NBC’s Education Nation focuses on teachers and early childhood Monday morning

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is interviewed by Ann Curry at Education Nation on Sept. 26, 2011. (Photo by Nick Pandolfo)

NBC’s big special on education — called Education Nation — is under way today.

This morning the panels and speakers focused on teachers and early childhood learning and the development of a child’s brain. Philanthropists Warren Buffett, Melinda Gates, and early education advocate Suzie Buffett talked with Tom Brokaw and focused largely around teacher quality and how technology can influence the building of a good teacher. Mr. Buffett highlighted the work of philanthropist Tom Cousins in Atlanta, who is developing “purpose-built” communities aimed at combating persistent poverty. A big part of the process is improving education. Buffett has signed on to support the program, calling it “a miracle that can be replicated.” 

Experts then presented research showing what is happening, in real time, inside a child’s brain as he or she is being spoken to or figuring out a puzzle. There was reiteration about how important it is to speak to and engage with young children. Dr. Patricia Kuhl said, “if someone tries to interrupt you while you’re talking to your baby, say ‘Stop, I’m building a brain here.’”

Dr. Elanna Yalow added that early childhood education programs often have teachers who are not certified. “We need to professionalize the field. This is not babysitting.” A panel including early education experts and Hollywood actress Jennifer Garner, an ambassador for Save the Children, concluded their talk with a conversation about making school year-round.

In Seretary of Education Arne Duncan’s talk with Tom Brokaw and Ann Curry, he rehashed what have been his driving points in recent appearances:

-That the U.S. is falling behind internationally and this needs to be addressed; the importance of college and especially community colleges, which he continues to call “unpolished gems”
-The need to reimagine the teaching profession and incentivize good performance
-The need to find a better balance between greater local control and higher national standards