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DeVos Says 'Great Teachers' Deserve More Money. But That's Not What Protesters Say

Betsy-DeVos-Congress-tight-600.jpg

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said "great teachers" deserve higher pay in a House education committee hearing on Tuesday, but she didn't elaborate on how she defines a great teacher. 

Education Week's Andrew Ujifusa reports

In response to questions about recent state teacher walkouts from Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., DeVos stopped short of calling for better teacher pay across the board. But she did say that certain teachers deserve more money, and that the system should be more flexible to better serve educators. 

"There's no one more important to a student's education than a great teacher," DeVos said. "I think they should be better compensated. I think they should be treated as professionals. The system as it is today doesn't treat them as professionals."

The Education Department has not yet responded to an inquiry on what DeVos characterizes as great teachers. But it's notable that she seemingly brought up performance in response to a question about teacher walkouts—because the activism behind the walkouts has not focused on performance at all. Instead, the goals (and results) of the walkouts have been blanket pay raises for teachers, and state legislators have not tried to attach any performance-related strings to the raises passed in three states this spring.

DeVos tweeted video of the exchange, saying, "Great teachers need to be supported, should be better compensated and should be treated as professionals." People replied to her tweet asking her to elaborate on the policy specifics: 

And this exchange shows the complicated nature of the debate on performance pay:

Performance-pay initiatives are controversial, especially when they are linked to student test scores. They've been hotly debated for over a decade, with research mixed on how those initiatives affect student achievement. 

But they haven't been a focus in the six statewide walkouts or strikes this spring. As my colleague Stephen Sawchuk reported earlier, the protests have had a narrow focus on school spending, not on other education policies—in contrast from past strikes.

"Even supporters [of teacher-performance policies] want to keep those efforts under the radar screen, and that's why you're not seeing people connecting the issue of teacher compensation and performance in this outbreak of labor unrest," Martin West, an associate professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education told Sawchuk.

Perhaps DeVos will reignite that conversation. We'll update this post if the Education Department responds with clarification on how the Secretary defines "great teachers." 

Image: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appears at a hearing before a House Committee on Education and the Workforce on May 22 in Washington. —Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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