"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Duncan Gets Questions From Senators: Uh-Oh

The Ed Week Blog, which is a much better publication than Ed Week, by the way, has news on Arne's trip to Capital Hill today to answer question on the ED budget. First good question from Senator Patty Murray on the pay-per-score plan that Duncan calls the Teacher Incentive Fund, and the second from Senator Tom Harkin. Just wish I could have heard the responses. You can here: Webcast of June 3 Labor HHS Subcommitte Hearing Featuring Secretary Duncan. Read on:
. . . another Obama proposal looks like it’s going to be a tough sell with some committee Democrats: the mega-increase for the Teacher Incentive Fund program. Obama’s budget seeks to boost funding for the TIF, which doles out grants for pay-for-performance programs from $97 million in fiscal year 2009 to $487.3 million in fiscal year 2010. That major hike would come on top of $200 million for the TIF in the stimulus.

But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., asked Duncan whether he could point to any studies that demonstrate the TIF’s effectiveness.

Duncan kind of tap-danced on that one, talking about his very positive experience with a TIF grant in Chicago. He said the grants only went to schools where 75 percent of teachers said they wanted them.

But Murray didn’t sound assuaged. While she said the program’s purpose “sounds good when [Duncan] says it,” she wants to make sure there are safeguards in place to make sure that the money isn’t used for programs that give out “subjective rewards” to educators. She said she’s particularly worried because the program has never been authorized by Congress.

Duncan said the grants wouldn’t go to schools that “pit teachers against each other” and said he’d work with Murray on his plan for the program. Still, that exchange has me wondering whether the Obama administration will get the full increase it is seeking for the fund.

Harkin also expressed some skepticism about the administration’s proposal to shift the Pell Grant program from the discretionary to the mandatory side of the ledger, where it wouldn’t be subject to the whims of the appropriations process (and incidentally, not under the subcommittee’s jurisdiction).

“There are reasons on both sides,” Harkin said. “There a lot of others ways that we can make sure that kids keep up their grades and keep up the work” to get a college education.

And it doesn’t sound like Harkin was too thrilled with Duncan’s suggestion that he would consider whether a state has caps on the number of charter schools in doling out the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funding.

“Are charter schools a litmus test?” Harkin asked. . . .

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