Arne Duncan comes to Tampa to praise local school officials and announce national education summit

Later Arne Duncan heaped more praise on the Hillsborough District, saying, "They are making it unbelievably desirable to be a teacher.  They're providing a huge amount of support....they're setting a high bar...their empowering parents."

When asked about how unions - such as in Florida with the controversial teacher reform bill SB 6 that Governor Crist vetoed earlier this year- have rejected proposals that force them into certain concessions from the top down (unlike the situation in Hillsborough) Duncan replied that he didn't think that anybody liked "anything imposed on us, whether it's unions or children or parents."

Under the Hillsborough/Gates plan, teachers will be assessed by three different criteria: 40 percent on student achievement, 30 percent on what is called a "pure" evaluator, and 30 percent on the judgment of that teacher's principal. Previously in Hillsborough, ratings were 100 percent driven by the principal.  Recently, that contract was approved by 96% of Hillsborough teachers, a remarkable achievement, Duncan said.

Jean Clements, the head of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, said during the round table discussion that the district has been focused on student achievement for a long time, where the culture has been "how are the students doing?"  She said that it's important for everybody who works in education to check themselves and ask, "why are we here?  That should generate greater trust," she added.

On the loaded issue of tenure, Clements said that with a new evaluation process for teachers, they will have much clearer expectations.  She said "they won't get tenure if they don't deserve it."

On Friday, the documentary that looks at the U.S.'s faltering public education system, "Waiting for 'Superman'" will be released.  We'll have more on that with Randi Weingarten in an upcoming post.

A  year ago, the Hillsborough County School District became one of just four such school district recipients nationwide to be awarded funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Hillsborough was awarded $100 million to allow educators, administrators and the teachers union to create a model to measure teacher effectiveness and develop a teacher mentoring program. The District had already been using pay-for-performance incentives for the past couple of years, but as  CL wrote earlier this year, the Gates money now puts that plan on steroids.

So this morning, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and leaders of the biggest teachers unions in the country joined up with Hillsborough School District head MaryEllen Elia, local teachers union chief Jean Clements, Congresswoman Kathy Castor, and other local officials to participate in a round table discussion at the Rampello Downtown Partnership School in downtown Tampa.

At a news conference where he took a handful of questions afterwards, Duncan showered praise on what's been done in Hillsborough, and said there are similar good news stories happening across the country in terms of cooperation in public education between the major players.

"In a short amount of time can we accelerate the rate of change and build these collaborative relationships, collaborative partnerships just as we have accelerated the rate of change in raising standards around the country. We have 36 states with a higher bar, 44 states working on better assessments, why can't we have hundreds and hundreds of districts over the next couple of months, over the next year, the next two years, replicate the success of Hillsborough and some of these other individual districts that are really at the cutting edge."

Duncan used the occasion to announce - with the leaders of the two biggest national teachers unions at his side - that there will be an education summit to be held next year to study what's been happening in Hillsborough County and other success stories in public education across the country.

"This is potentially a historic conference....if we can bring in teams of folks from districts around the country, to hear what's possible, to hear about this quiet revolution that's happening across the country, we can take these pockets of excellence and start to make that the norm," Duncan said.

"Why have these other countries outpaced us (in terms of education)?" asked American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten.  "Because they started transforming their systems at a greater rate than we have transformed ours."

Echoing Duncan, Weingarten said, "How do we accelerate this rate of change?  We transform all our schools into places that help kids be ready for the knowledge economy.  And that's what Hillsborough is teaching us.  And the way they are teaching us is through a collaborative, not a combative model."

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