Sec. Duncan Proposes Teacher-Leadership Initiative

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 14, 2014 2 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is pledging to begin an initiative with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to promote teacher leadership throughout the United States.

The announcement about “Teach to Lead” came at the inaugural Teaching & Learning conference, hosted here by the National Board.

“Our aim is to encourage schools, districts, and even states all across the country to provide more opportunities for authentic, genuine teacher leadership that doesn’t require them to leave their daily role in classrooms,” Duncan said to an audience largely composed of board-certified teachers. “We’ll convene a group of teachers, principals, teachers’ groups, and district leaders. They will take the steps necessary not to create some whitepaper that will decorate shelves, but to create real commitments around new opportunities.”

In his remarks, Duncan said that too many teachers have had to go into administration to receive pay boosts or new work challenges.

And he acknowledged that many teachers have felt overwhelmed by, or not included in, efforts to raise expectations for students (read: the Common Core State Standards, which Duncan did not once actually name in his 30-minute presentation) or to establish new teacher-evaluation systems, two priorities of his administration.

“It is absolutely clear a lot of teachers want more time, more resources, more support, and more information,” Duncan said. “Teachers are frustrated—maybe that’s a gentle word—by efforts to hold them accountable to new learning standards” before they’ve fully had time to adjust.

The Teach to Lead idea will have to be fleshed out by teachers, among others, Duncan said, so for now the details are quite sketchy. It sounds similar in concept to the “college summit” that the White House hosted earlier this year, which brought together more than 100 college presidents who made commitments to increase the number of low-income students attending college and leaving with degrees.

“The National Board is proud to be at the forefront of Teach to Lead, along with our colleagues at the NEA and AFT, to build on years of great work together to ensure that the voices of teachers are prominent in shaping education policy and the profession,” NPBTS CEO Ronald Thorpe said in a statement.

At this point, though, it’s more of an idea than a fully fleshed-out policy proposal. And as anyone following the Education Department’s NCLB waiver policy knows, getting paper commitments is not the same as seeing results.

Duncan did spell out what he doesn’t want the initiative to look like: “You’ll be hearing more about this as it develops, but I can tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean clerical or administrative work with a pretty title that involves counting books or setting schedules,” he said. “It is not a rubber stamp for ideas that have already been decided before they get to you.”

He promised to put the weight of the Education Department behind the effort by prioritizing teacher-leadership in its funding streams, a comment suggesting that upcoming discretionary-grant programs, like the Teacher Incentive Fund, might put more of a focus on leadership activities.

In another interesting remark, Duncan noted that the $2 billion in State Teacher Quality Grants the Education Department doles out each year could support teacher-leadership activities. But, he added, “quite frankly I’m not convinced states use that $2 billion wisely.”

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