America’s Standing Among Nations Relies on Great Teachers

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

After his remarks, Secretary Duncan took questions on a wide variety of education issues.

LITTLE ROCK—If America is to regain its pre-eminence in education compared to other nations, we owe it to our teachers to share with them useful data and other feedback so they can help children succeed and continually improve at their jobs, Secretary Duncan said tonight. And, he added, parents deserve to know how successful their children’s teachers are at helping students grow academically.

“Under the best of circumstances, this information would be openly discussed among teachers, parents and principals with the goal of identifying the strongest teachers so we can learn from them and better support those who are struggling,” he told nearly 1,000 educators, civic leaders and community members gathered at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center for a lecture hosted by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

In tonight’s audience were two of the “Little Rock Nine”—those courageous African American teenagers who helped desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. Elizabeth Eckford and Minnijean Brown Trickey received a standing ovation as Arne praised their courage in entering Central’s classrooms a half-century ago. He will kick off the Back to School tour at Central High on Thursday morning.

Minnijean Brown Trickey (left), one of the "Little Rock Nine," attended the event.

The Secretary’s remarks on teacher quality tonight were in response to a recent report by the Los Angeles Times that used students’ performance on standardized tests to determine which teachers get the greatest gains out of their students. Arne stressed that testing data should be only one piece in determining teacher quality—and that we need better tests than we have now. He pointed to Finland, Canada, Singapore, China and South Korea as countries from which the United States could learn.

“Educators deserve more than statistics to do their jobs well,” he said. “They need constructive feedback from their principal and their peers against clear standards and other relevant measures.”

He continued, “This information should be rolled up into a meaningful, ongoing assessment of their work that both helps improve instruction and is tied to opportunities for advancement, bonuses, collaboration and professional development.”

To applause, Arne advocated using a variety of data to highlight what’s not working—and what is—in our PreK-20 education system, in addition to being more transparent about teacher effectiveness.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Before taking a wide range of questions from the audience, he framed the “Courage in the Classroom” tour with a simple message for America’s teachers:

“You are our national unsung heroes. Not only do we trust you but we hold you in the very highest esteem. We understand that you are doing society’s most important work. We will support you in your work and we will work together with you to elevate and strengthen the teaching profession, because nothing less than America’s future rests on your collective shoulders.”

Here you can read the full text of Arne’s remarks, as prepared for delivery.

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Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications & Outreach


  1. Everything you said Mr Secretary, sounds so good, but in the practice it is utopia. Why I believe that? because, the last year I was surprised when I asked to the teacher of my daughter , who was in fourth grade about, my daughters assessments , and he answer that the assessments were, private, there was no homework at all in all the year, I never saw the tests or examinations of my daughter. I talk to the principal of the Charter school North Davis Preparatory Academy and she said the teacher was right,I did not have any right to see my daughter assessment, I told her so how can I help my daughter to improve her grades, there is no any material probe that tell me why she has low math grades. So Mr Secretary , What kind of education is this, when nobody regulates the charter schools, you talk about of permanent assessment, and checking for understanding, technology in the classrooms and methodology classes etc and giving more money for the schools?. Since My point of view we need better teacher and Schools that involve the parents in the process of learning. because we the parents want to be part of that. thanks. Mr secretary.

  2. So…If the future of our education depends on great teachers, why are so many school districts–including ones that have won national prizes and Race to the Top funding–turning to scripted curricula? I am referring to the Boston Public School system, whose English curriculum for this new school year is so highly scripted that teachers will NOT be able to teach; rather, they will be reading from a script that is so proscribed that it is devoid of creativity, innovation or any kind of teacher-based input. This is teaching? This is helping students learn? Teachers may as well be news anchors reading from a teleprompter rather than masters-level, experienced, dedicated professionals. Teachers could be robots with this kind of curriculum. When I was in school in the 1950s and ’60s, we were encouraged to think, to ask questions, to dream about what was possible in our lives. These students will be asked to parrot back the “right” responses without the possibility that there may be “another” response or a different way of seeing an author’s perspective on a poem, novel or short story. No, this is not learning. This is not seeking the best teachers. This is a sham.

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