Education Opinion

Burning Questions from Teachers: Meet Our Realities, Mr. Duncan

By Anthony Cody — April 28, 2010 31 min read
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We are getting ready for our talk with Arne Duncan, and the members of Teachers’ Letters to Obama are actively engaged in generating questions and thoughts to share with him. We have been discussing the key issues, and this weekend we asked members for their thoughts on what they would like to say to the Secretary of Education. More than 200 have responded thus far. Here is what is on their minds:

  1. If you continue to insist that pay and job retention should be tied to teacher performance, how do you intend to operationally define “effective teaching”? How will you assure equity among all teachers when: 1) some teachers are not currently subject to high stakes assessments for their students; 2) there is significant disparity from district to district, school to school in the quality of the learning environment, the availability of classroom materials, and the life circumstances of a diverse group of students.
  2. How does he believe we can equip children with the creative and critical thinking skills necessary to advance in the 21st century, if we reduce education to bubbling in test questions and offer them a drill and kill curriculum?
  3. The public school system is not a business and would fail under a business model. Teacher pay should not be linked to test scores. Who will you get to teach?
  4. Does the administration realize the degree of instability it is creating in students’ lives by making teachers’ lives unstable?
  5. How is firing staff helping a failing school?
  6. All efforts in education must be for the students. By tying teacher pay to test results you are NOT focusing on the student. What work is being done to evaluate the growth of each student from year to year? How is Arne Duncan doing as a third grader? How is Arne doing as a fourth grader? How is Arne doing as a fifth grader? Is he making typical growth each year for a child of his age and specific learning needs? AYP benchmarks are unrealistic expectations for students. After all . . . did Arne learn to walk or talk at the same time/age as all of the other children in his class?
  7. How can we trust you if you support merit pay based on student achievement and charter schools that undermine public education? You said recently that a child who has a good teacher for three years has scores that show it. If a child has a bad teacher for three years, the scores show it. What about that child’s home life? Do they go to bed hungry? Do they live in fear? Who are you to determine if a teacher is bad or good. You have never been a classroom teacher. You do not know the realities we face in the classroom every day.
  8. Is there research backing up the value of teaching to a test?
  9. Did you and the President rely only on test scores to choose your children’s schools?
  10. We need to allow MORE creativity in learning, in the classrooms, with our teachers, with our students. We have tested to death. We have KILLED individual thought!!! PLEASE QUIT PAYING TEACHERS FOR SCORES!!!.
  11. In the past several years, the curriculum has become more narrow due to an over-reliance on testing and test scores, resulting in unfair judgment of students based on limited assessment tools. How will you ensure that ALL students have equal access to a well-rounded, deep education that includes and validates the importance of creative, critical thinking skills that will be needed for their future?
  12. What is Duncan’s position on the humanities in general and history education in particular?
  13. Why do we continue to judge our children’s worth and the worth of their teachers by a standardized test that does not measure annual growth when the skills of our children at any given grade level are anything but standard?
  14. Research correlates economic status and nutrition to school achievement, much more so than teacher performance. How are we meeting the fundamental needs of our children first and foremost so that they are physically prepared to meet our academic standards. Teachers can teach children who are safe, well fed and rested. Teachers should not have to focus on these factors when they enter the classroom, but many go above and beyond to meet these needs of their learners since their professional performance is judged solely on test scores.
  15. How can we get back to writing “Individual” Education Plans for our Special Education students? When they all have to meet the same goal which may be out of reach in some cases, their educational experiences cease to be tuned to individual needs and become generically aimed at meeting API for the school.
  16. If funding is linked to test scores, and high performing schools are rewarded, how can The Secretary of Education justify further neglect of the schools that need the most aid?
  17. What are you doing to ensure that children have access to quality libraries inside their schools and communities?
  18. If not following the rules that public schools makes charters such a panacea, why not just let the public school drop all the rules that they have to follow. Then they will have a level playing field with charters, which, by the way, have proven to be no better than public schools in 80% of the cases.
  19. Our students are not being prepared for the real world when we narrow their elementary experience to reading and math. SO much of science and social studies CAN be related to reading and math, too! NO NEED to eliminate it! Funds should be withheld from schools that do NOT include EVERY subject - including art, music, and P.E., too!
  20. What valid study gives him the crazy idea that a teacher can force ALL students to advance at least one year/level in subject mastery every year? Is there any place for freedom of the student to make (bad) choices and family culture in his thinking?
  21. Since we can not agree on any test currently in use to measure the essence of what student achievement should look like, why not switch the evaluative part of our school performance to a more individualized and student-centered measurement?
  22. Why, in the face of research showing high-stakes testing and charter schools are not effective, is the Obama Blueprint still relying on these flawed ideas?
  23. Where is the Education’s “bailout”? We continue to deal with all of the negative, degrading aspects of NCLB, and on top of it, are dealing with 1) job loss 2) if haven’t lost job, increase in class size 3) unpaid furlough days 4) percentage salary cuts. Everything has gotten so negative and dismal in public school education that excellent, knowledgeable teachers are leaving the career in record numbers.
  24. Upon examination of reconstituted schools several years later, do you feel that they each are living up to the promise of said reconstitution, or if not, why not?
  25. What kind of employee would YOU want on your staff? One who can creatively solve problems, collaborate with others, examine multiple points of view on a topic.... or one who can memorize facts for a multiple choice test?
  26. I see “over-reliance on test scores for high stakes decisions” to be the cause of many problems in national education policy. That practice leads to the related problems of narrowed curriculum (in history, civics, and the arts) and teacher pay for test scores. My question is simple: Why are you continuing down the damaging path set by the Bush administration and NCLB instead of bringing a halt to these tests that actually eliminate learning time?
  27. What process do you propose for regulating and/or increasing funding in order to address the outrageous funding inequities in our nation’s schools?
  28. I would ask Duncan if he feels that the kind of education promoted by NCLB and The Race to the Top (of the volcano) is designed to provide quality education or factoids to marshall in the privatization of public education.
  29. Would you like to come teach my class for a month and then get paid based upon the results?
  30. What are we doing as an educational system to ensure the students of today and tomorrow are equipped to tackle what will be the next generations questions?
  31. When are we going to stop overtesting in schools?
  32. Just as colleges and universities throughout the country have begun to devalue and deemphasize SAT scores as reliable indices of student success, public schools are doing just the opposite in their increasing emphasis on standardized test measures. At my school, faculty meetings have become recitations of ‘benchmark’ scores, with kudos to teachers whose students’ scores are up and quiet embarrassment for teachers whose students were low performers. My question to Mr. Duncan is how he would propose teaching students whose difficult socioeconomic circumstances and disinterested parent(s) have influenced them to devalue education, resent authority of any type and disrupt the instructional efforts of talented teachers who have brought ingenuity and imagination to their lesson plans. We have students in 8th grade who cannot read and are disinterested in learning how to read. Mr. Duncan says we should not ‘blame’ other elements of the education system, but we continually wonder how these nonreaders have progressed to the middle school level without being able to read! We have implemented a school-wide, literacy program designed specifically to raise literacy levels. It may work to some small degree; however, I think that any objective assessment of the situation in many schools would conclude that unless we employ programs specifically targeted to the young, black male population, we will continue to fail in the eyes of the world. Recently, I taught a social studies class in which we compared literacy rates between the U.S., Russia and all other European countries. For almost EVERY country, including Russia, America lagged behind in literacy. Mr. Duncan needs to focus his efforts on literacy, with specific attention to low-performing African-American males. The data is already there; the teachers in most schools (regardless of scores) are talented and want the students to learn, but the pointillistic strategy of current education philosophy is weakening our formerly strong, American system of education. As colleges have learned, scores don’t tell the story of an applicant; in some situations, college administrators have decided that scores are completely irrelevant to the selection process. Perhaps Mr. Duncan and his staff should consult with these college educators who have discovered that traditional grading systems are far more valuable in predicting student success than are one-day-only scores.
  33. To sum up, how does Mr. Duncan plan to address the score-documented evidence of the disparity between black and white students? Is he taking into consideration the socioeconomic and familial backgrounds of students who have not yet been ‘touched and inspired’ by a teacher? It’s nice to able to idealize and romanticize the education process, but does Mr. Duncan understand that the realities of our students’ situations may not match his rosy expectations that a teacher can completely erase these realities and miraculously transform his 30+ classes of low level readers to suddenly become “Freedom Writers.” Come on! As a matter of fact, please invite Mr. Duncan to visit just a few of the thousands of schools in our country where teachers are the ONLY adults in a student’s life that do have faith in his possibilities of success. We need strategies and researched evidence, not more useless testing and condemnation of a profession that is the last hope for many of these children.
  34. How can continuing to give sanctions rather than support to “failing” schools do anything more than INCREASE the inequities for poor, minority, and special education students?
  35. Why are we tying teacher pay and evaluations to test scores? We prove ourselves on a daily basis in the classroom and there are so many more aspects of a child that teachers affect other than that one-time test score. Where does instilling a love of reading to a child who never willingly picked up a book come in? Building up a child’s self-esteem? Making a child feel “safe” or allowing a student a place to explore. We are not given credit for any of the hundreds of things we do for our students when we put our heart and souls into our jobs and only get recognized for a test score.
  36. Why does the state feel charter schools are the way to go? If we have a clear vision and the funds to carry it out, we can succeed as well or better than charter schools.
  37. In all the talk of accountability I have not seen any mention of accountability for parents. It is difficult in my elementary setting to get parents to make sure children are at school on time, stay for the full day, and keep absences to a minimum. I know it is more difficult for the high school people who are responsible to teach them and test them but cannot seem to find a way to make them come to school. Are there any plans in the works for having parent accountability be a component of student evaluation?
  38. Why not focus your efforts on bringing more resources to improve the planning and success of each student and parent?
  39. How do we expand students’ thinking and analytical skills if we are basing their education on multiple choice and rote memorization of facts?
  40. If there is indeed a race to the top that has money funded, who explains to the kids, families, and communities, why the national government thinks kids should ever lose when it comes to funding for their education?
  41. Knowing that it takes English Language Learners 5-7 years to master Academic English, how can we expect students to succeed on state-wide reading assessments when they’ve only been in our country for one year?
  42. How do you propose to provide equal funding for all schools so that all students have the same opportunities?
  43. When are we going to make parents accountable-especially in the inner city?
  44. I am very concerned about the increasing unrealistic expectations being placed on our children in our public schools. Standardized testing is now driving the curriculum, forcing teachers to push subject matter and skills before children are ready. Public schools and school districts are forced to keep up with the myriad of developmentally inappropriate benchmarks laid out in NCLB. It seems as if common sense has gone by the wayside. Our haphazard approach to reform is hurting our children. Year after year, policy-makers just keep raising the academic bar, and parents and schools continue to scramble to try and meet these unrealistic standards. And when some of our students don’t or can’t succeed in this developmentally distorted environment, parents and children are made to feel like, and many schools and teachers are publicly labeled, “failures”. As a result my profession has been demoralized, and my students are never given the credit their young bright minds deserve. How do you plan to restore/repair the damage done to my profession as a result of this punitive nightmare? What supports are going to be provided to those who work in the most challenging districts?
  45. Why divert public school funds for charter schools?
  46. Teachers are required to teach the same curriculum to all students while, at the same time, differentiating for each student’s needs - ability and learning style. When will teachers be allowed to teach using their abilities and teaching styles to best meet the needs of the students instead of following a script to prepare for a test?
  47. Reading is key to success and poor reading is why many fail. How will you make reading a priority for all students?
  48. If American schools are not working now, why do you want us to keep doing what we are doing?
  49. Why would you even consider cutting funding for National Writing Project, the only writing program with a national network of its kind?
  50. Why must everything be tested with a multiple choice test? At what point will teachers’ assessment of a student’s ability be trusted again?
  51. How do we assure that special ed students will succeed to their highest ability in the inclusion classroom. The tests are not geared for them, teachers can’t teach individually when the child needs it , yet with inclusion no one is advocating for these children especially with the loss of ESEA and Title1 funding. Is this the next subgroup that will continue to fail?
  52. How are teachers accountable for student success when once a student leaves us they go home to a family that doesn’t help them succeed? We can’t do it all by ourselves, the parents have to have some sort of accountability as well.
  53. How we can expect teachers to be !00% responsible for educating our children- Teachers spend 5-6 hrs with students daily. What about the other 18 hrs for these kids- what about their lives? Some of these children’s only structure- food- comfort- come from their school day. I don’t want my pay being based on the student that hasn’t eaten a decent meal- never went to bed last night. I want to give support to these kids but not at the expense of my paycheck when I can’t control the variables that come into my classroom.
  54. When are you going to acknowledge that teachers are highly trained professionals who need a much, much stronger voice when decisions are made?? So often, these committees are composed of either non-educators or individuals who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for decades!
  55. How will we use authentic assessments (this means formative - ongoing assessments that actually show what students know and are learning) rather than focusing on the facts and disconnected information gathered on multiple choice tests?
  56. With overwhelming evidence that pay for performance does not work, why are you and other education leaders still proposing this?
  57. What can the Department of ED do NOW - since reauthorization may take awhile to get through the “political process” - to begin the shift towards a more balanced education that emphasizes art, music, creative and critical thinking?
  58. If your experiment in Chicago has proven to be a failure, how can you persist in the quest to replicate this failed model?
  59. How will you rectify the over-emphasis on narrowly-based, multiple choice tests which only serve to limit the curriculum and deprive students of the opportunity for critical thinking and experiential teaching?
  60. How can we get funds to innovative thinkers who aren’t tied to a school district?
  61. Will you implement the strategies that prepare the students of today with the skills needed to be the well rounded citizens of tomorrow? What do you intend to do to help me educate the next generation of American citizens?
  62. In what ways do you center respect for the classroom teacher’s role in each of your decisions?
  63. How can this administration legitimately believe tying teacher pay to test scores is a viable idea without truly seeing that it takes fixing multiple problems to make that concept even close to equitable? Parents must prepare children to learn; communities must support the best possible learning environments; school administrators must give up petty disagreements and work with teachers for the good of the students - ALL this has to occur before we can even begin to think that only teachers can affect student test scores.
  64. Why not put more time and money into public schools rather than drain their resources by opening up more charter schools?
  65. Will you pledge to read Diane Ravitch’s book, “The Death and Life of the Great American Public School”?
  66. I would ask him why isn’t there a call to action when over 300,000 teachers will be out of jobs? If this loss was in the banking industry, automotive industry or medicine all legislators would be calling for a bill to stop the bleeding. This is a democracy that depends on the educated citizens to participate in their government.
  67. As an educator, I want to be and expect to be held accountable for my students and how they perform. How do we creatively, effectively and inexpensively do this?
  68. Why do you think standardized tests are the best way to measure student achievement?.
  69. Why are you bullying schools and educators into taking steps that have not been shown to improve achievement in the slightest, and refusing to listen to those with actually experience and knowledge in education?
  70. When was the last time he spent a day alone in a classroom in a high poverty school?
  71. How would teacher pay and evaluation be protected from bias? An administrator could easily create a class that would insure teacher success and the converse. Additionally, I have several classified students in my class who are pulled-out of my room for 2.5 hours a day - How could I be held accountable for their performance on tests? I would prefer to see the assessment of an ongoing professional portfolio that would be host on an open source program such as IBM’s Sakai. The portfolio would require each teacher to demonstrate competency and professional growth in many dimensions. Test scores could be part of that I suppose but the tests are so statistically unreliable. Do you foresee the possibility of something like this?
  72. When can we respect the profession?
  73. Why don’t we reward actual learning over test scores?
  74. How can a one day snapshot of a student accurately assess a teacher’s performance?
  75. How does our political leadership justify the emphasis on high stakes, multiple choice testing when educators are continually reminded that we need more creative and scientific thinkers in order to “compete” with other nations and educational systems?
  76. Mr. Duncan consistently explains the need for a well rounded education and supports Music, Art, PE. What is he going to do to stop states from cutting these programs which give students an outlet for their creativity and provides education in teamwork and much more?
  77. Reconstituting “failing” schools means that children who do poorly on standardized tests are punished. I have been in a school which was “failing”. At the same time that our school was closed, we received $3,000 bonuses due to our “achievements”. Changing the number of a school, changing the principal, changing the faculty has done nothing to improve our school, as the children, their parents, the community, the problems are the same. If you do not address the problems befalling children living in poverty you are living in denial. What can be done about this?
  78. Tell us about your experience TEACHING in a public school and how that shapes your policies.
  79. Thank you for having this conversation with teachers. We have been trying to convince
  80. policymaker at all levels of government that our expertise is critical to effective policy design and implementation. This conversation, then, is an exception to our typical experience interacting with policymakers. What would it take for teachers to be consulted regularly on education policy?
  81. What educational researchers or theorists do you use to help formulate your decisions when faced with creating policy?
  82. How do you make a child care about test scores when there is no recourse for a bad score? It is not tied into their grades, promotion, or transcript. Students could care less about how they perform. It’s like saying “pretty please take this test so I won’t be fired or have a pay cut. If they refuse to take the test (or just play around), it should be discarded.
  83. The standardization of education on so many levels is harming so many children. Students and the situations they come from are in no way standard. Why the move in so many arenas (from standardized testing to standardized, scripted curricula) to act on this false premise?
  84. How can we turn away from school reform ideas that blame, punish, and disrespect teachers and instead move toward supporting teachers’ professional growth and development to ensure that all students receive quality instruction?
  85. I have two burning questions. 1. In my opinion, the kind of teachers we need to educate our future generation are highly educated, committed, and have proven their capacity to develop and teach lessons contingent on the needs of each student through programs such as the National Boards. Highly qualified teachers deserve just compensation, deserve the power of autonomy to use and develop the curriculum best suited for their students, and deserve to be recognized for the important and challenging word they do everyday. So far, I have seen nothing but the undermining and disparagement of this profession as a result of NCLB and now RTTT. Year after year, I have seen the kind of teacher I describe above leave my school in Oakland, my district and even the teaching profession due to NCLB policies that have forced scripted programs into their classrooms. taken away any decision-making power of educating their students, and eroded the joy of teaching and learning. What are you doing to elevate the profession of teaching and to encourage the talented and creative teachers to stay in teaching? 2. I believe that merit-based pay is a disastrous idea. First, it encourages competition amongst teachers in a profession that relies on collaboration. And second, it discourages teachers to work in area with high-needs and / or transient populations in which high test scores are much harder to achieve. I believe this will only serve to exacerbate the already unacceptable achievement gap. How do you respond to these two arguments?
  86. Research tells us poverty has, in general, a strong negative effect on achievement in schools. Grants may be a start but are insufficient to treat the scope of the problem. What other initiatives is the Department of Education considering?
  87. Why is there an over-reliance on high stakes testing with little or no consideration on the diverse needs of all American students and with varying levels of funding available within each state?
  88. Charter schools have never been proven to be better than traditional schools and yet they are a major part of the current school reform model. Why is that? I visited one recently and was disturbed to see that there was no library and few books for the children to read. In addition, the goal of the curriculum included having the teachers in each grade be on the same page in the book at all times. This is not only non-innovative, it’s a step backwards. Yet this school advertises itself as having an advanced philosophy and better resources for students than the public schools. Why should a school like this be allowed to siphon off funds from public schools in the name of innovation?
  89. Why do people who have no experience as teachers in the classroom have so much influence in making education policy? Anyone with classroom experience, especially in struggling schools are tired of being disrespected, ignored, and vilified by people who have no clue about the challenges we face, yet rarely are we given the opportunity to craft policy in our own field of experience.
  90. Considering the uncertainty of a complete overhaul of the immigration system, what services and protection will schools provide for children of immigrant parents or who are illegal immigrants themselves?
  91. How does a multiple choice test measure a student’s ability to think critically about an issue and then communicate his or her ideas in writing?
  92. I would like to know what ways we can come together to create schools with strong arts programs which can lead to much needed practice in creative/critical thinking? The arts are a sorely underutilized tool which can be used to help build bridges across the curriculum and help make the students make connections? How can we effectively get that message out?
  93. The Associated Press reported on May 28, 2008 reported that candidate Obama had stated at a town-hall meeting in Thornton, Co.: “Democrat Barack Obama said ‘U.S. students must learn a second or even third language or the country will struggle to compete in a global economy.’” WHY IS YOUR “ESEA BLUEPRINT” MUTE ON THIS MATTER?”
  94. Tests only measure the number of questions a student can answer correctly, not precisely what a student *knows* or can do. Are you so sure all the billions of dollars spent producing tests (from which the student learns nothing beyond a possible hatred for the subject) is a good way to allocate resources and to measure “achievement”? Teachers are jumping through more and more hoops in order to attain certification. Our tax dollars are supporting huge programs for teacher certification. If you cannot trust the certification process, what are we paying for? If teachers taught classes within communities of collaboration--like they do in Japanese elementary schools where teaching is a valued and respected profession--watching and critiquing each others lessons, wouldn’t you be able to trust them to be the professionals they have trained to be and to police themselves within their own communities, rather than needing to test the children to death to be certain the teachers are doing their jobs (when we are not even sure that the tests measure anything really valuable)?
  95. Does a nation of imaginative, critical, outside-the-box thinkers offend/frighten/concern you? If not, then why are policy makers so eager and determined to make sure that these are *not* the kinds of thinkers we are trying to nurture in our public schools?
  96. All of these ideas are from a large urban point of view. Most of America is comprised of small rural schools and many of those have races and ethnicities that are being harmed by the Bush / Duncan policies. There is not any flexibility to be used in many of these places and they are drastically underfunded because of the antiquated formulas and property poor areas. So my question is (and you can try to word this “nicer”), if your plan will only worsen conditions in a small rural community on an Indian Reservation like Nespelem, WA, or a small rural community with many migrant families like Granger, WA, then why the hell would you implement it?
  97. I wrote 100, sent them, of them the most critical point I’d make is a better growth model, limiting testing to 3rd, 8th, 11th grade and using that for Federal looks ( if keeping the other then inform schools with it for planning) and of course questioning at great length the FACT that poor children are narrowed in these designs. I see nothing to assist poverty environments. BUT we are in some CRITICAL times with class sizes ballooning in CA record lay-offs. My question might be, HAVE YOU BEEN AWAKE?
  98. I have seen kids who have been sick, who had a relative die tragically come to school to take one of these high stakes test. Some students haven’t eaten; didn’t get enough sleep; their parent didn’t come home. How can you justify putting so much on the line based on one test on one day (more or less)?
  99. What do you see as the top ten skills needed to acquire a middle class job after high school graduation?
  100. My major concern is the lack of any focus on shared responsibility for making public education what it should be... “It takes a community...” How do you intend to encourage/support families and teachers to collaborate on behalf of 21st century learning?
  101. When considering the role of the federal government in public education, do you agree that the ESEA’s intention was to address “failing” schools and any and all components of the educational needs of the children in those schools?
  102. The more you vilify and belittle teachers, the less attractive you make the position to outstanding new teacher candidates. How do you plan to improve the pipeline of new teachers while continuing your campaign of negativity against existing teachers?
  103. What do you intend to do to assure that our public schools are all excellent and equal?
  104. Why aren’t developmentally appropriate practices being considered when creating and using standardized test assessments for young children grades K - 5? Developmentally appropriate practices (see NAEYC) deem standardized testing of young children invalid and not a true measure of their capabilites. Authentic assessment of children in their natural environment ,not a testing one, is a better measure of their true capabilities. Authentic assessment includes, anecdotal notes, checklist, and portfolios to name a few. Teachers can be trained in the process and the assessment can assist a teacher in developing curriculum goals. This is a more appropriate method of instruction for young children as opposed to “teaching the test”.
  105. How do we accomplish developing creative/critical thinking skills and preparing students for the real world they will enter, while at the same time making educational decisions focused on raising multiple choice test scores.
  106. How are we ever going to get schools that that address the core principles and values we cherish if we do not include local stakeholders and experts in the conversation? Whatever happened to the old truism that governing boards (be they at the local or the national level ... and all levels in between) concern themselves with matters of policy while the local stakeholders worry about implementation?
  107. Why is so much money spent on “reforms” that have not been proven valid and/or effective?
  108. How can states and districts have more control on a local level of how they manage teacher hiring/firing?
  109. Why are teacher certifications tied to issues that do not relate to a teacher’s subject area? Why can’t skilled professionals easily transition to teaching? It seems that teacher programs are weak, and yet the smartest people can’t become teachers unless they entered an education program as undergrads. Teachers should be urged to be more highly qualified and ALSO be more highly paid, with more protections. Too many good teachers leave teaching--how will Mr. Duncan work to stop the good teacher loss??
  110. Recent events like those in Wake County (NC), where the school board has moved away from its longstanding policy of keeping schools diverse based on families’ economic backgrounds, seem to indicate the tenuous commitment of the public to educational opportunity for all students. What can we as teachers do to help strengthen the national commitment to educational opportunity, and what will your Department and Office of Civil Rights do to advance the same mission?
  111. Is the purpose of education to build a strong economy (if so, why are you ignoring facts that despite strong test scores in Japan, their economy suffered for ten years and despite lagging test scores in our country, the economy flourished), or is the purpose of education to build a strong democracy that results in a just and stable economy?
  112. How can he, or any agency, expect teachers to be paid for performance that is only slightly related to their own actions? When parents and communities are “paid” for performance as well, equities can be addressed.
  113. How can a teacher be “held accountable” for the education of a student, when there are far more variables outside the teacher’s control than inside?
  114. My one question: With the current overemphasis on testing taking up all the class time, students get no time for creative growth. Why does the administration continue to support NCLB, given the devastating impact on our children?
  115. How have your formed your stance? What research have your read? Have you heard teachers? Why do you continue to ignore the teachers?
  116. Any of the points about test scores would be the most important points. I don’t believe that test scores tell us what a student has learned; they only tell us how well a student can take a test. Besides that, students learn in many different ways, and should be assessed in many different ways. In addition, on test day, many things contribute to how well students do on tests: sleep, food, test anxiety, etc.
  117. What evidence does he have that firing principals/teachers improves student performance in any meaningful way?
  118. How are you going to re-empower teachers to use their own professional judgment to meet the needs of their own students?
  119. If we fire half the teachers who dare to teach in a “low” performing school, who do you think will take the job in the subsequent years for such a school? How many highly qualified teachers will never dare to take such a job?
  120. Where will the students have access to good reading materials if the school libraries are not staffed and are all closed?
  121. How will you assure that a **valid system of assessment** is built to assess teacher quality?
  122. Pay-for-performance (i.e.getting away from the seniority model) is important - but we need to define performance more broadly that test score alone. All teachers should be required to have a professional development plan, and that should be a big part of determining whether teachers get raises or not.
  123. Why aren’t we basing teacher evaluation on research that shows what good teaching is instead of on test scores?
  124. Lack of funding for teacher training and in-service at the beginning of each school year. We need about 5 paid days to get going each year before school starts, and we need time throughout the year to train each other and regroup. Too much Prof. Dev. is happening on unpaid time, or not happening at all!!
  125. Because of the focus on getting the kids to score well on reading, writing, and math tests, science and social studies are being discarded from the primary grades.
  126. Where is PARENT/FAMILY accountability? Why does everyone say it’s Teachers’ fault when students aren’t proficient? How can families be held accountable (either tax credits, etc.) for making sure kids make it to school, learn their math facts and spelling words, and try their best at school? Too often teachers are trying to “fix” broken families, when our job SHOULD be to teach academics to students who come prepared to learn.
  127. Tying teacher pay to student success would be fine if a) all students started at the same place and b) the end goal could be consistent from one student to the next. This isn’t possible. Every child, every school, every district is unique. How will you address the fact that teachers will be assessed on their students’ successes when the journey for each student (and the distance each has to travel to reach “standard”) is different?
  128. Can common standards be culturally fair and allow for context in education, not just content?
  129. I want to know when we are going to focus on the individual child’s overall well-being opposed to a simple test score?

What do YOU think? What would be YOUR question or statement for Mr. Duncan?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.