In a passionate speech before 400 gathered Harvard alumni, Professor Harry Spence talked at length about the school's new Doctor of Education Leadership Program, calling it "a groundbreaking move" that represents a quantum change in the training of future school and institutional leaders.
Spence's remarks, delivered October 22 at the annual fall awards ceremony of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), comes one month after the announcement of the Ed School's first new degree initiative in 73 years, a practice-based doctoral program that will bring together faculty from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business School to work with 25 candidates who will earn an Ed.L.D. in three years' time.
As Spence explained, the new degree is a unique and needed response to address the nation's troubled K-12 system of public education, one that lags behind international peers when comparing graduation rates as well as test scores in math and other subject areas. Utilizing charts and slides, Spence peppered his speech with facts and figures, noting that since the 1970s, "we've seen a vast increase in expenditures for strikingly little gain" in the area of education.
"This is our aspirational goal," said Spence, the former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) and codirector of the new degree program. "We believe that any organization, in order to move, needs a North Star. Ours is the transformation of American K-12 education. That is an audacious goal, but it is one the nation has to hold."
Spence also spoke on the genesis of this initiative, noting that it was conceived by Dean Kathleen McCartney after former Harvard President Lawrence Summers had posed the question, "What would you do if you could?"
"This was her response," said Spence. "She speaks of the important merging of practice, policy, and research. And I share that view, that this nexus of policy, practice, and research is centrally important to the school."
Set to launch in August 2010, Spence said it is the hope that the 25 candidates admitted will remain as a strong, deeply connected cohort "who will affect change in a range of environments and across all boundaries" in the years ahead.
Seated among the HAA audience during Spence's speech was Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary at the Department of Education and a 1985 graduate of Harvard College, who told an anecdote of his 10th Harvard reunion when he encountered a classmate who had achieved success in the corporate world but was dismayed that Jennings, a fellow Ivy League graduate, had spent the past decade as a teacher. It is crucial, he said, to change this perspective.
"Teachers have made enormous sacrifices to go into this profession," said Jennings, who added that he was making $31,000 at the time as a history teacher and is "the only senior official in the Department of Education with significant classroom experience." Jennings asked Spence to allow practicing teachers to be a part of the new program, which he called "outstanding."
"We are rooting for you and for this program to succeed," said Teresita Alvarez Bjelland, president of Harvard Alumni Association. "It is a wonderful program because it shows a way forward."