Obama backs drop­ping poor teach­ers

On the ‘To­day’ show, he also calls for length­en­ing the school year.

Los Angeles Times - - California - Peter Ni­cholas re­port­ing from washington peter.ni­cholas.latimes.com Times re­porter Ja­son Song con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Pres­i­dent Obama on Mon­day re­newed his call to purge pub­lic schools of un­der­per­form­ing teach­ers and lengthen the school year so that the United States keeps pace with other ad­vanced coun­tries.

“We’ve got to be able to iden­tify teach­ers who are do­ing well [and] teach­ers who are not do­ing well. We’ve got to give them the sup­port and the train­ing to do well,” Obama said in an in­ter­view on NBC’s “To­day” show.

“And, ul­ti­mately, if some teach­ers aren’t do­ing a good job, they’ve got to go.’’

The pres­i­dent’s com­ments echoed some of his ear­lier re­marks as well as com­ments made by U.S. Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has made teacher eval­u­a­tion one of the cen­ter­pieces of its “Race to the Top” ed­u­ca­tion re­form fund­ing.

In Los An­ge­les, school district of­fi­cials have be­gun ne­go­ti­at­ing a new con­tract with the teach­ers union and have called for in­clud­ing “value-added” anal­y­sis in for­mal eval­u­a­tions.

Value-added es­ti­mates teach­ers’ ef­fec­tive­ness by an­a­lyz­ing stu­dent im­prove­ment on stan­dard­ized tests. It has been em­braced by many ed­u­ca­tion re­form­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers, in­clud­ing Dun­can, as a way to bring a mea­sure of ob­jec­tiv­ity to eval­u­a­tions.

The lo­cal teach­ers union, United Teach­ers Los An­ge­les, has re­sisted ef­forts to in­clude stu­dent test scores in eval­u­a­tions.

Unions re­main an im­por­tant part of the Demo­cratic Party base. Yet, Obama’s view of teach­ers’ unions, while pos­i­tive, was also tem­pered.

“I’m a strong sup­porter of the no­tion that a union can pro­tect its mem­bers and help be part of the so­lu­tion, as op­posed to part of the prob­lem,” he said in the in­ter­view.

“What is also true is that some­times that means they are re­sis­tant to change when things aren’t work­ing.”

Teach­ers unions in many states have been part­ners in find­ing so­lu­tions, Obama said, adding that some­times “rad­i­cal change” in schools is nec­es­sary.

In a ma­jor ed­u­ca­tion ad­dress last year, Obama en­dorsed merit pay for teach­ers and a longer school year. In the “To­day” in­ter­view he said that the ex­tra cost of a longer school year would be worth it.

“We now have our kids go to school about a month less than most other ad­vanced coun­tries,” the pres­i­dent said.

“And that month makes a dif­fer­ence. It means that kids are los­ing a lot of what they learn dur­ing the school year dur­ing the sum­mer.”

He added: “It’s es­pe­cially se­vere for poorer kids, who may not be see­ing as many books in their house dur­ing the sum­mers. So the idea of a longer school year, I think, makes sense.”

Dur­ing the in­ter­view, Obama said he did not think his two daugh­ters, who at­tend an elite pri­vate school in Washington, could re­ceive as good an ed­u­ca­tion in the lo­cal pub­lic schools.

In Washington, D.C.’s re­cent may­oral pri­mary, vot­ers re­jected the in­cum­bent, first-term Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had made a ma­jor ef­fort to over­haul the district’s pub­lic schools by re­mov­ing un­der­per­form­ing teach­ers, at­tempt­ing to tie their salaries to stu­dent per­for­mance and clos­ing schools with low en­roll­ment.

Obama said that, as pres­i­dent, he could prob­a­bly find a pub­lic school able to pro­vide his daugh­ters an ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion.

“But the broader prob­lem is for a mom or a dad who are work­ing hard but don’t have a bunch of con­nec­tions, don’t have a lot of choice in terms of where they live,” he said.

“They should be get­ting the same qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for their kids as any­body else. And we don’t have that yet.”

Obama also said that more spend­ing is needed to update text­books, fa­cil­i­ties and equip­ment, but added that money with­out re­form would not solve the prob­lems of ed­u­ca­tion.

He re­stated his sup­port for char­ter schools as an al­ter­na­tive to pub­lic schools, say­ing, how­ever, that he wanted to make sure they were of high qual­ity and ac­count­able.

“Char­ter schools are not a panacea,” he said.

“We shouldn’t say, just be­cause a school’s a char­ter, that it’s an ex­cel­lent school, be­cause there are some ac­tu­ally very poor-per­form­ing char­ters.”

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