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Duncan Champions New Teacher Quality Fund

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to appear at at teacher townhall today to pump up the administration's proposal for a brand new $5 billion competitive grant program to get states and districts to work with teachers, unions, education schools and others to totally retool the teaching profession.

The fund is called the RESPECT Project, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching. The Obama administration will work with Congress to refine the proposal, but in a nutshell they want to use the money to help states and districts do a whole host of things, including: overhaul teachers' colleges to make them more selective, create career ladders for teachers, give extra money to teachers who work in tough environments, bolster professional development, revamp tenure, craft evaluation systems, and make teachers' salaries more competitive with other professions.

In prepared remarks, Duncan makes it clear he has a lot of love for teachers.

"No other profession carries a greater burden for securing America's economic future," he plans to say. "No other profession holds out more promise of opportunity to children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. And no other profession deserves more respect."

Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, is pretty jazzed about the fund, particularly its focus on ensuring that teachers' salaries are in step with other professions and setting a high-bar on entry into the profession. And he likes that the changes are part of a comprehensive systems.

"We don't need anymore silver bullets," he said. "I really appreciate [it for] acknowledging all of the components" that it takes to create good teachers starting with "quality at the front door" of the profession.

This isn't the administration's first stab at trying to get the folks who inhabit the tense arena of teacher quality to learn to love each other. They also threw a big Labor-Management Jamboree in Denver last year.

The $5 billion fund is tucked into the administration's $60 billion American Jobs Act proposal, which is going absolutely nowhere in Congress. Any new spending program—particulary one with a $5 billion price tag—isn't likely to become a reality. So why is the administration proposing it?

One explanation: It's an election year, and President Obama—and other Democrats—are expected to face a tough campaign season. They'll almost certainly need help from the teachers' unions blockbuster get-out-the-vote apparatus. Proposing a bunch of new money to improve the teaching profession might go a long way to assuaging educators—and their unions—who are less than thrilled with the administration's focus on using student test scores to at least partially inform teacher evaluations.

But Van Roekel, for one, doesn't see this as a political move.

The fund is "consistent" with what has always been President Obama's "genuine vision" when it comes to "the role education plays as the great equalizer." The NEA hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with the administration on the "strategies" for making that vision a reality, Van Roekel said. But he'd rather have disagreements with an administration than have a president "whose vision of America is different from the one I believe in."

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