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Making Real Progress on School Reform

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There's been a great conversation happening online today on the National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform. I appreciate how many educators have taken time to share their ideas thoughtfully with the rest of us. At the U.S. Department of Education, we've been listening in. I am convinced that the best ideas come from classrooms and communities across the nation. I am committed to supporting the great work that is happening in states and districts.

Today's conversation has focused on many issues that I think we can all agree on:

  • We need to raise expectations for America's students and challenge them with standards that will prepare them for success in colleges and careers.
  • We need to elevate the teaching profession so teachers get the respect they deserve and the tools and time to do their jobs well and continually improve.
  • For education reform to be "real," we need to focus on what works. We need consensus on the right way to measure students' progress. And then we all need to hold ourselves accountable -- and recognize those educators who are especially effective.
  • We need to involve parents as active partners in their children's education so they can support the hard work that teachers do in the classroom.

(If you're curious about how the Obama administration's Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) proposes to empower educators, check out our "Built for Teachers" brochure at ED.gov. It was written by teachers, for teachers.)

Throughout my tenure as secretary of education, I've met with outstanding teachers who are positively transforming the lives of children every day, often in unbelievably difficult situations. For them, a child's background -- which can include poverty, a language barrier, a disability, a dysfunctional home -- presents a challenge but isn't used as an excuse.

One of the many places where I have seen real education reform at work is George C. Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Ala., which has transformed from being one of the lowest- performing schools in Alabama into a national model for achieving success in challenging circumstances. I visited George C. Hall at the start of the school year on my Courage in the Classroom bus tour.

Also on that tour I saw great examples of students learning about the civil rights movement from members of their community in Portland, Me., and had a candid conversation with teachers about how to improve testing and teacher compensation in Hattiesburg, Miss. I've also seen tremendous leadership from union leaders and district leaders in Hillsborough County, Fla., Prince George's County, Md., and other districts. These leaders are moving beyond the battles the past and finding new ways to work together.

I am more optimistic than ever about our nation's education system, because I see the courage and commitment of teachers, parents, and educational leaders to making real reform happen every day. But I believe we are at an important crossroads. We've reached consensus on many important issues, but we in education spend too much of our time and energy focused on issues that divide us. We forget how important it is to move forward on what we agree on.

On this National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform, I hope we can agree on one thing: Let's move forward on solutions -- and not get sidetracked by debates that will slow what is real progress.