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.
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?