Secretary of Education Duncan Addresses NEA, CEA Delegates

An estimated audience of nearly 5,000 members of the National Education Association gathered to participate in the latest stop on Federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s “Listening Tour”. Included in the audience were Columbus Education Association President Rhonda Johnson, Vice-President Sally Oldham, the Association’s Board of Governors and local delegates to the NEA Representative Assembly.

Introducing Secretary Duncan, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel noted the stark differences in the national education landscape. “The fact that the President is listening and accessible to 3.2 million educators,” said President Van Roekel, “shows what a difference a year makes.”

Secretary Duncan repeatedly referenced cooperation and collaboration between teachers and administrators throughout his speech.

“You must be full partners and leaders in education reform,” he told the audience of education professionals. “The key to making progress begins with respect for the labor/management relationship.”

Duncan spoke about his childhood years helping his mother at the school she founded. Duncan was direct about the nation’s need for school reform, saying “We cannot wait because our children cannot wait.”

The Secretary acknowledged the critical demand for strong principals in high-needs schools.

“Failing schools have poor leaders,” said Duncan. “Poor leaders drive away good teachers. Great principals lead talented instructional teams. If they’re not up for the job, we need to find someone else to do it.”

He acknowledged systemic flaws in high-stakes tests, calling them “far from perfect”. Duncan continued to champion the use of performance-based compensation plans for education professionals. He cautioned policy makers that those programs must be developed in collaboration with teachers.

“You cannot pit teachers against each other,” said Duncan, referencing failed plans that were unilaterally designed without teacher input or buy-in. According to Duncan, truly collaborative plans must be “transparent in terms that teachers can embrace”.

In June, 46 states and 4 US territories joined together to create common academic standards in both math and English language-arts. Duncan steered clear of labeling the efforts “federal standards” and reaffirmed the US Department of Education’s role in the state-led effort.

“If it’s called federal standards, it dies,” said the Secretary. “We can cheerlead, bu this has to come from the state and the local level.”

“I found collaboration to be the strongest theme of the speech,” commented Columbus Education Association President Rhonda Johnson. “President Obama and Secretary Duncan are committed to work with the NEA at the national level. NEA is committed to working with its affiliates at the state and local level.”

“I am proud to represent the 4,000 plus teachers of the Columbus Education Association,” continued Johnson. “Many of the education reforms mentioned by Secretary Duncan are already taking place in Columbus.”