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8-5-12 Star Ledger Interview, Moran - Arne Duncan

Star Ledger Interview, Moran - Arne Duncan: Better education starts with best educators

Published: Sunday, August05, 2012, 6:05 AM  By Star-LedgerStaffThe Star-Ledger

Education is the one policy area in which Democrats andRepublicans are finding an abundance of common ground, where President Obamaand Gov. Chris Christie agree on most issues.

Both favor tenure reform that allows schools to fire badteachers and reward good ones. Both believe student performance should becentral to that assessment and that standardized tests should be used to helpmeasure progress. Both believe in expanding charter schools, especially infailing districts, and closing down persistently failing schools.

Other reforms have bipartisan support as well: building qualitypreschools, expanding the school day and school year, and building a careerpath that gives the best teachers more authority and higher salaries.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan discussed the state of educationreform recently with Editorial Page Editor Tom Moran. An edited transcriptappears below.

Q. The evidence on theeffectiveness of the reforms you are pushing seems mixed and weak. Why?

A. A lot of these things have never been done before. Thereisnít a 50-year track record. But itís hard to argue with the idea that greatteachers and principals matter. Itís hard to argue that children, particularlyin poor communities, need more time. Or that kids should have access to greatcontent 24/7 with technology. All these things make a lot of sense. There is nomagic bullet, but Iím convinced these things can change childrenís lives.

Related Q&As:

ē A Q&A with... Arne Duncan: The eyes of America are on Newarkís school reform

ē Gov. ChrisChristie talks school reform: A Q&A

ē Q&A withDiane Ravitch on N.J. school reform

Q. Tell me about yourexperience in Chicago. As with Joel Klein in New York and Michelle Rhee inWashington, you see improvements, but it doesnít seem dramatic overall.

A. There are schools and communities that are breaking through.We see lots of exampls in Chicago and New York and D.C. The question iswhether we can take it to scale. We havenít done that yet.

Q. How important are thestructural reforms, like promoting charter schools, when compared to personnelissues, just finding the best teachers and principals?

A. If you just had a lot of Michael Jordans, structure wouldnítmatter. But we donít have enough Michael Jordans.

Q. In many of the leadingcountries on education, elite college graduates go into teaching. But not inAmerica. How important is that?

A. Extraordinarily important. In Singapore and Finland, you haveto be in the top 10 percent to teach. How we strengthen that pool, train thatpool, compensate that pool and create career ladders for them is vital. Thisentire pipeline is broken.

Q. What can we fo?

A. One example: Denver put in two tracks. One track has highercompensation and less security. And they have a more traditional track. Whenthey started, only a third of the teachers opted in. Today, itís like 85percent.

Q. Would that attract topcollege performers?

A. I would argue (it) would.

Q. What else?

A. When I travel around the country and try to recruit teachers,I ask: ďWhat would you think if you were 30 years old and you could make$100,000 teaching?Ē And you can hear a pin drop. People get real interested ina hurry. No one goes into teaching to make $1 million, but you shouldnít haveto take a vow of poverty either. Iíve talked about doubling salaries and agreat teacher making $130,000 or $140,000. That would help.

Q. What reforms areemerging to attract and retain great teachers?

A. Denver is an interesting one. Hillsborough County (Fla.) hasmentor and master teachers. Teachers are paid significantly more based onstudent growth. Montgomery County (Md.) has peer review, and peers are tougheron each other than other folks. A bunch of places are doing creative stuff.

Q. Letís talk abouttests. When scores were released in New York recently, we saw that someteachers were rated as great one year and awful the next. It dissolved a lot ofconfidence in test results.

A. You have to look at multiple measures. You look at valueadded over a course of years, not just one. You have multiple observations,too, from principals or peers. And you can ask the children, with studentsurveys.

Q. But doesnít this wholemovement to raise standards and impose accountability hinge on having goodtests? Iím not sure we have that.

A. Itís never going to be perfect. Weíre investing $350 millionin the next generation of assessment, so itís going to be a choppy couple ofyears until we get there. We always let the perfect be the enemy of the good ineducation, and we have to stop that.

Q. New Jersey is at topof the nation in spending, especially in the urban districts. But there is asense that we havenít gotten much bang for that buck. Do you agree?

A. I think thatís a fair assessment. There are pockets ofexcellence, but have kids in Newark been well-served? I think the answer is no.

Q. We hear a lot that theroot problem is poverty, not schools. But how does performance vary among poorkids? Do poor minority kids in Boston do better than those in Atlanta?

A. Poor kids in Massachusetts are doing dramatically better thanpoor kids in other states.

Q. What does that tellyou?

A. That poverty is not destiny. There are some folks who feelyou have to end poverty to fix education. I believe you have to fix educationto end poverty.

Q. Youíve said Newark haspotential to be a national model. Why?

A. You have a mayor who is actively engaged. A lot of mayors runfrom education because itís difficult and challenging. Heís running to it. Ihave a lot of confidence in (Superintendent) Cami Anderson. You have resources.The district is a manageable size. Newark has a chance, in the next three tofive years, to go to a new level.

Q. There is strongpush-back against Andersonís reforms in Newark. What do you make of that?

A. There is lots of cynicism and fear. These communities havebeen lied to for years. Theyíve heard promises and nothing has changed. Sopeople donít believe it. I had one group say I was going to sell the buildingsfor condos. They honestly thought that.

Q. How should a superintendenthandle that?

A. You have to be transparent and include people in the process.When we were picking what new school would go into a building, we had acommunity advisory group. Folks who wanted to open a new school had to make apresentation. These were parents, pastors, business folks. They would screenthem. It takes more time, itís choppy, but you had folks feeling this was theirschool.

Q. In New Jersey, thegovernor wants the state Supreme Court to reverse the Abbott rulings that haverequired massive spending in the urban district. He hopes to cut spending inthe urban districts. Does that worry you?

A. I want to make (it) clear: We have to invest in the best ineducation, but not invest in the status quo. Asking for more accountability, moreinnovation, more choice ó sure. To do it without money doesnít make sense. Youhave to do both.

Q. Even in New Jersey,where you said we are spending twice as much as Chicago?

A. Yes. These kids need longer days, longer weeks, classesduring the summer and Saturdays. We need to lure the best principals andteachers to the most underserved districts. That all takes resources.

Q. What keeps you up atnight?

A. I sleep pretty well. But the stakes have never been higher.When I was in high school in the South Side of Chicago, my friends could dropout and get a decent job in the stockyards or steel mills, and own their ownhome and support a family. Those jobs are gone and theyíre never coming back.If you drop out today, you are condemned to poverty and social failure. Thelack of urgency about that is striking. So how do we shake the complacency?Thatís what keeps me up.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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