$5 billion program would focus on teacher quality

The program is called RESPECT, an acronym for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching.

The Obama administration is hoping that competition combined with cash will encourage states and school districts to improve the nation’s teaching corps.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Feb. 15 announced details of the administration’s proposed $5 billion program for a new Race to the Top-style competition, with states and districts competing for grant dollars to improve teacher quality, during a town hall meeting with teachers. Among the changes the administration is seeking: higher teaching salaries, compensation tied to performance, and more selective and improved teaching colleges.

The program was included in the budget proposal that President Barack Obama sent to Congress on Feb. 15. It is likely to face obstacles in the gridlocked Congress, however, where some Republicans have complained of federal overreach and overlapping programs in education.

Race to the Top, Obama’s signature education initiative, already has awarded more than $5 billion in competitive grants to states willing to enact certain changes favored by the administration.

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A growing body of research shows the big difference that effective teachers can play in students’ lives, from reducing teenage pregnancies to increasing a student’s lifetime earnings. Duncan frequently notes during speeches that within the next decade, about a million baby boomer teachers will retire, and high-quality teachers are needed to fill those spots. Yet, a report from the McKinsey & Co. global consulting firm found that only about a quarter of new teachers come from the top third of their class. The McKinsey report said prestige and peer group appeal, along with compensation, were factors influencing whether top college students enter teaching.

The proposed competition would focus on both improving the quality of the existing teaching force and better training and recruiting future teachers. Already, some states are enacting some of the changes the Education Department wants, such as awarding tenure based on teacher performance instead of primarily on seniority.

“We need to change society’s views of teaching—from the factory model of yesterday to the professional model of tomorrow—where teachers are revered as thinkers, leaders, and nation-builders,” Duncan said in prepared remarks.

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