Duncan Talks Teachers With Ed Week

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 25, 2009 2 min read
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A group of Ed Week reporters and editors met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan yesterday, including Politics K-12 divas Alyson Klein and Michele McNeil. Not about to be out-diva-ed, yours truly talked his way into this powwow and hit up the new Ed Sec with a bunch of teacher-policy questions.

As there’s been so much chatter about performance pay, I decided to focus my questions on other issues that have been raised of late. One was to follow up on President Obama’s recent speech and on language in the FY 2010 budget request that suggest the new administration will take a tougher stance on identifying and removing teachers who don’t improve, even after given intense support.

Duncan gave a bit of a circuitous answer, as you can see from this video.

In a follow-up question, I pressed Duncan to explain which mechanism he’d use—such as a funding stream or program—to help districts identify and reward effective teachers and encourage ineffective ones to move on."This is where I think my job is easy,” Duncan said. “I don’t have to come up with these ideas. There are great programs around the country that are identifying that talent, rewarding that talent different ways.” Such programs should be brought to scale, he added.

He highlighted Chicago’s Teacher Advancement Program as an example of a coordinated system for supporting and advancing teaching talent. Essentially, TAP couples strong systems of professional development and evaluation with performance-based pay. I have a big story on the TAP program coming out next week, so you’ll be able to read a lot more about it soon.

Duncan also said that the incentive or performance-pay programs should not merely reward individual teachers, but also take into account everyone who works in the school building and supports student learning. “When you reward folks, you don’t just want to reward individual teachers, and you don’t want to pit teachers against each other. That’ s a recipe for disaster. Many of these programs haven’t worked because they’ve made teachers shut down,” he said.

Schoolwide performance pay, it should be noted, is also the type favored by Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Interestingly, TAP contains both an individual- and a schoolwide-bonus component. Hmm, could there be a compromise on the horizon?

In demeanor, Duncan makes an interesting contrast to his predecessor Margaret Spellings. Spellings presented herself as alternately folksy and steely, while Duncan is consistently genial. But he remains very on message and, as a result, somewhat less likely to drop the kind of bombshell quotes Spellings was famous for.

We’ll soon have another video and related post for you on Duncan’s views of teacher education, alternative certification, and on the role of the teachers’ unions here at Teacher Beat. And over at Politics K-12, they’ll have more for you on the stimulus.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.