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Michael Fauerbach, Florida Gulf Coast University
The national Meetings in March and April are almost upon us. Randy Knight and the program committee did a great job to provide a variety of interesting sessions for both meetings. If you attend one of the meetings with colleagues or students, please make sure to mention the FEd sponsored sessions to them. Sometimes the forum sessions get lost in the wide variety of topics offered. We should especially encourage more undergraduate and graduate students to attend our sessions. Oftentimes students are so engulfed in their own work that it is hard for them to consider topics outside their direct field of study as being of interest to them. Yet many of them would benefit from attending our sessions. I work at a primarily undergraduate institution and it always amazes me how few of the people that apply for jobs here have a well-thought-out teaching philosophy or can answer questions related to engaging undergraduate students in the classroom or in their research. Those people would have clearly benefitted from attending some of our sessions. This is especially true as our sessions are held in a more intimate setting and it is therefore not so daunting to ask questions or to engage the speakers in discussions after their talks.
Springtime is also the time many legislative issues dealing with (physics) education are coming to the forefront. I strongly urge you to pay close attention to education related issues at the federal, state and local level. At the federal level a new congress is in charge and Tennessee Senator and education committee chair Lamar Alexander already announced plans to revamp the country’s all-important primary and secondary education funding law known as "No Child Left Behind." Currently the draft bill circulated has two options, one would give states a lot of leeway in the amount of testing, and the other one would basically default back to the annual testing schedule. There is an increasing outcry by parent groups about too much testing in schools. I feel that it is time for a national dialogue – led by experts – about the topic of 'how much is too much' and in general about the value of standardized tests versus alternative assessments. Unfortunately, this has not yet happened. My local school district gave in to angry parents who demanded a stop to all state and federally mandated tests. The school district decided to opt out of all the mandated tests. This would have led to none of the students receiving a high school diploma or bright futures scholarships (lottery funds), and the loss of state and federal funds to the school district, because all of these things are coupled to standardized tests. The school district reversed their vote a week later, and only killed all the district-mandated tests. Many parents are still unhappy, but after a couple of highly publicized state-wide meetings, the issue has gotten on the back burner. It is important that we have a national dialogue on many issues relating to education, and this dialogue should not be led by politicians or parents, but by the experts in the field. It should not become a shouting match and the loudest voice should not win by default. Instead it should be a dialogue in which clearly laid out arguments and alternatives are being discussed. That is why it is so important that all of us pay close attention to what is going on in the legislature – at all levels. There are many ways and venues for each one of us to get involved. It can range from contacts with local schools and teachers, to attending school board meetings, writing newspaper editorials, or being engaged with your state’s department of education – they are always looking for 'experts' for input and once they know your name they are more inclined to listen. As a member of the APS and the Forum on Education, you are already engaged in some of the national discussions. It is up to all of us to be actively engaged and to ask ourselves what else we can do to make a difference.