What Arne Duncan Said to Me Last Week

On Wednesday of last week, several members of the US Department of Education kicked off their Back to School Bus Tour at the high school where I teach science in Redwood City, California. The visit was an edtech themed visit, and spotlighted a panel discussion that included edtech pop stars Sal Khan of the Khan Academy and Andrew Ng of Coursera. If you are reading this blog, then you are an edtech nerd and none of what Andrew or Sal had to say will be news to you. Instead, you might be curious about what English teacher and author of Blended Learning in Grades 4-12: Leveraging the Power of Technology to Create Student-Centered Classrooms, Catlin Tucker, said, what activist and former grade school teacher, Todd Sutler, of the Odyssey Initiative did while he was there, and what the students of Sequoia High School did to mark the visit of these dignitaries.

Catlin Tucker sat beside Sal Khan and Andrew Ng on the theater stage in front of a packed house of the local business community, the media, and selected classes of students with their teachers. Secretary Duncan played the role of discussion moderator, and provided the panelists the opportunity to showcase their work. While Khan and Ng shared the excellent work of their edtech websites that are bringing education into the cloud, it was Tucker who stole the show.

Grounded in the practice of a classroom educator. Tucker talked about the very real challenges of getting to a one to one device for each student, and high speed internet access at home for students of little means. She raised the roof, and the Twitosphere, when she told Secretary Duncan that great edtech tools alone would not take us very far, but great tools in the hands of great teachers just might. Sal nodded.

Check out the panel discussion on this Youtube video provided by the LennonBus people. The discussion starts at the 44:25 mark.

Also present for the kickoff of the Back to School Bus Tour was Todd Sutler of the Odyssey Initiative. Todd’s successful Kickstarter campaign has launched him and two of his colleagues from a New York public grade school on a cross country tour highlighting where public education is going right. It’s about time. As many others have written recently, the United States has some of the best public K12 schools on the planet. Unfortunately, we also have some schools, particularly those in impoverished areas, set up for failure. While any holistic solution to our education inequities will necessarily involve social reform, Todd and his team are working to show us that, “The talent is already in the building.” (Mitch Weathers)

Lest you think this visit was all about adults talking big ideas, check out the video made by Sequoia students with the help of the folks on the Lennon Bus. It was definitely worth the extra work I will have to do to catch up the three students from my classes who were involved in the production. Video begins at the 24:45 mark.

I bet you’re wondering what Duncan said to me. At one point, the procession of my students leaving the assembly crossed paths with the Secretary’s entourage. I said, “Hello Secretary Duncan. Thank you for coming to visit our school.”

He said, “Hey.”

I can’t be sure that he was actually responding to my address, but he was looking in my general direction. Maybe next time.

About Jack West

Teacher, team member, father, neighbor.

1 Response

  1. Jack, great post and recap of an inspiring morning. I have to reiterate Tucker, “great edtech tools alone would not take us very far, but great tools in the hands of great teachers just might.” Love the Duncan quote at the end, to funny!

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