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Bring Teaching Into 21st Century, Duncan Tells NEA

Education Secretary lays out vision for improving compensation, recruitment and professional development.

By Kevin Hart

Saying it was time to finally bring resolution to a decades-long discussion on advancing the teaching profession, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan laid out to the NEA Board of Directors today a four-point plan for improving teacher and school quality.

“We all know that the person standing in front of the classroom is the single most important influence on growth in student learning,” he said.


Unfortunately, Duncan pointed out, the teaching profession and American schools continue to be guided by principles that are, in some cases, a century old. He said schools are still stuck in an “assembly line model” where all students are moved through the same core subjects, and teachers are treated like “interchangeable widgets.”

“I don’t think that teachers will be treated with the respect they deserve as long as they are treated like widgets,” the Secretary said.

In order to advance the teaching profession and improve the quality of American public schools, Duncan laid out four basic principles that he said will guide Education Department policy:

• Treat teachers like the professionals they are: "Good teachers are my heroes," Duncan said. It's time to compensate educators fairly and give them the planning time, data and professional development they need to succeed.

• Focus on teacher recruitment:
America must recruit a “new generation of teachers,” by raising the profile of the profession, breaking down barriers to entry, and focusing on improving teacher preparation programs.

• Empower strong school leaders:
School principals must be given the support they need to assist teachers and make meaningful, lasting improvements to the schools they manage.

• Place talented teachers and leaders in the schools that need them the most:
Encourage educators, through incentives such as extra compensation, to work in the country’s high-needs schools.

Duncan spoke at length about the need to ensure that the most talented, dedicated educators are paid what they deserve. That means creating better evaluation systems that go beyond the “fill-in-the-numbers exercise” used in many districts, and using student progress as one of the measures of teacher performance.

“Test scores alone should never be the sole factor in evaluating teachers,” Duncan stressed. “You have to use multiple measures to assess teacher performance.”

Duncan also said federal policy must be directed at helping Education Support Professionals succeed in their important work. He acknowledged the "often overlooked" impact that ESPs have on student achievement.

Duncan’s speech to the NEA Board came a day after he announced a push to remake the No Child Left Behind Act to ensure schools were adequately funded, held to high standards, and had the local flexibility to try new approaches. 


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