I had breakfast this morning at the Department of Education with Arne Duncan and a group of education writers: Michele McNeil, Rick Hess, Michael Petrilli, Richard Colvin, and Rishawn Biddle. (As you can see, I was the lefty in the room!) I'm going to do a series of posts on the Secretary of Education's comments on hot-button issues; this is the first.
Duncan emphasized that teachers' unions occupy an important seat at the education reform table, and that he considers Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's union busting counterproductive. "I think collective bargaining will be a tool for improving student achievement," Duncan said. He praised the Wisconsin Education Association's plan–released just a few days before the labor stand-off began–to embrace value-added teacher evaluation and reform some tenure protections, adding that the union's president had been willing to step out in front of some her members to embrace change.
"You had a union that had been historically more intransigent, but was moving," he noted. "You don't want to hit them with a sledgehammer, you want to give them room to move and grow. … The timing wasn't good."
On Randi Weingarten's proposal to weaken tenure protections, he said: "I didn't say it was cutting edge, but we're seeing movement we haven't seen before. It doesn't mean we don't have to move further, faster."
Teachers' unions will remain relevant in the future by focusing on student achievement, compromising on pensions, and empowering their younger members, Duncan argued, pointing out that one-third to one-half of current teachers will phase out of the workforce in the coming years as Baby Boomers retire. "If you talk to young teachers, they want to get paid a hell of a lot more now, give them a 401(k), and they're thrilled," he said.