ED to Get AHEAD!

I can’t believe next Monday already starts the fifth week of spring semester!  This has been a busy time  at ED, including assignments, meetings, conferences, and the retirement of two employees.  Each had contributed more than 35 years of service to the federal government, watching transformations over time of the institution and the industry. It’s really cool, since I’m in editorial policy, to listen to their stories of the printing press twenty years ago and its subsequent changes.  I admire so much their skill and wish them both the best possible years of retirement!  Their final days with me make me wonder about my professional future: in three decades, what will I accomplish? Where will my life take me? Where will I end up? These are the big questions with no easy answers, but my colleagues remind me to always spend my days and years with purpose, so that I enjoy my work, whatever it may be, day after day.

On Monday, there was an intern briefing on the seventh floor– the floor where the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, resides.  Duncan is the previous CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.  We convened in the conference room where education policymakers gather to carry out their objectives–a little surreal for me.  I learned a good deal about the history of the Department, with its creation in 1867 and sometimes contentious expansion ever since.  In 1980, Congress officially recognized ED as a cabinet level agency.  The Department today serves 56 million students in 99,000 public schools and 34,000 private schools, but delegates the primary responsibility of establishing schools, developing curricula, and determining graduation requirements for enrollment and graduation to the states.  The federal agency also provides financial assistance to greater than 14 million students pursuing postsecondary education.  The Department has more than 4,000 staff.  This intern briefing, the first in a series of weekly meetings, allowed me to interact with other interns from across the nation and world, including Michigan, Florida, Texas, and even, Paris, France.  We were so lucky to have a one-on-one discussion with the policymakers that strive to make the United States have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. While we acknowledge that as a nation we’ve before lagged behind in math and reading, we’re now committed to a steady improvement of our world rank. Education is a measure of our success as a nation and a key to globally competitive workers. This is an achievable goal, but one that will require more young adults to attend and graduate from institutions of high learning.  Interestingly enough, it will also encourage adults with no postsecondary background to return to school and complete a degree. I’ve included some aims of the Obama administration projected for the coming years.  This week, I worked on a project to ensure that our publications can be translated to other languages (eighteen in total? great news!) that serve the demographic of the United States.

And lastly, through ED, I was able to sit in on a conference at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, entitled “Scalability: How to Take Local Successes in Education to a State and National Level,” featuring four teachers accepted to the prestigious Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program.  This program facilitates a dialogue between teachers of math, science, and technology and public policymakers in the United States.  This panel represented Michigan, Washington, and Arizona. A discussion, the four speakers advocated that students “are not products, they are individuals.”   While maintaining their core commitment to education with standards, the Fellows desired more flexibility from national leaders to engage students in nontraditional learning strategies.  These techniques, in effect, can reach those students who learn differently.  Students are not a one-size-fits-all model.  I appreciated so much this acknowledgement and am always on the lookout for informative conferences in the DC area to supplement my time with ED.

Until next week, keep up the great work in all you do!