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Education Secretary Duncan Urges Greater K-12, Higher Education Transparency

LITTLE ROCK Ark.— U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged schools across the country on Wednesday to disclose more data on student achievement and teacher effectiveness, saying too much information that would help teachers and parents is being kept out of public view.

Duncan said schools too often aren’t disclosing years of data on student achievement that could not only help parents measure a teacher’s effectiveness, but also would help teachers gain better feedback.

“Too often our systems keep all of our teachers in the dark about the quality of their own work,” Duncan told an audience at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock. “In other fields, we talk about success constantly, with statistics and other measures to prove it. Why, in education, are we scared to talk about what success looks like?”

Duncan, who spoke at a lecture hosted by the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and the Clinton Presidential Library, said his remarks were prompted by a Los Angeles Times series analyzing teacher performance. The newspaper took seven years of student test data from Los Angeles and developed a “value-added” analysis to show which third through fifth grade teachers were making the most gains.

The newspaper plans to post the results on its website in a searchable database, prompting complaints from some teachers.

Duncan said he’s not advocating posting the results online, but he noted that some teachers said their districts had never provided them with such data. Duncan said more than 2,000 teachers asked the newspaper for their scores.

“The fact that teachers did not have information like this for all those years is ridiculous,” Duncan said. “Local school districts, in real partnership and collaboration with their teachers, must decide how to share this information, how to put it in context and how to use it in order to get better.”

He also said transparency is needed at other levels of the education system.

“If it was up to me and the law allowed it, I would put out student attendance data and hold parents accountable. And while we’re at it, let’s put out funding and facilities data and hold school boards and politicians accountable,” Duncan said. “Let’s put out data on dropouts, college enrollment, college completion, loan default rates, and every other kind of data that can help us highlight our many remarkable success stories and help us better understand why too many of our children are unprepared and undereducated.”

Duncan said the analysis has sparked a discussion that school administrators and teachers’ unions need to have on the best ways to evaluate teachers and how to share results publicly. He noted Arkansas is developing a comprehensive teacher evaluation system with more than 20 different indicators, including student achievement.

Duncan spoke as the Little Rock School District claims the state is violating a desegregation agreement by not putting more restrictions on charter schools in Pulaski County. During a question-and-answer session with the audience following his speech, Duncan said his department closely monitors the impact charter schools have on racial balance.

“What we have to do is hold a charter school accountable, so when they are resegregating, that’s not something we’re going to sit by idly and watch,” Duncan said.

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