On This Week, Arne Duncan Pushes Teachers Performance Pay As The Best Solution To Classroom Crisis -- And No One Pushes Back

Here's what I wish Christine Amanpour had addressed on This Week today -- namely, that Arne Duncan's track record using performance-based pay in Chicago is actually abysmal. In some respects, it made things worse. One of my friends, who's

Here's what I wish Christine Amanpour had addressed on This Week today -- namely, that Arne Duncan's track record using performance-based pay in Chicago is actually abysmal. In some respects, it made things worse. [See Open Left.]

One of my friends, who's taught for ten years in inner-city Philadelphia schools, is pretty damned scornful of the whole "Race to the Top" program. "Look, all this paperwork only takes away from classroom time," she says. "And while there's no doubt that experienced, motivated teachers make a huge difference, too many variables are out of our control to pay teachers on the basis of which kids they were lucky enough to get." Because the real issue, she says, continues to be the fact that many inner-city kids arrive at elementary school with enormous personal problems, parents who either don't know how to read or are too busy juggling their jobs, and plain old poverty. Classroom violence is an ever-present problem -- my friend says her focus is on maintaining classroom control so that the kids who actually do want to learn aren't shortchanged by discipline problems.

"I have kids in my class who don't have a coat, or whose houses don't have heat," she told me. "Some of them, the only food they get is the school lunch and breakfast, and they go hungry on the weekends. And measuring teacher performance is going to change that? Please."

It would have been enlightening to hear another point of view instead of assuming Arne Duncan knows what he's talking about. But then, people have such a charming need to believe a title implies competence.

AMANPOUR: The administration's teacher reform plan is controversial. Duncan is calling for schools to use data on student achievement to evaluate teachers, a measure long opposed by teachers unions, but aimed to make sure that children get the best in class.

DUNCAN: In educate, we've been scared to spotlight excellence.

AMANPOUR: Duncan says that student performance and growth should also be used, that teachers are uneasy about having their work tied to student test scores.

(UNKNOWN): How are we going to assess teachers in different ways? Because testing is not the way, Mr. Secretary.

AMANPOUR: It's clear that teachers are frustrated.

(UNKNOWN): But why am I paid as if I'm the lowest of the low, when I have your child's mind in my hands more than you do?

AMANPOUR: Duncan supports paying teachers more based on how well their students perform. At a union rally in Louisiana, Duncan assures teachers that he wants them all to work together.

DUNCAN: We have to do so much more to elevate the teaching profession, to say thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And Secretary Duncan joins me now. Also, President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten and Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the D.C. public schools. She joins us from Sacramento, California.

Thank you to all of us. Let me go straight to you, because that last -- I saw you both nodding in that piece, where really you have to do more together to try to get the teacher situation and the classroom situation better. What can you do to make people like Randi Weingarten and teachers feel secure about how you're trying to reform and weed out the bad teachers?

DUNCAN: Well, I think we've had a fantastic working relationship. And let me be clear: I think Randi Weingarten is going to help lead the country where we need to go. We have to elevate the status of the profession. We can't do enough to recognize great teaching. We can't do enough to shine a spotlight on success. And we have to be willing to challenge the status quo together when it's not working.

And you're seeing that happen in district -- in district -- at district after district around the country thanks to Randi's leadership and courage. That's not an easy feat on her part.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, you're speaking very nicely about each other for the moment. There's an issue that's just come out in Los Angeles, as you know. The Los Angeles Times has been investigating a school district there and has today put up data about teacher evaluation, student performance, all on the Web site, so it's accessible.

Now, you think that kind of data should go out, and you don't.

WEINGARTEN: Well, I think, actually -- I'll let the secretary speak for himself -- but I think the issue is, what we're all grappling with, is how you make sure that teachers are the best they can be. Failure is not an option, and I think what's happened is that we're all trying to figure out how to make teaching -- which has always been an art -- into an art and a science, which is why data is really important.

But what the L.A. Times did is they used this data, which is unreliable and is basically a prediction and an assumption, they used it in isolation of everything else. And so we said, let the teachers see it, let them use it. In fact, they are starting to do that in L.A., but don't publish it in this way.

DUNCAN: The tragedy in L.A. has been the teachers -- as Randi said -- desperately want this data and they've been denied it. Teachers want to get better. It shouldn't take a newspaper to give them that data.

The district, the union, the education stakeholders have to work together to empower teachers. This should be a piece of how teachers are evaluated, just a piece. We have to look at multiple measures. But every teacher wants to get better. Why does it take a newspaper to give them what they desperately want?

Let me tell you: In California, there are 300,000 teachers, 300,000. The top 10 percent, the top 30,000, would be amongst the best teachers in the world. The bottom 10 percent, the bottom 30,000, you know, there are some real challenges there.

No one -- no one in California can tell you who's in the top 10 percent and who's in the bottom 10 percent. Something's wrong with that picture.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Michelle Rhee, because she's had to deal with this directly in her own school district. Michelle Rhee, you, you know, have caused quite a lot of controversy, you've got a lot of supporters and a lot of detractors over what you're doing here in Washington, D.C.

I'm just going to put up the picture of the Time Magazine cover when you came in, you with a great, big broomstick, basically signifying that you're going to sweep out the deadwood, so to speak. You got a certain amount of money in the administration's education stimulus fund. How did you do it? How did you get rid of something like 241 teachers and get the unions on board?

RHEE: Well, we certainly sat at the table with the unions to craft a contract that we thought was going to be good for kids and fair to teachers. We completely revamped our teacher evaluation model so that it was more aligned with how students were actually performing, so in our new model, 50 percent of the teacher's evaluation is based on how much they're progressing their students, in terms of academic achievement levels, 40 percent is based on observations of classroom practice, another 5 percent based on how their school is doing overall, and then the final 5 percent based on their contributions to school community.

So based on what Secretary Duncan just said, we're looking at multiple measures. And based on that, we can identify our highest-performing teachers and our lowest-performing teachers.

AMANPOUR: Let me just quickly ask you, because the figures from 2007 to 2009 showed a significant achievement in closing the achievement gap, but the latest amount -- the latest figures that have come out show that that's stalling. How do you -- how do you fit that into your plan?

RHEE: Well, I think what it shows is that it's just incredibly difficult. I think for decades now we have been trying to figure out as a public education system, how do we close the achievement gap? How do we make sure that race and socioeconomic status are no longer the determining factors of a child's educational achievement levels? And we've made tremendous progress over the last three years under our mayor, Mayor Fenty, who controls the schools here in Washington, D.C.

But it's not a one-shot, silver-bullet solution. It's going to take a lot of time to get to the point where we can say that we've closed the gap.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you, Randi. And I've sort of commissioned a prop. I mean, it's the teachers union contract with the city of New York, and it's very, very, very thick. And it reads that it's very difficult to actually get rid of teachers who are not performing.

We've checked. Something like seven teachers were let go this year for bad performance out of thousands of teachers in New York. And there's so many -- so much evidence in Los Angeles, as well, of it taking years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get to the bottom of this -- of this situation.

How do you get through that impediment to good teachers?

WEINGARTEN: Well, actually, let me -- let me say this. First, the states that actually have lots of teachers in teacher unions tend to be the states that have done the best in terms of academic success in this country. And the states that don't tend to be the worst.

The issue is not a teacher union contract or a teacher union management contract. What we have to do with these contracts is we have to make them solution-driven. We have to use them to solve problems like we have just done in the New Haven contract, like to some extent we did in the contract that was negotiated in Washington. But this is...

AMANPOUR: And the question really is about, who gets kept, who gets fired, who gets merit pay?

WEINGARTEN: So this is the issue. No one -- myself included -- wants bad teachers. We talk about bad teachers and good teachers all the time, but we don't actually spend the time talking about the overwhelming number of good teachers who do a superb job and need the tools and time and trust to do that.

In terms of teachers who are not doing what they need to do, both the secretary and myself have been a Johnny One Note about changing evaluation systems. That is a key, which is what we've both talked about, and talk about in terms of both practice and student learning.

Once you do that, which we're now doing in the union ourselves -- are doing in about 50 or 60 districts throughout the country -- you help people. And if you can't, you counsel them or sever them out of the profession.

At the end of the day, teachers -- this is probably the most important thing I can say -- teachers want what students need. They want to do a good job; they want the person next door to do a good job. But they know we need more than just ourselves.

AMANPOUR: And let me ask you, then, about the new curricula, about the new standards for measuring teachers and classroom performance. And you've identified and the president something like 5,000 failing schools where you need new principals, new teachers. Can you really do that?

DUNCAN: We have to as a country. Let me be clear: We have to educate our way to a better economy. I think where we're all united -- Randi, Michelle, all of us -- is we feel this huge sense of urgency.

In this country, we have a 25 percent dropout rate. That's 1.2 million students leaving our schools for the streets every single year. That is economically unsustainable, and that is morally unacceptable.

We have to get that dropout rate to zero as quick as we can. We have to dramatically increase graduation rates. And we have to make sure every single student that graduates from high school is college- and career-ready.

So the status quo is not going to work for the country. We have to get better, and we all have to work to get to that point absolutely as fast as we can.

AMANPOUR: One of the other controversial points -- and I'm going to turn to you, Michelle Rhee -- is the sort of pay for performance or merit pay for teachers. You've instituted that in your school system here, and how is that working?

RHEE: So we're just about to announce in the next couple of days the highest performing teachers in the district, the most effective. And then we will give merit pay to those folks, a bonus for last year, and then it will impact their -- their pay moving forward, as well, so that we will be able to pay the most effective teachers in the district almost twice as much as they used to be paid.

And I think that's incredibly important, because one of the things that we have not done in public education in the past is differentiate between the types of performers that we had. And it's incredibly important to recognize and reward the people who are doing heroic work in our classrooms every single day, just as important as it is to ensure that for those who are not performing, we're swiftly moving them out of the classroom.

AMANPOUR: One of the -- one of the issues, I think, you have said in your reform is to try to pay more teachers for things like math and science, try to pay teachers to go out into the poor and rural areas where they're desperately needed. Do you think that will create teachers who just now want to teach math and science? I mean, is it going to sort of subvert the balance of classrooms?

DUNCAN: I would love to have that problem. Let me be clear: For the past couple decades, we've had a shortage of math and science teachers in our country. So how are we going to compete in a globally competitive economy if our students don't have teachers who know biology and know chemistry?

We've had very few incentives and, frankly, lots of disincentives for the hardest working, the most committed teachers and principals to go to inner-city communities, to go to rural communities, to go to the children in the neighborhoods who need the most help, and education -- talent matters tremendously. Great teachers are the unsung heroes in our society. They perform miracles every single day.

How do we get the hardest-working, the most committed to the children who need the most help? We have to be more creative (ph). And let me be clear: Financial incentives are a piece of that, but a small piece. You need a great principal. You need a supportive community. All of us have to work together. You have to create the climate and the culture where great talent want to serve where it's most needed.

AMANPOUR: So you've just identified a crisis in...

(CROSSTALK)

WEINGARTEN: Right, that's what's so complicated about...

AMANPOUR: But a million school teachers are going to be retiring by 2014 because of Baby Boomers. How do you incentivize them?

WEINGARTEN: So this is what's interesting. The Gates Foundation just actually did a study of 40,000 teachers. And what they said was what is number one for them is to have a supportive, real environment in which they can work with each other and have a supportive principal.

Now, we have to pay teachers competitively. It's tough right now because the economy is so bad, but we have to pay them competitively, and then we have to do some of these differentiations.

As the chancellor said, we negotiated that incentive pay plan, unlike what happened in terms of the evaluation plan. We've negotiated lots of evaluation plans all across the country. But it is about multiple things: good teachers supported by good leaders; really good, robust curriculum; the conditions to -- for kids so that we can eradicate the obstacles to failure.

And the last thing I'll say is this: We have watched other countries outpace us, but let's look at the country that now outpaces us the most, Finland. When they start doing the things that the secretary and I are talking about, really focus on curriculum, focus on how we make -- how we help teachers be the best and the brightest, have supportive principals, have the conditions that help eradicate student failure, then kids succeed.

Let me ask you, Michelle Rhee -- and maybe it's something for both Secretary Duncan and you -- you've called it a civil rights issue, education.

DUNCAN: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: But, of course, many in the civil rights movement, amongst minorities and blacks here are saying that, in fact, we should be giving -- you should be giving the stimulus money not based on performance and innovative proposals, but based on need, because there's such a need. How do you deal with that in your schools, Michelle?

RHEE: Well, first of all, I mean, we totally disagree with the notion that the -- the right thing to do in terms of putting resources into the school districts is to continue the formula funding of the past that has completely failed children, and particularly poor and minority children in this country.

What the secretary and the president have done through Race to the Top has said we're going to incent innovation. We don't want the -- we don't want to maintain the status quo. We want people who are going to be aggressive about really reforming their districts and who are serious about that. And we're going to give the resources to those -- to those states and to those districts.

And I think that this idea that somehow by just continuing to give all of the districts that same amount of money over and over again is going to produce a different result is absolutely mad.

AMANPOUR: Interestingly, we have a piece of information, a graphic showing how parents feel about merit pay, and we'll put it up right now. But basically, amongst parents, 72 percent say, yes, the teachers should be paid based on the quality of their work, and 28 percent say, no, they should be paid standard scale. Now, that's pretty much the same amongst public school parents and parents nationally.

Is this the way to go?

DUNCAN: It's a piece in the answer. But, again, let me -- this stuff is complicated. What we've done through Race to the Top is you're seeing the vast majority of states, almost 40 states, raise standards, higher standards for every single child. And as a country, we've dummied down standards. We've reduced them due to political pressure, and we've actually been lying to children and parents, telling them they're ready when they're not.

All of us are working together to raise standards. Rewarding excellence is important. Creating wraparound services, after-school programming, tutoring, mentoring, family support, counseling is important, figuring out how you get the best talent where you need it the most important, engaging parents in more creative ways is important.

There's no simple answer here. All these things are working together. But, yes, we have to shine a spotlight on excellence. We have hundreds of thousands of teachers who are beating the odds every single day, performing miracles. We have extraordinary schools closing achievement gaps, great districts, great states. We have to learn from excellence in education. The answers are all out there.

WEINGARTEN: So that's...

AMANPOUR: We have to wrap now, but one of the things I was quickly going to ask you, it seems that the schools that you've put the money into -- to those 12 states that you've given Race to the Top funds, there's 30 or more states which have, as you know, had innovative programs. Probably wouldn't have done that had they not had that incentive to do so.

WEINGARTEN: Actually, they're -- actually, look, I give the secretary a lot of credit for this, but we have to help all kids. And so what happens is that some of these programs, particularly the ones that are collaborative, what we're going to have to see is how they work going forward, because the goal is not just some kids, but all kids.

AMANPOUR: Thank you all. We have to leave it there for this morning, but thank you, Secretary Duncan, Randi Weingarten, and Michelle Rhee for joining us in this conversation.

About Susie Madrak

Comments

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.