Secretary Duncan made a commitment to find better ways to support and honor the teaching profession in last week’s town hall discussion on Sirius/XM Radio.
A studio audience of 40 educators joined Duncan and Tim Farley of XM’s POTUS (“Politics of the United States”) Channel in a thoughtful discussion that ranged from teacher evaluation to professional development. Questions and comments also came from teachers in the nationwide listening audience and from people who posted on the Department of Education’s blog.
A number of teachers voiced concern about the use of test scores in evaluating teachers’ performance. “Test scores can be a piece of an evaluation, but should never, never – let be very clear – should never be the only means of evaluation,” Duncan said. “I’m much more interested in gain and growth than absolute test scores.”
“Right now, great teachers don’t get recognized and rewarded, teachers in the middle don’t get the help and support they need, and at the bottom, where it’s frankly not working, nothing happens there as well. So if evaluation systems aren’t working for adults, they definitely aren’t working for students.” He pointed to communities where “real progress, real breakthroughs” are being made in improving teacher evaluation systems, thanks to “unions and school boards and superintendents working together.”
The Secretary responded with a question of his own: “How do you professionalize the profession? How do you build real, meaningful career ladders so teachers will want to stay in the profession for 10, 20, 30 years? I think the answers in these areas are always going to come from teachers, not from me, not from Washington. It’s going to be teachers working with teachers…. I think we need to do a much better job of listening to and empowering teachers.”
In addition to teacher development, teachers asked important questions about how federal policies change their daily work in classrooms.
An elementary school teacher from Arlington, Va., wanted to know how our nation could “better include science in the national agenda.”
The Secretary replied that “the biggest, most consistent complaint I’ve heard around the country, from teachers, from students, from parents, is around the narrowing of the curriculum and No Child Left Behind. Yes, reading and math are hugely important, they’re fundamental — but so is science, so is social studies. “
He pointed to the Obama Administration’s Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its support for a well-rounded education for all students, including $300 million specifically for competitive grants for teaching science, technology, math and engineering – known as the STEM fields. “We have to get dramatically better in STEM,” he said.