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White House demands teacher excellence for students most in need

White House demands teacher excellence for students most in need

POSTED: Monday, July 7, 2014 - 4:55pm

UPDATED: Monday, July 7, 2014 - 4:59pm

President Barack Obama continued in his theme of a "year of action" Monday, as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan unveiled a new effort to ensure access to "effective educators" for all American children.

Duncan joined the President at the White House for a lunch with a group of teachers chosen for their expertise with high-need, high-poverty schools.

"There are a lot of kids around the country who are not getting the kind of teaching that they need -- not because there aren't a whole lot of great potential teachers out there, but because we're not doing enough to put a lot of our teachers in a position to succeed," Obama said to reporters covering the event.

During a White House briefing Monday Duncan announced "Excellent Educators for All Initiative" and said that the U.S. has failed to provide the best teachers to students with the greatest need.

"Today race and family income too often still predicts kids access to excellent education," Duncan said. "That is simply unacceptable, and we must do better and do better together."

"Change can only come when we deal openly and honestly with the facts, and we need more states and districts to challenge the status quo."

The new initiative calls on states to consult with teachers, principals, districts, parents and community organizations in analyzing data and coming up with solutions that are targeted to the local population.

And the plan includes an investment of $4.2 million in setting up a technical assistance network to supports the development and implementation of these plans.

The Department is also seeking to put a spotlight on different schools that highlight "gaps in access to quality teaching for low-income and minority students" as well as the ways that specific schools overcome challenges and succeed.

In a statement, the Department of Education put some blame on Congress for a lack of substantial education reform and said the President was "moving forward on behalf of vulnerable children and families" in the absence of Congressional action.

In June a California judge struck down a state law on teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws, saying they keep bad teachers in the classroom and force out promising good ones. Duncan praised the ruling and pushed the importance of state's taking the initiative to reform their school systems.

"This decision presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students' rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve," Duncan said in a statement following the ruling.

Dennis Van Roekel, out-going president of the National Education Association, told CNN that plan is a good first step but that more details are needed. He says truly helping students means investing in early childhood development and school readiness, as well as maintaining a high bar when comes to building rich curriculums and conditions for learning.

"We need a whole new system of accountability. The kind of accountability that drives equity so that every student has what they need to succeed," Van Roekel told CNN.

That kind of reform, Van Roekel says, requires more than just a plan for reform.

"If they have a plan and no resources to implement it, that doesn't do anything," Van Roekel told CNN. "It's a very positive first step but we need to withhold judgment until we see what happens."

Van Roekel also downplayed a vote on Friday by the NEA Representative Assembly calling for Duncan to resign. He told CNN there is widespread frustration within the union with the Department of Education's reliance on mandatory testing but that ultimately they all have the same goal - to lift students up. 

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