What Ohio Democrats could learn from Duncan

Sec. Arne Duncan made the first (of three) speeches intended to recruit an "army of great teachers" when he spoke to UVA's Curry School of Education last Friday. But his address wasn't the typical rally cry for the teaching profession (although it did include feel-good phrases like "Our children need you" and "A great teacher can change the direction of an individual's life").

Duncan's take on America's teacher preparation programs was in tune with other parts of his agenda that have surprised (and angered) teachers unions - such as Race to the Top's guidelines emphasizing charter schools and teacher evaluations linked to student test scores, and his speech to the NEA last summer that pointed out the tendency for teacher contracts to "put adults ahead of children" and the subsequent need for teacher merit pay.??

His Virginia speech called out teacher training programs for being "theory-heavy and curriculum-light" and for not preparing teachers "for what awaits them in the classroom." Duncan outlined the need to expand human capital pipelines such as Teach For America and The New Teacher Project, in addition to overhauling teacher preparation programs (which certify 22 times as many teachers as alternative programs). Specifically, he cited the need for education programs to train teachers in the use of student achievement data, to better prepare them to work in high-need schools, as well as to track graduates in order to measure their success in the classroom.

Duncan's unapologetic focus on critical reforms, despite angering constituent groups like teachers unions, is refreshing. Unfortunately for Ohio, however, while reform-minded Republicans push for much-needed reforms such as alternative teacher licensure that would make it easier for TFA veterans to work in Ohio and softening of charter school caps, the Ohio Democratic party remains wedded to teachers unions and refuses to poke its head outside of its traditional ideological camp. For example, Ohio Senator Jon Husted (R-Kettering) recently introduced legislation that would make the Buckeye State more competitive for Race to the Top dollars by including a stipulation that would make Teach For America teachers eligible for an Ohio teaching license. Currently, this legislation is going nowhere as no Democrats support it and the House is controlled by their party.

While our education secretary calls on the nation to improve teacher pathways and training programs, boldly blurring partisan lines and taking a stand for students instead of interest groups, count on Ohio Democrats (at least for now) to act in predictable ways that align with the interest of adults, mandating distracting reforms (e.g. reduced class sizes, "community liaisons,") instead of seeking substantive changes centering on teacher quality.

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