In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week: An Open Letter from Arne Duncan to America’s Teachers

I have worked in education for much of my life. I have met with thousands of teachers in great schools and struggling schools, in big cities and small towns, and I have a deep and genuine appreciation for the work you do. I know that most teachers did not enter the profession for the money. You became teachers to make a difference in the lives of children, and for the hard work you do each day, you deserve to be respected, valued, and supported.

I consider teaching an honorable and important profession, and it is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society. In too many communities, the profession has been devalued. Many of the teachers I have met object to the imposition of curriculum that reduces teaching to little more than a paint-by-numbers exercise. I agree.

Inside your classroom, you exercise a high degree of autonomy. You decide when to slow down to make sure all of your students fully understand a concept, or when a different instructional strategy is needed to meet the needs of a few who are struggling to keep up. You build relationships with students from a variety of backgrounds and with a diverse array of needs, and you find ways to motivate and engage them. I appreciate the challenge and skill involved in the work you do and applaud those of you who have dedicated your lives to teaching.

Many of you have told me you are willing to be held accountable for outcomes over which you have some control, but you also want school leaders held accountable for creating a positive and supportive learning environment. You want real feedback in a professional setting rather than drive-by visits from principals or a single score on a bubble test. And you want the time and opportunity to work with your colleagues and strengthen your craft.

You have told me you believe that the No Child Left Behind Act has prompted some schools—especially low-performing ones—to teach to the test, rather than focus on the educational needs of students. Because of the pressure to boost test scores, NCLB has narrowed the curriculum, and important subjects like history, science, the arts, foreign languages, and physical education have been de-emphasized. And you are frustrated when teachers alone are blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded schools systems. You rightfully believe that responsibility for educational quality should be shared by administrators, community, parents, and even students themselves.

The teachers I have met are not afraid of hard work, and few jobs today are harder. Moreover, it’s gotten harder in recent years; the challenges kids bring into the classroom are greater and the expectations are higher. Not too long ago, it was acceptable for schools to have high dropout rates, and not all kids were expected to be proficient in every subject. In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children—English-language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty—to learn and succeed.

You and I are here to help America’s children. We understand that the surest way to do that is to make sure that the 3.2 million teachers in America’s classrooms are the very best they can be. The quality of our education system can only be as good as the quality of our teaching force.

So I want to work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking. States, with the help of teachers, are now developing better assessments so you will have useful information to guide instruction and show the positive impact you are having on our children.

Working together, we can transform teaching from the factory model designed over a century ago to one built for the information age. We can build an accountability system based on data we trust and a standard that is honest—one that recognizes and rewards great teaching, gives new or struggling teachers the support they need to succeed, and deals fairly, efficiently, and compassionately with teachers who are simply not up to the job. With your input and leadership, we can restore the status of the teaching profession so more of America’s top college students choose to teach because no other job is more important or more fulfilling.

In the next decade, half of America’s teachers are likely to retire. What we do to recruit, train, and retain our new teachers will shape public education in this country for a generation. At the same time, how we recognize, honor, and show respect for our experienced educators will reaffirm teaching as a profession of nation builders and social leaders dedicated to our highest ideals. As that work proceeds, I want you to know that I hear you, I value you, and I respect you.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Cross-posted from Education Week.


  1. Oh Dear, Mr. Duncan,
    I am terribly afraid you have got us all wrong. You do seem to be of the opinion that we, or that , many of our teachers are either incompetent or just plain lazy and to add to that , the most egregious part of it all , is that you believe we are a drain on the public treasury. Can’t have that now , can we?
    It does seem to me though , that our country became one of the truly great and wonderful countries of the world through good and free public education .This , I believe was that great equalizer, helping rich and poor alike to, oh, how I dislike using these words, to be all that we can be.
    Mr. Duncan, have you really thought about what privitizing schools means? When I think of it , I think that someone is going to make a lot of money, and I mean lots and lots of money. Wow ! That’s really, really great, for a few people, that is.
    And have you thought of the transportation problems and costs? You know, there are many expences involved, such as costly vehicles, upkeep, fuel and employees? But that’s good too ,as we can help out the big oil companies who always seem to be absolutely desperate for more profits. Now personally, Mr. Duncan , I prefer neighborhood schools.
    You know Mr. Duncan , when I taught, I somehow knew that every child would not want to go to college, But I would also believe that they would be able to farm their family farm or find employment opportunites with living wages. By the way , do you know whatever happened to living wages? Oh, that’s right . It’s those darned unions. Well , we’ll just get rid of them right now! Sooner the better!
    Now let’s get serious here Mr. Duncan, many of the root problems in our schools are caused by poverty, which have you noticed, seems to be making a big time comeback. Now poverty can lead to despair and hopelessness , very heavy burdens for any chid to carry.
    And finally, Mr. Duncan, I don’t believe there’s to much wrong with our teachers . I believe there is something to much wrong with our country. Fix it up, Mr. Duncan. Fix it up.

  2. What doctor can become head of a medical association having never practiced a day nor cared for a single patient? What lawyer can become the head of a bar association having never tried a case nor spent a single day in court? None. In all major professions, it is mandated that one must have practiced the craft for years before even thinking of assuming a leadership position. What educator can assume our nation’s highest position as an educator, being U.S. Secretary of Education, having never taught a single class, graded a single child, nor having been a licensed professional teacher for a day? Answer: Arne Duncan. Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education shows our nation’s cynical contempt for public education. Only those furthest removed from actually being a proven teacher with years of classroom experience can be leaders of public education.

  3. Sun Tzu put it best (with some helpful interpretation):
    There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army (school):–

    (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey (forced curriculum and insane testing). This is called hobbling the army (and removing free-thought and creativity from our classrooms).

    (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army (ignoring the conditions of the individual schools, in a race to privatize). This causes restlessness in the soldier’s minds (and causes a flight of highly qualified teachers from the teaching profession).

    (3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances (ensuring that the “well-connected” chronies of those interested in dismantling public education for a profit have a definite leadership role in our schools, regardless of whether or not they have any educational experience). This shakes the confidence of the soldiers (and causes a loss of faith in the system).

  4. Miss. Duncan,

    There isn’t enough time nor energy left to address your comments in their entirety so I will simply share my opinion of your comments. There is one major flaw in the way that education is approached today and that is the mistaken idea that the system is broken and it is teachers who broke it. As a classroom teacher for the past 20 years I can tell you that NCLB legislation has made the education that our kids get worse, and that we do our job in spite of the government not with the aide of it. NCLB and its proponents are simply using this as a convenient way to mask the real problem in our country; the lack of mainstream jobs. With the destruction of the manufacturing base and the flawed policies of all the past four administrations it wouldn’t matter if every person in the country had a Bachelors degree because the jobs aren’t here. The only solution is to stop wasting taxpayers money on this ridiculous law, start trusting in the teaching profession once again, and let us do our jobs. In the meantime, start focusing on creating jobs that a well educated high school graduate can do, draft legislation that protects our workers from predatory policy makers beholden to the multi-national corporations, and restore the middle class. That is the answer, not NCLB!

  5. I believe you think you are doing the right thing, but you simply lack the knowledge of what happens in schools and what are the best practices for working with all of the children in this country. How could you possibly be expected to know when you have little direct experience? Visiting schools, looking at test scores, or trying to run schools like businesses do not amount to real experience. If it truly was so easy to fix what is wrong with schools as your attitudes suggest, schools would have been fixed a long time ago.

  6. So, when and how do you involve teachers in the reform process?
    There is little more I can say that has already been said, other than come spend a week in an urban, low-income neighborhood school where the teachers and administrators have been stripped of all professional independence. is a blog with insight to urban teaching and responds to articles and research.

    • I agree with all the Dave Reber wrote below…

      Mr. Duncan,

      I read your Teacher Appreciation Week letter to teachers, and had at first decided not to respond. Upon further thought, I realized I do have a few things to say.

      I’ll begin with a small sample of relevant adjectives just to get them out of the way: condescending, arrogant, insulting, misleading, patronizing, egotistic, supercilious, haughty, insolent, peremptory, cavalier, imperious, conceited, contemptuous, pompous, audacious, brazen, insincere, superficial, contrived, garish, hollow, pedantic, shallow, swindling, boorish, predictable, duplicitous, pitchy, obtuse, banal, scheming, hackneyed, and quotidian. Again, it’s just a small sample; but since your attention to teacher input is minimal, I wanted to put a lot into the first paragraph.

      Your lead sentence, “I have worked in education for much of my life”, immediately establishes your tone of condescension; for your 20-year “education” career lacks even one day as a classroom teacher. You, Mr. Duncan, are the poster-child for the prevailing attitude in corporate-style education reform: that the number one prerequisite for educational expertise is never having been a teacher.

      Your stated goal is that teachers be “…treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society.”


      How many other professionals are the last ones consulted about their own profession; and are then summarily ignored when policy decisions are made? How many other professionals are so distrusted that sweeping federal legislation is passed to “force” them to do their jobs? And what dignities did you award teachers when you publicly praised the mass firing of teachers in Rhode Island?

      You acknowledge teacher’s concerns about No Child Left Behind, yet you continue touting the same old rhetoric: “In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children – English- language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty – to learn and succeed.”

      What other professions are held to impossible standards of perfection? Do we demand that police officers eliminate all crime, or that doctors cure all patients? Of course we don’t.

      There are no parallel claims of “in today’s society, there is no acceptable crime rate”, or “we rightly expect all patients – those with end-stage cancers, heart failure, and multiple gunshot wounds – to thrive into old age.” When it comes to other professions, respect and common sense prevail.

      Your condescension continues with “developing better assessments so [teachers] will have useful information to guide instruction…” Excuse me, but I am a skilled, experienced, and licensed professional. I don’t need an outsourced standardized test – marketed by people who haven’t set foot in my school – to tell me how my students are doing.

      I know how my students are doing because I work directly with them. I learn their strengths and weaknesses through first-hand experience, and I know how to tailor instruction to meet each student’s needs. To suggest otherwise insults both me and my profession.

      You want to “…restore the status of the teaching profession…” Mr. Duncan, you built your career defiling the teaching profession. Your signature effort, Race to the Top, is the largest de-professionalizing, demoralizing, sweeter-carrot-and-sharper-stick public education policy in U. S. history. You literally bribed cash-starved states to enshrine in statute the very reforms teachers have spoken against.

      You imply that teachers are the bottom-feeders among academics. You want more of “America’s top Advertisement college students” to enter the profession. If by “top college students” you mean those with high GPA’s from prestigious, pricey schools then the answer is simple: a five-fold increase in teaching salaries.

      You see, Mr. Duncan, those “top” college students come largely from our nation’s wealthiest families. They simply will not spend a fortune on an elite college education to pursue a 500% drop in socioeconomic status relative to their parents.

      You assume that “top” college students automatically make better teachers. How, exactly, will a 21-year-old, silver-spoon-fed ivy-league graduate establish rapport with inner-city kids? You think they’d be better at it than an experienced teacher from a working-class family, with their own rough edges or checkered past, who can actually relate to those kids? Your ignorance of human nature is astounding.

      As to your concluding sentence, “I hear you, I value you, and I respect you”; no, you don’t, and you don’t, and you don’t. In fact, I don’t believe you even wrote this letter for teachers.

      I think you sense a shift in public opinion. Parents are starting to see through the façade; and recognize the privatization and for-profit education reform movement for what it is. And they’ve begun to organize – Parents Across America, is one example.

      To save yourself, you need to reinforce the illusion that you’re doing what’s best for public education. So you play nice with teachers for one day – not for the teachers but for your public audience.

      You also need to reassure those who leverage their wealth – and have clearly bought your loyalties – that you’re still on their side. Your letter is riddled with all the right buzzwords and catch phrases to do just that:

      “…to change and improve federal law to invest in teachers” sounds like a wink-nod to TFA that federal dollars are headed their way.

      “…sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth” can be nothing other than value-added standardized testing; a mill-stone for teachers but a boon to the for-profit testing industry.

      “…transform teaching from the factory model…to one built for the information age” alludes to systemic replacement of living teachers with virtual ones – bolstering the near monopoly of one software giant who believes the “babysitting” function of public schools is the only reason not to go 100% virtual.

      “…recognize and reward great teaching” is stale code for “merit pay”; which is stale code for “bribe for test scores”; which comes down to “justification to pay most teachers less.” Lower teacher salaries, in turn, will free up money for standardized tests, new computer software, and other profitable pursuits.

      No doubt some will dismiss what I’ve said as paranoid delusion. What they call paranoia I call paying attention. Mr. Duncan, teachers hear what you say. We also watch what you do, and we are paying attention.

      Working with kids every day, our baloney-detectors are in fine form. We’ve heard the double-speak before; and we don’t believe the dog ate your homework. Coming from children, double-speak is expected and it provides important teachable moments. Coming from adults, it’s just sad.

      Despite our best efforts, some folks never outgrow their disingenuous, manipulative, self-serving approach to life. Of that, Mr. Duncan, you are a shining example.

  7. The education policies of this administration are the single reason why I will not vote to reelect Barack Obama in 2012. I believed in hope but it was hype. I believed in change but Race to the Top is even worse than NCLB. I’m a teacher and have been for fifteen years and for the first time I’m actively looking for work outside of teaching. I co-direct a National Writing Project site, a program that was defunded by this administration. My children attend city school, which has been abandoned by this administration.

    The things you say here are, as Hamlet once said, “words, words, words,” but there is no substance behind them. Honoring teachers requires much more than saying that you honor them.

    Your education policies are destroying good education in our country, hurting our poorest citizens, and amount to political point scoring at the expense of our children.

  8. I am a Teacher’s Assistant in Charlotte. NC. After retiring from the Verizon with 31 years of service, I tried to find a job I would love and one where I could give back to society and help the next generation. I chose teaching. My expertise is teaching reading skills and strategies. On June 16, 2011 I received a notice that I would be layed off. I have a BA in Sociology. A teacher should not be layed off anywhere in the world. We hold the future in our hands. Today, it is not about education or the children it is about the almighty dollar. Our future and the future of our children is being sacrificed because CMS needs to save money. The children do not come first. That is a shame. I don’t think your know or care what is going on in the school system.

  9. Mr. Duncan,
    You say teachers “deserve to be respected, valued, and supported.” I am a teacher and I do NOT feel respected, valued, or supported.
    Your policies, and Mr Obama’s, or Bush’s prior, are transforming the education profession not into a dignified career of service, but into a revolving door. More and more, we are loosing great and veteran teaches, and more and more all we get is very young people who come into the teaching profession as a job where they stay no more than five years, until the day they find something better to do, or a ‘real’ career. You expect teachers to do sooooo much more, with sooo much less ($40,000 a year maximum, no pension, no tenure, no support). What other professionals (lawyers, doctors, etc. would work for $40,000 a year? Would YOU Mr Duncan?). This trend is leading us to the following scenario: upper middle class and wealthy children will have a great education in private institutions with the best teachers (those who get the respect, are valued, and get the support they need). Lower income families will take their children to public schools because they will not have a choice, and they will receive a very poor education (by teacher aficionados) that will condemn them to poverty for the rest of their lives. And America will continue falling behind compared to the rest of the world.
    So yes, transformation, but for the worse. You are transforming teaching from a career to a job that barely anybody wants to do anymore. And you know why? Easy: we do not get respect, we are not valued, and we do not get the support we need.

  10. Mr. Duncan,
    You say teachers “deserve to be respected, valued, and supported.” I am a teacher and I do NOT feel respected, valued, or supported.
    Your policies, and Mr Obama’s, or Bush’s prior, are transforming the education profession not into a dignified career of service, but into a revolving door. More and more, we are loosing great and veteran teaches, and more and more all we get is very young people who come into the teaching profession as a job where they stay no more than five years, until the day they find something better to do, or a ‘real’ career. You expect teachers to do sooooo much more, with sooo much less ($40,000 a year maximum, no pension, no tenure, no support). What other professionals (lawyers, doctors, etc. would work for $40,000 a year? Would YOU Mr Duncan?). This trend is leading us to the following scenario: upper middle class and wealthy children will have a great education in private institutions with the best teachers (those who get the respect, are valued, and get the support they need). Lower income families will take their children to public schools because they will not have a choice, and they will receive a very poor education (by teacher aficionados) that will condemn them to poverty for the rest of their lives. And America will continue falling behind compared to the rest of the world.
    So yes, transformation, but for the worse. You are transforming teaching from a career to a job that barely anybody wants to do anymore. And you know why? Easy: we do not get respect, we are not valued, and we do not get the support we need.
    Shame on you Mr Duncan.

  11. Like many of my colleagues, I am deeply disappointed with Secretary Duncan’s policies, and am frankly offended that he thinks teachers are gullible enough not to see through his patronizing letter. It is all well and good that he “hears” us, the fact is he is categorically ignoring what we have to say. The Department of Education has made it abundantly clear that professional teachers are not valued in the least. Alternative credentialling, charter schools that do not require staff to have credentials, and the like, demonstrate that fact clearly enough. No Child Left Behind has destroyed arts, science and social studies instruction at the elementary level, and now threatens it at the middle school level, since the test scores are all administrators worry about. My principal announced in a staff meeting last year that science didn’t matter, so the message is very clear to us down in the trenches. The political games that are played with education in Washington, as well as in my state, sicken me, because we will not be able to get this generation of students back to fix the damage that has been done by the high-stakes test mentality. People: Children are not factory products. You cannot apply a business model to them. The only thing I can really think is that somewhere, someone very influential has decided that there is money to be made by privatizing education, so all the recent policies are directed at demoralizing professional teachers, gutting collective bargaining, and paving the way for corporate control of schools by large charters. Is that what our country really wants?

  12. Mr Duncan, your words are disingenuous at best. Your efforts, and the president’s, have done nothing but demoralize teachers and turn them into the enemy in the public eye. The truth of this is obvious across the country in Wisconsin, Idaho, Ohio, Indiana, etc. You have done more to damage public education then even the Bush administration did with NCLB. You and the president are pursuing a policy with a vision that is as wide as your eyes and as far as your nose because if you really cared about public education you would recognize that the problem goes hand in hand with a host of other issues in a child’s life, not the least of which is poverty.

    You say you support public schools, but make them compete for desperately needed PUBLIC funding. To even have a chance at the money, teachers, districts, and states have to agree to the draconian reforms of a reform movement that has largely been debunked by research (Annenberg Foundation at Brown University last year as well as a study from the Brookings Institution, also from last year, to name a few.). Nothing about these studies and others or arguments by experts like Diane Ravitch to the contrary seem to affect your thinking because I believe your ultimate goal is not to improve public education, but to privatize it.

    This is NOT an education reform movement. It is a privatization movement by people who stand to make a lot of money by “reforming” public schools.

    As to your spokesman who said that what I’m saying is not what the majority of teachers think, I can only say that if the staff in my district is anything like teachers around the rest of the country, you are sadly mistaken.

  13. I read through all of the comments and many of them are valid and true. As a former Parent Coordinator, I am far too familiar with the lack of parenting that is happening in our country. However, I think we should not generalize and lump all parents in that category because there are some amazing parents, from low income communities who are very engaged in their children’s education, trying to work with teachers and administrators to improve the quality of education for our children.

    Many of the teachers that posted comments about how great and dedicated you are to your profession, can’t ignore the facts, like in any industry there are slacker teachers. Providing a quality education for our children is NOT their first priority. Only their paychecks, benefits, and retirement, which I understand because we all have to live but being a teacher is a job of servitude that one must do for the LOVE of IT and the rewarding results that come from knowing you are molding and shaping the minds of the future.

    What really concerned me is how so many of you attacked Arne and his comment to teachers. WOW! Just like many of you work in a team environment, so does he. As educated as all of you claim to be, do you honestly think that he ALONE is calling all the shots? Plus this blaming and pointing the finger at people is not going to get anything accomplished. We need to be solution oriented, for the SAKE of our children.

    Here’s just one idea to wet your whistle, perhaps a mandate can be set that all school districts have to start providing a percentage of their energy from solar or wind power by a certain date, so money can be saved on electrical bills. Creative and critical thinking needs to be utilized to solve the lack of funding from the state budgets, as well as coming up with alternative revenues to supplement the budget when there are shortfalls.

    Now as far as Arne goes, I don’t know him personally, however, we did grow up in the same neighborhood in Chicago, have mutual friends in common, and I can say without a DOUBT, that education was taken very seriously and many (more than less) teachers that taught in the schools there were phenomenal. So I do know, for a fact, that Arne was raised and taught in an environment that emphasized getting a great education, as well as, establishing a great respect and admiration for teachers.

    I will always respect him for when he was hired to overhaul the corrupted and archaic, Chicago Board of ED and made ALL teachers re-certify to keep their jobs. If you were resting on your tenure and not performing, bye-bye! Now that took guts and how it should be. In the business world, you CANNOT keep your job doing mediocre work for 25 to 30 years, no way.

    It is sad to say, that some people started teaching because of that, it was a safe place to work because of union tenure protection. Let it be known, that I, a single parent of a child (4.0 GPA and a member of the Jr. Honor Society) entering high school next year, advocates for a school system that retains teachers for their performance and not based on how long they’ve been working for the district!

    Also, African-Americans were forbidden to read and write while enslaved but we learned despite the horrific consequences if caught. After emancipation, we were poorer then we are now but some amazing men and women educated themselves and made major contributions to the world. So all you educators PLEASE STOP giving our children excuses not to learn. Sure poverty is an obstacle but it has NOTHING to do with the brains ability to LEARN and being affluent doesn’t necessarily make you SMARTER or a better learner!


    • It makes no more difference if the ideas are Arne’s alone or came out of some team meeting. If you are the captain of the ship, you will go down with it. Welcome to the Titanic, Arne!

    • Duncan did not make all teachers get certified. This was mandated by Federal Law ‘No Child Left Behind’, and enforced by the State of Illinois. And corruption existed throughout his tenure as a CEO of CPS, and after his leaving for Washington DC. (Why aren’t any parents on the Board of Directors of CPS? Why only one educator? Why so many business from American corporate who could not care less about the children of Chicago? Why did Mr Duncan kept a list of friends and family who wanted to go to the best schools in Chicago like Whitney Young, etc? Isn’t that ethically wrong?)
      I can tell by your post that you are African-American, like myself. And like myself, you are in Chicago. Well, let me tell you segregation still exists in our cities today, not legal segregation, but de facto segregation. After 60 years of Brown vs. Board of Ed, we have a LOT of work to do brother!
      And finally, I will say that research indicates that poverty DOES have an impact in the ability of a child to learn. Socioeconomic circumstances are KEY in the education and growth of a child. How is a child going to be prepared to learn when he did not sleep last night, or ate in the morning? How is he going to learn if all he is thinking is what streets he is going to walk today to avoid gang bangers? Basic needs have to be met in order for a child to learn, and middle class children have an advantage in that.
      Finally, if you are a parent, please admit the fact that many parents have already quit their obligations as parents even before their child is born. We have many students whose parents are nowhere to be found. Others whose mothers were doing drugs while pregnant, etc etc etc We teachers are not blaming parents, but we NEED parents on our side to help children grow healthier and better educated.

      • I agree with you completely! As a teacher, I believe that parents and teachers need to work closely together to help our children. This year has been the best in my short educational career. I have fine-tuned problems that I had with my pedagogy, I developed a Classroom Management Plan, I made home visits before the school year started, I had parent volunteers in my classroom at least 3 times per week, my students learned faster that in previous years, parents supported me and helped me whenever was needed, we had a weekly classroom newsletter going and parents that disseminated these newsletters, my understanding of the curriculum was greater, I decided to be the site rep for the union at my site because my colleagues agreed that I was diplomatic and that the principal like me. All of these accomplishments for… receiving a letter of non-reelect. The district decided that I was not a good fit for it. If my teaching was more effective than ever before, why was I targeted? Politics! Corporation mentality! They must have thought that it was better to get rid of this teacher before she gets her tenure so that I would not have a chance to become a troublemaker in the future.
        I come from a third world country and came here with the belief that America is the dream maker. I went through my college education all over again because my degree in my native country was not worth anything here. I worked very hard to get to where I am now – an educator who can make a difference in a student’s life, like my mother has done as an educator, as my sister is doing as an educator back in our native country.
        However, America is turning quickly into a third world country by cutting funds to education and health. America is turning into a corporate led nation where the people have no say. By taking away rights from teachers and cutting funds to education, our nation runs the risk of reverting to feudalism, where only the rich and the powerful had access to education and the poor majority of the population did not have a voice and were not permitted to have an education, oftentimes, were not allowed to learn to read and had to do so in secret. We have to analyze our current situation and question the current state of education in this country and ask ourselves if this is where we want this country to be in the not so far future – say, in the next fifty years or so.
        Having been a teacher in this country for only three years I can at least attest that I have not seen or met any slacker teacher. All of the teachers I work with take their role of educator seriously and want to do their best for the students. The school district though has put enormous blocks in the way, such as making it difficult for students to be qualified for special education because it would cost more for the district to invest in that student.
        Mr. Duncan’s open letter is an empty letter that does not feel sincere given all that is going on in our nation regarding education, states stripping teachers rights, cutting funds, and so on. He shames our nation by submitting such letter when the world can see, read, and analyze the current state of America’s Educational System. The question is, are we going to allow this country to be taken over by corporations that want to treat education like they treat their employees? Are our children mere cogs in the corporation or do we still want our children to be treated as individuals who deserve respect?

    • Dear fantabulousfelicia,
      I read your letter as suggesting the reason african americans and latino americans do poorly on the standardized tests is that slacker teachers.
      In order for that to occur, there must be a lot of them.
      Well, having working with teachers in a school in a very poor, drug infested neighborhood, I disagree. Some students did well, but those who didn’t, it wasn’t because of slacker conditions.
      But go on believing that.
      What we have now is that people in charge, like Mr. Duncan, have given up on the poor of this country. They believe that the situations outside the school can be overcome by “highly qualified teachers”, as determined by test scores.
      Sure, walk down that path. Apply business practices to teaching.
      Spend your time and money acting like that.
      And ten years from now, things will not be remarkably different for the students.

    • Dear Felicia,

      Like you said, you are a single parent of a child with a 4.0, and you have proclaimed yourself an advocate. If every student had a parent like you, they would probably be more successful. Unfortunately, the ones who fail out of school more than often lack a responsible parent and their teachers cannot always pick up the slack. These students need more classroom attention, time, support and encouragement. That is an extraordinary challenge in the public school world of increased class sizes, decreased funding, and one size fits all standardized testing. I agree with your comment that there are slacker teachers out there. I’ve been an elementary school teacher for the past 15 years, and I’ve seen my share of the slackers too. However there are many teachers out there who are working til midnight, spending their own money, sacrificing time with their families and ANALYZING the problem to determine how to best overcome it. The dedicated teachers are not giving our children excuses not to learn, as you stated. They have worked with the children, know what will work and what won’t, and that is why we direct comments and suggestions to your pal, Arne.

    • You have COMPLETELY misunderstood what these educators are saying. Race has nothing to do with what they are talking about.

    • Your comments are so flawed as to be laughable. Let’s just look at a few. Arne Duncan did not make teachers re-certify. The state of IL made you do that every year. And if you are referring to the new policy of re-certifying every 5 years with the addition of signing a statement that you have done 120 hours of “certified professional development units” (which was also state mandated under former Gov. Blago) then you need to know that this has not gotten one teacher fired. Ineffective teachers, many with masters, and some published authors with doctorates who have no business in a classroom, still fill the hallways of Chicago’s schools. And many hard-working teachers find themselves filling in the holes left by these people. So no, these teachers ARE still resting on tenure and have not said bye bye.

      As to the assumptions of Mr. Duncan’s character based on living in the same environment as yourself… Really? I lived in the same neighborhood, and during the same time frame, as John Wayne Gacy (also from the same beloved Chicagoland as you and Mr. Duncan). Do the four of us share the same philosophies because of the values of our shared neighborhood. I can say without a DOUBT that the answer is no.

      Duncan is no Paul Vallas, the true reformer of the CPS. And the Obama/Duncan pushing of charter schools is no better than Daley’s privatization of the parking meters. Daley is gone now (ironically just got hired by the law firm that handles the parking meters, hmmm), but maybe it’s time for Duncan to take the bench.

  14. I echo many of the comments here, as well as those expressed by Sabrina.

    Also, I wonder how you see schools using test scores to evaluate Music teachers, PE teachers, Library Media Specialists etc?

  15. As a neuroscientist and elementary school teacher, I am very aware of what is necessary to create a positive learning environment and situation for students to succeed. Unfortunately, so much of what is being promoted today (by non-educators) for the students is not backed up by any research. The research is clear, students must have a safe place to learn, they must have teachers who are well trained and are treated as the professionals they are, and the students must be fully supported in their learning. Unfortunately Mr. Duncan, that is not what you have been supporting as Secretary of Education. I wish we would truly move toward best practices and move away from practices we know do not serve students.

    • I am a fairly new teacher~ 6 years ~ and am horrified about what education is really about. You said you are a neuroscientist and I am fascinated by the brain and how it works. I have tried to incorporate some strategies that I have read about it school but have always been shot down. The students cannot drink water and have virually no time to even go to the bathroom. Everything is like military style, including the learning. There is never any time to or allowances for kids to truly be creative; we have to always teach towards the test.

  16. If in a super country we have a lack of resources, then it means their is no education in the poor countries. critical thinking is going out of the minds of American kids. shame on us for the poor performance of our public education. We need well qualified and well trained teachers for every class room. There is no excuse for not developing high skills in our kids to develop this great nation by our own young people. teachers must take this burden of the failure of our public education. Mr. Duncan you must take appropriate measures to mend this broken education system. there should also be grade level standard with rigorous lesson plans, easy lessons make them lazy. Discipline should be improved in schools. I think that student should be promoted based on star tests. Social promotion hurts students. President Obama is the best example who break down all of his barriers to achieve his goals and pursue his dreams. We need to raise expectations of our students and set high goals for them.

  17. Mr. Duncan,

    If you respect me, why didn’t you defend my rights? You have worked with teachers for many years, right? Why didn’t you inform the senate that teachers are not in the classroom for 5.5 hours but 8 hours when you calculate the hours they put in before and after school? If you honor me, why did you allow the state to take my pension? If you valued me, why didn’t you fight for me?

    CPS Teacher

    • I couldn’t agree more. I worked so hard to obtain NBCT status, and they cut the stipend and eliminated the achievement bonus. I put in over 1600 hours ON TOP of my full time teaching job, put my wife and young son second to my students and my training, and the privatization movement labels me lazy and undeserving of the pension I worked so hard for. Limit the right to strike, take the pension, narrow the curriculum to the point where we teach skills without content, reduce the Social Studies to a remedial reading class, ignore the role of generational poverty, discrimination, and segregation. I used to make young people successful, now I make numbers so they don’t close my school and hand it over to a for-profit charter company. Meanwhile, the politicians in Illinois that broke the law by not paying into the pension fund FOR DECADES while I paid the full amount I was required to pay are talking about shared sacrifice. HA! Their pension is 4 times mine and is untouchable! If you can show me ONE Illinois politician that contributes as much to society as an NBCT and I’ll hang up my hat and quit. Respect? Give me a break. If you want to know what the poor think of Barak’s domestic policy, ask yourself why it is necessary to put plexiglass over his portrait at Potomac and Kedzie. Stop dropping bombs and fund education!

      CPS NBCT

  18. Dear Mr. Duncan,
    My resume is A+, I’ve lived abroad, I’ve studied the education systems in Germany and Japan, and did an alternative licensure program here in CO. I’m maxed out on the pay scale, and it will take me 20 years to earn another 20K. I’m a linguist who is the only one in my subject area, thus I have five preps per day. Twelve years later and numerous letters to Colorado officials, participation in R2T, (all to deaf ears like this post most likely will be!) et. al., I’m at a cross-roads. Please tell me why I should keep teaching?

    I love it, but it is truly exhausting and I can’t earn much more money; it also seems realistic that somehow the state will figure out a way to cheat me out of my pension (already I will not get SS even though I worked 14 years before teaching, and also work contract consultant jobs and pay into SS!). It seems as though the ed system would want to keep the best and the brightest–one who has been told by many students how they wouldn’t have made it through without my guidance and understanding, flailing programs I brought back to life in several schools, national, state, and district committees that tireless hours were put into, etc. etc. I have to say, the petroleum or the pharmaceutical industries are looking quite tempting offering me 120K+ for my language skills. TELL ME, why should specialists stay in the profession?

  19. Let’s keep this simple . . .

    This letter is rhetoric with action that is counter to it. All I have heard of late is hatred of teachers, our unions. Actions, not words are needed. Respect our work, respect the field and fund it. Then I’ll believe the words in this letter.

    I voted for Mr. Obama, donated to his campaign. I no longer have any faith left.

  20. Recently retired after 47 years of teaching in Michigan, I am absolutely amazed at the insensitivity and lack of understanding among politicians to the problems faced by dedicated, overworked and underpaid educators throughout this country. To patronize teachers by saying you respect them while your actions prove otherwise, simple adds further insult to injury. I challenge anyone to spend one week in an overcrowded classroom, with limited supplies, and distracted children. She/he will come away with a true respect for teachers.

  21. Please, let’s cut to the chase here, shall we?

    First and foremost, the deliberately informed among us are well aware of the economics of this assault on teachers and unions, and who stands to benefit. Furthermore, Mr. Duncan, we know exactly who considers the economics of this assault a ‘verboten’ topic. To whit: advocates for teachers–and for TRUE reform of public education–are quickly directed away from this topic of ‘who benefits’ with the adjuration, “don’t come across as a nutty conspiracy theorist!” Thus, we teachers continue to struggle with helping others understand that the current assault on teachers and unions is conflated with exactly who profits from privatization.

    Second, most of the REAL problems in public education stem from federal legislation (NCLB, now RTTT) which mandates stultifying and pedantic standardized testing; AND from the severe and worsening decrease in funding for our schools, libraries, head start programs, free meals, field trips, and ALL the measurable, tangible resources required to provide a quality education for our children. Of course, you and your sycophants don’t want the hoi polloi to get a clue about this, so the well-paid media propagandists have identified and vilified the ‘common enemy’: mean, selfish, lazy, narcissistic, BAD TEACHERS and EVIL UNIONS!

    Third, almost half (42%) of all children in the United States live in low-income households, where their parent(s) earn just enough to cover basic expenses (current data from NCCP). Personally, I think this is an under-representation of the number of children who live in households defined as ‘low-income,’ given that less than one thousand people in the US own and control better than 95% of our nation’s wealth. Nevertheless, ‘low-income household’ is synonymous with precarious employment, frequent moves, poor nutrition, and a multitude of other threats to our children’s well-being, not to mention their ability to LEARN.

    In short, children of low-income households must contend with a host of social, behavioral and psychological issues, all of which impede a child’s ability to learn. And, for children in poverty level households (about 21%), mere survival trumps education every time. These seldom mentioned facts are clearly antithetical to your agency’s current assault on teachers and unions, so we activists are shouted down or diminished whenever we bring up poverty and its measurable impact on our children AND on public education.

    Here are a few of the benefits you and your supporters might expect to reap:

    1) Privatization will mean profits for newly minted private education groups, as well as some of the Bush clan (and any other wealthy investors who plan to snarf crumbs from the privatization platter).

    2) Those members of the wealthy elite who still need to convince themselves they are acting out of compassion—and giving charitably—can allude to their commitment to our children and to education.

    3) Everyone KNOWS that only the uber wealthy possess an intellectual prowess that elevates them above the poor, pathetic hoi polloi, both materially and intellectually! Why, if we didn’t have the wonderful, paternalistic corporatists around to tell us how to vote, what to wear, what to watch, and what to believe–why, where, oh, where would we BE?!?!

    Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, let me assure you, Mr. Duncan, that your indefensible machinations will not prevent me from teaching. My students routinely tell me that I help them understand math, and that I make learning math fun. My STUDENTS’ assessments of my ability to teach are what really toasts my bread.

    When I teach, I am solely invested in finding whatever methods work for ALL of my students, in order to give them multiple opportunities to have “AHA!” moments as they learn to play math, the oldest game we humans have created. Those “AHA!” moments are the big brass ring for me, Mr. Duncan—and for countless other EXCELLENT teachers across this nation. And you can NEVER take that away from us.

    • As a retired teacher with 40 years in public education, I think it’s about time teachers began to speak out more and fight back against all the false impressions perpetrated by the media that teachers are overpaid, lazy, and incompetent. In my 40 years of teaching I found that about 98% of the people I taught with were very dedicated professionals. I have e-mailed President Obama on several occasions regarding this issue as I’m sure many others of you have done. Unfortunately he has a background of attending private, not public schools, and I don’t think understands public education, and from everything I’ve read, I don’t think Mr. Duncan and most members of Congress do either. Villifying teachers and teachers’ unions may get great media publicity, but it will never solve education’s problems; it just drives good teachers from the profession. Evaluating teachers based on test scores is a very simplistic and unrealistic solution to a very complex problem; it just won’t work. It’s about time someone started listening to teachers and including them in the development of solutions to these complex problems, and let’s start by getting rid of “No Child Left Behind”. I retired from teaching when all this emphasis on tests was just beginning. I consider myself lucky because I taught during a time when teachers could be creative and students could have fun in school. Those of you teaching today have my support and sympathy. I don’t know how you do it!

    • Awesome response. I too am a teacher and have grown tired of the endless assaults on our profession. I voted for President Obama and really want to vote for him again. However, if Arne Duncan is staying on as Secretary of Education, I will either hold my nose while voting or simply stay home. Please find someone who cares about all of our children and is not working against our public school system.

  22. Dear Mr. Duncan,

    I believe you must have had a staff member draft this for you. If you felt and believed what you have written, you would not be advocating the policies you have been pushing since January 2009. Nor would you be applauding the firing of all the teachers at that infamous Rhode Island school.

    I am a middle-class teacher, an Ivy league grad. Teaching in an extremely poor
    urban area was a complete shock. I had no idea people in America lived like this, suffered like this, struggled like this. I stayed 23 years. I learned. Eventually, I was nominated as Teacher of the Year.

    We had more than 30 languages spoken in our school, just to make things
    even more difficult. I dealt with things about which I knew almost nothing: Drugs, violence, unemployment, transiency, and relentless grinding poverty. Poverty also meant such handicaps as: no car, no bus fare, no heat, old clothes and shoddy shoes, and a poor diet. It meant sometimes one parent worked at night and the other during the day to make ends meet, except when they didn’t meet. Etc, etc.

    Other teachers know all this, but you seem not to. You seem singularly lacking in empathy either for teachers or for students living with the disabilities poverty causes.

    When the violence finally became too much, I transferred to a middle class school. It was like dying and going to heaven; I could actually spend 90% of my energy and time teaching!

    There are thousands upon thousands of teachers across the country who would be very happy to help you understand what would really work to improve schools. You aren’t asking them. I see a repeat of the arrogance of Robert McNamara and his crew who were just so smart they refused to question their assumptions about Vietnam.

    • Well said P. I won the DRIVE award several years ago and had the opportunity to sit with Mr. Duncan and discuss concerns, accomplishments, and curriculum implementation within Chicago Public Schools. Mr. Duncan never understood, he applauded us for our innovative thinking but it ended there-he did not even attempt to see things from our perspective. It was a HUGE waste of time. He clearly had and continuous to have an agenda.

      When he visited my classroom he was extremely rude, asked my class what they were learning but did not even acknowledge that I was in the room.

  23. I am typically part of the silent majority that does not do this kind of thing. When I read Secretary Duncan’s letter my reactions was “whatever”. More lies from the government. More lies from the leaders so many teachers supported in the last election. It sounds so beautiful, but it is just not true. However, my reaction was not to write a response to the letter.

    However, when I heard that the Department of Education’s response was that most teachers do not feel this way in response to the voices expressing this view, I realized it is important for me to speak up. I was not hurt by Secretary Duncan’s original letter, but I was very concerned that those leading this department are living in such a fantasy world to think most teachers support what you are doing and believed his words.

    In fact, most teachers I talk to feel very betrayed by Secretary Duncan and President Obama. Why? You are leading the trend to attack the teachers of this nation. A friend just said to me this afternoon, “Why are people attacking teachers so much? Why is it only your fault when a student fails? What about parents? What about the students? What about society?” This friend doesn’t even usually notice this kind of public sentiment, but he is right.

    In truth, my only comfort in my job comes from the students. The thank-you’s I received for working through lunch to help two students graduate who do take responsibility for their previous mistakes. The nice words I am hearing from students who I taught in prior years who say kind words about their time in my class. I love graduation because I see them at their best and they help me see my best as well.

    Why do I typically not speak out on every public statement that upsets or outrages or discourages me? If I let it become my focus, it quickly consumes my and that wouldn’t be fair to my students.

    However, make no mistake that my silence equates to my approval.

  24. My story tells the tale and exposes the lie implicit in your open letter of appreciation.
    I was a dedicated, experienced teacher, and my practice became a cohort for the Pew funded National Standards because of my success. I met all the criteria of the Harvard thesis “The Eight Principles of Learning,” and the staff developers from the Learning and Research Development Center at the University of Pa, singled out my work, from among thousands studied during The Standards research (yes, THAT research) to use in their seminars on staff development. I won the NY State English Council ‘Educator of Excellence’ in 1998, and have been in” Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers” four times. My students, who came from across the entire city, have consistently scored at the top of all standardized tests and were accepted to the top high schools.

    As my salary was about to rise with the longevity raise the harassment began. This is the process which has been adopted across the country to silence the voices of the top professionals,and to empty the schools of the genuine educators who know what LEARNING LOOKS LIKE. I will not go into the three years of humiliation that I endured as they trashed my curriculum and my reputation with any allegation they could conjure. Eventually, when these bogus attempts to demonize me failed, they charged me with incompetence for the very years of service which I described above. I ran for my sanity and my life. THIS is the reward that dedicated professionals can expect at the end of their careers in American public schools.

    Of course, new teachers are discovering their career ends after their probationary period, when negative evaluations and harassment begin, so they can be replaced by new hires. The budget on teacher salaries stays low.

    The schools are failing because the people who run the show, like the CEO’s and bankers who robbed the nation of its wealth, are unaccountable for the most egregious and criminal behavior. These criminals are above the law for so long, that they begin to believe they are the law. Principals have become lawless and anything goes, short of murder.

    The media puts out their spin about those ‘bad teachers’, and the public has no idea that the war on teachers is two decades old, and the schools have been emptied of the very professionals who once made public education work. Imagine if hospital directors could invent bogus evaluations and rid the hospital of the most experienced practitioners.

    The process is one in which the voice of the teacher is silenced. No ethnic minority would stand still for the civil rights violations and bullying that are routine in schools where principals not only offer no support for eduction, they run the school like a fiefdom where the teachers are serfs. They get to invent the criteria for evaluation, and people like you, Mr Arne, would enable them to use the standardized tests of students whose failure to learn began in early childhood, and whose learning skills were hobbled by the lack of support in the home, the school and the community.

    The reform of the evaluation process is the first step in honoring teachers. The criteria and the methods for GENUINE, AUTHENTIC ASSESSMENT of performance exists and can be found in The American Educator and education periodicals and forums. Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten are just two of the voices of reform that discuss GENUINE EVALUATION there, and in education forums.

    We do not need your cockamamie schemes and cynical words.
    American teachers do not need you to invent ‘reform.’ Your ideas have dishonored us for too long, to be fooled by your rhetoric now.

    You sir, are not an educator but a politician who can say what you will, but we teachers know the truth of what you stand for. We see all that you have done toward the goal of privatizing education.

  25. Secretary Duncan studied sociology at Harvard, played bush league basketball in Australia, and then, through a childhood connection who had worked hard and made money, got a Directorship at a private educational foundation. Having never worked his way up through the ranks, Secretary Duncan has always been a general, and has no idea what’s required of the soldiers he’s commanding in the battlefields that are many of our nation’s toughest educational environments. It is not surprising then that when there are school failures, Sec. Duncan cheers firing of the women and men who are the ones showing up everyday to carry out his Department’s orders. When schools fail, it is communities that have failed, it is management that has failed, it is government that has failed, it is district offices that have failed, it is parents that have failed, it is systemic failure, but through the leadership of our top Education officier, the scapegoat for any failure within the nation’s education system is the teacher.

    When Chrysler and GM failed, both companies with unionized workforces, the government guaranteed the companies debt, provided massive amounts of financial support, and allowed the companies to function in a hands-off manner that never happens in education. Interestingly, in each of these cases, management was held responsible for policies that were creating products customers didn’t want, and were fired. The assembly line workers were not blamed for making the products that management demanded, and were not required to be humiliated with a mass firing, and re-applying for their jobs. This level of humiliation is reserved for teachers.

    Teachers, the people Sec. Duncan “hears”, “values”, and “respects”. Mr. Secretary, you’re idea of these concepts are not ones I’d like passed onto our nations children. What I see you do, is ignore, devalue, and blame the nation’s teachers. Your silence when you should speak out says much more than your words spoken when you should have remained silent.

  26. Mr. Duncan,

    As harsh as my prior post was I do have an assignment for you concerning standards and standardized testing. If you truly believe in education reform you will read and understand this complete evisceration of educational standards and the abomination that is standardized testing: Noel Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” to be found at .

    Educational standards and standardized testing is to education and learning as McD’s is to gourmet food. If you want a gourmet meal you have to pay for it and it certainly is not “standard”. Expect what you may when you try to pay for a gourmet meal at McD’s prices-it ain’t gonna happen. But that is what all these attempts at privatization and standardization are: McD’s education at McD’s prices instead of a gourmet education at gourmet prices.

  27. Mr. Duncan,

    I’ll use the “sandwich” technique to soften the blow of my comments. First thank you for the kind words about us “real” teachers.

    But the fact is you, sir, are not a teacher nor would I even consider you an educator. You see it takes many years, I say a minimum of ten, of classroom experience to be a good teacher. You have zero. You’re as qualified to be the Secretary of Education as I am qualified to be the Surgeon General, hell, at least I worked in a hospital for four years back in the early 80’s. As a master teacher (17+ years of public school teaching with a Masters + hours) and as a master upholsterer (around ten years of upholstery/furniture sector experience) it is my job to help you understand that, although you may think you are qualified, in reality you are not. You see, in order to be a “master” of any profession, skilled trade or craft it takes a bare minimum of five years experience. So it is hard to accept the platitudes in your letter when your qualifications for and actions as Secretary of Education leave so much to be desired.

    But again, thanks for the nice words and I’m sorry that mine can’t be quite as nice as I have to tell you the truth as it is. Isn’t that what a true master teacher should do with a student who has an overblown sense of his/her learning/expertise?

  28. Empty, meaningless words. You are a sell-out to a corporate-driven agenda determined to dismantle public education, equality, and justice, while replacing it with a system of segregation. Shame on you.

    I have been a teacher in poor urban schools for over a decade, and care deeply for the students I teach. For the first time in my teaching career, I feel hopeless when I think about what is happening to urban schools in our country, and I am worried for my students and future generations. The systems in place and being proposed create greater deficits in urban schools by focusing on irrelevant data and assessments. We are not preparing students for a meaningful future, but rather how to bubble in. Shouldn’t the focus be on strong written and verbal communication skills? How to solve problems? Think critically? Work in teams? Where in real life do you use multiple choice?

  29. Thanks Mr. Duncan. I am sick of all the people who complain and offer no alternative solutions. You have finally put the kids before the adults, thank God someone has.
    All I hear is poor me from many educators. Wake up to the education professionals you have been very spoiled for years. Your just now dealing with what the rest of the private sector has been dealing with for several years. There are problems in our communities of poverty, poor nutrition etc.. that knowledge is part of what your have to deal with its not pleasant but it is reality. I am in medicine I have people throw up on me and sometimes urinate on me not intentionally but it happens everyday, its part of the job it happens. If you can’t handle the heat get out of the kitchen.

    • This is so sad. The gist of this message, it seems to me, is that the writer is happy to see others dragged down. The banksters hoover the money upwards while the middle class and below squabble over the scraps that are left. Welcome to America in the new millennium.

      • There will be no more middle class. In our lifetime.
        The reason that reforms are being allowed to destroy our school system, in this writer’s humble (somewhat nuttish) opinion, is that it is the best way to force the change.
        The best way to separate the classes – the rich and poor, and to separate that pesky middle class from the rich, is through control of education.
        When we educate the top to remain at the top, and educate the bottom to stay at the bottom, control is inherent in the system.

        It’s not for lack of trying – the teachers want to help. But how can they when all support is yanked? How can they when the state pulls funding based on a standardized test?
        How can teachers help if their hands are bound?

  30. Education has become a pail to be filled, rather than a fire to be lit (With respect to GB Shaw)

    What we are hearing from teachers is that something is very wrong about the way we have organized to serve the wide and varied needs of students. We should listen.

    Maybe returning to local control could be the answer.

  31. By the time Secretary Duncan’s message makes its way into the classroom it is more ‘felt’ than ‘heard’. Like it or not teachers feel they are working in ‘fear-based’ environments. Administrators at every level are so focused on narrow sets of data points and their own professional survival they can’t see the forest, or the trees.

    My grandson was home with the flu. His principal called to ensure that he came in sick to take the big test. My grandson wasn’t the only student home with the flu. My son wasn’t the only parent called. Testing a room full of face masked flu sufferers demonstrates the frantic desperation and lack of common sense that is the fruition of current reform efforts.

    ‘The Race to the Top’ has been touted as being the most successful ‘eductational reform’ effort. This is based upon the number of State Legislatures that changed laws in order to qualify for additional funding. These reform efforts are on the books, but budgetary shortfalls undermine them at the district, school, and classroom level. Cutting funding for full-day kindergarten and nutritional support, increasing class sizes, and reducing support staff positions do little to create the healthy nuturing educational environments that allow students to flourish.

    In truth what ‘The Race to the Top’ best demonstrates is that it is possible to get starving dogs to wag their tails. Walk by with a piece of meat in your pocket and wave it in front of their noses and they will turn themselves inside out. It may gratify the person waving the meat, but it doesn’t do a damn thing for the dogs.

    What is felt in classrooms is the chill when teacher firings are applauded. What is understood is that the testing methods currently used don’t effectively measure teacher effectiveness. Non-school factors are virtually ignored when evaluating school performance. There does not appear to be much resistance at administrative or legislative levels to using inadequate, inappropriate, or inaccurate measures to evaluate teachers. Teachers feel the target on their backs. They don’t feel supported.

    These last two points are the real measures of current educational reform efforts. If you fail to engage those who are doing the work, you have failed completely. As an educator with over 35 years of experience I have to say the current reform effort lacks depth, substance, and real committment. So, starving dogs wagged their tails. It’s too early to take a bow, and too late to change the tune. I can still see their ribs.

    • Mark what are your recommendation for teacher evaluations besides using test scores? A really frustrated parent.

      • Teachers are already evaluated by their administrators. They have been for many many years. The adminstrators are in the classrooms seeing the teachers teach. I am at a high poverty, low performing school and on paper we look like a failing school. If you came into our school you would have a completely different opinion. I have never seen teachers work so hard to help the children they serve. Our principal is unbelievable! If stack any of our teachers against the best teachers in the nation. It is all of the obstacles that they are dealing with. Many of our Kindergarteners come to school never having a book read to them. Many of them do not know the alphabet, cannot count, or even recognize numbers. On top of all of this, there is very little parent support. How do get a child to value education when they have been brought up in an environment where the people around them do not value education. We need to do something to lift up parents and families. The solution is with the family. It is not a blame game, it is just fact. I have been in several different schools and without exception, the schools where the parents are more involved are the schools where students are more successful.

        Maybe we should start evaluating parents based on how their children do in school. I wonder what would happen then.

      • Katie,
        I am a parent and a teacher, and it concerns me when I see the teachers of my 8 year old, forced to arrange their curriculum around benchmark testing and test-taking strategies. In the first grade, his teacher was made to teach students the skill of “bubbling in!” This is ridiculous. I want my son to love learning, to experience academics through exploration. Unfortunately, most standardized tests are very narrow in scope and unable to assess skills that our children will need in the 21st century (written and verbal communication, collaboration, problem-solving, creative-thinking, to name a few). In my experience, teachers are not the problem. They care deeply about their students, but find themselves increasingly working in hostile environments that do not value or trust their expertise.

        Is this rigid stale environment where you want your children? Don’t you think they deserve better than that?

  32. If you want better schools, the first place to start is with better parents. Parent isn’t just a noun, it’s a verb that is too often neglected. When I started school as a student a long time ago, I was not afraid of the teacher. I was afraid of my parents because they told me I was to learn, do my work, and not upset the teacher, OR ELSE! The OR ELSE was what I feared because it wasn’t just words. My parents always backed up their words with actions. As I continued school into 3rd grade, I did my best because I wanted to please my parents ( I knew they cared about me because they wouldn’t accept anything but my best behavior and efforts). Eventually, I wanted to do my best because I wanted to! That dynamic is sorely lacking among parents who are their baby’s excusers.

    Second, most teachers will tell you that it’s their experience/opinion that the typical principal becomes one because they can’t teach. The way so many treat their teachers, one would suspect envy and spite are behind their decisions as they affect the faculty.

    Third, school districts saddle both principals and teachers with increasing demands that sap time, energy and morale. Too often their “contributions” don’t do anything (at best) or actually interfere with teaching (at worst).

    Fourth, legislatures contain members desperate to avoid working for a living. To convince voters they are pro-education, they hold teachers “accountable” for everything parents once did, including motivating kids to learn. Hence, we have proposals for longer days so teachers can supervise students doing homework (a parent’s job), longer school years (so parents don’t have to watch their children), more workshops (at taxpayer expense) that are typically based on very flawed methodology and thereby useless, and the implication that teachers should be paid based on student achievement. As a teacher, of course, I can only work with what I’m given. Imagine berating a construction company for failing to make a sixty story skyscraper when they’re only given balsa wood with which to build it!

    Talk is cheap. Don’t prattle on about valuable teachers are, prove it and address the issues that really inhibit learning.

    Need suggestions, Arne? Here’s one. You want to reduce high school drop outs? No HS diploma? No drivers license for ANY vehicle in America, EVER!!! Then, drop GED’s. See how many students choose to drop out then.

  33. Education is not a race. It is a right. It belongs to the people and it must stay with the people. Until we start addressing issues of poverty, your data will continue to show that our schools are failing and deserving of takeover from the private sector, unless, of course, we change the tests.

    When you were appointed U.S. secretary of education, President Obama boasted about your record of raising test scores in Chicago, but since then it has been shown that these dramatic gains can be attributed to changes in the test and testing procedures, rather than genuine student improvement.

    Your gains as superintendent of Chicago schools were illusory, much like your qualifications to hold your current position as secretary of education.

    I’m going to stop writing, because I have to wake up tomorrow morning and teach kids, but know this Mr. Duncan: We will not allow you to steal public education from the people and hand it over to the wolves of Wall Street. We will not allow you to replace professional teachers with a revolving door of low-wage workers who drill our children with lock-step curriculum created by Pearson. Next time, when teacher appreciation week comes around, try something a little less insulting. An apple, perhaps?

    • “Until we start addressing issues of poverty…”??? Since the 1960’s taxpayers have forked over trillions to pay for countless government programs that “address poverty”. And the results? An ongoing ever-increasing failure that, among other tragedies, is eating away at the American family.

      It seems to me that the best thing that could happen would be for our government to cease addressing the issues of poverty.

        • You seem to believe that children born into poverty would starve without government assistance. I’m stating that the evidence shows that decades and trillions of dollars of government assistance has done absolutely nothing to decrease the number of children born into poverty let alone lift them out of poverty.

          Additionally, these government programs have led to a majority of children being born into fatherless homes, and they have trapped them in failed public schools and into multi-generational dependency on institutional government welfare. That’s of course when government subsidized abortion hasn’t prematurely extinguished their lives.

          If, as the statistics show, this is what government “assistance” does for these children, then surely the government is a far greater detriment than a help.

          However, if you believe, even in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, that even more government “assistance” will be even better, then I’m afraid it is you, not I, who wishes to see children born into poverty consigned to hopeless, lifelong poverty.

          • Dave,
            Exactly how many times have you read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead? Evidently you never had a teacher who compelled you to read more deeply than simplistic adolescent feel-good novels that might insist you think about and question the world around you.
            Remember, Ayn Rand lived on government assistance when she was down and out and dying of the lung cancer that she denied her smoking caused “even in the face of a mountain of evidence otherwise.” Thank goodness I had teachers in the public school system that exposed me to more rigorous thought.

  34. I’ve been teaching for 18 years in Milwaukee Public Schools. When I began getting student teachers, I encouraged EVERY ONE OF THEM to teach in the system. I wanted all of them to stay where they were most needed: in the city, with city kids who needed great teachers (and all of my student teachers except one or two have been amazing; those two I didn’t encourage in any way).
    About eight years ago, MPS began to make cuts that were raising class sizes and making an already difficult job more difficult. I began to hesitate before encouraging student teachers to stay in the city.
    Perhaps four years ago, I cried when I told student teachers to leave the city. I was seeing cuts that were starting to threaten the jobs these amazing young people might take.
    This year, I told my student teacher to leave the state as fast as possible. I think he will, actually.
    I am thinking that I will need to have a chat with a former student–African American, bilingual (in German, no less), intelligent, thoughtful and kind, and tell her to get out of her education program in college.
    You, Mr. Duncan, have done nothing to help education in the US. If anything, you have made it all much worse (maybe just because so many of us believed in President Obama). I love my job more that anyone should, and I believe in what I do. However, as Dave Letterman says on a regular basis, I wouldn’t give these troubles (in education) to a monkey on a rock.
    Your letter is a joke. Dave Letterman makes far more sense than you.

    • Sarah-
      Yes, I am also urging bright young women NOT to go into teaching. I also tell those who have been given a pink slip for the third time in 3 years to look for a different profession. We all ache for the children who will bear the brunt of these ghastly policies. However, it is no longer possible to really teach in public schools, particularly in inner city areas, anyway. So give up this crazy idealism. Arnie Duncan is continuing the destruction. Things will not improve until they first get much, much worse as a direct result of this arrogance, ignorance, and insanity that he, like Bush, is touting.

      Get a regular job, then volunteer in the afternoons and evenings or on Saturdays to run “underground” classes where you can really teach what you love to children who really want to learn. Write some knols. Put some great lessons on YouTube. Save your health. Save your sanity. Maybe you could even help save the country that way.

  35. First, American school are not failing, it is a myth propagated by opportunistic politicians and business men (I’m not sure which Mr. Duncan is, but he is no educator).

    Second, I am almost certain you have weekends off as well as a few PAID vacations (teachers might have 2 paid days off) and other long weekends and vacation. The actual difference between a typical working year and that of a teacher is less than 40 days on average. And teachers are not paid for those 40 days. You might want to re-check your math.

    Third, many teachers, like myself, start work early rather than stay late (in my case so I can make it to a second job to make ends meet). My day begins prior to 6 am, a full hour and a half before my actual start time. As for weekend work, how on earth would you know what teachers do away from work (I doubt you have a real idea what they do AT work)?

    Finally, just because our contracts have specified working hours, it is a rare teacher who is able to work to contract and complete all that is expected of them.

    I can take criticism, it is ignorance that troubles me.

  36. You say all the right things in this letter Mr. Duncan, but the policies you advocate are just the opposite of what you claim to favor. You might be listening to teachers, but it seems you’ve done it only in order to memorize what we are saying, then recite it back to us. That is exactly the kind of educational system your so-called reforms are creating: children who can memorize then regurgitate on a test. We need children to actually understand, think creatively, and formulate conclusions based upon what they have learned. You may have listened to teachers, Mr. Duncan, but you haven’t heard us and clearly you do not understand.

    If you are open to advice, you will set aside your agenda and really work with teachers and parents on this. We don’t disagree because we don’t understand you; we disagree because we do.

  37. Mr. Duncan,
    I think the NCLB emphasis on outcome-based testing has grown out of control and does little, if anything, to promote good teaching practices in the classroom. As a high school English teacher at a 90% minority school, and my goal is to create critical thinkers who can write like angels. After a year of trying to focus on the test, I basically ignored it. We already have valid, well-researched, outcome-based exams – the SAT and the ACT. Let’s use them instead as a standard. Two of my students have received Gates-Millenium awards in the past three years. I am so proud of them.
    Where I teach, I am expected to give my students 3 benchmark exams in addition to the AIMS. Talk about too much teaching to the test! I consider the benchmarks to be of no value – they only tell me what I already know about the student.
    On the other hand, inexperienced teachers are compelled to spend far too much time teaching to these tests, and as a result, do not have the opportunity to learn about their students – they only focus on their academic shortcomings and ultimately “freak out,” and drop out of the profession.
    My advice: eliminate this emphasis on standardized outcome testing. Use the SAT or any other well-researched exam for that. Eliminate the silly state exams, and let teachers teach content and critical thinking. Our students will be the better for that.

  38. Dear Arne,

    As a mother and a teacher with 14 years of experience in schools in high poverty neighborhoods, I have to say that your words ring hollow to me. NCLB policies have consistently watered down curriculum nationwide. The focus in poor neighborhoods appears to be “getting the scores up”, not creating empowered learners. The numbers game with AYP is eviscerating our public educational system as more and more “low-performing” schools in economically stressed neighborhoods get closed.

    Just this year, my school and five others in my Denver neighborhood were designated for “turnaround” due to low numbers, after years of neglect by the district.
    Next year we will have approximately a dozen schools in place of the six. Four of the schools will house at least two programs under the same roof as these changes take place. Denver administration and certain Board members are insisting it’s a triumph of reform and innovation. From where I’m standing, I see the District (doing what it’s always done) imposing changes that look good on paper without mindfully planning for lasting change. I see a frustrated, doubtful community with many logistical questions that have yet to be answered. I also see teachers who are treated with as much appreciation as a used tissue.

    As a nation we need to begin to earnestly address the underlying issues of poverty and equity in America. Put a stop to the foolish shell games of putting in shiny new schools, with shiny new teachers and unqualified leaders, with little-to-no educational expertise, in our neediest schools. Appreciate the hard work we are doing by supporting our communities and our teachers rather than punishing them.

  39. I’m just wondering how has Mr. Duncan worked in “education all his life?” And what has he learned? I know he was a former basketball player in the Australian League, and used he connections to find work in educational related jobs. But I have not read anywhere in his background any formal training as a teacher besides basketball coaching. I have a hard time following the thinking of an individual who has “a deep and genuine appreciation for the work we do,” yet at every opportunity he does the opposite of what he espouses in this open letter to teachers. And there are few of us who believe he “considers teaching an honorable and important profession.” Yes, I would agree with Mr. Duncan, “the quality of our education system can only be as good as the quality of our teaching force.” But the same statement can be said about those in leadership positions in education that “the quality of our education system can only be as good as the quality of our leaders in education.” And while you should be applauded for wanting “to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession,” I would encourage you to start by realizing that talking about assessments, tests , accountability and evaluations is not the only thing we need, but also to get pay not just merit but descent salaries still hovering at disgraceful levels despite the rhetoric of “a highly effective teacher” mantra in every classroom. Your correct in writing “most teachers didn’t enter the profession for money” but it sure fed entire families during good times and hard times, keeping many intact during the depression. So, money does matter to us much more than what you and others think, including responsible and highly effective leadership.

  40. Thanks for nothing. Your words don’t match your actions.

    Think about this:

    When soldiers go into battle, who gets the blame if things go wrong? Do you ever hear on the news that the reason we’re still fighting in Afghanistan is because those soldiers just can’t do the job? You don’t. We all know that they are doing the best with what they have been given in a tough situation. If anyone were to be blamed, it would be the generals or those who decide to send soldiers to war. We all know those soldiers have a tough job in dangerous conditions and can only work with what they are given. Ultimately, their success or failure comes back to those who make policy and plans. If the raid in Abbottabad had gone wrong, it would have been the fault of the President who ordered the mission.

    When teachers go into the classroom, who gets the blame if things go wrong? Do you ever hear on the news that the reason we have failing schools is because those teachers just can’t do the job? You do. We all “know” because we’ve all been in school that they are doing mediocre at best with what they have been given in a tough situation. If anyone were to be held blameless, it would be the legislators, school boards or administrators. We all know those teachers have a cushy job in low stress conditions and can only work with what they are given….what??? This doesn’t sound right?

    Ultimately, the success or failure of our schools comes back to those who make policy and plans. If the raid in Abbottabad had gone wrong, it would have been the fault of the President who ordered the mission. The raid on American education has commenced. We blame you, we blame the president, and every citizen who has bought into the ridiculousness of rhetoric that has declared America’s teachers public enemy number one.

    We are the soldiers on the front lines of education. We serve. We are professionals. We have pride in what we do.

  41. I am nearing the completion of my 40th year of teaching in public schools. I have taught in a rural Midwest setting, colleges and universities, and now in an alternative school. I have seen more education reform efforts come and go than I can even remember. This one is no different in many ways. There are great asparations, many cheerleaders, and a large contingent of battle weary individuals who entered the teaching profession with the ideals of youth and innocence and a strong desire to make a real difference. What happens to us over time that causes so many of our peers to abandon the profession outright or to become so synical abut the “next greatest idea” to come riding into town on a white horse shouting “follow me because I know all the right answers”.

    I think I still have that spark of hope that we as a profession can still make a difference in the lives of the children we serve, but the very institution we are part of is crumbling around us as we lose more and more control over what we do and how we do it. In Washington State where I now reside we face incredibly debilitating mandates from both state and federal bureaucrats who push an agenda of reforms that are long on platitudes and short on funding or the realization of what we face every day in our classrooms. Expectations for teacher preparation and professional improvement become more extreme and unrealistic while our salaries continue to erode. A whole industry has been built around the demands being made on teachers to take more classes, more inservices, and tests that is intended I guess to “teach us up” so that we can work miracles in our classrooms with kids who come to us unprepared, lacking even basic skills. We are no longer just charged with teaching them. We must feed them, raise them, be parents and instill values. Many parents do nothing more than produce them anymore. Everything else is left up to the schools. None of this is ever addressed in reform efforts because little can be mandatedby the states and federal government to hold parents accountable for the lousy job they are doing at raising their kids. Schools no longer have much control or say over student attendance or discipline. Administrators are running scared from lawyers and the angry parents who hire them to get their kids off the hook when they screw up. We cannot do our job unless we can take our schools back and establish a code of content and set of academic, behavioral, and attendance expectations that stand and can be counted on. Until this is addressed any further reform efforts will fal flat, just like this one will.

    Jim in Washington

  42. As a former kindergarten teacher, I left the classroom with the hopes of serving as a teacher voice in education policy. I had expected to find myself in the midst of policywonks with no real school experience or classroom knowledge. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the Department of Education as an intern to find a team of people who have worked in schools and districts all over the country. In my time at the Department, I helped with the Teacher Ambassador Program- a program designed to have full-time classroom teachers serve as teacher voices at the Department. I saw Arne invite those teachers into his office multiple times to talk with them and hear their recommendations and views. I may not always agree with all of the administration’s decisions, but I know Arne and his team care about doing what is best for teachers and students in the efforts to keep our country the great nation it is.

    • If he really cares about what is best for teachers and students he is doing a very poor job of demonstrating and communicating it. I have rarely been so disappointed in a secretary of education as I am in Mr. Duncah.

  43. As a 32 year veteran of the teaching profession, I am concerned with the strong responses to Secretary Duncan’s letter. I think this shows just how stressed, angry and, perhaps, afraid we are about the future of our children, our educational system and our jobs as professionals. I do understand the frustration that is clearly being felt across the country but I ask that we consider a different course of action to address the many challenges that we all face.
    My personal reaction to Secretary Duncan’s comments is one of thanks for the acknowledgement of what we, as educators do day in and out. I totally understand the difference between words and actions but I feel that Mr. Duncan has outlined an improvement plan proposal for us to consider and participate in. Are many of the decisions and actions in education (and all other governmental activities) based on some political realities? Of course, and we all know it. We may not like it but it is a part of the process. However, I personally trust Mr. Duncan’s intent and believe that he really wants the system of education to work for the children and the country. Why would he not? It only makes sense.
    I realize we have experienced many disappointments and frustrations with decisions made by local, state and federal staff regarding the work we do and the progress we want to make in our field. I plan to take Secretary Duncan at his word and offer my passion and skill set to improve education. If we, as professional educators, expect to be a part of the solution, then we need to step up and become involved. There are several groups around the country that offer routes to make this happen. One is the Hope Street Group in Washington D.C. who have begun comprehensive and serious work on many of the challenges we have been talking about. Another group is the Teacher Leader Network out of North Carolina. They take the role of “teacher leader” very seriously and have made it possible for working teachers to become a part of what teaching will look like in the 21st Century. I am sure there are many others out there but the key is to contact one and get involved.

    We must step up and make this happen. If we don’t then others will and we will have to live with much of the same, or worse, for the future. We have an invitation to come to the table. Secretary Duncan, I accept your invitation and look forward to working toward a better future for education and our children.

    Doug in Texas

    • Nice try Doug. Do you work for Arne Duncan, or maybe Bill and Melinda Gates, or Eli Broad, or one of the other corporate string pullers who are trying to take over public education. Maybe you are just ignorant to the two groups you recommended, the Hope Street Group and the Teacher Leader Network. Both are corporate funded organizations who are pushing their agenda onto the public school systems. You would be amazed at how “broad” (no pun intended) their reach is. If you are a teacher in an urban school district, you probably either work for or with someone who is being brainwashed by these organizations. Click this link to see a list of the many Broad Foundation funded projects: . Please check out the following website, see the truth, and free your mind:

    • Doug, I’m a member of a tremendous group that supports teachers, advances professional development, and improves education for all students k-12 across the country. It’s called the National Writing Project.

      The Obama Administration de-funded it this year.

      So much for this administration’s commitment to education. This is all politics and words that mean nothing.

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