U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan speaking at a meeting of the Children's Aid Society at Teachers College this morning.
U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan speaking at a meeting of the Children's Aid Society at Teachers College this morning.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called this morning for states to link student test data not only back to teachers, but also to the programs that trained them. New York State education officials said they are already working on it.

Speaking to a packed auditorium at Columbia University, Duncan criticized education schools for failing to graduate classroom-ready teachers. He said there needs to be a way to determine which programs are working.

“It’s a simple but obvious idea,” Duncan said. “Colleges of education and district officials ought to know which teacher preparation programs are effective and which need fixing. The power of competition and disclosure can be a powerful tonic for programs stuck in the past.”

Duncan said he will use the competitive stimulus package funds known as the “Race to the Top” program to pressure states to use student data to evaluate teacher preparation programs.

After Duncan’s speech, state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and education commissioner David Steiner said that Duncan’s speech was in line with their own visions of change.

“It was a clarion call to do what needs to be done,” Tisch said of Duncan’s speech. “The secretary articulated the vision that [Steiner] has been talking about.”

Plans are already underway to link student data back to teachers and their training programs, Tisch added. “It’s all done,” she said, noting that the state had already begun discussions with school districts, teachers unions, and universities.

Steiner cautioned that before the state began casting judgment on education schools, it had to revisit and perhaps rethink the state’s tests, which have been criticized for being too easy.

“The richer the data system, the more able we are to track back to the education schools,” he said.

Steiner noted that the purpose of linking student data to teachers and training programs is informative, not punitive. “The core of this is to give teachers tools,” he said.

Margaret Crocco, head of Columbia Teachers College’s department of arts and humanities, said that figuring out how to link teacher training programs to student achievement will be a complicated process. “It’s not a simple direct line of relationships,” she said. “But in the spirit of the secretary’s approach, we do need to understand what works and what doesn’t.”

Duncan also called for an increase in the amount of time teachers-to-be spend in class, praising programs that pair student teachers with mentors for year-long “residencies” in the classroom. New York’s first residency program was launched this year by Hunter College, and Columbia’s Teachers College will launch a similar program next fall.

Earlier this morning, Duncan gave the keynote address at the Children’s Aid Society’s Biannual Community Schools Practicum. Echoing previous comments, he called for community schools like the ones he helped develop in Chicago to be come the “norm.”

“The more our schools become community centers, offer GED classes, ESL classes, potluck dinners … the more families are engaged, the more schools become the heart of family life, the better our students will do,” Duncan said.

In districts that are fighting poverty and high drop out rates, schools can no longer operate from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. he said. Once regular school hours end, nonprofit after-school organizations such as the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club have to keep students engaged and out of trouble.

Speaking to an audience of philanthropists, Duncan warned that community schools won’t work as one-time investments. “This has to become every school. This is not something you can invest in for three years. You have to stay the course,” he said.

In the question and answer session that followed, president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, pressed Duncan on how the federal government would force local school districts to create community schools.

“There has to be leverage in the federal role or regulations pushing mayors or others who don’t want to do it,” Weingarten said.

“The number one issue that we’ve seen that stops the kind of work that you just talked about is not money and not the use of time but the lack of coordination,” Weingarten said. “I’m wondering, whether the department can find a way to incentivize that coordination so it’s not always coming from the bottom up.”

A tired-looking Duncan, who was minutes away from delivering his speech on teacher preparation, said that part of the solution could be installing mayoral control in more cities. “Thinking through that is a really important thing for us to do,” he said.