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Monitor Breakfast: Rob Paige

Selected quotations from the Monitor breakfast with Secretary of Education Rob Paige

On the threat of bio-terrorism at schools

It is a new phenomenon for us. To this point we have been focusing primarily on things like what happened at Columbine and trying to make sure ... that there was a personalized environment – making sure every kid is known. This kind of changes direction some. There is a lot of focus on this now and schools are making plans and adjusting just like the rest of the country. But I think that schools probably have a special vulnerability. That is because they are the place where we have our most precious assets assembled. We have a special responsibility to make sure we get that fixed. In our department we have our people thinking about this and talking to others about this and we are on the front end of conceptualizing how we can do this.

On the Education department's role in increasing school security

We have a very decentralized education system in the US – our role is a leadership role, to provide technical assistance, to make sure research occurs, best practices are understood, and to supply some minimal funding. We can't change by leveraging the dollars we are spending because they are too small (7 percent of education funding comes from Washington). We have to cause change by leadership...and by appealing to what we know is good.

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On how teachers should approach recent events in the classroom

From the early grades to the higher grades there should be a closing of the conversation or dialog gap between students and quality adults. These students see the images on TV; they hear the discussion on the radio. We need to help provide a context to help them understand these issues.

Students have a point of view, they need to share with people, they need to ask questions, and they need to have the fundamental contextual pad to lay all this down on. So we have to talk to them. We can't afford to have young people off on their own trying to evaluate these situations on their own.

The second thing is, we've got to improve our instructional program in disciplines like geography and languages and other areas that are consistent with the shrinkage of their world. It is more important now that we know about other parts of the world because they are closer to us than they used to be.

On the impact of state budget crises on education funding

This will become an issue of prioritization. We have to decide what is important. For me, schooling is a priority. And if schooling is a priority, safety should be priority number one.

On the likelihood that Congress will pass an education bill this year

It is important that we get an education bill. The events of Sept. 11 didn't make education less important, it made it more important. Education is a national security issue. This isn't something we can put onto the shelf and come back to later. There is a lot of activity in Congress moving forward with this education bill. I left (a recent conference committee meeting) with a sense of optimism, I believe we will get a bill out before they leave.

On the importance of national testing (proposed grades 3-8)

We see testing not as an appendage of a pedagogical system but an integral part of it. We don't believe you can teach without testing. You need the information to inform the instructional practices. So those who propose you go along with instructional practices unlinked to assessment or precision guidance represent the key reason why we have not had any more progress in the last 20-25 years in student achievement.

So you cannot teach without testing. Otherwise you are teaching in the dark, you are teaching to the unknown. You must evaluate to determine where the deficits are – to know the effectiveness of the practices you are using to understand how students are performing and what they have achieved. It is a way of shining a light on the teaching system.

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On expanded parental options and vouchers

Expanded parental options is an irresistible phenomena. All across our lives we are provided expanded options. The public is not going to tolerate fewer choices in any endeavor, and especially in education. So at some point this system of education is going to provide a lot of choice to parents. We see that in the growth of home schooling, the growth of cyber schools, the growth of charter schools.

We just want parents to be part of the decision making process on what, why, where their child's education occurs. There is nothing more powerful in education reform than a parent who has information and alternatives.

On bilingual education

The goal is English fluency. Bilingual education is a method. It is not the goal. In too many cases we see this becoming the goal. However, if English fluency can be best achieved through instruction in the native language or original tongue, that is a good thing. That doesn't always hold true. Whatever is best to gain the goal – which is English fluency – I am in favor of using that."

On why test score improvements are slow

The chief reason is the lack of accountability. The federal government is good at pushing money out the door, but it is not so good about asking about the results of those expenditures. My experience is that just setting standards is, in itself, a powerful motivator. Most people don't want to be substandard. The biggest non-performance contributor of all is having no standards. That is going to be the fundamental change this legislation will bring to the department of education.