Source: ASCD Educator Advocates

Thousands of educators submitted questions to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as part of his first-ever #AskArne Twitter Town Hall. Many of the questions revealed deep frustration and even hostility over the perception that the Department of Education fails to listen to teachers and over-emphasizes standardized testing to the detriment of student learning.

Moderator and education journalist John Merrow chose the toughest and best questions for his 40-minute Q&A with Secretary Duncan, which covered everything from cheating scandals to the administration’s stance on vouchers.

Here are some nuggets from the Q&A:

  • Is the secretary overstepping his role with attempts to fix No Child Left Behind? Duncan replied that he believes No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provides states, districts, and schools with too many ways to fail and not enough opportunities for rewards. Because Congress has failed to fix the law in a timely manner, he plans to introduce his NCLB waiver plan for states in mid-September. And in response to criticism that his expected waiver requirements could levy even more federal control over education, he vehemently disagreed, saying his goal is to decrease the federal footprint and provide states with more autonomy in exchange for raising standards and doing what should be done.
  • Does Duncan listen to teachers? Duncan said he listens to teachers on a daily basis through the department’s Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Program, weekly school visits, conference calls, and more. But he admitted he doesn’t follow any teachers on Twitter, claiming he’s a Twitter novice and needs to do a better job.
  • How much is too much testing? The secretary answered that he thinks devoting 10 school days a year to standardized testing is too much, and although some schools and districts spend the right amount of time on testing and testing preparation, others go overboard. In addition, he believes we need to shift our focus from absolute test scores to growth over time.
  • What’s the secretary’s view on vouchers? Duncan said he will never support vouchers because they funnel money from our public school system, which needs more money, not less.
  • How should we evaluate and pay teachers? Duncan responded that he believes we should evaluate teachers and principals according to a variety of measures that include?but aren’t limited to?student performance on tests. Moreover, he thinks paying teachers based on performance is a good idea as long as it’s voluntary and incorporates measures like graduation rates, success at the next step, attendance rates, and school culture. He also believes we can improve respect for the profession by paying teachers more?from $60,000 up to $150,000.
  • How can we improve teacher preparation? Duncan said that this fall, the Department of Education will release ideas for improving teacher preparation programs that will, among other things, address two main critiques that new teachers have shared about their preparation: 1) lack of on-the-ground experience in challenging classrooms, and 2) lack of instruction related to administering ongoing, formative assessments and adjusting their teaching strategies accordingly.

Duncan mentioned that he is interested in organizing another Twitter Town Hall, preferably in the evening so that even more educators can participate.

  • Watch the archived Q&A at the department’s Ustream channel.
  • View a complete list of the department’s Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts.



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