Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Arne Duncan's speech on "Education for Sustainable Development"

Last September the U.S. Department of Education held a summit on Education for Sustainable Development, something I think we in 3E-COE have been interested in since we got going. Current Secretary of Education spoke to the conference. He notes some of the incredible challenges and opportunities before us as working teachers:

In my experience as secretary I've seen the impact of climate change first hand. Last year, I travelled to Alaska with a delegation of Cabinet members. We visited the remote village of Hooper Bay. Scientists have documented that more and more carbon dioxide in Alaska's oceans is affecting fishing for crab and salmon. But we heard directly from the village elders that they had noticed for years the changing water temperature—and that the changes were affecting their livelihood of fishing for salmon. We need to address these issues head on—and education must be part of the solution.

This week's sustainability summit represents the first time that the Department is taking a taking a leadership role in the work of educating the next generation of green citizens and preparing them to contribute to the workforce through green jobs. President Obama has made clean, renewable energy a priority because, as he says, it's the best way to "truly transform our economy, to protect our security, and save our planet."

Educators have a central role in this. A well educated citizen knows that we must not act in this generation in ways that endanger the next. They teach students about how the climate is changing. They explain the science behind climate change and how we can change our daily practices to help save the planet. They have a role in preparing students for jobs in the green economy.

Historically, the Department of Education hasn't been doing enough in the sustainability movement. Today, I promise you that we will be a committed partner in the national effort to build a more environmentally literate and responsible society.

You can read the entire piece at this link. What do you think of Duncan's ideas? Are incentives and money the way to go? Is it about jobs? What would you like the federal government to address on this issue?


  1. The following is from Secretary Duncan's full speech at www.ed.gov (thanks Peter):

    "...career pathways will define the academic knowledge and vocational skills that students will need to prepare themselves for green jobs in architecture, agriculture, energy, transportation and waste management. The National Research Center for Career and Technical Education is working closely with these states and, where appropriate, with the business community to design the programs of study that will lead to success in the green industry."

    I am strongly ambivalent in response to this statement from Secretary Duncan.

    On the one hand, this statement, and the strategy outlined, seems like a positive move on the part of the secretary to promote science and climate change education in public schools. Additionally, the NRCCTE (see note below) is an organization that could meaningfully promote green education in public schools, and with an opportunity for students to have hands-on experience with the subject.

    On the other hand, Secretary Duncan's position, and general actions toward, on public education do not seem consistent with "green" education. As head of Chicago Public Schools, he supported the expansion of charters, closing neighborhood public schools, and centralizing the control of schools in the mayor's office. As Secretary of Education, he has continued to promote charter schools over neighborhood schools, standardized testing regimes, teacher lay-offs and schools closure as "school turn-around," and performance pay (tied to standardized test scores) for teachers. (See, Obama/Duncan's "Race to the Top.")

    In response to Secretary Duncan's statement, I would ask the following question: Mr Duncan, how do you square No Child Left Behind (still effectively in practice), Annual Yearly Progress (all Virginia students are expected to pass their standardized tests in 2014, a statistical impossibility), severe budget constrains (e.g., shrinking teaching staffs, rising class sizes, limited professional development opportunities), curricular inflexibility, and your invariable, if not overt, support of scapegoating public school teachers for the shortcomings of public education in the United States with the promotion and implementation of "green" education for the youth of America?

    However, an admission to the need for green education in public schools could provide an important in-road for advocacy. Indeed, green education will be among the issues advocated for during the Save Our Schools march on Washington in July (www.saveourschoolsmarch.org).

    NOTE: The National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) mentioned in the above statement is roughly equivalent to the National Council for the Social Studies or other national organization representing a discipline within public education.

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