Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed the Baltimore County Teachers Convention to take stock of the successes and failures of the Obama administration since the President took office in 2009. In his opening remarks, Duncan said that it wasn't his goal to serve as a cheerleader for the academic reform movement, or to attempt to rile the troops by stressing the discrepancy between the achievement level of American students and their peers from industrialized nations around the world, but simply to tally up the pluses and the minuses of the President's education policy and attempt to describe what another four years of President Obama might look like in terms of student achievement.
The fact that many school systems in the country are failing isn't in question. This isn't something that has become evident only in the past three years, but has been an issue facing every single administration over the last two decades. It's what spurred George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act and why its easing could be considered a crowning education achievement of the current president.
Since coming into office, the President's budget proposals have requested a total of $60 billion to support efforts to staff classrooms with exceptionally qualified teachers — in addition to the $25 billion in funding requests for the coming fiscal year.
That's why – year after year – he has protected education from budget cuts – and that's why he has pushed a bold agenda for change.
He fundamentally believes in education as the pathway out of poverty and the pathway to a strong, secure future.
And we both believe that teachers are the heart and soul of our education system– and that our success as a country is entirely dependent on your success as a teacher.
Moving forward with providing better schools for America's kids, said Duncan, means facing several unpleasant truths about what a job as a teacher in the nation's schools entails. It means acknowledging that too many children do not get the support they need at home, and this lack must be addressed by instructors in the classroom and administrators in school offices. Duncan expressed his gratitude for the job being done by teachers every day while calling for more effort on the students' behalf, especially in cases where the social and emotional background is substantially lacking.
We live in an imperfect world. Some children are challenged by poverty, neighborhood, or family issues that are almost unimaginable. Some schools are underfunded. Some principals are overwhelmed. And some teachers feel unsupported. They're tired of feeling attacked.
And yet, even in those difficult circumstances, you are helping kids learn in remarkable ways. Every day, in classrooms all across America, students are overcoming huge barriers and succeeding because of caring, devoted teachers.
The administration also counts as a policy achievement the introduction of new accountability standards in nearly 60 percent of schools as a condition of giving states waivers from the 2014 universal achievement benchmarks set by NCLB. Although the introduction of these systems have been opposed by teachers unions around the country, Duncan asked the attendees to consider the benefits of teacher ratings that depend on objective performance metrics rather than amorphous subjective standards.
At a groundbreaking conference we hosted in Cincinnati in May, leaders from NEA, the AFT, and the national associations representing school boards, superintendents, chief state school officers, and large urban districts – all publicly signed a document spelling out seven principles for reforming the teaching profession.
This document is truly historic. Created with a united front and a real sense of collaboration, it provides a strong foundation for comprehensive reform. It promotes the importance of shared responsibility and accountability, a healthy school culture, enhanced teacher leadership, strong community engagement, multiple career pathways, and all of the elements needed for success.