Finding better ways to recruit, reward and keep top-notch teachers promises the best hope for changing childrens futures, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in Charlotte Thursday.
Change needs to start with making the profession more attractive to top students, he said. Openings created by retiring baby boomers create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a difference, he told about 50 people gathered at Amelies bakery on North Davidson Street.
Were talking about very radical change, not tinkering around the edges, he said to applause.
Duncan came to Charlotte to tell swing-state voters that President Barack Obamas plans for education offer more hope for the middle class than those of his challenger, Mitt Romney.
Obama campaign staffers who brought Duncan to Charlotte were quick to note that he made the trip as an individual, not in his role as the nations top education official.
Campaign paid for trip
The campaign, not the federal government, paid his travel expenses, according to a campaign spokeswoman.
The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election. Kathleen Sebelius, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was found to have violated that act when she came to Charlotte to speak in her official capacity in February, then made extemporaneous political remarks endorsing Democrat Walter Dalton for North Carolina governor.
Before Duncan arrived, campaign staff repeatedly urged the crowd not to use his title and not to expect him to talk about education. But most of Duncans remarks and all the audience questions focused on that topic. Organizers had planned an invitation-only crowd of 25, but more than 50 educators, activists, high school students and college students ended up squeezing into a room at Amelies.
Duncan talked about knowing the Obamas when they all lived in Chicago. When Duncan was school superintendent there and Barack Obama was a state legislator, he said, they went together to visit a struggling public school.
After two hours, I left and the president was still there asking questions, Duncan said.
Duncan talked about his and Obamas cradle-to-career agenda that includes support for public pre-kindergarten, revamping efforts to get top teachers into high-needs schools and increasing money for federal Pell grants for higher education.
In response to a question from German de Castro of the Hispanic American Democrats of North Carolina, Duncan voiced his strong support for the DREAM act, which would legalize many undocumented youth.
Duncan said his Chicago students included many such young people. Theyd get great grades, they were leaders, and then the door of opportunity got slammed shut on them, he said.
Arjun Gupta, a Providence High senior, noted that the federal Race to the Top grant, which has spurred North Carolina to launch new tests for rating teacher effectiveness, has caused many Charlotteans to freak out about testing and teaching to the test.
Education dominates talk
Duncan acknowledged its difficult to do performance pay well, but said its important to revamp pay and to use measures that go way beyond the test scores.
Sarah Kerman, a North Meck junior, asked for Duncans views on investing in classroom technology. He noted that the Mooresville Graded School District in Iredell County has stopped buying textbooks and used the money for laptops and digital learning. The district is getting some pretty remarkable results, he said.
Duncan also told a PTA parent hed use a second term to do more to boost parent involvement. I call the PTA a sleeping giant, he said. We need to get a lot more parents to step up.
Obama campaign organizer Leah Hill reminded the crowd that its important to get out the vote in a presidential race that remains razor thin in North Carolina.
This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, she said.