Friday, July 3, 2009

Fourth Duncan speech

Secretary Arne Duncan spoke yesterday to the National Education Association, the national teachers' union, at its national conference in San Diego. As expected he forwarded the idea of merit pay (he's being challenged on the merits of this in the Senate, incidentally), eliminating or restricting tenure, and eliminating a single salary schedule.

So I look forward today to hearing your voices—hearing what you have to say—hearing your ideas for improving American education. I encourage you to think boldly and courageously—to challenge me, challenge yourselves, and challenge each other.

But we must be willing to do more than talk. We all must be willing to change. As I said recently, education reform isn't a table around which we all talk. It's a moving train and we all need to get on board.

(is he willing to change?)
You can find his full remarks here.

While Duncan was greeted with only a few boos (and no shoes) and largely with warm applause, his tone is not especially welcoming of real input. Challenged schools? We need to start with a clean slate. Union-negotiated contracts? Standing in the way of educating children.

He speaks of his own experiences here, and it's interesting the degree to which they obviously have shaped him. His adult experiences with education have been those of an outsider. He started a neighborhood school, and then took over the Chicago school system.

Outsiders can be great: new perspectives and new ideas are enormously helpful. The danger is always that of throwing out the good along with the bad. Teachers, for example, undergo (or are supposed to undergo) rigorous scrutiny prior to being granted tenure. If poor teachers are granted tenure, it isn't tenure that's broken: it's the scrutiny. He accepts that tests are not great evaluation instruments, but in the next breath he wants to include them in teacher assessment.

I wish we could stick him in a classroom with 25 fourth graders for a few months.

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