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Duncan's NEA Speech Mirrors Stance Taken in Stimulus


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.


There is very good news in Arne Duncan's speech. He had this to say to teachers: "You must become full partners and leaders in education reform."

Yes, indeed. Legislators need to empower teachers to make decisions regarding curriculum, instruction, evaluation and other professional matters. Teachers and unions need to start and lead their own charter schools. Only when teachers are fully empowered professionals will districts be able to attract and retain "the best and the brightest" to their schools. Until now teachers have not been included in school reform. They have been asked to join in other people's ideas for reform, but have not been asked for their ideas. When teachers, the people who actually deliver instruction to children, are fully included in reform efforts, the country will begin to see the improvement that it covets. If teachers are left out, they will nod politely and then shut the classroom door to intruders.

Linda, I could not agree more re teachers empowerment and how the "ideas" of what works from the classroom needs to shape and advance reform. This is why we created our virtual community - Teacher Leaders Network - so expert practitioners can be heard, understood, and embraced. (We are proud partners with Teacher Magazine.) There are plenty of teachers who are ready to take Secretary Duncan's ideas and do 2 things with them: (1) make them better and (2) make them happen.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but when Duncan talks about seniority putting teachers in classrooms they aren't suited for, he seems to mean exactly the opposite of what he said. Is he saying that we should undercut seniority transfer positions, as a favor to veteran teachers who just thought they were happy in their jobs, by allowing systems to move teachers around like chess pieces?

Is he agreeing with the Ed Trust types but saying that that AP or IB teacher at the low poverty magnet needs to liberate his or her hidden inner city cop parts of their souls and that moving them against their will to the 'hood will liberate them?

I like Dincan's approach and I like the way his formulations make sense even if they are too neat to be real. But unless he fumbled his lines there is no rational interpretation of his seniority statement. On the other hand, the seniority-bashings of Roza et. al aren't rational either if they want to help poor schools and not just hurt unions. Its irrational to think that you can force a teacher who's effective in one environment that they choose because it fits their personalities and demand that they teach in a completely different world. More recent Comparablity reforms recognize that.

Why does teacher reform always seem to be handed down to us from our government? How many of those involved in the design of teacher reform have spent any quality time in the classroom. It is ludicrous that teachers have so little to do with decisions regarding teaching and educational reform, and yet we are expected to not only implement those reforms but to embrace them. We are the ones in the trenches, and we are the ones with the skills and motivation to make the hard decisions about instruction, curriculum, and evaluation. Get us involved in the process, and we will be more willing to embrace that process. Any reform that involves merit pay had better be one that teachers can agree with, and that will be a significant challenge as no current plan has proven to be wholehearedly accepted or effective.

Arne Duncan's comments regarding changes to NCLB so Special Education students are not included in testing shows an inability to understand learning and/or emotionally impaired students. When students are identified with a disability in need of Special Education the determination is made that the student cannot do grade level work even with assistance and modifications. These students when identified are generally two to three years below grade level. For anyone to think that Special Education teachers can bring a student to proficient on grade level testing within one year, two years or even three years shows an inability to understand the process involved. These students should not be included in school wide testing results for NCLB. Their progress is charted through IEP's and team meetings. When it's determined Special Education students have made enough progress to have success in the regular classroom it becomes the roll of the classroom teacher with Special Education support to bring students along to proficiency on grade level evaluations.

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