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Duncan’s Stimulus Advice: Reward Coaching, Lengthen Instruction Time

From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin

In outlining how schools should use stimulus aid, during a speech at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls on Friday, Secretary of Education Duncan emphasized extra pay for teachers who help with staff development and an extension of school time.

"You can identify your best teachers and pay them to coach their colleagues who are having trouble," said Duncan, according to the Associated Press.

But while standout teachers will organically emerge in any school, identifying and labeling “the best” becomes thorny when money is involved, as the never-ending debate over performance pay has proven. In fact, one New Hampshire district steered so far from rewarding performance over a more concrete factor—seniority—that it laid off a Teacher of the Year candidate (though the school board has since reversed this decision).

It seems that the development of quality teacher evaluation systems—which unions, district leaders, and teachers can agree upon—should be the number one priority for those seeking merit-based reform (see Stephen’s story on the quality of evals here). Initiatives such as Duncan’s will remain in the realm of controversy until these systems are in place.

Duncan also called for longer school days, weeks, and years, adhering to a “more is better” mindset. Perhaps this appeal, along with the requisite stimulus funds, will make its way to districts in Minnesota and Kansas that are adopting four-day school weeks in order to save money.

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