Duncan Tells Teachers: Change is Hard

Duncan speaks to hundreds of teachers in Baltimore County, Maryland

Secretary Duncan spoke to over 800 teachers in Baltimore County, Maryland. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Teaching is really hard work, Secretary Duncan told a group of more than 800 teachers this morning in Baltimore County, and the job is becoming more challenging as education reforms take hold in classrooms.

The Secretary spoke frankly about the changes that teachers will face as states implement rigorous academic standards and introduce new evaluation systems. These changes are necessary, he noted, because nearly 25 percent of America’s youth don’t graduate from high school, and about half of all students who go to community college need remedial education.

“We won’t change those numbers without high standards and high expectations,” Duncan said.

The Secretary explained how the Obama Administration through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers has given states flexibility in exchange for raising standards, setting performance targets that are ambitious and achievable, and designing local interventions that focus closely on the neediest children.

We also asked states to come up with a better way to support teachers and principals.  Look at annual student growth rather than proficiency — and use other measures of effectiveness – like classroom observation, peer review, and parent and student feedback.

We further encouraged states to develop new ways to support and evaluate teachers in all subjects –the arts, foreign languages, science, history, and physical education.

We didn’t eliminate testing because we believe it is important to measure progress.  We need to know who is ahead and who is behind – who is succeeding and who needs more support.  In an ideal world, that data should also drive instruction and drive useful professional development.

We fully understand that standardized tests don’t capture all of the subtle qualities of successful teaching.  That’s why we call for multiple measures in evaluating teachers.

Duncan also spoke about the ongoing conversation about teacher evaluation that now includes a full range of issues like teacher prep, professional development, career ladders, tenure, and compensation. He cited ED’s labor-management conference and RESPECT project as recent examples of the department seeking input from teachers, unions, administrators and school boards.

“You know what success looks like,” he said. “You know what it would take to transform the field.”

Watch the video and read the entire speech here.


  1. I use technology in my classroom on a daily basis. However, my students are not motivated to learn the information I present through my technology. I have tried to present the world to them but they are only interested in what has happened in their neighborhood. They do not see themselves as a member of the “world community”. After 24 years in a special education classroom, I feel as though I am failing my students! I spend time every week on transition. I try my best to guide my students through different career choices and the education or training they will need to be successful in their career choice. They think they will just walk into a position! With poor behavior choices and a poor attitude toward their academics, many just drop out when they can. I am currently doing research on career and vocational training for my middle school students. Most of what I am finding is from countries in Europe. Why can’t we teach vocational skills to middle school students in the US? If we had a hands on curriculum, I could motivate my students to do better in their academic work! Now, all I hear from them is I don’t need to learn this….I am going to drop out when I turn 17 and get a check! How can I compete with that? I see so many wasted lives because we are pushing them to go to college and so many are not interested in going to college. Not everyone wants or needs to go to college to have a fulfilling career! I do want to see change!

    • Don’t put most of the pressure on your shoulders. There’s so many other factors. You’re right, there is such a need for vocational work. But, America doesn’t have that kind of worker. We need them. Good luck.

    • My college instructor once handed out an article entitled such as if we want to see the change, then change students’ attitude first. All of us, including the instructor and students, totally agreed with the author’s discussion. What about you?

    • I agree, people do not like change. After years of implementing new systems I found the only way to have a successful implementation is for there to be lots and lots and lots of collaboration with stakeholders (people impacted by the system). Collaboration is what gets people motivated and excited about a new system. One school formed a parent focus group and then let the parents drive the initial functional requirements for the students… This was very smart because the parents then had a vested interest in the project’s success. They pushed their kids to use the system because they were excited about having a system that made it easier for them (parents) to get informed and monitor the student’s progress.

  2. Hey,
    First of all…let me say that 100 was an expression. I obviously am NOT saying 100 is the way to go. Of course not. So, put that to rest. I’m not suggesting we stuff 100 kids into a learning environment. Ok…let me address what you wrote:

    First, you say that kids won’t be engaged in a digital studio environment if they don’t care about what they are learning. First, if you don’t have a fully functional digital studio (which you don’t) then you are not in a position to make such statements. You are judging from a completely hypothetical situation. And, yes, yes, yes, if a student has the tools for self expression, it really doensn’t matter what they are studying. They will be more involved and invest in their learning. I promise. This is true.

    Secondly, OK…there isn’t a one size fits all. Who says that’s what I’m saying? I’m simply offering up what I’ve done. Is it for everyone? No. Should there be more emphasis on vocational training? Yes. Should there be more than one way to engage students? Of course.

    Next point…you talk about poverty and the situations some kids have to deal with. OK…those are also the kids that have the least funding for education, and the least desire to study, and/or the most lacking in future plans. Right? So, what about the other kids? Should we hold them back, too so American kids can all have the same experience? Or, should we begin to change education all over and see what works?
    Frankly, my sister teachers in a very challenging environment, and we debate this all the time. So, I’m sensitive to the needs of the students all over and I don’t want to minimize their challenges. I’m not pretending to be a miracle maker. I’m just sharing what works with me. I do realize all the struggles some kids (and teachers) have…trust me, I’m wishing for a solution. I just can’t accept that we need to wait for funding for everyone. Not true. We need to start in anyway.

    Can you explain how a Smartboard has changed your teaching? Of course not, you’re still waiting for resources. Once you get them, I bet you realize how powerful it makes the learning environment. At least, if you do it right. And, I hope you do. Um…ok, let’s see, I’ve taught in the deep south, hispanic rural Texas, small town Iowa, affluent Connecticut, Mexican California, and have developed youth programs in Holland, Japan, Iceland, Italy. I was part of a Cultural Exchange team that studied students in Germany, Poland, Holland, and Iowa and then compared the outcomes. Am I shelthered? I don’t think so. Have I had to deal with limited funding? Yes. Have I had to teach kids with horrible situations? Yes. I brought a kid that was in my 5th grade class at a 2nd grade reading level to 6th grade reading level by the end of the year.

    I thought you would ask to see some video of what my classroom looked like, yet, you put up barriers instead. We are all educators. And, I hope the best for you and your students. I’m sure you’re a great teacher. And, I appreciate the feedback. We are all in it for change.

    Let’s make it clear, education has taken a beating in terms of funding lately. So, of course, I’m in that same boat. I don’t have unlimited resources. I just have a way of working with what I’ve got and then I grow from there. I bet I could come into you classroom and make efficient what you have. That’s what I do.

    Can I ask you what software you use in your class? What do you have the students do with the computers?

    Finally, I think a low number of students in a class is the right way. I’m not at all saying 50 plus kids are good. NO way. So, I’m sorry for leading everyone down that path. The point I was trying to make was that the learning environment and access to information and data are crucial and can make a difference. But, we should definitely cap the number of students in a classroom.

    Thank you. I’m pumped for a new school year. I appreciate the feedback. And, I also want to make sure I’m not sounding like a “know it all” arrogant teacher with the magic spells. I’m not. I’m struggling just like most teachers nowadays. So, please forgive me if I sounded like I know how to fix everything. I don’t.


  3. It astonishes me that these recommendation about teacher evaluation are discuss with federal worker who hasn’t spent ANY or very little time in a inter city public school district classroom. It we truly are looking for a transformation in education, then invite teacher who are teaching in the inter city school district, to discuss issues like parent involvement, classroom management and student behavior.

  4. Yes all of you enthusiastic people are correct change is both good an bad im in 7th grade an some changes are not really nesscessary.Theirs alot Duncan has thought me from that littel speech he told. An teachers should really take that into consideration not all people can adjust then an their so you have to give them time to bloom an blossom an trust me you will see their is great things that can be acheived. But respect to all who commented

    • Thanks for taking the time and interest to post your comment. I agree that it takes time for people to absorb what they hear, think about it, and decide to make some changes. The main thing is that people take the time to do just that. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of thinking. I encourage you to follow through and turn your thinking into action. Good luck.

    • That statement is so general it can’t be taken seriously. Every teacher has a unique story and teaching by nature is challenging. Wish us well. We need to all be successful in order for change to set in.

    • I don’t think it’s hard to write a solitary sentence that betrays a complete ignorance about the subject at hand.

  5. it is true that without introduction of professional development programs for teachers there is nothing can change in education systems.

  6. Change is fine as long as both parties both teachers and students are given time to adjust to the change. And some things were designed the way they were designed because they work. Children are individuals…what works with one may not work for another. Raising expectations is a problem if the support is not there to prepare students for what is expected. What do have if that is not there…frustrated students, teachers and students. I don’t have the answer, but it is not simple.

    • I feel you. I think you’re right on with what your saying. The thought of raising the expectations and standards to make improvements is equally whismical. It’s silly to say we’re going to expect more when what’s current isn’t even close. Teacher training may not be what’s needed. Maybe teacher innovation. Make the curriculum to reflect strengths of a teacher. Concentric ciricles of accelerated knowledge. Start with inspiration. End with change. Who is inspired nowadays? Answer: Not enough. Let’s bring back inspiration in education.

  7. Yes, some change is hard and it is lots of pressure on teachers. However, I agree Haimson, OTHER CHANGES SIMPLE…just reduce our classroom sizes to give the quality education that our young society deserves!!

  8. I am grateful for our teachers and their hard work! Congratulations to the Turn Around Teachers recognized as White House Champions of Change! Some Schools might not necessarily welcome Change, but Change is a necessary thing. I am on a state committee to help to establish a teacher evaluation system that is “fair and robust” – which is important to us as well as our Education Commissioner! I am saddened when some teachers feel attacked or unappreciated. Teacher evaluations should use multiple measures that include classroom management techniques, questioning skills, peer review, self-reflection, some test outcomes, student growth data, and much more! We also recognize that parental involvement is so important! School support and adequate resources must also be provided. Much of the information that can be obtained from evaluations can be very useful in leading reforms needed for that teacher to increase his/her chance to transform into the more effective teacher which benefits the students! Again THANK You for what you do! Brenda Martin, White House Champion of Change

  9. Some changes are not hard; for example lowering class size. Does Sec. Duncan agree with the President that class size matters? And if so, will he restore the cuts to to Title II and divert some of the funds he is spending on merit pay and online learning to proven reforms, like class size reduction?

    • Although class size is a key ingredient, it isn’t the “change factor.” The change will be in the desire to be learning what is being taught in a classroom that’s motivating and inspiring. That’s what’s needed for innovation and creativity. What follows that is self-expression. So if the classroom was geared toward that end, you could have 100 kids in a classroom–and, class size wouldn’t be a problem.

      • Paul, we agreed with many things you have posted. However, in regards to class size we do not. For example, some first grade teachers are teaching 30 kids at a time. I truly do not think no matter what the curriculum is, that if you put 100 1st graders in a classroom that they could be successful. If a student has a reading or math IEP, how can ONE teacher keep all of those kids engaged and assist the students who are struggling. Both me and my colleague are in the process of obtaining our master’s degrees in education and feel that this idea is bogus. Again, we like the ideas that you posted on other messages, but no matter what the curriculum is or how inspired a teacher is, they can get burnt out and loose many students in the process.

        • You may not understand the use of technology and how one teacher doesn’t need to teach the way you describe. Your example is 20th century thinking. Sorry to say. The teacher doesn’t have to keep the kids engaged. The learning environment does. I’ve taught in such a way. It works. You describe education like its the one room schoolhouse. But, you’re right about the curriculum. No matter what it is, if it is heavily reliant on the teacher going from kid to kid, it won’t work. It’s the pedagogy, and its a new way of thinking about what learning looks like. I have video examples of my digital studio classroom. It works. Change your concept of the classroom and you’ll realize it’s not class size. Thank you for posing good points.

          • Paul, with due respect, I would love to see or read more details about how your learning environment is engaging 100, or more, students at one time, because, frankly, it sounds far-fetched. I love using tech in my classroom. I am not tech-phobic. I am a digital native. I am also a teacher of 11 years. I have been looking closely at the use of “flipped classrooms” and “student-directed learning.” It’s not a one-size fits all by any stretch of the imagination. Kids are not going to be engaged by the environment or the digital studio classroom if they don’t care to be learning in the first place. Kids in poverty who don’t know when they will see Dad again, who don’t know if the lights will be on tonight, who skipped breakfast because there was none, and so on aren’t thirsting for knowledge to be laid open before them.

            There are tried and true facts about learning. It’s insulting for you to insinuate that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is stuck in the Paleolithic era of one-room schoolhouses. Likewise, I could say that you live in a sheltered enclave, a digital utopia. I wish I had a digital studio classroom with an engaging environment. I’m lucky if my students have log-ons for the ten computers available in my classroom, that I then have to share among 36 high schoolers. And, let’s hope nothing goes wrong with any of those computers, either. I put in a work order a week ago to have some software installed and my printer added to my laptop. They still haven’t come. I asked a year ago for my projector to be mounted. It sits on a cart. I’d love to use my SmartBoard but the work order to have mounted took six months. The work order to have it wired is still unfilled. I think you get the idea.

            Honestly, you talk about education as if we all had technological resources at our disposal. You talk about education as if we are not in the worst economic downturn in more than 60 years. You talk about education as if budgets were not being slashed left and right.

            So, until we can all have digital studio classrooms, I think maybe keeping class sizes below 50 is a good idea.

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