Town Hall with Teachers: Join the Discussion!

In last week’s major speech about the future of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Secretary Arne Duncan urged stakeholders to “build a law that respects the honored, noble status of educators – who should be valued as skilled professionals — rather than mere practitioners, and compensated accordingly.”

To help advance that discussion, Arne will engage teachers across the country in a national town hall in a special edition of the department’s television program, Education News Parents Can Use, on  October 20 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  Live from Public Broadcasting System station WETA, he will take comments and questions from teachers in the studio audience and via telephone, email, and video.

Throughout the hour-long program, teachers will have a chance to offer the secretary their suggestions and their hopes about reforming education. The conversation will cover ways to improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; better methods for recruiting, preparing, and rewarding teachers; ideas for elevating the teaching profession; and much more.

Details about the special town hall for teachers on Education News, including directions for viewing the webcast of the program live, online, are at

Teachers can contribute to the conversation right now by submitting a question or posting answers to one or more of the questions below.  We’ll feature as many responses as we can on the October 20 live broadcast.   You may also call the show during the live broadcast at 1-888-493-9382, between 8:00 – 9:00 PM Eastern.  Or submit original video comments and questions by Wednesday, October 14, 2009.  (To learn how you can submit an original video, visit:

Here are the questions:

  • How can we recruit, support and retain excellent teachers in all our schools?
  • What are the best ways to measure and reward excellence in teaching?
  • How can we ensure that our most challenged schools have the most effective teachers?
  • In what ways does No Child Left Behind need to change in order to support effective teaching?

ED Staff


  1. Mr. Duncan:
    I am a college professor in the social sciences, but I also have a job teaching in a GED program which serves at risk kids who have dropped out of school. I’ve taught at colleges which served different demographics over the years, so I’m well placed to have some ideas about how education happens. A lot of what I say echoes what previous posters have said (and I have to wonder-do you really read this stuff? Do you have any intention of doing anything about NCLB?).

    Thought #1-teaching and learning are creative processes. And good teachers are, in fact, creative professionals. Figuring out how something looks to a kid, and how you can explain so that he/she understands is an exciting process. And when the teacher is excited, the students are excited. Putting teachers in a situation where they aren’t allowed to use their skills, and where they’re constantly denigrated, is a-not going to retain good teachers and b-not going to help kids learn. The more you create a teaching profession that’s something anyone could do (i.e., scripted lessons), the more unlikely you make it that good teachers will become teachers. Most of us don’t do it for the money.
    Thought #2-I echo much of what other people have said about how well the tests really evaluate teachers. What they are really evaluating, it seems to me, is a-how high a level the class was at when it came in, b-how good the class’s test taking skills are, as an aggregate, and c-perhaps how well the teacher has been able to impart TEST TAKING SKILLS to the students. I’d argue in this sense that the tests aren’t even really evaluating the students’ knowledge. Standardized test taking is a skill, but it’s not the same skill as reading or doing math-and it’s not the skill that’s going to allow American kids to catch up with the rest of the industrialized world. There are clearly additional problems in our country which impact on the educational system (i.e, high rates of poverty and unemployment, inadequate safety nets, etc)-but part of the problem is that if you’re teaching to the test, you’re not teaching substantive subject areas, which are the places where important skills happen. How many times in our professional lives do most of us take standardized tests?

    My suggestions would be that

    a-NCLB is altered such that it takes into account level of improvement of each individual class, rather than holding classes up to an imaginary standard. This is what Bloomberg has been doing in NY, and although it’s not a perfect system, I think there are a lot of good things about it. It takes into account things that NCLB doesn’t (i.e., school atmosphere and retention rates), and it also takes into account when a school is serving a particularly challenged population (i.e., low income, ELL, ESL). This system has its kinks, but it seems to me that it is actually rewarding teaching, as opposed to testing. And it also gives credit and dignity to kids who have done something like shot up 3 grade levels in a year, even though they still may be behind. MOVING UP 3 GRADE LEVELS TAKES AN INCREDIBLE DEGREE OF DETERMINATION, SMARTS, AND COURAGE. A kid who can do that is a kid we need in this country-penalizing him/her because he or she hasn’t had access to good education previously is writing off what could potentially be the most talented student we have. And penalizing his/her teacher underplays the degree of skill this process takes on the part of the teacher. This applies whether the kid is special needs, ESL, or whatever else.
    2-Add other kinds of evaluative materials to the mix. As a college teacher part of my evaluation is based on observation by a senior member of my department-why can’t that be true of elementary school teachers as well? I wouldn’t recommend that the observer in this case be senior faculty at the school (scheduling, for one thing, is much less flexible in elementary schools than in colleges)-but why not train a series of Education inspectors to do it, and do it properly? This is a place where you could draw on the skills of social scientists-anthropologists and sociologists spring to mind, particularly. Part of what we’re trained to do is to observe sets of interactions and learn how to code them for specific things. Sit down with a bunch of really good teachers and people who research education and train teachers. Figure out what some basic things are that happen when an effective teacher is at work, and how those things look on the ground. Get a bunch of social scientists to help you create a method of observation that looks for those things, and train people to do that. These methods have been used in all sorts of ways in colleges (most recently, at the school where I work, librarians were trained in targeted observation so they could put together some info on student use of library spaces and how it could be improved)-there’s no reason they couldn’t work productively at the grade school level, and adding observation to scores would give a clearer and fairer picture of the teacher’s level of expertise.
    C-Before you base federal funding on NCLB, make sure that schools have basic parity in terms of funding. It’s unfair to have students at well-supplied schools competing with students where the teachers dip into their own pocket to buy copy paper. Every school needs to have money for supplies, books, and facilities. Period. Otherwise you’re setting poorly funded schools up for a dangerous spiral.
    D-Look at individual classes, rather than school averages. I know this means a LOT of statistics, but it seems to me that averages have the effect of both placing teachers at odds with each other (because any individual class can bring them up or down), and not really evaluating what’s going on in the school.
    E-Before shutting schools down or withholding funding, meet up with the community and the state to think through what affect that will actually have on the kids involved. From what I’ve read, in a lot of cases kids end up in new schools which are similar to their old schools (i.e., their level of schooling hasn’t changed), but they’ve lost the comfort of familiarity with their old schools and teachers, and the relationships they’ve built there, which can end up causing worse, not better, outcomes for them. If withholding funding is going to mean cutting staff, or that the air conditioning doesn’t get fixed, that’s really penalizing the kids-it doesn’t seem like it will help them do much better.
    F-Teachers often do get a bad rap-but the truth is that what we do is as skilled as what doctors do, and when we do it well, it’s because we’re talented. If the DOE started talking consistently and loudly about the value of skilled teachers and the tough job they do, I think that could go a long way to combat a-smart kids not wanting to be teachers, because everyone knows it’s a “dumb” job (this goes towards both recruitment and retention), b-parents not respecting the authority of teachers in matters of education, and c-kids not respecting the authority of teachers in matters of education. This is a cultural shift that might take a long time, but in the long run it can only make American education better.

    Chana (passionate believer in the power of good education)

  2. Instruction is the key element of the success of our children and with this there must be support to continue to instructed the core. We must reemphasis the spirit of Title I which is to supplement. There appears to be a stronger disconnect in education that it has developed method of division and derision, establishing territories. It takes a community to educate the children, which means all of coming together in the decision making process, using data as the tool to evaluate. As long as teachers and the parents are put down by dumbing down involvement patterns, our children will not be successful. Innovation is about changing for the better, not making it a profit margin. Let us all partner in the future of preservation of our children legacy. Keep the term involvement when it comes to parent!!! Let keep instruction when it comes to the teacher and let us all come together!!! COMMUNITY!!!!


    I’m fed up with teachers and their hefty salaries for only nine months of work!

    Wheat we need here is a little perspective. If I had my way, I’d pay teachers babysitting wages. That’s right…instead of paying these outrageous wages taxes, I’d give them $5.00 an hour. And, I’m only going to pay them for five hours ad day, not paying them for planning time. That would be $25.00 ad day. Each parent should pay $25.00 a day for these teachers to baby sit their children. Even if they have more than one child, it’s still cheaper than private daycare. Now how many children do they teach a day – maybe twenty?

    That’s ($25.00 X 20 = $500) a day. But remember, a teacher only works 180 days a year! I’m not going to pay them for all the vacations. So $500 X 180 = $90,000 (Just a minute, my calculator must need batteries.) Teachers say what about those who have ten years of experience and a masters’s degree? Well, maybe (just to be fair) they could get the $7.25 (minimum wage) per hour, times five hours, times twenty children. Minimum wage ($7.25 X 5 X 20=$725.00) that’s $725.00 a day; $725 X 180 days = $130,000. Wait a minute…babysitting wages are too good for teachers!

  4. I have been teaching for 8 years in a public elementary school. We are a title 1 school. I love my job and although I struggle financially, teacher pay is not the most important thing on my mind these days. This year for the first time, my school is in P1. –for not making AYP. Although my state says we are an “A” school based on state tests and other criteria, we are still facing corrective action due to AYP. We must notify parents of this fact. Do you have any idea how hard it is to explain this to a parent? We are an A school, yet we are in corrective action? Parents just shake their heads!
    This year I have not had a planning period–not one single planning period to take care of the MANY things a teacher must do in a classroom. I am not jsut talking about grading, and lesson plans, but also classroom organization etc. Each day we meet in teams–different teams on different days. We review data and discuss children and intervensions etc. YES, I agree that this is necessary to a certain point. I feel like my head is about to explode most of the time. Teachers are worn down and some cry after school if not during school. I am not talking about slackers! I am talking about the teacher of the year, the national board certified, the master teachers and lead teachers too. Each day we get a new e-mail about a new form or new paperwork or new documentation we must keep track of. People come in and go out of our rooms and watch us and take notes and make faces. The students are distracted by this and stop instructions to ask questions or talk about these “people.” I honestly think that NO ONE but an educator has any idea what I am talking about. Could we please have someone with authority go into the schools and see what is happening? When we write here, we know what we sound like. We know it sounds like 6 year olds begging for more toys or a later bedtime. Many have written to our legislatures and have spelled out in detail what is going on in the schools, but nothing changes.
    PLEASE,even if you totally ignore everything else I have said, please send a trustworthy, honest person to visit schools. Please help teachers to see the light of day, and help save the children, as they see what is going on and feel the stress of their teachers as well.

  5. To Patrick, you state teachers usually make salary sufficient to live a comfortable life…so does a McDonald’s worker. Do you know some door to door cable TV sales people in Abq, NM (with a 12th) grade education make $90K. As you state a comfortable life does not mean proper compensation for cost of getting the teacher education or much above poverty level if you are a teacher who is the head of house hold. Try putting two or more children through college, while paying health care, room and board, a mortgage, a car payment, and the rest of the bills. Being at the bottom of the professional pay scale is not acceptable compensation if you consider the required 30 pg lesson plans, late nights & weekends grading, after hour calls to parents about their LOVELY children, or all the classroom materials a teacher personally provides. Love is great and all most most teachers teach for the love in teaching. Heavens knows a teacher’s won’t receive their riches on earth so the must wait until they get to heaven.

  6. So many great comments. Society in general has failed to take responsibility for what is working or not. I am not preaching for teachers (like myself) to make more money. Usually, teachers will make a salary sufficient to live a comfortable life and pay for the necessities. I would like for teachers to receive recognition and support. How do you support teachers? Spend more money in programs to help families so they don’t have to work 2 or 3 jobs and can spend more time with their kids. Help society by spending more money in neighborhood programs to help kids make better decisions. Spend more money in programs to give kids tools to stop the cycle that keeps them from reverting to crime in order to pretend they are meeting their basic needs. Nobody needs millions of dollars to live, but that is an issue that will never be resolved (greed). However, everybody needs love and support … and the government can definitly support programs who can provide it.

  7. Secretary Duncan,

    Performance pay to individual teachers will not work in public schools. Teachers do not choose who enters their room. Some teachers will get great students who are on or above level while others will receive a large number of below level students. I would recommend the following:

    Schools who are producing significant gains receive performance pay. All staff members would receive this pay because all staff members have an impact on the students. This would ensure that principals and superintendents hire and maintain excellent staff members and would place pressure on those staff members who are not cutting it to either get it together or move on. We could even extend this to superintendents – no pay increase until all schools within the district increase performance.

    I have taught in two states and noticed a huge difference between state tests.

    In one state the state test suggests that the test should take a specified amount of time to complete but the students are given as much time as needed (all day) to complete the test. This makes the test criterion referenced which provides accurate data to the teachers on where the students are in reference to the standards.

    In another state the students are restricted to a specific amount of time to take the test. This makes the test norm referenced and labels students.

    My question is how can we compare states when the tests are so different?

    My suggestion would be to make all tests criterian refenced.

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