WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is hoping competition combined with cash will encourage states and school districts to improve the nation’s teaching corps.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan planned to announce details of the administration’s proposed $5 billion program for a new Race to the Top-style competition, with states and districts competing for grant dollars to improve teacher quality, during a town hall meeting with teachers Wednesday. Among the changes the administration is seeking: higher teaching salaries, compensation tied to performance and more selective and improved teaching colleges.
The program was included in the budget proposal President Barack Obama sent to Congress on Monday. It will probably face obstacles in the gridlocked Congress, where some Republicans have complained of federal overreach and overlapping programs in education.
Race to the Top, Obama’s signature education initiative, already has awarded more than $5 billion in competitive grants to states willing to enact certain changes favored by the administration.
A growing body of research shows the big difference that effective teachers can play in student lives, from reducing teenage pregnancies to increasing a student’s lifetime earnings. Duncan frequently notes during speeches that within the next decade, about a million baby boomer teachers will retire and quality teachers are needed to fill those spots. Yet, a report from the McKinsey & Co. global consulting firm found that only about a quarter of new teachers come from the top third of their class and said prestige and peer group appeal, along with compensation, were factors influencing whether top college students enter teaching.
The proposed competition would focus on both improving the quality of the existing teaching force and on better training and recruitment of future teachers. Already, some states are enacting some of the changes the Education Department wants, such as awarding tenure based on teacher performance, instead of primarily on seniority.
“We need to change society’s views of teaching — from the factory model of yesterday to the professional model of tomorrow — where teachers are revered as thinkers, leaders and nation-builders,” Duncan said in prepared remarks.
Jennifer Allen, a spokeswoman for Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said in an email that Republicans support competition in education but also efficient use of taxpayer funds. Citing a Government Accountability Office report from last year that found 82 existing teacher quality programs administered by 10 federal agencies, she said that instead of creating another new program, a bill sponsored by Kline would consolidate many of the programs into a flexible grant states and districts could use to recruit and retain good teachers.
Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, said he supports the administration’s proposal and appreciates that it recognizes that salaries in teaching need to be competitive with other sectors.
“We always worry about the details and how we implement this and that’s really important, and we want to work with them on that,” he said.