U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a pass through town pumping support for the DREAM Act, while also touting some of the same federal education reform incentives that have made him controversial among teachers' unions.
At a town hall Thursday night with Mayor Julián Castro, Duncan said undocumented students caught in immigration limbo (those brought into country illegally by their parents as kids) remain a priority for the education department and President Obama. "We have to get the DREAM Act passed, and the fact that it hasn't happened yet is a source of immense frustration for both the president and I," he said to applause. "This is not just about lifting up the Latino community, this is about lifting up the country."
Society, he said, can either keep DREAM students on the margins or can usher them into the economy to become entrepreneurs, innovators, and job creators.
He also spoke of how the feds have worked to incentivize education reforms within the states by offering assistance through programs like Race to the Top, where, in exchange for becoming more charter-friendly, implementing new teacher evaluation measures, and adopting common "core" curriculum standards states could compete for federal dollars. To even compete for the funds, states had to let student performance data be tied to teachers, something that made unions bristle (the practice is controversial among teachers' unions, who say schools need to look at more than just student test scores in evaluating teachers).
Gov. Rick Perry has in the past refused to let the state compete for Race to the Top funds, in 2010 saying, "We would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children's future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special-interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington." Duncan said he met with the governor on Thursday to talk about containing college tuition costs.
Asked what he thought about teacher job satisfaction continuing to fall, Duncan said teachers currently have it rough, that they're under-appreciated and underpaid:
“So many places are disinvesting in education. So many teachers are getting laid off. ...The reality is we've had hundreds of thousands of teachers laid off around this country. And when you are out of work or you're seeing a teacher, your partner down the hall being laid off and you're worried about what's going to happen next, it's hard to be real satisfied with your job, it's a time of high anxiety.”
In the next breath, he plugged his department's proposed Project RESPECT, a program almost entirely geared toward pushing states to revamp teacher evaluation in exchange for federal cash, chock-full of stuff that makes teachers' unions nervous (like tenure reform).