The interview was with Matt Lauer of "Today." Here's what I would have asked. My analysis to follow….
Why are one-third of American kids dropping out of high school–and why are one-third of high school grads academically unprepared for college?
Other nations "have caught up and now in some cases they are surpassing us….especially in math and science. It happened over decades…how well we do economically…is going to depend on whether or not we do something about these schools."
How do we "fire" bad teachers?
"The single most important ingredient inside the classroom is the quality of the teacher. … When I sit down with the mayor of Shanghai teaching is considered one of the most prestigious jobs, and a teacher is getting paid as much as an engirneer."
Are teachers unions blocking your reforms?
"Here's what's true, oftentimes teachers unions are designed to make sure their membership are protected from arbitrary firings." I am in "strong support of the notion that a union can protect its members and be part of the solution….We have a lot of unions that are now working with states on these reform plans that include things like charter schools, like pay for performance, and higher accountability for teachers."
What is your message to the leadership of unions and to teacher union members?
"We want to work with you; we're not interested in imposing changes on you…you can't defend the status quo in which a third of our kids are dropping out…when you've got 2,000 schools across the country that are drop-out factories, in those schools you have to have radical change. … The vast majority of teachers want to do a good job, they're not in it for the money. … Ultimately if some teachers are not doing a good job they've got to go."
Why do you want to expand the charter school sector? Will the expansion dilute the quality of charters?
"It turns out there are no silver bullets here. Reform is hard, it's systematic, it takes time. There are some charters that have figured out how to do a very good job in the lowest income schools." Let's "make sure we are still holding charter schools accountable like we would any school…fostering these laboratories of excellence" by lengthening the school day, giving more time to professional development, more homework, and fostering a culture of excellence.
What about middle class schools?
"Across the board in middle class suburbs…you are still seeing a decline in terms of math and science performance and one of the things we are very excited about…we are going to specifically focus on training 10,000 new math and science teachers. We've got to boost performance in that area. … Parents understanding every kids need to excel in those areas especially."
Should we end summer vacation?
"I think we should have longer school years." Our school calendar is "a month less than most other advanced counties and that month makes a difference…kids are losing a lot of what they learned during the school year during the summer. … A long school year I think makes sense. It's going to cost some money…that means the school is open, you've gotta pay teachers, custodial staff, etc., but i think that would be money well spent."
Would Malia and Sasha get as good of an education in D.C. public schools as they do at Sidwell Academy?
"I'll be blunt with you, the answer is no right now. … There are some terrific individual schools in the DC system…but it goes to the point…a lot of times you've got to test in or it's a lottery pick for you to be able to get into those schools. Given my position if I wanted to find a great public school for Malia and Sasha to be in we could probably maneuver to do it…[parents without those connections] should be getting the same quality education for their kids as anybody else."
How do we get high-achieving college grads to go into teaching?
"The problem is not that we can't attract young people into teaching. Typically after two or three years they start dropping out." To keep them in, he says, they need higher salary, merit pay so the best teachers can earn more, and better professional development.
What's your message to college kids considering a teaching career?
"We're going to have to fill about a million teaching spots around the country…there is not a more important profession for the success of our country over the long term."