Friday, July 08, 2011

Interview with Rep. Jared Polis

by Noah Geisel

Thanks in part to the democratization of communication that Twitter sometimes enables, I had a chance this week to interview Colorado Congressman Jared Polis. Readers of TeachPaperless may already know about Rep. Polis and certainly have reason to be interested in what he has to say about education issues: Prior to being elected to Congress in 2008, the millionaire dot com entrepreneur served on the Colorado State Board of Education, founded two charter schools and served as superintendent of the New America School, a network of four charter schools in Colorado and New Mexico that helps new immigrant students learn English. I asked Rep. Polis about 21st Century Skills, closing the achievement gap, the role of community involvement and education leadership.

What career and life skills do you believe are essential to success after high school?

Rep. Polis: Preparing students to compete and win in the global economy is essential for America’s future. That means building on the basics that our parents understood as a part of school curriculum—literacy, math, and civics—and fostering technological literacy, creativity, critical analysis, problem solving and teamwork. These skills will serve every child well in school, work and life.

What do our schools need to do to prepare students for life in 2020? 2050?

Rep. Polis: We cannot abide schools that fail to ready students to achieve in life and succeed in an increasingly competitive global market. The single best guarantee of our children’s success in school is an excellent teacher in every classroom. It’s also critical to have an effective principal in every school building. Peer learning, mentoring and continuous, high quality professional development have all been found to improve instruction.

We must also increase our investments in reading, writing, math, science, social studies and technology instruction, as well as ensure that students have a well-rounded education, including social studies, arts, and physical and health education. We also need to recognize that our constantly changing economy requires lifetime learning, from quality early childhood education, to improved K-12, through college and beyond.

How can we create more high quality learning environments to close the achievement gap?

Rep. Polis: Robustly funded public schools remain the best way to close the achievement gap. When a school is failing, there must be accountability for administrators and teachers as well as funding available to new leadership to reform a school using evidence-based turnaround models that improve student performance. America’s children must never be trapped in schools that fail to prepare them to compete and win in the global economy.

Reform must always be tied to resources that help districts, administrators and teachers promote excellent schools. Across the board, we must invest more in quality pre-schools, quality teacher professional development, including a focus on disadvantaged students, data-driven individualized instruction, including access to public school choice such as quality charter schools and online programs, dropout prevention and recovery, and access to higher education.

What role do business and community leaders need to play and how easy is it for those who want to contribute to get involved in these learning environments?

Rep. Polis: Business and community leaders can become involved in improving public education in a variety of ways. They can contribute funds to school and school district foundations; serve on those foundations; participate in school and school district accountability committees by offering assistance and advice on instruction and other supports to students; provide leadership in public school communities by convincing other business and community leaders to be involved in school activities; support schools by volunteering their time at events and activities; and offer service learning internships for students. If entrepreneurs want to grow their businesses they have a vested interest in ensuring that their public schools are producing a well-prepared workforce.

Regarding school leadership, what needs to be done at the district, university and state department of education levels to prepare and develop school leaders?

Rep. Polis: It simply makes sense to align higher education admissions and K-12 standards. If we’re not preparing our children to enter college then we’re not supporting the kind of workforce we’ll need for the future. We should also hold teacher preparation programs accountable by linking their teachers’ students’ test scores back to each higher education institution.

Higher education institutions should coordinate with K-12 to prioritize the development of effective school leaders, including principals. Higher education departments, state education departments, and school districts should facilitate concurrent enrollment programs for all students. K-12 and higher education officials should also be in regular communication regarding issues related to college remediation, graduation requirements, college access, standards and assessments.


  1. Most of what he says sounds good to me, but he seems to be drinking the Kool-Aid on test scores being the only way of deciding if students (and subsequently their teachers) are succeeding. This is concerning for a number of reasons, most of which we all know and don't need to be rehashed.

  2. Great point on the test score Kool-Aid, Ryan. As you say, we know this is concerning; for teachers wanting policy folks intent on "accountability" to look at other/multiple measures, what measures should we be pushing them to consider?

  3. thanks for sharing Noah..

    in regard to your - what measures should we be pushing to consider for folks intent on accountability - i'm thinking...

    another answer to your 3rd question:
    city as floorplan - ie: Dennis Littky's the Met

    and to your 4th question:
    community members as mentors in ongoing feedback loops to kids - per their interest driven learning/doing


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