Obama and McCain Education Advisors Debate at Annual AEP Summit

I just made it back from a three day conference in Washington DC held by the Association of Educational Publishers. The event, called the AEP Summit, occurs every June and industry leaders in educational publishing from around the globe gather together to discuss advances in technology, instruction, educational content, development and many other aspects of creating and delivering high quality student learning materials.

During the event, sessions are offered to discuss and showcase best practices, products, and trends. A highlight of the yearly event is the AEP Awards Gala. This banquet is held during the last evening of the conference and awards are presented to acknowledge the best educational products in their respective disciplines.

This year attendees were in for a special treat during the Summit. Through the amazing and tireless efforts of Doug Ferguson, AEP’s VP of Operations, with the assistance of his fantastic staff, conference attendees and invited members of the press participated in a debate between the senior education advisors of presidential hopefuls Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. Jeanne Century, Director of Science Education and the Director of Research and Evaluation, University of Chicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education (CEMSE) spoke for the Obama campaign and Lisa Graham Keegan, Principal of The Keegan Company spoke for the McCain campaign.

During the more than ninety-minute debate, many important questions about education, policy, teacher performance, and global competitiveness (just to name a few) were asked from an insightful group of panelists moderated by Frank Catalano of Pearson. Panelists included education experts Marjorie Mayer from Scholastic, Neal Goff from Weekly Reader, Bernice Stafford from the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), Dr. Sara Davis from USA Today, and Joel Packard from the National Education Association (NEA).

During the debate, two noteworthy moments stood out from rest. The first came from Neal Goff, president of the Weekly Reader Publishing Group. Neal asked:

“How do you go about reintroducing subjects [like music, art and others] than those that are being tested [as mandated by No Child Left Behind] into the curriculum and how do you keep teachers from teaching to the test?”

In response to this question, Senator Obama’s education advisor Jeanne Century responded:

“With regard to keeping teachers from teaching to the test, the point isn’t keeping them from teaching them to the test, it’s making sure that teachers know and agree – on all the skills and expertise (students) need to succeed in the 21st century, agreeing on that, and then testing those. If we all agree and commit to what students really need to know and be able to do, we’re all good with the teacher teaching to the test, including the teachers.”

I thought this response spoke clearly to the United State’s need to address a 21st Century Skills approach to learning as outlined by Bernie Trilling, not just the country’s proficiency in math and reading skills.

The next memorable moment in the debate came from an impressive twelve-year-old middle school student named Madison. She is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps. and a reporter for Junior Scholastic News. The reality of Madison’s question gave greater weight to the discussion. Ms. Madison’s question was:

“I attend a public school in Washington DC, just a few blocks from each candidate’s senate office. Although it’s academically one of the best schools in the city, we have clauster falling from the ceiling, water fountains and air conditioners that don’t work. We also learned that our entire foreign language program is going to be cancelled next year. How will your candidate make sure that all public schools have proper facilities and provide a variety of classes for students that will allow them to be more competitive in the global economy when they grow up?”

The first reply to Madison’s question was Jeanne Century, advisor for the Obama campaign:

“There is a sub-group within our education policy group that’s developed a plan for ensuring that school facilities are up to par with what they need to be. That we have not just the modern technologies, but the basics in place. It’s an obvious necessity. It’s part of that floor I was talking about [earlier] that needs to be in place. With regard to foreign language, it certainly shouldn’t be cut from middle school, but we need to have foreign language programs happening even earlier than that. Senator Obama is committed to helping our students become bilingual, trilingual. It’s a necessity for our country and for the future, not just so we can compete, but so we can communicate and collaborate with our colleagues and with their fellow students, as they are still students and their colleagues as they grow into adults.”

Next to reply was Lisa Graham Keegan for the McCain campaign:

“This question of school facilities is one that half of the states in the country right now, or at any given time, are in their supreme courts arguing about their school finances, and usually that revolves around inequities and access to facilities. I think this is a question this country needs to take very seriously. Senator McCain is very interested in hearing from different states because this is their purview and the federal government has not (been) acting to the facilities business except in the backing of the finance in various minimal ways. But we obviously need leadership together to ask why in areas like DC, where the money is seemingly available, it is not tracked down to schools. The percentage of money available to education that does not get into school facilities and classrooms and instruction is way too high. We’re one of the highest in the world for administrative overhead so salaries outside of school or expenditures outside of instruction need to be addressed and it’s something he would want for us to take a look at.”

Digitized video and audio podcasts of the debate will become available sometime in the coming days through the Association of Educational Publishers. For further information about the debate or for information on how to acquire video or audio files of the debate, contact Doug Ferguson (dferguson at aepweb dot org) at the AEP.

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3 Responses to “Obama and McCain Education Advisors Debate at Annual AEP Summit”

  1. Edlab Says:

    Edlab at Columbia University’s Teachers College covered the event.

    http://aftered.tv/index.php?q=node/238

  2. Scott Says:

    Thanks for the link to the video of the debate!

  3. On Our Minds @ Scholastic » The Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmatic Rumble Says:

    […] global economy when they grow up?” The representatives’ answers are written out over at 360kid blog if you want to check them out…but the takeaway from that moment is this: All of a sudden, […]

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