Readers’ questions for Education Secretary Arne Duncan


Education Secretary Arne Duncan (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

I recently published a post about a teacher in Charleston, S.C., who asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan a gutsy question during a video chat Duncan had with educators. Here are some questions that readers have since sent in that they would like to see Duncan answer.

Patrick Hayes, a fifth-grade teacher and director of EdFirstSC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that works to empower people who support public schools, asked Duncan a question about the Obama administration’s backing for “value-added methods” of using student standardized-test scores to measure the “value” of a teacher, a method that many assessment experts say is unreliable but that the Education Department has pushed states to adopt. Hayes asked Duncan:

“Your own department found a 36 percent error rate for value-added. Your department’s merit pay brief says: ‘Texas, Nashville, and Chicago programs all showed no effect on student achievement.’ We can add NY, Denver and, more than likely, DC to that list. Why are you spending our money on policies that are unfair to teachers and have an extensive record of failure?”

You can see Duncan’s full response here, but the salient points are:

“That’s a really good question. I don’t quite agree with your analysis… Recognizing and rewarding excellence is something we need to do in education… There is no perfect model… To be very, very fair, value-added has to look at like students against like students… If it is not done that way, I agree with your premise that it is not fair.”

And then he went on to defend value-added.

Readers responded with other questions for the secretary. Here are some of them:

moore5610

7/31/2014 5:24 PM EST

I teach in NC. Teachers here have not had a raise in 7 years (46th in the nation). Our legislature has just passed a law eliminating extra pay for advanced degrees and terminating tenure.

How can teaching be called a profession?

Also, I’ve been teaching in a classroom that has had no heat nor air conditioning for the last two years. They say it can’t be fixed.

How is this possible in this country?

amerigus

1 – Which research has convinced the government that new standards in inner city schools will raise performance?

2 – Hasn’t Common Core failed to standardize measures if states are setting cut scores separately and differently?

3 – What part does the Secretary believe non-school based factors like poverty, crime, drugs, etc. play in the achievement gap?

 Gary Dunlap (Retired educator, via e-mail)

I would ask Mr. Duncan when was the last time he was in a classroom as a teacher, and what qualifications does he have to evaluate current teachers? Too many times, people with little or no experience in the classroom are giving advice that affects literally millions of professional teachers; it does not take a rocket scientist to understand the fallacies in such a practice.  All this does is to make for “attractive” political headlines and improves public education none at all.

Roger440

7/31/2014 9:29 PM EST

Teachers; students; parents; how do you expect a learning community to work when only one group is held accountable?

Teacher Ang

8/1/2014 10:19 AM EST [Edited]

I would ask Mr. Duncan to consider the incentives that teachers want. We do not want to be rewarded for student performance on test scores. We have more important measures of performance and growth in our students. Seeing my students grow is the reward I get for doing a good job. I don’t need a bribe. However, I do need to earn a livable wage. With no wage increase in the last 5 years, I am not sure I can afford to retire on my teacher’s salary. We haven’t even had COLA increases, so my wages are not keeping up with inflation. I have 16 years of experience and am sadly now considering other careers because I don’t think I will be able to afford to retire as a teacher.

LaMarr Brack

8/1/2014 11:38 AM EST

Mr. Duncan, how many days and hours have you spent in special education classrooms?…..

Rubinsteindds

8/2/2014 10:50 AM EST

What question would I ask Duncan??
How about “Mr. Secretary, could you please answer Patrick Hayes’ question?”

kmccormick87

7/31/2014 2:07 PM EST

I’d ask Duncan to actually answer the [Hayes] question. The question was: Why does he persist in spending taxpayer money on policies that have a record of failure?

Then, I would ask him to produce the research-based evidence that his “valued-added” models actually work.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · August 12, 2014