"I believe that teacher unions are at a crossroads," he said. "These policies were created over the past century to protect the rights of teachers, but they have produced an industrial, factory model of education that treats all teachers like interchangeable widgets.
"When inflexible seniority and rigid tenure rules that we designed put adults ahead of children, then we are not only putting kids at risk, we're putting the entire education system at risk," he added. "We're inviting the attack of parents and the public, and that is not good for any of us."
While the Obama administration has emphasized performance-based pay in the past, Duncan seemingly acknowledged he is entering sensitive territory for the teachers' unions, joking halfway through his remarks that, "You can boo, but just don't throw any shoes, please."
Duncan's speech was the fourth and final to outline the reform strategies that states must address under the American recovery and Reinvestment Act and the criteria to compete for a portion of the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" funds to improve education quality.
The secretary's previous speeches addressed the use of data to inform instruction and education policy decisions, the need for standards and assessments, and the role of charter schools in turning around low-performing schools.