Teaching Profession

Duncan’s NEA Speech Mirrors Stance Taken in Stimulus

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 02, 2009 1 min read

To answer the question I’m sure you all have: Yes. Teachers booed and hissed during some of the performance-pay portions of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s speech. And they weren’t overwhelmingly happy with the talk of reform to seniority and tenure systems, either.

But some of the stories I’ve seen around the Web on the speech are billing this as “tough love” for the teachers’ unions. There was some of that, sure, but President Barack Obama and Duncan clearly telegraphed their intentions to push hard on these issues in the stimulus legislation, and that passed months ago.

So there was an element to this whole proceeding that came off as a little bit rehearsed to me. I wonder if Duncan had prepared his seemingly ad-libbed line for when the booing started: “You can boo; just don’t throw any shoes, please.” And I’m pretty sure most of the delegates had gotten their vocal chords ready, too.

To me, the biggest news out of the speech is that the administration is increasingly emphasizing student achievement as one measure of teacher pay or evaluation, although not the only measure. That is a big issue, and it’s one that helped sink congressional attempts to renew the No Child Left Behind Act in 2007.

Also, large parts of the speech seemed to key directly off of the stimulus legislation. When Duncan talked about seniority putting some teachers in schools and classrooms they’re not prepared for, well, that gets to the equitable-distribution-of-teachers language in the stimulus. When he talked about the poor state of evaluations, well, that lines up to the language that will require states and districts to report the number and percentage of teachers scoring at each performance level on local evaluation instruments.

Check back at edweek.org soon for a full story.

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