Wednesday, April 8, 2009

US Schools Chief Says Kids Need More Class Time

DENVER (AP) — American schoolchildren need to be in class more — six days a week, at least 11 months a year — if they are to compete with students abroad, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.

The former Chicago schools superintendent praised Denver schools for allowing schools to apply for almost complete autonomy, which allows them to waive union contracts so teachers can stay for after-school tutoring or Saturday school. He also applauded Denver's pay-for-performace teacher pay system, which some Democrats and teachers' groups oppose. "Talent matters tremendously. ... It's important that great teachers get paid more," Duncan said.

He visited at the invitation of Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who was Denver's schools superintendent from 2005 until his appointment to Congress this year. The city's pay-for-performance plan was one of Bennet's chief accomplishments while in charge of the 75,000-student system.

During visits to two schools Tuesday, Duncan promoted education reforms proposed by the Obama administration. But he hasn't shied away from challenging Democratic positions on education since joining the Cabinet. Last month, he said poor children who receive vouchers to attend private schools in the District of Columbia should be allowed to stay there, putting the Obama administration at odds with Democrats trying to end the program. Duncan talked up school choice during his Denver visit, though he didn't mention vouchers."I'm a big believer that students and parents should have a choice what school they want to go to," he said.

Duncan's comments over the last couple of weeks give a clear indication where policy and funding in Education will likely go during the Obama administration. Merit pay, choice, longer school day, and waiving of teacher contracts are all initiatives that will require give and take along many fronts. In addition, until the Secretary is willing to talk about what to DO with the extra time (not just more of the same thing) even if he gets his wishes they may end up being unproductive. Wherever you stand on these issues, one thing is for sure---the appointment of Duncan as Secretary of Education will eventually garner increased attention. -Dr. Petrosino

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