My Conversation with Arne Duncan Part 2

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. You can read how that all came about here.

Here are his responses to three of my questions with some questions/comments I would follow-up with.


1. How would you define a “successful teacher”?

Mr. Duncan: One of the best parts of my job is that I get to travel the country and meet successful and inspiring teachers from all over the country. I’ve seen successful teachers with a whole range of different kinds of teaching styles, but I’d say a few things are constant. Great teachers are committed to students and their learning. They know the subjects they teach and how to teach them. They’re responsible for managing and monitoring student learning. And teachers think systematically about their practice, learn from experience, and work together with their colleagues to help each other and improve. In fact, these are the qualities of the principles established 25 years ago by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
 (I added the link to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.)

I would even go one further to say that in addition to being experts in their content and craft, truly successful teachers seek to leave an impact beyond just the students in their classrooms. They are leaders who share an unwavering belief that all children can learn and achieve at high levels. Great teaching is also about love – a love of learning, a love for helping children grow. I’d say that’s arguable the most important component in my definition of a successful teacher.

Education Dreamer Follow-Up : I like Mr. Duncan's response to this question overall. I think he's right in saying that "great teaching is also about love." One thing I would push back on is that I never saw myself as a manager and monitor of student learning. I always strived to be a leader and inspiration of student learning. I know it's a small change in language but I personally think it's an important shift.

Follow-up question: 1) There was no mention of standardized test scores in Mr. Duncan's definition of a "successful teacher", so how come so many states are tying teacher pay to students' standardized test scores?

2. When it comes to Race to the Top, what parts are you happiest with and what would you like to change?

Mr. Duncan: Race to the Top has gone above and beyond our expectations. Among the 46 states that originally applied, all have created blueprints for comprehensive education reform. Forty-five states and DC have adopted higher academic standards, 28 enacted laws to improve teacher quality, 16 changed laws to increase capacity to intervene in low-performing schools, 15 have strengthened charter laws, and 3 have committed to evaluating teacher preparation programs to improve classroom instruction. This has been a truly nationwide movement to raise the bar on public education for all students.

Our Department is proud of the work our 12 grantees have accomplished thus far. Race to the Top represents historic, large-scale, statewide reform. Each Race to the Top state has a four-year grant, and when all is said and done states across the country will look to these states for best practices and lessons learned.

Education Dreamer Follow-Up: I would like to hear more about how other states have improved teacher quality. His response made me think of John Spencer's post "You can't pay me to be a better teacher."

Follow up question: What research is being done to make sure that adopting higher academic standards, new laws to improve teacher quality, increasing capacity to intervene in low-performing schools, strengthening charter laws, and evaluating teacher preparation programs are actually making a positive difference?

3. What role should collaboration play in an innovative workspace? How do current education policies encourage or hinder collaboration?

Mr. Duncan: Collaboration is the foundation for effective policy. In spite of all the media attention given to conflict among education leaders, in every corner of the country there are collaborative education partnerships involving parents, educators, administrators, elected officials, business leaders, and policy makers.

A strong education system requires shared responsibility. That’s why this administration has make collaboration a cornerstone of our education agenda.

New programs like Race to the Top, i3, and Promise Neighborhoods have required partners or education stakeholders to sign-on to grantees’ applications. Each year, our senior staff has convened nationwide conferences and even international summits focused on strengthening schools and instruction through exemplary labor management partnerships. Our Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood partnerships has convened community forums across the country to shine a spotlight on existing partnerships and encourage new partnerships to improve struggling schools. And most recently, our amazing team of Teaching Ambassador Fellows—active classroom teachers who spend a year at the U.S. Department of Education—have held more than 350 roundtables with more than 4,500 teachers nationwide to create the RESPECT Project. The goal of the RESPECT Project, which is currently a $5 billion federal budget request, is to work with educators in rebuilding the teaching profession. RESPECT aims to elevate the teacher voice in shaping federal, state, and local education policy. We must make teaching not only America's most important profession. We must make it America's most respected profession. (I added the links in myself)

Education Dreamer Follow-Up: I couldn't agree more. Collaboration is the key to a successful education system. If you looked at the video from part 1 of this series, you would hear Mr. Duncan talk about all the different levels of collaboration we need to improve upon in order to better the lives of our students. I think what worries me and other educators is the level of competition in today's education climate.

Follow-up Question: Can collaboration and competition co-exist?

So now it's your turn. What thoughts do you have from Mr. Duncan's responses to my questions? What follow-up questions would you ask him if you had the chance? Mr. Duncan, if you're reading this, do you have a response to my thoughts and questions?

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