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Memorandum: Cabinet Level Responses to Schools in Crisis

April 20, 2011





DATE: 4/20/11


On the PBS News Hour earlier tonight (4/20/11), Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke about recent problems encountered among air traffic controllers.  News Hour correspondent Gwen Ifill asked LaHood about some specific incidents, and then asked about the general safety of air travel.  Probing a bit further, she asked about one potential cause to explain why some air traffic controllers have been falling asleep on the job.

GWEN IFILL: How widespread a problem is fatigue? That seems to have been a factor in so many of these cases.

RAY LAHOOD: Well, we have extended rest time. We’ve listened to what controllers have told us. And we have expanded rest time from eight hours to nine hours.

Our administrator is out around the country talking to controllers, talking about workplace, talking about rest times. If we need to do more, if we need to extend it, we will do it. We’re not going to just sit by and continue to do things the way they have been done in the past. If changes need to be made, we’ll make them.

Considering how recently these events have transpired, we applaud Secretary LaHood for prompt and concrete steps to begin improving work conditions for air traffic controllers.  As essential professional members of the nation’s workforce, with responsibility for the safety, care and education of tens of millions of children, America’s public school teachers deserve the same type of rapid and productive response to the urgent problems in our workplace.  We hereby request the following:

1.  Dispatch ten staff members from the Department of Education to meet with school personnel around the country.  At least 90% of that meeting time should be spent with teachers, instructional aides, librarians, custodians, and school site administrators; district level administrators may be consulted in the remaining 10% of the allotted time, or deferred until some future date.  DOE staff members should visit one school site per day for two weeks.

2.  Assign ten staff members to conduct the same type of information gathering by phone and email for the same time period.

3.  At the end of two weeks, take three days to compile and analyze the results.  On the fourth day, Secretary Duncan will announce immediate actions the Department can take to provide regulatory relief and policy improvements addressing the needs found at school sites.  On the fifth day, the President should identify other specific relief measures that he will address by proposing legislation to the Congress within the next ten days.

Because the administration has consistently emphasized the urgency of improving America’s public schools, we expect you will react with the same appropriate haste, resolve, and responsiveness that Secretary LaHood demonstrated in recent weeks, culminating in today’s announcements.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne permalink
    April 21, 2011 5:26 am

    I understand we can’t keep funding a broken system and I don’t want that. I don’t want more money for bloated administrations.

    That said I don’t believe children are the ones to carry the burdens of a system that isn’t properly administered and maintained.

    Children can’t be the one that pay for adults not doing their jobs.

    Please act now to help our children be prepared move into our democratic citizenry.

  2. April 21, 2011 9:43 am

    Just one word: brilliant.

  3. Lynne Formigli permalink
    April 25, 2011 11:57 am

    I’m afraid the air traffic controllers are a perfect example of how the administration is getting it wrong. They have the research which clearly shows the best way to avoid accidents is to let the controllers take a nap during their shift (while someone else watches the planes) However, they refuse to implement this solution because they are worried about the perception of paying air traffic controllers to take naps. Apparently, perception trumps safety and the risk of loss of life. Implementing solutions that sound good, but have no basis in research? Hmm… that brings something else to mind

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      April 25, 2011 2:15 pm

      I agree Lynne, both in terms of the air traffic controllers deserving a more evidence-based policy, and the implied analogy to education policy imposed in blatant disregard of the research consensus. Still, despite the flaws, I was struck by the overall attitude and practicality in LaHood’s remarks, enough that I thought it worth suggesting something quick, urgent, and straightforward for schools. Amazingly, I’ve not heard back from the President or the Secretary. 😉

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