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Arne Duncan Lays Out His Vision for Public Education: What Do You Think?

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What needs to be done to improve public education?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan spent 45 minutes answering that puzzler on NPR's "On Point" today. Catch the whole interview, conducted by Tom Ashbrook, here:

Some of Duncan's main points:

--Class size matters (the smaller, the better!)

--National standards are needed

--Parent involvement matters (though it's not always possible)

--Schools should be rewarded for improvement

--The dropout crisis needs to be addressed by supporting at-risk students before high school

--Under President Obama and this congress, the political will exists right now to make dramatic reforms

--Charter schools can be good

--Teachers deserve to be paid more

--No Child Left Behind needs to be re-branded

--Choice and competition are good, but vouchers aren't the answer

--Teachers' unions can be good

Duncan consistently made eloquent moral appeals for improving education while deftly avoiding offering up too many details. I wanted him to spill more, but I see the Obama-esque play to keep in general in these opening months while bringing "stakeholders" to the table to let them all feel some ownership over how federal education policy (specifically the redrafting of No Child Left Behind) will be crafted.

Here are three of the changes that I'd like to see:

---We have to stop the demonization of teachers. The right's endless campaign against the straw man of unions has chiseled in a national perception of teachers as, at best, well-meaning but foolish self-sacrificers and at worst, lazy idiots. Of course there are some lousy teachers out there, but in the main, teachers are not the impediment to student achievement.

---We need more ways of assessing student learning beyond standardized tests in K-12. These tests are alienating an uncountable number of our youths--and our educators.

---Simply, we need a year-round school year. As we talk about fighting the status quo, there is no greater example of an inexplicable, counterproductive anachronism than taking youths out of an educational setting for 2-3 months every summer. This is coming from a teacher who loves his vacation. This is a much-needed shock to the system.

What are your thoughts?

Dan Brown is a teacher at a charter school in Southeast D.C. He is the author of The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle.