Education Secretary Challenges NEA on Teacher Pay
July 2, 2009Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenged members of the National Education Association Thursday to stop resisting the idea of linking teacher pay to student achievement.
It was Duncan's first speech at the union's annual meeting, a gathering at which President Barack Obama was booed when he mentioned the idea of performance pay last year.
"I came here today to challenge you to think differently about the role of unions in public education," Duncan told the 2.7 million-member union in San Diego.
"It's not enough to focus only on issues like job security, tenure, compensation, and evaluation," he said in a speech distributed by the Education Department. "You must become full partners and leaders in education reform. You must be willing to change."
Unions are an important part of the Democrats' political base of support. Duncan, even as he challenged NEA members, promised to include teachers in his decision-making.
"We're asking Congress for more money to develop compensation programs with you and for you, not to you," Duncan said.
Duncan described how, as CEO of Chicago public schools, he negotiated a performance pay program with the Chicago Teachers Union, which is part of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, the other national teachers' union.
The program is still very small; it will be in only about 40 of Chicago's more than 600 public schools next fall.
The Chicago program started with federal dollars from the Teacher Incentive Fund, which the administration is trying to drastically expand. The administration wants Congress to boost spending on the program from $97 million this year to $717 million next year.
But Obama may face resistance. Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, challenged Duncan at a hearing last month on whether there is any evidence of performance pay having improved student achievement.
Critics worry that pay might be based mostly on test scores, even though tests can be flawed, and all subjects are not tested. Some states prohibit student test scores from being used to evaluate teachers.
Duncan said Thursday that test scores should never be the driving force.
"But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible," he said.
Duncan has made a series of speeches to promote Obama's priorities, though Thursday's was the first where he faced a potentially hostile crowd.
He told charter school supporters last week they should do a better job of closing bad schools and opening good ones. Last month, he urged the nation's governors to agree on common, internationally measured academic standards for students.
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