“Districts today pay $8 billion every year to teachers because they have a master’s degree, even though there’s little evidence that teachers with master’s degrees improve education—with the exception of those who have master’s degrees in math and science,” said Duncan. He suggested that schools spend the energy finding out who the best teachers are and work on rewarding and retaining them instead.

Duncan’s major point was to keep the cuts in school budgets from affecting student learning.

“Keeping the cuts out of the classroom as much as possible is hugely important,” Duncan said. “We’re at a point where, financially, we have to put these tough issues on the table.”

Duncan also said that the current model most schools are using is based on the century-old factory model of education and is obviously not working. He encouraged schools to work with students on an individual basis, with the help of ed-tech tools, to keep students who don’t need them out of special-education programs and to prevent remedial education.

“The alternative is simply to do less with less, and that is fundamentally unacceptable,” said Duncan.

(Editor’s note: For more information about how schools can do more with fewer resources at their disposal, see our Educator Resource Center on “Surviving the school budget crisis.”)