Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today praised the National Education Association for its effort to improve the quality of the education workforce and challenged the union to reevaluate some of its policies on compensating teachers and offering them job protections.
Speaking at the NEA's annual convention in San Diego, Duncan said that the unions needed to relax contract rules to recruit, reward and retain highly effective educators, especially in low-performing schools in need of dramatic improvements.
"If we agree that the adults in these schools are failing these children then we have to find the right people and we can't let our rules and regulations get in the way," Duncan said. "Children have only one chance to get an education."
Specifically, Duncan asked the union to bargain for contracts that change rules creating a single salary schedule, offering seniority benefits, and protecting ineffective teachers who have tenure. Duncan also encouraged the union to include student achievement when evaluating teachers and deciding their compensation.
"Test scores alone should never drive evaluation, compensation or tenure decisions," Duncan said. "That would never make sense. But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible."
Duncan praised the NEA for its work to improve teacher quality in its advocacy for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and other professional development programs. Duncan noted that more than a thousand teachers earned certification from the national board during his seven years as CEO of Chicago public schools.
"I ask you to join President Obama and me in a new commitment to results that recognizes and rewards success in the classroom and is rooted in our common obligation to children," Duncan said.
The speech was the last in a series in which Duncan outlined the specific goals on the four policy initiatives states must address under the $5 billion Race to the Top Fund, a competitive grant program that will make grants to states leading the way in school reform.
Duncan's earlier speeches addressed the importance of using of data to inform instruction and education policy decisions, the imperative for world-class standards and assessments, and the need for charter school operators to join the effort to turn around low-performing schools.
Immediately after his speech, Duncan participated in a panel discussion, where he discussed the No Child Left Behind Act with 10 NEA members and heard comments from the NEA members in the audience. The event was the sixth stop on the secretary's "NCLB Listening and Learning Tour." He previously visited West Virginia, Michigan, Vermont, Montana and New Jersey.
Duncan and senior members of his team will continue traveling across the country to gather ideas on how to improve the NCLB and inform the Obama administration's proposal to reauthorize it.