The Obama administration is spending billions of dollars to overhaul the nation’s public schools. How efforts to improve teacher performance and raise academic standards are playing out across the country.


  • Arne Duncan Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration.
  • Alyson Klein Staff writer, Education Week, a specialty publication aimed at the education policy community.
  • Cynthia Brown Vice president for education policy, Center for American Progress.
  • Rick Hess Resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute; author of the forthcoming book "The Same Thing Over and Over."


  • 10:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The latest winners in the Race to the Top education reform program were announced late last month. Race to the Top is one of the key components of President Obama's blueprint for overhauling the nation's public schools. Such federal incentives are credited with enticing a number of states to make serious efforts to tackle problems with their school systems.

  • 10:07:30

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to evaluate education reform, Cynthia Brown of the Center for American Progress and Alyson Klein of Education Week. We are expecting Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute to join us. But first, joining us from his office here in Washington, D.C., Arne Duncan. He's U.S. Secretary of Education. And throughout the hour, we'll take your calls. Join us on 800-433-8850. Good morning to you, sir. Thanks for joining us.

  • 10:08:16

    SECRETARY ARNE DUNCANGood morning, Diane. And thanks for having me back on the show. I really appreciate the opportunity.

  • 10:08:19

    REHMThank you. There has been a fair amount of controversy about the Race to the Top winners. How were they chosen? How do you plan to change the process?

  • 10:08:32

    DUNCANWell, we had a great peer review process. And we actually don't, you know, pick them here. We have our five experts who were impartial, and I think, overall, they did an extraordinary job. And what we saw, as you know around the country, Diane, it's -- we've seen about 36 states raise standards. You see 44 states working together to come up with much better assessments for students. And this is not just about the states that won. This is the entire country moving. This is a national movement. And I give so much credit to governors and state school chief officers and local educators for driving the kind of fundamental and dramatic change that our country needs. So I think what Race to the Top did is it really unleashed this huge amount of creativity and innovation.

  • 10:09:23


  • 10:09:23

    DUNCANThe folks know we need to get better. They know we need to educate our way to a better economy. And the leadership we saw at the local levels has been simply remarkable.

  • 10:09:31

    REHMTell me how these grant winners in these 11 states in the District of Columbia are going to be held accountable.

  • 10:09:42

    DUNCANSo we're going to work with each state and come up with a plan of what their benchmarks are going to be each year. And as long as they're hitting benchmarks, we'll continue to fund them. And if somehow they go off track or, you know, veer off course, we'll stop funding them. So we'll hold them accountable on a quarterly basis, and we absolutely expect them to do fantastic work. But if somehow someone slips or falters, we're more than prepared to stop funding. And we had many, many states we would have loved to have funded. We simply ran out of money. There was just tremendous courage showed. And there are a lot of folks who would like to come back and fund in a future Race to the Top initiative.

  • 10:10:23

    REHMAnd you've had many unions and educators raising concerns about linking teacher performance with student outcomes. How are you going to deal with that?

  • 10:10:37

    DUNCANWell, there's actually been real leadership there. And, you know, Delaware, which is one of the first two states to win along with Tennessee, the head of the state's teacher union, Diane Donohue, has shown tremendous courage. She was part of the interview team and was absolutely 100 percent behind the effort. And we've seen great leadership at the local level. You've seen Randi Weingarten, who, I think, is showing great courage as the leader of the AFT, who has said that, yes, you know, as a part of teacher evaluations, student achievement has to be part of that. That just makes common sense. And so I think, Diane, you're seeing the conversation change. You're seeing folks, you know, do some things differently. And we're all going to work together, and we're going to make sure we do the right thing by children. I've said from day one that when we evaluate teachers, we have to look at multiple measures.

  • 10:11:24

    DUNCANYou should never ever base a teacher's evaluation or pay or anything else upon, you know, one test, you know, or one day, once a year. That makes no sense at all. But as a series of multiple measures, should student achievement be part of how a teacher is evaluated? Absolutely. And what we all have to work together on, Diane, is teacher evaluation is largely broken in this country. Great teachers don't get recognized and awarded. Teachers who need additional help and support don't get that. And those teachers at the bottom where it's simply not working, and they need to, you know, find something else to do, that doesn't happen either. So if it's not working for the best, if it's not working for those in the middle, if it's not working at the bottom, if it's not working for any of the adults, I promise you it's not working for children either.

  • 10:12:05


  • 10:12:05

    DUNCANAnd so as a country we have to work together to -- and fix this. And we absolutely want to help see that happen.

  • 10:12:11

    REHMNow, you've got midterm elections coming up. You've got several governors where leadership could change in those dates. What happens if governors, newly elected, decide not to comply for those 11 states? Would you then take the money back?

  • 10:12:36

    DUNCANYeah, we would have that possibility. But what you saw in many states -- I'll give one example in Tennessee, which is brilliant -- so what Governor Bredesen did, who is -- he's term-limited out. He is done. He got every single potential gubernatorial candidate, Republican and Democrats to sign up to -- sign up for the plan. And so this isn't in about just one person's leadership. This is about an entire state saying that this is our blueprint for reform. This is the direction we want to go. All of us are working together. All of us are moving out of our comfort zones. And this is not about one person. So we'll watch that closely, both seeing real -- you know, forethought and thoughtfulness across the country. But what I thought, you know, Governor Bredesen did was brilliant. So anyone, who might -- the next governor of Tennessee, all of them are absolutely committed to this plan, and this work will continue to move forward.

  • 10:13:26

    REHMAll right. You've got right here in the District of Columbia Mayor Fenty who is several points behind in the prognosis for the upcoming election. And you've got Ms. Rhee who says she will not stay on NDC if Mayor Fenty loses. Now, how much of your education reform and Race to the Top depends on whether Michelle Rhee stays in place?

  • 10:14:03

    DUNCANWell, this is about an entire district. Again, it's not about one person. I think there's been real progress here in D.C. -- frankly, pretty remarkable progress in the short amount of time. This is a district -- as you know, Diane, it's been basically broken for far too long. It was a largely dysfunctional district. We've seen remarkable progress in recent years with Mayor Fenty's leadership and with Michelle Rhee as a superintendent. And whatever happens politically, obviously, you and I don't control that. But the children of D.C. deserve dramatically better than what had passed for a long time. Things are going in the right direction, and that progress desperately needs to continue.

  • 10:14:43

    REHMMy concern would be that you might have a slide backwards.

  • 10:14:48

    DUNCANWell, that would be my -- you know, we can't afford that. And again, the District has come a long way, but there's a long, long way to go. And then we absolutely need to see the momentum continue to move forward. There's been, you know, remarkable progress in a short amount of time. And we needed to continue to accelerate the rate of change. We can't go backwards. There are far too many children today who live in the District who are receiving a poor education, a willfully inadequate education, and that is simply unacceptable.

  • 10:15:14

    REHMNow, Morton Kondracke in Roll Call has written, "The danger lies in the possibility that Congress will delay action on education reform legislation and that a left-right coalition of reactionaries will consolidate next year to append the dramatic progress now underway." What do you think?

  • 10:15:43

    DUNCANI'm actually very optimistic and -- sure, you need to be aware of concerns, but there's been this amazing, quiet revolution around the country. No one is defending the status quo in which we've dropped from first to twelfth in college graduates. No one is defending the status quo with a dropout rate from high school of about 25 percent. And then many of our African-American, Latino communities have dropout rates as close to 40 and 50 percent. We know, as a country, we have to get dramatically better. We've worked very closely in a bipartisan way, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate. Education has to continue to be the one issue that we -- everyone throws politics and ideology to the side, and we simply do the right thing for children.

  • 10:16:25

    DUNCANSo we want to reauthorize ESEA. We think we can fix so much of what was broken in No Child Left Behind, and we move to reauthorize. We want to work with everybody to do the right thing for children, to do the right thing for education in this country. Nothing is more important, Diane, nothing.

  • 10:16:39

    REHMWhen do you think the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be authorized?

  • 10:16:46

    DUNCANI would love to see it happen this year. It may not, obviously. We ran out of time, so I'd love to see it happen early in the new year. So this is coming in real time as we speak. And we've been having great conversations with House and Senate leadership, Republicans and Democrats, bipartisan, bicameral, and we think No Child Left Behind was far too punitive. It was very prescriptive. It led to a dumbing down of standards, and it led to a narrowing of the curriculum. And we have to fix all of that.

  • 10:17:17

    DUNCANWe have to reward excellence. We have to focus much more on growth and gain. We have to provide much more flexibility at the local level, get the federal government off people's back, and leave it up to great local educators to figure out how best to help children learn. We have to have a well-rounded curriculum. And states now are raising standards. As we speak, 35 states, Diane, have adopted college inquiry standards that fit together. We're going to stop lying to children. We're going to stop lying to families. We're going to make sure every single child who graduates is truly college and career ready.

  • 10:17:48


  • 10:17:49

    DUNCANThat is a fundamental breakthrough. And I'm so proud of that courage and leadership.

  • 10:17:52

    REHMAnd what happens if Tea Party candidates get enough control in the House and Senate and call for the abolition of the Department of Education? Are you there, Mr. Secretary? Oh, I'm afraid we've lost him on that last question. And we'll take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk with our other guests. I'm very sorry about that, and I do apologize.

  • 10:20:03

    REHMAnd we are back. Unfortunately, we lost Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education. Our phone dropped out, or his phone dropped out -- not sure which. Here in the studio is Cindy Brown. She is vice president for education policy at Center for American Progress. Frederick "Rick" Hess, he's resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He's the author of the forthcoming book, "The Same Thing Over and Over." And Alyson Klein, she's staff writer for Education Week. And we are going to open the phone shortly and take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Send us your email to You can join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

  • 10:21:14

    MS. CYNTHIA BROWNGood morning.

  • 10:21:15

    MR. FREDERICK HESSGood morning.

  • 10:21:15

    REHMCindy Brown, you heard what secretary had to say as far as concern about making sure that schools that have gotten this extra money are evaluated, that they are doing what they have promised to do. What about accountability?

  • 10:21:39

    BROWNWell, I think the Race to the Top program has put in place accountability we rarely see in federal grants and education. As the secretary said, the -- they're going to work with the states to set performance benchmarks so that the -- and then evaluate quarterly whether the states are meeting them. If they're not meeting them, they'll hold back the money till they meet their benchmarks or stop funding them altogether. I think that is accountability we don't see -- we see that very rarely in federal grants to school districts and states.

  • 10:22:13

    REHMRick Hess, how do you see it?

  • 10:22:16

    HESSI mean, I think if the secretary follows through on what he said, it would be an intriguing and unprecedented development. We've never seen anything like that. Six of the twelve governors in the states won Race to the Top money, will be changing over come January. Ten of the twelve, including the mayor in D.C., may be changing over. Many of the new executives will not be interested necessarily in following through on the programs of their predecessors.

  • 10:22:40

    REHMAre you suggesting they turn down money?

  • 10:22:44

    HESSOh, no. I think they'll happily take the money, but they will also very happily not follow through on what they promised to do.

  • 10:22:50

    REHMWell -- but it sounds as though the secretary was saying that money would then come back to the federal government if those states do not agree to carry on.

  • 10:23:01

    HESSHe -- absolutely he has said that. We also, of course, heard similar declarations by Bush's Secretary of Education in the last administration, and we saw little or no follow-through on those pledges.

  • 10:23:13

    REHMSo you're saying you don't believe the secretary has the authority to pull that money back.

  • 10:23:19

    HESSI think he has the authority. I'm very interested to see whether he will choose to do so.

  • 10:23:25

    REHMAnd, Alyson Klein, what's your reaction?

  • 10:23:28

    MS. ALYSON KLEINFrankly, I would be surprised if the secretary did end up pulling money from Race to the Top winners. It's certainly something that I'll be watching for. And, you know, we'll just see how this program is implemented. It's certainly an unprecedented federal program.

  • 10:23:46

    REHMYou're saying that even if states which have won Race to the Top and have received the money, if their governors changed and don't like the program, you're saying they'll take the money but they won't comply?

  • 10:24:08

    KLEINI would be surprised if they didn't comply with at least part of what they've promised to do. I think it would be a last resort, frankly, for the department to pull money from the state. My guess is that Secretary Duncan would work with leaders in the state. Certainly, there wouldn't have been a turnover on everybody. There may be union leaders. There may be district leaders, who really buy into the plan, who would still be in place. And I think that the secretary would try to work with those folks to put pressure on whoever is in the governor's mansion and whoever is in state legislatures to make sure that they follow through on those promises. Certainly the implementation story is the story with Race to the Top right now. We'll have to see what the states who got this money, what they end up doing with it, whether they follow through on these bold plans they've put forward.

  • 10:24:53

    REHMHow do they have to comply, Cindy Brown?

  • 10:24:58

    BROWNWell, they're -- these applications were several hundred pages long, with great detail and with very -- with points awarded for various subparts and quite a bit of detail. I'm not nearly as pessimistic as my two colleagues here. I believe the department will be strong in taking action if the plans aren't lived up to. Already this administration -- Arne Duncan and his decision-making about who should be awarded grants -- bucked a lot of politics that would have been favorable to President Obama's party if certain awards have been made. So I'm much more optimistic that they -- he will take strong action. He's been taking strong action.

  • 10:25:46

    REHMOne of the keys seems to be the question of holding teachers accountable for test scores of their students. How do we do that?

  • 10:26:00

    BROWNWell, the only way it can be done is if you link teachers with their students, the students they teach. It's a data linkage issue. We have to remember, we've made huge progress in the last 10 years. Before the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, there was only one state that reported data on students desegregated by race, income and special needs and English language learning. Now, every state does. The only way you can do that is if you have grade-by-grade testing so that you can look at the difference in scores from one grade to another, and you can look at the effect that a teacher had on a student's learning.

  • 10:26:41

    BROWNEven if a student comes in behind, we expect a teacher to have success in moving that student forward. Even if they're so far behind they don't quite reach grade level, we can show the difference that a teacher makes if we compare one year's test to another. And all of us who are -- or most of us who are employed in the for-profit or non-profit world are evaluated on the outcomes we achieve. And it just seems only sensible that teachers who are paid every day to work with students be measured to some extent, taking into account extenuating circumstances, but look at the success they've had with their students.

  • 10:27:25

    REHMRick Hess, what about these measurements?

  • 10:27:30

    HESSI mean, I think -- absolutely Cindy's right that the secretary and the president deserve real credit for moving as aggressively as they have to put teacher quality on the agenda. They've done this more forcefully than the last administration ever did. That said, I wrote a year ago and -- when Race to the Top was first unveiled in a place called -- in a piece called "Failing to Learn Bush's Lessons," that the president and the secretary were at danger of doing to value-added and merit pay what the Bush administration did to accountability -- and that this was not meant as a compliment -- that the problem is these value-added mechanisms require a great deal of finesse. The estimates that you get on how effective teachers are are really quite unstable until you get to large numbers of students, that the assessments on which they're based are still relatively primitive. I think it's a -- I think it's essential and vital that we move forward in the way Cindy suggested on value-added. But I do think it is being oversold and overbuilt at this moment.

  • 10:28:29

    REHMYou're going to have to explain to me what you mean by value-added.

  • 10:28:34

    HESSSure, value-added is real simple. The way No Child Left Behind calculated school performance say, was whether your students made it over a testing bar a given year. Value-added says the way we should judge schools or teachers is how much progress students make in reading or math in the course of a year.

  • 10:28:53

    REHMAnd what's the difference between that and what the secretary of education is calling for now?

  • 10:29:03

    HESSNo, no, no. I'm suggesting that that is what he's calling for. But that in the way that we use value-added, we don't judge doctors, for instance, by looking at birth weight at their hospital the year before for 15 or 18 kids and looking at it the succeeding year. What we try to do is recognize that we have to use these kinds of measurement tools in smart and thoughtful ways. And the danger is in too many states right now -- most notably last year in Florida's Senate Bill 6, in a recent L.A. Times exposé that ran last month -- we are not using value-added measures in smart or thoughtful ways that are aware of their limits. We're getting, once again, the cart ahead of the horse.

  • 10:29:41

    REHMCindy Brown, do you agree with that?

  • 10:29:44

    BROWNI agree that the measures are less than perfect. The good news is that we're constantly -- experts are working on improving them. The problem is it's better than nothing. We've been paying teachers strictly on the basis of their years of service and their graduate school credentials, whether they were strong or weak teachers. And teachers who are not effective do damage to children. Are the measures imperfect? Yes, Rick is correct. But we're -- for the first time we're going to be making decisions about adults who are earning a salary. There will be some errors, and that will be unfortunate. But we aren't going to have children suffer by being in classrooms with teachers who are ineffective year after year. Now we will identify those teachers. We will provide them extra help and training to improve their practice.

  • 10:30:45

    REHMAlyson, what's the pushback from teachers themselves?

  • 10:30:50

    KLEINI think that's a great question, Diane, and that's sort of where the value-added debate may succeed or fail. A lot of unions, especially, and teachers are very skeptical of this measure for many of the reasons that Rick outlined. It's fairly new practice. They feel that the tests themselves aren't nuanced enough to fully measure their performance. And even some value-added experts really say that it should only be about 50 percent -- no more than 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation -- that you really do need to look at other factors, you know, including observations, other measures like that.

  • 10:31:27

    BROWNAbsolutely. Yes, I absolutely agree. We -- one of the interesting things is the discussion about differential pay and pay for performance and looking at test scores. We finally have uncovered the fact that evaluations of teachers have been meaningless for years. And there's been huge progress in the last year, year-and-a-half in developing really high-quality evaluations that look at several gradations of teacher performance. And it's done by observation, observation of principles, observation by peer teachers and master teachers, and with recording how these teachers are doing and factoring it into the evaluation. So it's not -- we're not talking about looking at test scores alone.

  • 10:32:15

    REHMHow concerned are you about the election and changes at the top as far as states are concerned?

  • 10:32:25

    BROWNWell, Rick made some good points, but one of the good things -- frankly, one of the best things about working in education policy for me personally is it is much less partisan than a lot of other issues we are dealing with in this country.

  • 10:32:37

    REHMBut might not governors who are not in favor of these programs simply say we're not going to do this?

  • 10:32:47

    BROWNThey may, but I -- there is a strong bipartisan support, strong Republican support for improving the quality of education in this country.

  • 10:32:59

    REHMCindy Brown. She is vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now. 800-433-8850. First to Durham, N.C. Good morning, Oscar. You're on the air.

  • 10:33:23

    OSCARHi. Good morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 10:33:25


  • 10:33:26

    OSCARListen, before I make my first -- before I make my main point, I like to have three disclosures. One, I am not a teacher. Two, I am a parent of an 18-month-old and a 3-year-old, so my children will not be in school any time soon. And three, I graduated from the Naval Academy with merit, but I was never able to take standardized tests and get really high marks on it. I always got average marks on it. So I did graduate from a fairly good institution and -- but I was never a good test-taker. So my point is that, you know, you can have all these children take all these standardized tests and hold the teachers accountable, but you're really not able to tell whether those teachers are good teachers or bad teachers from standardized tests, not from students.

  • 10:34:15

    OSCARI think that the whole point, this whole -- I'm glad everyone is talking about education. That's great. However, you're missing the point. If you sent an unruly child to school, an unruly child who doesn't behave, you're just basically asking the teachers to be babysitters, not teachers. A student must meet the teacher halfway. He must want to go -- he or she must want to go to class and learn, and that is a problem that needs to be addressed at home.

  • 10:34:43

    REHMRick Hess.

  • 10:34:45

    HESSI mean, I think the listener makes terrific points. I think all of us in the education policy conversation recognize that there's only so much that schools and policy can do. And I think the president has given a couple of terrific speeches on parental responsibility in recent years.

  • 10:35:01

    REHMOkay. What about not good test-takers?

  • 10:35:05

    HESSSure. I would say -- look, unless we believe that not good test-takers are going to be asymmetrically, unevenly distributed across the population, it's absolutely true. But the same is true in any walk of life. Ratings in every market are not equal. But nonetheless, television stations or radio stations try to compare the popularity of their shows based on ratings because they figure out that inequities and unevenness of that kind of smooth out. I would say, look, there's four real reasons to be concerned about using these tests to judge teacher quality. One is there is these technical considerations that the experts worry about. The second is that we can only generate value-added scores for about 25 percent of teachers today, the ones who teach, really, grades four to eight reading and math.

  • 10:35:51

    HESSThird, the reality is that if I'm a fifth grade teacher, and my students are being pulled out to work with a reading instructor or a coach, my students might do really well or really poorly, not because I'm a good teacher but because of the coach is good or bad. And right now our systems can't make those distinctions. And fourth, reading and math gains are a big part of what we care about, but they're not all that we care about. And we risk defining good teaching only in terms of these narrow elements. Like I said before, I'm with Cindy. I think these are huge advances. I think we have to use them. But I think as the listener cautioned, we've got to use them as tools and not as the whole ballgame.

  • 10:36:27


  • 10:36:28

    BROWNI agree with Rick. Although I think that there are a number of districts and states that are working to develop other kinds of student outcome achievement measures, not just using the state test which is what Rick was referring to. And so in some places like Denver, teachers themselves set objectives, hard data objectives for their performance, and then they're measured at the end of the year against them. There are other kinds of interim tests that are...

  • 10:37:03

    REHMBut you still got tests at the bottom. Tests are the measure by which a teacher performance is judged.

  • 10:37:15

    BROWNOnly in part, only in part.

  • 10:37:17

    REHMOnly in part, Alyson?

  • 10:37:19

    KLEINWell, right now, yes. It's only in part, and at most a state in their Race to the Top applications said that they wanted it to be 50 percent of a teacher's score. They're -- and other states said that they just want it to be a significant factor, so it's not the whole ballgame.

  • 10:37:35

    REHMAlyson Klein. She's a staff writer for Education Week. Short break and more of your calls when we come back.

  • 10:40:03

    REHMAnd we're back. We'll go right to the phones to Leigh. He's in Jacksonville, Fla. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 10:40:14

    LEIGHYes. Hi, Diane. I am a former teacher, and I had the privilege of teaching in a couple of very elite schools with very high outcomes. And I also taught in an urban core charter school where the population was 100 percent free lunch, and there's a couple of things I'd like to comment regarding assessment of the teacher. In my previous life in the private sector, there was such a thing as 360-degree review. And without that being a formal policy, that's actually what happens in a lot of the private schools because you have children going home and talking to their parents about their day, and then you have parents very concerned.

  • 10:40:59

    LEIGHAnd one thing I found in urban core school was that -- and I taught third grade -- there was really very little difference in the nature of the children in the 100 percent free lunch with the -- had a lot of things with parents that actually were in the correctional system. But even at third grade, they're still the same as the third grade kids I dealt with from (unintelligible) from the highest level -- what you would say (sounds like) all, many families in Jacksonville? But what was different was their parents and they themselves weren't given a voice in assessing their teachers, and I think that that would be a really valuable component to go along with the testing. Because one thing we did in the private schools, again, which the Duval County schools haven't been able to probably come up with the money for yet is testing in the fall and the spring. Though you measure the actual progress, you know...

  • 10:41:50


  • 10:41:50

    LEIGH...from September through to May.

  • 10:41:53


  • 10:41:54

    LEIGHAnd if you would combine that whole package, I think that you could meet the needs of all the children.

  • 10:42:00

    REHMInteresting. Cindy Brown.

  • 10:42:02

    BROWNWell, I think it's very good to have parent's voice expressed in evaluating teachers, so I have no quarrel with what she said at all.

  • 10:42:17


  • 10:42:18

    LEIGHI just want to add.

  • 10:42:19

    REHMGo ahead.

  • 10:42:19

    LEIGHYou know, one other comment I had to make was the accountability needs to go all the way up the food chain. Because here in Jacksonville, we have the best of both world or the, you know, (unintelligible) it. It was the worst of times and the best of times. We have three of the best schools in the country. We have Douglas Anderson, Stanton and Paxon, and at the same time, we have -- the vast majority of the district is underperforming. And this year, we had a record number of F schools at the elementary level, and yet the superintendent received a positive review from the school board and an atta boy and great job. And if I were a parent of the children in those F schools, I'd be very concerned unlike superintendent...

  • 10:42:57

    REHMOkay. All right, Leigh, thanks for calling. Alyson, what's your reaction as far as bringing in parental assessment of teachers?

  • 10:43:11

    KLEINI think, you know, it's important for parents to have a voice in how schools are improved. I don't think that there is anyone out there who don't -- who in education policy, Republicans and Democrats, who don't think that the community is an important factor. The question is always how do you do that? What does that actually look like in legislation? What does it look like in regulations? And I don't know if anybody has figured out a good way to do that, especially at the federal levels. It's just a really tricky task.

  • 10:43:38

    REHMOkay. Rick Hess, you're basically against the president's Race to the Top program. Talk about why.

  • 10:43:51

    HESSSure. I mean, I think the intuitions behind it were good ones. I think the notion that we want to provide political cover to states to push forward is important. Three real concerns. One is that I think we have been far too easy on the administration's reform agenda. There's $120 billion we've put into education between the stimulus bill and edu-jobs. The administration basically pushed 115 billion out the door, and all of that was to justify the 5 billion and the I3 in the Race to the Top reform fund. I think we've been just far too easy in the grading curve we've used when we talk about how much reform this has delivered.

  • 10:44:26

    HESSSecond, Race to the Top was not about, primarily to my mind, knocking down anachronistic programs and structures that get in the way of folks fixing schools in the states and districts. Cindy alluded to the data firewalls that were put in place in the 1970 laws that said you could not link student data to teachers. Race to the Top deserves kudos for helping to knock those down, but that only accounts for about 20 or 30 percent of Race to the Top. Most of Race to the Top, when I look at the 500 points across 19 categories is for flavors of the month, the best practices that happen to be embraced by the administration today, which is no different from the way we've promoted flavor of the month reform for the past 40 years. This is stuff related to school turnarounds, the way that we pay teachers, asking states to make sure they spend more money. Now, what I don't see is any serious effort to create room for folks to solve problems.

  • 10:45:23

    REHMSo what you're saying is you feel that this program is not very different from No Child Left Behind?

  • 10:45:31

    HESSFrom the intervention plans that states proposed, a part of No Child Left Behind asked states to give large vacuous promises about what they were going to do when schools didn't deliver the performance results that No Child Left Behind expected. If you read today's 500-page Race to the Top applications filled with vacuous assurances from school districts and union locals filled with empty prose provided by professional grant writers, I think it looks quite similar.

  • 10:46:03


  • 10:46:04

    KLEINWell, certainly there's been a lot of controversy over how -- over the Race to the Top scoring system. And in particular, there were two states that everybody sort of expected would get this money, who have really been on the forefront in terms of data and in terms of embracing at least the administration's views on teacher quality, and that's Colorado and also Louisiana. And (word?) including (word?) were real surprised when those states weren't selected for grants. So, yes, there's been a lot of skepticism about the scoring system.

  • 10:46:35

    REHMWhat about that?

  • 10:46:37

    BROWNWell, you know, you're kind of darned if you, darned if you don't, if the administration set up a peer review system to look at these grants. And the alternative would have been federal bureaucrats making decisions about who would win the grants and then using political decisions by Arne Duncan at the end. What they did with that peer reviewers, they came up with scores, and he followed them to the letter. There were some surprises in there, of course.

  • 10:47:19

    BROWNBut I do have to disagree with Rick about the value of Race to the Top. There were a total of 28 states that changed major state policies with regard to how they operate schools, all in response to the Race to the Top opportunity for pretty significant funding. We have never seen that kind of change that fast. And we have to remember that we have a very decentralized system of education in this country. The federal government provides at most about 9 or 10 percent of the funding for schools in this country. The decisions are made at the state and local level. And this was an effort by the federal government by putting some money out there for them to compete for to change state behavior. And I think you could say in a majority of states, there were significant changes.

  • 10:48:06

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Greensboro, N.C. Good morning, Lee. You're on the air.

  • 10:48:14

    LEEOh, good morning. How are you?

  • 10:48:15

    REHMFine, thanks.

  • 10:48:17

    LEEGood. I get really upset when you get on this topic of education. My wife is a teacher, and she just comes home every night just stressed out. You know, you have one person in a class of 29 children. You know, four or five of the kids don't speak English, and maybe two or three of them are -- need extra, extra attention. And so they're supposed to set guidelines and teach for all of these children in here, and it's difficult. No teacher assistant, and I just -- I don't understand how the system is working for the child. Because it just seems like the way all this works out, it's the child that ends up suffering or being -- you know, I had a 19-year-old boy come work for me. He couldn't tell me what nine times eight was, and he had just graduated.

  • 10:49:18

    REHMCindy Brown.

  • 10:49:19

    BROWNWell, first of all, teaching is a very difficult job. And successful teachers work miracles, and we should all be grateful for that. We have to change the way we do our teaching. We train our teachers the way we use technology. Rick has written some about that. We -- something is not working with the way we're providing education in this country. We're losing ground relative to other countries. And all of us have to work very hard in improving the situation. It is not -- I feel for this man and his wife. She's obviously working very hard.

  • 10:50:05

    REHMAlyson, explain the Teacher Incentive Fund which is another component of the administration's plan.

  • 10:50:16

    KLEINYes. The Teacher Incentive Fund actually was developed under the Bush administration, but the Obama administration has really been very aggressive in pumping funding into that program. And basically, what the Teacher Incentive Fund is, is it's a program that doles out grants to districts that want to try out so-called pay-for-performance programs, which would take a teacher's effectiveness into account in determining how much money they receive.

  • 10:50:43

    REHMAnd how would that measurement be calculated?

  • 10:50:48

    KLEINWell, that would vary -- that varies from district to district. They -- it's a competitive grant program. It -- you know, it's reviewed by folks of the Department of Education. If they feel that the measurement is accurate, they will -- it's a way to try it on. It's a way to experiment with this concept.

  • 10:51:05

    REHMHow does anybody think it's going to take before we know if any of these reform programs are actually working, Rick?

  • 10:51:16

    HESSIt's going to be a while. There's two ways to think about whether they work. One is if we're thinking about merit pay plans, for instance, or school turnarounds, is we have relatively sophisticated experimental design models where we can look at some students' test scores and other students' test scores. Again, it's all being judged in terms of test scores. And over a two or three year window, we can see whether we see significant gains. But if the larger argument for changing the way we pay teachers is that we're going to attract and keep folks who are talented and dynamic for a longer stretch, and we're going to keep them from wandering off to other fields, really the question is going to be, what does a teacher workforce look like 10 or 15 years from now? And there's no way to do that research until it -- 10 or 15 years passed.

  • 10:52:03

    REHMYou really have to be dedicated to be a teacher. Do you not, Cindy?

  • 10:52:08

    BROWNOh, absolutely. You have to love working with children and watching them grow and learn. And that's what the best teachers do in this country, and...

  • 10:52:18

    REHM'Cause they're certainly not working for large amounts of money.

  • 10:52:23

    BROWNNo, they aren't. But we know that -- particularly younger teachers today, when you poll them, they're quite supportive of moving the pay-for-performance systems. They want to be judged on the quality of their work just like their peers are in the other kinds of professions they go into. And hopefully by being -- people who are successful in their work like to stay in that line of work, and if we can attract really talented young people into teaching, reward them when they're successful, hopefully we can keep them.

  • 10:52:58

    REHMAll right. To Waynesboro, Pa. -- at a time when you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Pat, you're on the air.

  • 10:53:10

    PATGood morning.

  • 10:53:11

    REHMMorning, Pat.

  • 10:53:11

    PATGood morning. I must say I'm a regular listener.

  • 10:53:13

    REHMI'm so glad.

  • 10:53:14

    PATPart of the discussion disturbs me this morning. I'm (word?) way of the other gentleman who said that he -- his wife was a teacher. I'm on our local school board, and my husband and I are both retired from the local school district. I think we're talking so much about teacher accountability, and we are leaving out the piece of parental accountability. Parents can evaluate teacher accountability. Why can't it go the other direction? Parents are the common denominator in a child's life. They can have -- a child could have 20 teachers, 25 teachers over the course from kindergarten to 12th grade. But who's the one constant? Almost the constant in that child's life, it is the parent. And yet teachers' absenteeism, children not doing their homework, coming to school not dressed, you know, parents not showing up for teacher conferences -- there are so many roadblocks being put before teachers in the classroom today. And might I ask how many of your panel have been teachers?

  • 10:54:36

    REHMNot I, certainly. Anyone?

  • 10:54:39

    PATAny of...

  • 10:54:39

    HESSI have.

  • 10:54:41

    PATHow many years?

  • 10:54:42

    HESSI taught for two, taught at the Curry School of Education for five and supervised teachers for five.

  • 10:54:48

    PATOkay, so...

  • 10:54:48

    BROWNI've not been a teacher, but my mother was a longtime teacher.

  • 10:54:52

    PATWell, my mother was a longtime teacher. My mother-in-law was a longtime teacher. We come from an educational family. And is there -- have any of you read Robert Samuelson's column in yesterday's paper? He had some interesting statistics about the fact that the NAEP test, which has been around for 40, 50 years, we haven't shown any progress in that 50 years, none whatsoever. And look at all the different things we've tried.

  • 10:55:21

    REHMAll right, Pat. I appreciate your call. I do think there is lots of responsibility to go around. One person has written us, saying, "There are clearly many very intelligent and dedicated people working in classrooms across America. President Obama has been quite honest about the fact that some educators are simply not qualified to teach effectively." She goes on to say, "During the decade, I worked as a high school English instructor. I was stunned by the fact that few of my colleagues possessed an actual college degree in the subject they were teaching. She -- one woman laughingly reported, she received a grade of D in the only literature course she ever completed. 'Hang on to that teachers' addition,' she was fond of saying." Lots of problems out there. We shall see whether the administration's approach works. It's going to take a while.

  • 10:56:38

    REHMAnd I thank all of you for coming in here. Cindy Brown. She is vice president for education policy, Center for American Progress. Frederick Hess, he's at the American Enterprise Institute. And Alyson Klein, she's a staff writer for Education Week. Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, was on the line with us at the start of the program. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:57:17

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales.

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows