Secretary Duncan: “We Need to Do a Much Better Job of Listening to and Empowering Teachers”

Secretary Duncan: "We Need To Do a Much Netter Job of Listening To and Empowering Teachers"

All photos courtesy of William E. Mills, Montgomery County Public Schools

Secretary Duncan made a commitment to find better ways to support and honor the teaching profession in last week’s town hall discussion on Sirius/XM Radio.

A studio audience of 40 educators joined Duncan and Tim Farley of XM’s POTUS (“Politics of the United States”) Channel in a thoughtful discussion that ranged from teacher evaluation to professional development. Questions and comments also came from teachers in the nationwide listening audience and from people who posted on the Department of Education’s blog.

A number of teachers voiced concern about the use of test scores in evaluating teachers’ performance. “Test scores can be a piece of an evaluation, but should never, never – let be very clear – should never be the only means of evaluation,” Duncan said.  “I’m much more interested in gain and growth than absolute test scores.”

“Right now, great teachers don’t get recognized and rewarded, teachers in the middle don’t get the help and support they need, and at the bottom, where it’s frankly not working, nothing happens there as well.  So if evaluation systems aren’t working for adults, they definitely aren’t working for students.” He pointed to communities where “real progress, real breakthroughs” are being made in improving teacher evaluation systems, thanks to “unions and school boards and superintendents working together.”

Secretary Duncan: "We Need To Do a Much Netter Job of Listening To and Empowering Teachers"“What does excellent professional development look like?” asked a kindergarten teacher from Washington, D.C.

The Secretary responded with a question of his own:  “How do you professionalize the profession?  How do you build real, meaningful career ladders so teachers will want to stay in the profession for 10, 20, 30 years? I think the answers in these areas are always going to come from teachers, not from me, not from Washington.  It’s going to be teachers working with teachers….  I think we need to do a much better job of listening to and empowering teachers.”

In addition to teacher development, teachers asked important questions about how federal policies change their daily work in classrooms.

An elementary school teacher from Arlington, Va., wanted to know how our nation could “better include science in the national agenda.”

Secretary Duncan: "We Need To Do a Much Netter Job of Listening To and Empowering Teachers"The Secretary replied that “the biggest, most consistent complaint I’ve heard around the country, from teachers, from students, from parents, is around the narrowing of the curriculum and No Child Left Behind.  Yes, reading and math are hugely important, they’re fundamental — but so is science, so is social studies. “

He pointed to the Obama Administration’s Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its support for a well-rounded education for all students, including $300 million specifically for competitive grants for teaching science, technology, math and engineering – known as the STEM fields.  “We have to get dramatically better in STEM,” he said.

ED Staff


  1. Teachers need support, parents need reassurance, students need continuity of learning and we are in charge of the “disruptive innovation” that is revolutionizing the way in which we learn and teach, I liked your blog it’s very interesting, your information had helped me very much, Please keep on posting the related information regarding this Article.

  2. Joy. Let’s talk about all the good that’s done every single day by teachers and students. We need to highlight the katrillion positive moments that happen in the classroom. Folks doing the right thing, the exceptional thing, without the benefit of TV cameras and reporters in the room or assessment scores. Moments times moments times moments leads to the reasons why us teachers continue to walk into our classrooms filled with hope. Why in the world would anyone want to be a teacher with all of the negative rhetoric? I close my ears, participate in my own professional development at my own cost, and try to get better and better for myself and my students. I am a scientist and my lab is my classroom. No one, NO ONE, knows how to do this exactly right every single day. We can’t. As John Steinbeck said in his observation about the art of teaching, our canvas is living, breathing human beings with unique stories and particulars. We have to think on our feet, respond to the moment, adjust to the comings and goings of emotions and the physical being. This is the toughest job I’ve ever had–I don’t know about anyone else. I do the best I can every single day. Some days I blow it, but most days I’m on my game. Please, please, let’s focus on the miracles in the classroom–a student smiling for the first time in weeks, trying his best, yet he still fails the test. Is that a failure? Maybe. But I’m about opening a child’s heart so knows he has worth and value. We are breaking the hearts of wonderful teachers by inferring public teachers are bad. It’s time we start telling the truth.

  3. I am a State funded Preschool teacher and a parent of two college educated professional daughters. I can say I have both sides of experience. I do not live in any rich area, so my children went to moderate public schools. Their high schools were considered as low test score schools. I think the most important part is how parents get involved in children’s education. Most of the time I find parents are too busy enjoying their life than encouraging children to be accountable for their school work. When high school calls parents for child’s absentee parents response is “What do you want us to do?”When these parents are going to learn that home environment is part of their child’s life! They have money to pay for electronics game but no money to pay for school supply!I agree that teacher evaluation is very important. I have been working in this field for 20 years and I still feel I need to train myself every year to learn more so I can give children more things to explore and learn.
    Another shocking e mail I received from one of my daughter’s friend who is a teacher in Oakland, California, as part of Teach America program. In her words,”When I entered the classroom on my first day what I saw was just a black board and chalks. There were no books in the classroom.” She is raising money to buy books for children.(She teaches high school.)Is this the America we are living today?
    Now in California they are thinking of cutting State preschool for low income parents. Can you imagine these children going to Kindergarten without any exposure to social skills? How are they going to survive in Kindergarten class when most of the children are bilingual. Can you imagine one teacher with 20 children (most of them are five years or less). How this one teacher going to create learning environment when she has to start with social skills?

  4. Every case is different in every family. Im now a student at ***** state university in Ogden, UT. I have been to poor schools, “wealthy schools”, and the such. Much of education falls on both of the following. The ability of the parents to have an affect on there child, and the ability of there to be people out there that want youth to have a good education. But what isnt noticed is that an education is not the same everywhere, universally. An A student may not be the same at the private school than at the public school that can barely afford books. I’ve been on both ends where books were limited and where everything was handed to me. To tell you the truth I wouldnt be on scholarship for my grades, or even pursuing higher education altogether if it wasnt for my mother who happens to be an educator. I can see how education is now, and what it might turn into. The beast can be tamed with the right people and enough will power to want everyone to get an education. Start with parents, build with teachers, and let the rest take care of itself…

  5. I think true reform needs to include parents in these discussions. There are a lot of hype about the importance of parent-teacher collaboration but who is listening to the parents? Just because we may not have the right degrees or credentials, they know a lot more about their kids than anyone else. As parents, all we’re left with are PTSAs that are more of a fundraising animal than anything that has to do with real policy changes that affect their kids’ education. I hear a lot of gripe about the lack of parent involvement. If the discussion was opened up to parents and teachers, maybe we can finally get something done!

  6. If you were listening to teachers, you wouldn’t be going about education reform the way you’re currently going about it. Market place competition may work for some business sectors, but it really has no place in education.

    Race to the Top is a competitive market based example of what WE SHOULD NOT BE DOING in education. We want to close achievement gaps between groups of students, yet you are building achievement gaps between states by funding some and not others, thereby increasing the gaps between children in different states using competition as a means to spur reform.

    Parents should not have to leave their home state to try and find a better education for their children because say one state is getting better funded than another. There ought to be money divided equitably among states base on children’s needs in that state (e.g. title I), not reforms.

    The current scapegoating of teachers is a shame. No other country that I know of is using these unproven reforms to change their education systems. Some of the best in the world, Japan, Singapore, etc… The responsibility for learning is on the child and family. If we continue to scapegoat teachers, we will lose many more qualified candidates.

    Why would anyone want to teach when they are being blamed for things out of their control?

    Why would someone want to be an educator when it’s own education department continues to demonize the profession of educators?

    Why should children respect their educators when they keep hearing about how their teacher’s have failed them?

    We are teaching our children and our society to be more entitled and to expect something from nothing, when we should be teaching that the value of hard work for an education.

    We’d probably get more done if we were more selective on who was admitted to colleges of educations, raised the pay for educators, and put more accountability on families to help their children succeed.

    A good government program, or a bad one in RTT, cannot overcome personal responsibility for doing well in school. But in education fads come and go and this will be one of them until someone up top suddenly realizes that it didn’t work. Then we’ll be on to something else.

  7. I am a teacher and have been trying to get an issue resolved for 5 years. The education system at state and federal levels are responsible to nobody. They pass the buck, and cause a lot of damage. They stopped thinking of teachers as human beings years ago.

  8. I have been an educator in the classroom during the changes a decade ago. This is a time of great change in Education and we certainly do need to listen to teachers and students. We are all in this together in communities across the United States becoming global citizens in a world that is now flat. Teachers need support, parents need reassurance, students need continuity of learning and we are in charge of the “disruptive innovation” that is revolutionizing the way in which we learn and teach. It is not easy by any means but we have the determination to pass on our knowledge and experience to make positive changes that will promote literacy skills. Literacy skills are important today for people to become productive citizens in our society. So let’s listen to teachers and students…….

  9. empowerment should begin and focus on the student.has anyone singled any of these states that are finalists for the race to the top to see how they are revamping special education to abide by the law that ia when they should be consideredas top contenders.stop leaving these kids on the side of the son who is now 16 with aspergers living in sc and failed miserably by the nyc system.chancellor klein has made strides not to make THE SAME MISTAKES.

  10. You don’t professionalize the industry by destroying, first of all.

    Nor can you professionalize it by hiring those who would commit only 2 years (TFA) to it.

    You are not going to close the achievement gap the way you are going. Had your administration thought about it, you would have seen how universal healthcare and free early childhood education would do more to close the gap than all the “school reform” nonsense claims, without evidence, to be able to do.

    You have demonized the profession. You have scapegoated teachers. You have, without basis, claimed that charters can bring reform to scale. You have created a system of coercion (RTTT) that pits politics against the welfare of children. You have, and are, slowly killing the profession and turning what remains into a joke.

    Poverty is the cause. Crappy schools are a symptom.

    And you can’t even turn on comments without help.

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