Charles P. Rose, General Counsel for the United States Department of Education, Offers the Keynote Address at the Symposium on Education Reform

Day 1 of Classroom Politics, Symposium on Education Reform, an event co-hosted by the Albany Government Law Review and the Government Law Center was a success, with the largest audience in Albany Government Law Review’s history. This event was brought together by the Albany Government Law Review’s own Ian Group and Robert Barrows.

The Symposium began with a discussion by Congressman Paul Tonko on education reform where he stressed the need to invest more money in communities where students have high needs and parents have an inability to pay. As a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor and subcommittee member for Higher Education and Healthy Families and Communities, it was fitting that Congressman Tonko was the one to open the 2010 Symposium on Education Reform. He was quoted saying “where there’s an economic need- invest!” He discussed his expectations with respect to education reform, including the need that  public schools train their students to succeed in a global economy; tomorrow’s economy.

At the conclusion of his discussion, he introduced keynote speaker Charles P. Rose, General Counsel for the United States Department of Education and a prominent education and labor attorney. As General Counsel, he is the chief legal officer for the Department and the legal advisor to the Secretary of Education on all matters affecting the Department’s programs and activities. As keynote speaker for the Symposium, Mr. Rose gave a general overview of education reform in the Obama Administration. The overarching goal of education reform, he stated, is to see the United States become the number one country in the world in percentage of college graduates by 2020. In other words, the goal is to produce high school graduates who are college prepared and will ultimately have the ability to successfully compete in the global economy. This goal starts with the K-12 public school education system.

Education is the civil rights issue of this generation, Rose explained, and “we [the United States] need to educate our way into a better economy!” He compared the United States public education systems to the systems of other countries. As many know, there is no federal right to a public education in the United States. Rather, the right to a public education stems from state law and rests solely with local school districts.

Lastly, Rose put the audience in the shoes of the United States Department of Education. He discussed the role of the Department and how the current administration drives its education reform agenda. The main focus of his speech was on the K-12 system public school system, although he did briefly discuss charter schools. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the Department of education was given a 100 billion dollar budget, which was twice its normal budget in recent years. 90 billion of that budget is allocated to states through formulas, such as Title I. The other 10 billion is discretionary. Rose described four ways in which the Department intends to allocate the funds. This includes: 1) the improvement in quality of educators and the equitable distribution of those educators; 2) data; 3) standards/assessments: establish higher, more rigorous standards and assessments; and 4) turning around the lowest performing schools (improving the drop-out rate). In order to accomplish this goal, Rose described a combination of options such as, bully pulpit, regulations, and the use of money to incentivize. This will put the spotlight on the urgent issue of public education reform, he claims.

By doing so, the Department hopes to create competition for the funds. It focuses mainly on three competitions, most notably, the Race to the Top, which is the signature reform of the current administration. This program is a $4.35 billion United States Department of Education program designed to spur reforms in state and local district K-12 education. Rose discussed how state applications for funding will be scored on selection criteria such as: 1) great teachers and leaders; 2) standards and assessments; 3) turning around the lowest-achieving schools; and 4) data systems to support instruction. In his closing statements, Rose brought the audience back to his initial point– in order to catalyze change in education, the Department must focus on preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s economy.

Please join us today (Thursday, Nov. 11th from 2-4PM in the Dean Alexander Moot Court) for Day 2 of Classroom Politics: A Symposium on Education Reform. The rest of the Symposium will consist of a moderated panel discussion which will focus on federal and state education reform. This will be a lively, thoughtful, and informative discussion from some of the leading authorities in the education arena.

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