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Duncan Addresses Teachers


Live from WNET's Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference, New York

Speaking before hundreds of K-12 educators gathered this afternoon at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference in New York, U.S. Secretary of Arne Duncan addressed a range of hot-button school issues, including teacher job security and possible changes to NCLB.

Duncan said with some pride that federal stimulus money saved as many as 300,000 teaching jobs in the past year, but he acknowledged that cutbacks still loom in many school districts. "I worry a lot about this next school year," he said. "Layoffs are no good for any of us." He pledged to "remain vigilant" to protect education jobs, but gave no details on how the Obama administration plans to do that.

Another thing he worries about, Duncan said, is the trend of talented younger teachers leaving the profession after only a few years. He stressed the need to improve schools' mentoring and induction programs and especially to develop evaluation systems that give educators more meaningful feedback. Current evaluation systems, he said, are "mostly broken."

He also mentioned the idea of adding a "master teacher rung" to the teaching career ladder to give standout educators a new advancement opportunity.

Improving efforts to keep talented younger teachers is especially crucial now, the Secretary said, since as many as one million baby-boomer-aged teachers, or nearly a third of the profession, are expected to retire within the next five to eight years. "Our efforts to attract and retain teachers in the next few years will shape education for the next 30," he said.

Duncan said that "fixing NCLB" is among the Obama administration's top priorities for this year. He explained that in his travels to schools around the country, the complaint he hears most often is about the "narrowing of the curriculum under NCLB." To encourage schools to provide more time for science, social studies, the arts, and recess (which he singled as particularly important), the administration is proposing to spend $1 billion on a "well-rounded education" initiative. "We need to give every kid a chance to find their passion," he said.

How exactly testing programs would be altered to allow more focus on areas other than math and reading wasn't made clear, but Duncan did say he would push for changes in NCLB's accountability regime so that growth in student progress would be emphasized over all-purpose benchmark targets. "So many schools got mislabled" under NCLB, he said.

He also suggested that states need to "raise the bar" on standards for students but that federal law needed be less prescriptive about how schools reach those students.

On the subject of standards, Duncan praised the work being done around the development of common core standards, which he called "an idea whose time has come."

Among other administration education priorities, Duncan singled out increasing access to higher education for all student and, relatedly, reducing high school dropout rates--which he called the "civil rights issue of our generation."

Duncan also praised the work done in many states in developing applications for the federal Race to the Top competition, saying it had the effect of getting people "out of silos." Sixteen finalists in the competition were named yesterday but Duncan noted that round two--and "hopefully a round three"--would be forthcoming.

He also suggested that RTT initiatives that proved effective in winning states could be the basis for "scaled-up," broader initiatives.



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