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Duncan Talks Merit Pay and Standards, Again, Some More

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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 be some 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've already answered their 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.

4 Comments

Alyson -

Thanks for the update. I know it's very early on in the process of education policy development for the administration. And I am hoping that politically the initial pronouncements are designed to garner support from the achievement-focused charter backers; that down the road more comprehensive public school reform, focused on a major reform of NCLB, will take the stage as well.

But there is something in the structure of the policy discussion at the moment that disturbs me:

On the one hand, it appears we shall continue to rely overly on 'testing' in assessments for all public schools. But experimentation and innovation in classrooms and schools seems overly directed at charters -- and already 'tested' charters at that.

The yokes (not just the 'testing' but curricula, methods and teacher-student ratios) that continue to restrict innovation and cooperative learning for the vast majority of public schools, students and teachers, seem to factor nowhere among the priorities.

Actually, the research on charter schools isn't at all "murky." Obviously, Secretary Duncan and no on else in USDE has looked at it.

Try "Time to Rethink Charter Schools"

http://www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?contentid=15453

and "The School Choice Hoax: Fixing America's Schools"

http://www.amazon.com/School-Choice-Hoax-Americas-Schools/dp/0275986950/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1236876243&sr=8-1

It really doesn't require "research" to see through the matter.

Giving a school a "charter" and expecting any difference is akin to giving a pig a tube of lipstick.

Jeff Henig is the absolute go-to person for charter-school research and also the politics of said research. Call him!

"Performance pay" is very, very murky on research, and few ed researchers know the relevant industrial-organization research. (I don't know much of it, but when an historian knows more of it than many others, there's something wrong...)

Actually, the research on charter schools isn't at all "murky." Obviously, Secretary Duncan and no on else in USDE has looked at it.

Try "Time to Rethink Charter Schools"

http://www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?contentid=15453

and "The School Choice Hoax: Fixing America's Schools"

http://www.amazon.com/School-Choice-Hoax-Americas-Schools/dp/0275986950/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1236876243&sr=8-1

It really doesn't require "research" to see through the matter.

Giving a school a "charter" and expecting any difference is akin to giving a pig a tube of lipstick.

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