In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week: An Open Letter from Arne Duncan to America’s Teachers

I have worked in education for much of my life. I have met with thousands of teachers in great schools and struggling schools, in big cities and small towns, and I have a deep and genuine appreciation for the work you do. I know that most teachers did not enter the profession for the money. You became teachers to make a difference in the lives of children, and for the hard work you do each day, you deserve to be respected, valued, and supported.

I consider teaching an honorable and important profession, and it is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society. In too many communities, the profession has been devalued. Many of the teachers I have met object to the imposition of curriculum that reduces teaching to little more than a paint-by-numbers exercise. I agree.

Inside your classroom, you exercise a high degree of autonomy. You decide when to slow down to make sure all of your students fully understand a concept, or when a different instructional strategy is needed to meet the needs of a few who are struggling to keep up. You build relationships with students from a variety of backgrounds and with a diverse array of needs, and you find ways to motivate and engage them. I appreciate the challenge and skill involved in the work you do and applaud those of you who have dedicated your lives to teaching.

Many of you have told me you are willing to be held accountable for outcomes over which you have some control, but you also want school leaders held accountable for creating a positive and supportive learning environment. You want real feedback in a professional setting rather than drive-by visits from principals or a single score on a bubble test. And you want the time and opportunity to work with your colleagues and strengthen your craft.

You have told me you believe that the No Child Left Behind Act has prompted some schools—especially low-performing ones—to teach to the test, rather than focus on the educational needs of students. Because of the pressure to boost test scores, NCLB has narrowed the curriculum, and important subjects like history, science, the arts, foreign languages, and physical education have been de-emphasized. And you are frustrated when teachers alone are blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded schools systems. You rightfully believe that responsibility for educational quality should be shared by administrators, community, parents, and even students themselves.

The teachers I have met are not afraid of hard work, and few jobs today are harder. Moreover, it’s gotten harder in recent years; the challenges kids bring into the classroom are greater and the expectations are higher. Not too long ago, it was acceptable for schools to have high dropout rates, and not all kids were expected to be proficient in every subject. In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children—English-language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty—to learn and succeed.

You and I are here to help America’s children. We understand that the surest way to do that is to make sure that the 3.2 million teachers in America’s classrooms are the very best they can be. The quality of our education system can only be as good as the quality of our teaching force.

So I want to work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking. States, with the help of teachers, are now developing better assessments so you will have useful information to guide instruction and show the positive impact you are having on our children.

Working together, we can transform teaching from the factory model designed over a century ago to one built for the information age. We can build an accountability system based on data we trust and a standard that is honest—one that recognizes and rewards great teaching, gives new or struggling teachers the support they need to succeed, and deals fairly, efficiently, and compassionately with teachers who are simply not up to the job. With your input and leadership, we can restore the status of the teaching profession so more of America’s top college students choose to teach because no other job is more important or more fulfilling.

In the next decade, half of America’s teachers are likely to retire. What we do to recruit, train, and retain our new teachers will shape public education in this country for a generation. At the same time, how we recognize, honor, and show respect for our experienced educators will reaffirm teaching as a profession of nation builders and social leaders dedicated to our highest ideals. As that work proceeds, I want you to know that I hear you, I value you, and I respect you.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Cross-posted from Education Week.

Students and Secretary Duncan Talk About Effective Teaching

When I visited the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., recently, I truly felt that my thoughts and opinions made a difference. Joined with students from across the nation and Secretary Arne Duncan, I was able to discuss my thoughts about what makes an effective teacher. 

RaQuan is an A/B student who plays three sports at the S.O.A.R Academy.

The teacher who brought me to Washington, Ms. Coates, has instilled in me that I play an important role in my education. All the work that she and other teachers do on a daily basis is for the future of our country. This year, I have been more involved with my own education and talk more about what’s going on in my school, and about which teachers or programs I enjoy. 

The Student Voice Series was an opportunity for me to share with other students who care about their education. I was excited to hear that other students just like me are talking to their friends, teachers and other people in their communities, about why education is so important to them. Moving into high school next year, I feel I have a better sense of why an education is one of the most valuable things I can earn.

Arne Duncan and several senior staff advisors met with student representatives of the Teaching Ambassador Fellows, State Board of Education, Project Voyce, the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, and DCPS at the Department of Education and through a conference call.

All students across the nation should have the same opportunity I have been able to have, which is to talk about their thoughts and opinions. As a student, I have been given the tools from my teacher to share ideas and talk about how school and teachers are most important to me. Having had this opportunity to engage in educational decision-making has taught me the responsibility of making choices about learning, schooling, and the education system. I better understand that what affects me affects an entire student body, and student perspectives need to be considered when changes in education are made!

RaQuan Moore

RaQuan is an 8th grader at S.O.A.R. Academy in Ashland, Va. His teacher, Lisa Coates, is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow who brought RaQuan to the Department of Education to participate in a monthly conversation series between students and Secretary Duncan

Secretary Duncan on Real Advice and Elevating the Teaching Profession

Secretary Duncan recently sat down to answer a couple of questions received on his Facebook page.

He responds to a question about what ED is doing to provide real advice in these tough economic times. The Secretary states that “given the very tough fiscal reality, there are smart ways to cut and, frankly, dumb ways to cut. First and foremost, we have to do everything we can to protect the classroom, to keep cuts away from students, away from classrooms, away from teachers.”  Duncan also says that it’s important to not cut key investments that are making a difference in the lives of students.

Click here to read the promising practices documents that ED recently sent to state leaders.

The Secretary also answered a question about what ED is doing to support existing teachers.  He noted that through the Recovery Act, the Obama administration has saved hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs over the past two years.  He also explains that one of ED’s top priorities is to continue elevating and strengthening the teaching profession.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Involving Teachers in School Transformation

At Kenmore Middle School to hear President Obama are Hope Street Group Education Director Alice Johnson Cain and members Dina Rock, Darcy Moody, Lisa Mills, Sam Row, and Doug Clark

Ed note: Throughout the month of March, President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Duncan highlighted the importance of investing in education to win the future. On March 14, the President spoke at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., about the importance of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—commonly referred to currently as No Child Left Behind—in a way that is fair, flexible and focused.

Below, one teacher in the audience at Kenmore, Dina Rock of Solon, Ohio, shares her thoughts on the Obama administration’s Blueprint for Reform.

President Obama inspired me as I listened to him speak at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., a couple of weeks ago.  The President affirmed that No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB)—goals to help all students to learn are right.  “It’s the strategies,” he said, that took a wrong turn.  That resonated with me because I have long felt that NCLB had great intentions, but that the law’s unintended consequences have derailed its original goals.

As President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan spoke of the need to have effective teachers in the classroom, I found myself nodding in agreement and thinking that we must move toward having thoughtful and sound evaluations for teachers, not just ones based on test scores, but evaluations that take other variables into consideration.

There is a myth that teachers don’t want change and accountability.  Actually, we welcome it.   As a teacher in my 23rd year, who still loves to teach, I can tell you that many teachers are reform-minded.  We long for change.  Perhaps part of our problem is that we’ve been down the reform road before.  Our classrooms are filled with binders stuffed with the latest greatest “philosophy” of the month, all with the intention of transforming education, but rarely is there any follow through.

I suppose I would be thoroughly jaded by now, if it weren’t for the game-changing work I’ve done with the nonprofit Hope Street Group over the past two years.  Together, teacher leaders from around the country have collaborated for months to create a set of eight thoughtful and important recommendations for teacher evaluation systems.  Being involved with other teachers in this process of reform, rather than having it imposed on me, has made a tremendous difference.  I am hopeful that teacher groups like Hope Street can begin to look at the real issues and strengthen teaching so that it becomes a revered, iconic profession.

As long as the President and Arne Duncan are transforming education with teachers, instead of doing it to us, I am in.  All in.

Dina Rock teaches 5th and 6th Grade at Agnon Elementary School in Beachwood, Ohio.

The Changing Face of American Education

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

One of the greatest challenges facing our country is the coming retirement of more than 1 million baby-boomer teachers. This challenge has presented us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to help reshape education in America by recruiting and training the next generation of great American teachers.

Teaching is a rewarding and challenging profession where you can make a lasting impact. Teachers have a positive influence on students, schools, and communities, now and into the future. Schools across the nation are in need of a diverse set of talented teachers, especially in our big cities and rural areas, and especially in the areas of Math, Science, Technology, Special Education, and English Language Learning.

That’s why the department launched the TEACH campaign — a bold new initiative to inspire and empower the most talented and dedicated Americans to become teachers. We know that next to parental support, there is nothing more important to a child’s education than the quality of his or her teachers.

Many of you are already thinking about becoming teachers. The TEACH campaign provides tools at your fingertips to navigate the academic and professional requirements that will credential you to succeed as a teacher in one of our schools. TEACH.gov features an online path to teaching and over 4,000 listed, open teaching positions.

In addition to information on job postingsteacher prep, and financial aid, prospective candidates can watch testimonials from current teachers. Each one was looking for a professionally challenging and financially rewarding career that would allow them to bring their passions, their lives, to work every day.  Go to TEACH.gov and listen to their stories.

We’re also setting up TEACH Town Hall events around the country to encourage discussions in communities and at colleges for those who are preparing to step into the workforce. Help us spread the word about teaching careers. If you know someone who is considering becoming a teacher, send them to TEACH.gov so they can learn about the resources available for their state and district. Also be sure to let them know that we have an application called Raise Your Hand on Facebook that allows prospective teachers to join a community of teachers across the country and ask about teaching as a career.

Together, we can change the face of American education. We can recruit the next generation of great American teachers.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education

ED Kicks Off International Summit on the Teaching Profession

Later today, Secretary Arne Duncan will join teachers and education leaders from around the world in New York City, to open the first session of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.  The summit, which will be held today and tomorrow, is the first of its kind being convened by U.S. Department of Education. The event will aim to identify and elaborate on best practices from around the world for recruiting, preparing and supporting teachers in ways that effectively enhance the teaching profession and ultimately, elevate student performance.

Throughout the summit, participants will engage in open and in-depth discussions centered on learning best practices in the following four areas: Teacher Recruitment and Preparation; Development, Support and Retention of Teachers; Teacher Evaluation and Compensation; and Teacher Engagement in Education Reform.

The March summit is a first step in what will be an ongoing dialogue among participating countries about best practices in both teaching and learning. In the weeks following the summit, the Asia Society will lead host organizations in publishing a summary paper to document for the public the insights shared and lessons learned.

Secretary Duncan, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development Angel Gurría, and General Secretary of Education International Fred van Leeuwen, previewed the summit in a op-ed on the HuffingtonPost.com.

Across the globe, education is the great equalizer, the one force that can consistently overcome differences in background, culture, and privilege. Increasing teacher autonomy and participation in reform is vital not just to improving student outcomes but to elevating the teaching profession. We reject the prevailing wisdom that it can’t be done.

You can read more about the summit, including a list of participants and the summit’s agenda, and you can also watch the closing sessions of the event LIVE online starting at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 17.