Gendron on education team to support Obama transition

Posted Dec. 02, 2008, at 6:59 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Commissioner of Education Susan A. Gendron has been tapped to serve on a committee of education leaders tasked with developing a transition plan on education policy for President-elect Barack Obama.

The committee, composed of Gendron and nine other state education chiefs, was appointed by the head of the Council of Chief State School Officers last month. Members met Monday in Washington, D.C., with Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor and education adviser to Obama. Various ideas and policy recommendations were discussed during the meeting.

“We presented her with some recommendations,” Gendron said Tuesday. “She was really in a listening mode; she asked a lot of questions, and she asked for a lot of clarifications. She took our recommendations, and our task force will follow up later.”

CCSSO president T. Kenneth James, Arkansas’ education commissioner, told the committee that his goal was to present to Obama’s transition team by Dec. 15 a document that communicates the panel’s policy recommendations for the first 100 days of the new administration.

Gendron said that the committee staff would prepare the report based on the committee’s recommendations and that committee members would be communicating with staff and one another by e-mail and telephone during the process.

Department of Education Communications Director David Connerty-Marin said James appointed Gendron to the committee because “they were looking for input from innovative commissioners and Maine is certainly known for its innovative work in a variety of areas.” He cited the use of laptops and the SAT test to assess all high school juniors as areas where Maine has taken the lead nationally.

Gendron said committee members discussed education matters with Darling-Hammond that possibly could become part of the multibillion-dollar stimulus plan being considered by Obama and aimed at bolstering the economy. She said school facilities and energy conservation were areas that could become part of the stimulus plan.

“We focused on how the 50 states and the CCSSO could partner with a new administration in ensuring that each child graduates prepared for work, college and citizenship,” Gendron said in a press release. “We all acknowledged that NCLB [the No Child Left Behind Act] had been beneficial, but it was now time to focus on how to build on strong standards with a focus on 21st century skills, expanded learning opportunities, and differentiated practice in the classroom to reach every student.”

She said the group recommended investing in expanded broadband as part of the anticipated package to reach all learners from pre-kindergarten to adult. The education chiefs also encouraged the transition team to examine recently adopted rules for NCLB, the Family Educational Rights and Policy Act and Medicaid to determine whether they advance or hinder the goals of improving achievement for all students, according to the press release.

The group spoke to Darling-Hammond about state education resources and capacity, the need to move beyond a compliance-driven relationship with the Department of Education, innovation and the importance of more research and development on best practices in teaching, maintaining accountability and professional development.

Gendron said the committee also met with the congressional staffs of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the respective chairmen of the Senate and House Education Committees, about possible changes to NCLB, special education policy, and research legislation that will be up for reauthorization in 2009.

“We talked to them about some of the things President Obama might advance in those areas,” she said. “We had a chance to talk about what we hope [will be] greater alignment between NCLB and the special education language in the laws. Right now they are in conflict with each other in places. We’d like to see that changed. It was a great dialogue.”

Serving on the transition task force with Gendron are the state education commissioners from Texas, California, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Alabama, Illinois, Rhode Island and Virginia.

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