With classrooms in crisis around the country, the Obama administration is attempting the most ambitious school reform in a generation. But the Obama agenda, backed by $100 billion in stimulus money, has sparked controversy with teachers' unions over accountability and merit-based pay. This morning in an exclusive "This Week" education debate, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, faced off on the controversy surrounding the use of student test scores to evaluate America's teachers.
Today the Los Angeles Times released data on 6,000 individual teachers, ranking them according to their effectiveness in raising students' test scores. Duncan is encouraging schools to use this kind of data to evaluate teachers.
"Teachers want to get better. It shouldn't take a newspaper to give them that data. The district, the union, the education stakeholders have to work together to empower teachers. This should be a piece of how teachers are evaluated," he said.
Weingarten, however, said these types of assessments are unfair.
"What the L.A. Times did is they used this data, which is unreliable and is basically a prediction and an assumption, they used it in isolation of everything else. And so we said, let the teachers see it, let them use it. In fact, they are starting to do that in L.A., but don't publish it in this way," she said.
With 25 percent of American students failing to graduate on time, the need for reform is urgent. In one generation the U.S. has dropped from leading the world in college completion rates to being 12th internationally.
Washington D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who also participated in the "This Week" debate, has led the District to adopt one of the nation's most ambitious teacher evaluation systems. In conjunction with the local union, Rhee has revamped how the city administers, compensates and removes teachers from their jobs.
"We certainly sat at the table with the unions to craft a contract that we thought was going to be good for kids and fair to teachers. We completely revamped our teacher evaluation model so that it was more aligned with how students were actually performing," Rhee explained.
Although D.C. has become a leader in the growing movement to evaluate teachers based on student achievement, Rhee came under fire last month for terminating 261 teachers, many of whom had received poor marks under the new evaluation system. The Washington Teachers' Union is contesting Rhee's decision.
Rhee also instituted a pay-for-performance system in D.C. to reward the city's highest-achieving teachers. Duncan, who supports merit-pay for teachers, believes math and science teachers should be paid more, so should those who teach in high-poverty or rural schools.
"How do we get the hardest-working, the most committed to the children who need the most help? We have to be more creative. And let me be clear: Financial incentives are a piece of that, but a small piece. You need a great principal. You need a supportive community. All of us have to work together. You have to create the climate and the culture where great talent want to serve where it's most needed," Duncan said.