills. Twelfth grade skills would prepare students for some post-secondary education - technical school, community college or four year college or university.That is what is essential. Not everyone will require a four year college degree, but no student should leave high school without the opportunity to achieve the skills necessary to access continuing education beyond high school. This is what is essential in a world where high skills are the only way to achieve high wages.

Question from Marilyn J. Rymniak, Project Leader, Statewide Professional Development, Literacy Assistance Center, New York, NY:
NCEE’s “Tough Choices or Tough Times”, ETS’s “The Perfect Storm”, the US Chamber’s latest report calling for a strengthening of NCLB, all seem to be calling for radical changes in K-16 education in the USA and calling ofr it to happen NOW? Is there real consensus? How close are we to “just doing it” as we did in that first post-Sputnik Summer of 1958 when we remade the schools overnight with stronger math, science and foreign language curricula. We Boomers were the beneficiaries of this movement. What legacy are we going to leave?

Marc S. Tucker:
A great question -- which, appropriately, seems to be addressed to your contemporaries, rather than me. This is the moment of truth for us. The best we could do is show why it is necessary to act and to paint a picture of what we can acheive if we do act. For what it is worth, the reaction we have gotten to the report thus far suggest to me that the country might just rise to the ocassion. It is too early to tell for sure, but the very strong interest and enthusiasm we are getting gives me lots of hope.

Question from Victoria Pye, parent/adjunct professor:
I live in a school district that eliminated the IB program based on objections to anti-Americanism. How do you respond to such actions?

Thomas W. Payzant:
A big mistake. We should be using international benchmarks that students in countries we compete with are using. Remember when Honda and Toyota started to penetrate the US auto market, The Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) ignore them and kept benchmarking against each other. Look at the market share of the Big Three now compared to Honda and Toyota.

Question from :
How is it we are looking at revamping educations when U. S. Industries are sending jobs overseas because it is cheaper. Has someone shown that the foreign employees are better educated or trained? I think it is simply economics and not education.

Marc S. Tucker:
Offshoring started because people were available to do the work more cheaply than Americans were willing to do it. But that is not the case any longer. Now companies are going abroad for their help because 1)they find it easier to find highly qualified people in certain job categories, 2) they want to be closer to established markets, 3) they want to be near emerging markets, and 4) they can get employees who are less expensive. It is generally a mix of these reasons, and the last one is not always in play.

Question from Ms. Mac (Jeanine McGregor) Educational Researcher and Award Winning Teacher, Author:
After polling numerous audiences from various educational conferences across Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, and California, teachers, parents and students are saying that school administrators do not want excellence, they only want improvement under their governance. If excellence (excellence is defined as advanced placement; mastery prior to the chronological time line)is possible for all learning styles and starting levels of achievement, who would not want their students to obtain this level of success? Example 2nd graders (gifted and learning disabled completing all math through 6th grade level and placed into the top 10% in the nation as established by standardized testing).

Marc S. Tucker:
My guess is that what you are getting is an answer to the question: What is your highest priority? No one, I’m sure is opposed to excellence. The question is, given limited resources, how should they be invested? NCLB answers that question by saying the first priority should go to those who have been left out for so long. My own view is that we being forced to make choices we should not have to make between those who are worst off (for whom I have been a lifelong advocate) and those who have the potential to be our very best and brightest (which, incidently, include students from our most disadvantaged families) only because our system is appalingly inefficient. We have second most expensive elementary and secondary system in the world, in per pupil terms. If we used that money more efficiently, we could be lifting everyone up, right across the whole spectrum, and, in fact, if we want to succeed in the coming competition, that is exactly what we will have to do.

Question from Sue Street, educator and parent of college students in teacher preparation programs:
In order to implement all or most of the agenda for overhauling schools, highly or well-qualified teachers will be needed. What changes to you foresee in teacher preparation and/or what strategies in place now will support such changes in schools?

Thomas W. Payzant:
We must leave behind the eggcrate model where teachers are expected to go into their classrooms, close their doors, invent what they do alone and do the best they can. As in other professions there must be collaborative learning among teachers, opportunities for teachers to hold leadership roles in schools without becoming administrators and we must make the entry level salaries, working conditions and support for those entering the profession equal to other professions to attract the a strong pool of applicants in all subject areas who are willing to be accountable for improving student achievement.

Question from Ilirjan Cane, Ph.D., Math Content Specialist, College Board:
As it is pointed out from other people, one of the problems (maybe the biggest problem) with math education in US is the competence of teachers. Our competitors (China, India, and other European countries) seems not to have such a problem. I have had the opportunity to get my college degree in one of the Eastern European countries and I remember the high school teachers there have no comparison with those here. My wife started teaching math in a public school (middle school) in NJ, and she saw there math teachers that didn’t know how to add two fractions with different denominators. The teacher would first transform the fractions into the decimal form and then add them up. Isn’t this shocking? How is possible that a person with that level of competency can go through all the “obstacles” the system has put in front of him/her and be a math teacher? I have taught math courses to math and non-math major students in a very good college and if they were my students in my country, more than 30% of them would have failed. I couldn’t do it here. It was the conventional policy that I could not do it. My question is: Is there any idea or project on how to put standards on the competency of math graduates, especially those that are going to be educators? And when I say any project, I don’t mean any big amount of cash to solve this problem. Other countries have done this with a lot less money per student than what US is already spending.

Thanks, Ilirjan Cane, Ph.D.

Thomas W. Payzant:
In order to attract people to teaching who know mathematics, want to and can teach, we have to become competive with salaries, benefits and working conditions offered at the entry level by other professions. This means higher entry level salaries, longer work days and years, targeting the top third of the distribution of college graduates and then offering induction and support programs that lead to retention of the best.

Question from T.J.Medina, educator, Ft.Lauderdale, FL:
What is planned for teaching foreign languages,as it stands now,it is simply frustrating. We are teaching students to merely learn, but not to ACQUIRE anpther language.

Marc S. Tucker:
Languages, like most tools, are lost if not used. I am a big fan of student travel to other countries (that means us to them and them to us). Fortunately, there seems to be many more college level student exchange programs than there used to be. Maybe one of the benefits of sending young people to college earlier would be having more young people going abroad to see how other people live and think. There are few things, in my judgement, that would better prepare the next generation for leadership and civic participation in a very complex world.

Question from :
How do we get the leadership in the schools to understand these changes are real and we must change or perish?

Thomas W. Payzant:
We have to move from internal school, school district, state and national benchmarks to international ones. It is hard to change people’s beliefs without real evidence. It is always difficult to create a sense of urgency until the crisis takes place. The data are available now based on what is occurring elsewhere in the world. It is time to make changes in our system of education that will prepare our students today for what we know will happen 10- 20 years from now. The evidence is more compelling with each passing year. Are we prepared to let the evidence modify our beliefs that are grounded in the past in order to prepare all of our students for a changing future? Let’s create the sense of urgency, not based on fear, but on evidence that with thoughtful change we can make a positive diffence and maintain the standard of living and access to opportunity that every family wants for its children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and the kids next door.

Question from Prissy Cornwell, SpEd teacher, Staley Middle School:
I teach in a title 1, free breakfast and lunch, school system. I believe we are failing most of our students. Why must tax dollars support academics for students who would be better served learning a vocational skill?

Marc S. Tucker:
This is a dichotomy I cannot accept. In many districts, vocational education classes have become a holding tank for students who are thought to unable or unwilling to do any academics at all. I’ve talked with vocational ed teachers who have found that they cannot teach any vocational content whatsoever because their high school students do not know enough about whole numbers to make even rudimentary use of a measuring tape. As I pointed out above, in most states, automobile dealers now require their entering mechanics to have two-year college degrees. There is now no place to hide for high school students who cannot do college level work. We do not have a choice anymore. We have to find a way to educate almost everyone to a college-ready standard, full stop.

Question from Dr. Arlene A. O’Leary, University of Phoenix, Faculty and Chair of Arts and Sciences dept.:
Why do we always fall back on a “reorganize the system plan”? Why do we fail to understand that K-adult education requires constant professional development to meet the challenges of each age?

Marc S. Tucker:
I don’t understand your question. You frame the choice as either reorganize the system or provide constant professional development. In fact, providing constant professional development must be an integral component of any reorganization design. Doctors, engineers, dentists, architects — indeed virtually all professions — assume the need for constant professional development. It is not an option. But it is certainly not all that needs to be done, either.

Question from Dr. T. Lord, professor of Biology, Indiana Unversity of Pennsylvania:
As an postsecondary educator for almost 40 years, I’ve noticed, with alarm, that a large majority of todasy’s college graduates lack an enduring understanding of information they should know. This observation was noted a decade ago but few have paided attention (ex: Harvard-Annenberg study .... Minds of their Own, NY Times editoral 1996). Why do so many of the nations leaders in education today seem to be in the dark about these findings?

Marc S. Tucker:
Here’s my observation: I believe that, with very few exceptions, our colleges and universities have given up on trying to define what it means to be an educated person. The default position is now perilously close to letting the student decide what the student wants to learn, or, closer to the truth, what courses that student wants to take. In my opinion, that constitutes deriliction of duty on the part of the colleges and universities. But, it this circumstance, it is no surprise that college students have no clear conception of what they ought to know.

Question from Elaine L. Webb, School Committee Chair, Reading MA:
A week ago at UMASS, you presented three challenges; (1)for Massachusetts to take up the conversation about Tough Choices or Tough Times, (2) recognize that MCAS is not a comprehensive system of assessment that meets global standards and change it, and (3) integrating social and emotional supports for students and familes so that the teachers are not the front line. How can superintendents and school committees get access to the DOE and the State Board of Education to begin #2 and #1? I have utilized my local legislators and continue to work with the MASC but I am not making the progress that this situation requires.

Marc S. Tucker:
I suggest you contact David Driscoll, the Commissioner of Education. David was a member of our commission, made a very strong contribution to its work, and is totally committed to the view that MCAS, while it might be among very best statewide testing systems in the United States, has a long way to go to be what it needs to be in the light of the international benchmarks.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):

Thank you for joining us for this lively and informative discussion. And a special thanks to our two guests for taking time out of their busy days to offer their insights on such important matters.

This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly on

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