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Originally published Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 12:49 PM

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Education secretary challenges NEA on teacher pay

Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenged members of the National Education Association Thursday to stop resisting the idea of linking teacher pay to student achievement.

AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON —

Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenged members of the National Education Association Thursday to stop resisting the idea of linking teacher pay to student achievement.

It was Duncan's first speech at the union's annual meeting, a gathering at which President Barack Obama was booed when he mentioned the idea of performance pay last year. By contrast, Duncan drew raucous applause and only a smattering of boos.

"I came here today to challenge you to think differently about the role of unions in public education," Duncan told the 3.2 million-member union in San Diego.

"It's not enough to focus only on issues like job security, tenure, compensation, and evaluation," he said. "You must become full partners and leaders in education reform. You must be willing to change."

Unions are an important part of the Democrats' political base of support. Duncan, even as he challenged NEA members, promised to include teachers in his decision-making.

"We're asking Congress for more money to develop compensation programs with you and for you, not to you," Duncan said.

Duncan described how, as CEO of Chicago public schools, he negotiated a performance pay program with the Chicago Teachers Union, which is part of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers.

An audience member booed the program. "You can boo; just don't throw any shoes, please," Duncan said as the crowd laughed and applauded.

The NEA made an audio feed of the speech available to journalists who did not attend.

The Chicago program is still small; it will be in only about 40 of the city's more than 600 schools next fall.

It started with federal dollars from the Teacher Incentive Fund, which the administration wants to drastically expand. The administration asked Congress to boost spending from $97 million this year to $717 million next year.

But Obama may face resistance. Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, challenged Duncan at a hearing last month on whether there is any evidence that performance pay improves student achievement.

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Critics worry that pay might be based mostly on test scores, even though tests can be flawed and not all subjects are tested. Some states prohibit test scores from being used to evaluate teachers.

Duncan said test scores should never be the driving force.

"But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible," he said.

Duncan has made a series of speeches that challenge education groups on Obama's priorities, though Thursday's was the first with a potentially hostile crowd.

Duncan may have gotten a warmer response than Obama because teachers are more comfortable now with the administration, said NEA president Dennis Van Roekel.

"The real message was that there is far more we agree on than disagree on," Van Roekel said. "Another message he delivered clearly was that he's willing to be in a partnership with us."

(This version CORRECTS Corrects size of NEA membership, 3.2 million sted 2.7 million; UPDATES with NEA reax, Duncan response, that NEA made audio available; trims.)

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