Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the NEA-RA, and he reiterated his stance about education: charter schools and better teachers are needed.
While he framed and phrased his beliefs in language stating that the NEA needs to take over the evaluation process and that collaboration makes better schools (both of which I believe to an extent), he also stated that the charter school movement will be a saving grace for education. He essentially said that schools need competition–for resources, for teachers, and for administrators–to close the achievement gap. Of course, he failed to mention (as one teacher from Chicago did) that the 2/3 of the charter schools he created eliminated teachers of unions and basically eliminated any collective bargaining. He also implied that schools which do not reform his way will receive less federal funding.
Duncan also stated that students need the best teachers, and the worst need to go. I believe this as well; however, his solution to the problem is not only partially a new evaluation process, but also partially merit pay. He continually stated that the process for awarding merit pay is a difficult and complex one, but he never really said what he would do to determine any teacher effectiveness and how teachers receive extra pay. He mentioned test scores numerous times without ever revealing, even when questioned directly, to what extent these scores would determine merit pay.
Duncan was polite, direct, and conversational, but I never felt that his solution was much more than the same business model that others have championed in the last 8 years. When schools compete, some lose. This means kids lose. Teachers will go where the jobs are, but I truly believe a competitive model will increasingly create schools of haves and have-nots. Not everyone can be above average; it’s statistically impossible.
I appreciate Duncan’s presence at the NEA-RA, but I feel no better about his agenda after hearing him speak. Besides this, I really don’t believe teachers are the heart of the problem (or their unions for that matter). Too often the problems of education are over-simplified, and the complexity of student achievement is ignored.
Interesting note: Though there is obviously no direct link between these three facts, it is intriguing: since 1970 union membership has declined from about 40% of the American work force to about 11%; during this time frame, families have lost their overall spending power (teachers, for example, have lost their buying power by over 35% when factoring inflation and pay raises); and, high school graduation rates have declined in the same period of almost 40 years.
2nd interesting note: I continually hear about highly qualified teachers but rarely hear about highly qualified administrators. I don’t believe administrators are the whole of education’s ills, but I do believe they contribute to it at least as much as teachers.