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Sec. Duncan: Student Achievement Starts with Teacher Quality, Support

By Tyler Miller

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a national education task force August 4 that the Department of Education must fundamentally change the way it does business and focus on improving teacher quality and support in order to boost student achievement.

“We’re trying to move from being a compliance-driven bureaucracy to being the agency that scales up what works, that rewards excellence, that promotes innovation,” Duncan told a Washington, D.C. meeting of the Strategic Management of Human Capital task force, a 31-member body of education professionals that includes National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel.

Duncan said the Department of Education will work with states and school districts in a listening and learning capacity, recognizing that good ideas often come from teachers and principals and not policymakers. States and school districts that develop innovative new approaches to drive student learning will have “more resources in their lap than they’ve ever seen before,” Duncan pledged.

Among those resources are the recently announced Race to the Top funds—more than $4 billion in federal grants for which states will compete to spur education reforms and help improve student achievement. Race to the Top is part of the nearly $100 billion set aside for education in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The National Education Association has applauded the financial commitment to public schools that Race to the Top represents, but wants to ensure that test scores alone are not used to make decisions on program or teacher effectiveness.

NEA President Van Roekel has expressed optimism that NEA and the Obama Administration would find common ground and work together to ensure Race to the Top becomes an important tool for improving student achievement.

One way to boost student proficiency, of course, is to keep skilled teachers on the job. Duncan said school districts must focus on mentoring and professional development for teachers, and on creating opportunities for teachers to advance their careers without transitioning into administration. Schools must think through “a true career ladder where those teachers that are doing a phenomenal job driving student achievement can start to have an impact beyond the classroom, in the grade, in the school, in the district,” he said.

These master teachers may play a critical role in turning around the nation's bottom 1 percent of schools, Duncan said, adding that he would like to see more talented educators volunteer to teach in under-performing urban and rural schools where they could make a difference for underserved students.


U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, In His Own Words