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Duncan Talks Merit Pay and Standards, Again, Some More

By Alyson Klein — March 11, 2009 2 min read
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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held a conference call with reporters today to expand on President Barack Obama’s major education speech, but the secretary didn’t offer any surprising new developments.

As Michele said yesterday, reporting from the Council of Chief State School Officers annual meeting, it sounds like the Department really wants states to develop more uniform academic standards and will be keeping that in mind as federal officials craft the Race to the Top grant program, which will dole out at least $4.35 billion in grants to improve student achievement.

“We want those states to work together,” Duncan said. “Having a set of states do their thing in isolation does not make sense.”

And, yesterday I mentioned that there seemed to besome confusion on just how those incentive pay programs Obama talked up in his speech would shake out. Duncan offered some clarification in today’s conference call, but there are still plenty of potential questions.

Duncan said he thought that student achievement, as demonstrated by test scores, were “a piece we should look for” in crafting alternative pay systems, but not the only thing. And he stressed that it’s “really important to get teacher input.”

He used the line NEA president Dennis Van Roekel praised yesterday, “the idea of doing stuff with people rather than to them is really important.” But of course, NEA, at least, hasn’t been a fan of tying pay to test scores. So we’ll see whether Duncan can achieve some sort of happy medium with teachers unions.

Stephanie Banchero, a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, Duncan’s hometown paper, asked a great question in the conference call about whether the administration had considered research on charters and merit pay before pushing those policies. (Research has been a big Obama administration theme). While she said there’s plenty of research behind expanding pre-K programs, another key piece of the plan, the research on charters and merit pay “is a little murkier.”

Duncan pretty much ducked that one, and instead descended into a long explanation of why he and Obama want to expand charters, but would close those that aren’t performing well.

“I think there’s big variation,” he said. “And what we want to do is scale up what works.... No one is arguing that charter schools are the answer. What we want to look at are those operators, those players, that have a demonstrated ability to dramatically improve student achievement.”

It was a good answer on a charter question... but that’s not exactly what Stephanie asked.So I’m still wondering what role research will play here. (And do all you alert ed-researchers and wonks out there think that the research on charters and incentive pay is somewhat murky? Hit up the comments section of this blog.)

Finally, some reporters from Florida asked whether their state would be getting a waiver from the maintenance of effort provisions in the stimulus. Duncan reiterated the Department’s claim that it will be looking at how much education was cut in proportion to other programs and services when deciding who gets waivers. And he said the Department would move expeditiously in Florida’s case. (Here at Politics K-12, we think we’vealready answeredtheir question).

UPDATE: For those of you wondering just when you’ll get which pieces of the stimulus money, check out this handy chart from the Department of Education.

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