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Duncan Challenges Mayors to Engage in Education

By Kathy Wiggins
January 30, 2012

"What are you doing to get your folks on the school board?" Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked mayors at the Jobs, Education and the Workforce Standing Committee Meeting on January 18. "You need to meet with teachers, meet with principals to put your passion, your resources behind schools."

Presided over by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Chair of the Jobs Committee, the session provided an excellent opportunity for real dialogue between the nation's mayors and the Education Secretary who is passionate about mayoral engagement in education.

"We need to incent teachers in math and science," Duncan continued. "We need to elevate, strengthen the profession. We should double teachers' salaries and increase principal salaries. We need the right incentive structure there. Math and science teachers should be paid more money."

Outlining the Department's waiver process, Duncan said he hoped No Child Left Behind (NCLB) would be reauthorized in a bipartisan way. "President Obama is offering states flexibility from NCLB in exchange for comprehensive plans to raise standards; to create fair, flexible, and focused accountability systems; and to improve systems for teacher and principal evaluation and support. This flexibility will not give states a pass on accountability. It will demand real reform. So far, 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have expressed interest in this flexibility. The Education Department is working with the first group of applicants."

Eleven states submitted waivers in the first round, and there will be a second round at some point "down the line." "Even as we work with states to offer flexibility from existing law, the Obama Administration will support a bipartisan effort by Congress to create a law that supports a well-rounded education while holding schools, districts, and states accountable for results," said Duncan. "We all need to work together so that ten years from now America's children will have the sort of federal education law they so richly deserve, one that challenges them to achieve to high standards and provides them with the highly effective teachers and principals who can prepare them for success in college and the workforce."

The omnibus appropriations bill included $549 million for a new round of Race to the Top; $149 million for the Investing in Innovation Fund; $60 million for the Promise Neighborhood initiative, which is double its FY 2011 funding level; and $534 million for the School Improvement Grant program, Duncan told the mayors."We wanted some flexibility to reward excellence," said Duncan, "so we will be investing directly in local school districts. We want your feedback as we set up that structure. This is a great opportunity to play at the local level."

"You can't have a world-class city without a world-class school system," Duncan said in closing. "Mayors must bring everyone together to ensure that kids have a quality education. Our goal is to be a good partner. We don't want to be a compliance driven bureaucracy. We're trying to change our culture."