U.S. Senator Herb Kohl raised the issues of teacher pay and high school dropout rates when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified before a Senate panel during a Department of Education oversight hearing today. Kohl is the sponsor of the "Fast Track to College" bill to provide additional federal support for dual enrollment programs to help low-income students stay in school and learn the skills needed to succeed in college. Kohl is also interested in working with the Administration and teachers to improve teacher pay, which the Administration has proposed to do in part through performance pay systems. Kohl is a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, which held today's hearing.
The President's budget request includes large increases for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which provides funding for schools to implement performance pay systems for teachers. This idea has been controversial and caused concerns about fairness and effectiveness among many teachers.
"During your time in Chicago, how did you work with teachers to adopt a performance pay system that won their support, and what lessons did you learn that will help you work with Congress to improve teacher pay and retention?" Kohl asked.
Secretary Duncan said that the best teachers in the city led the effort, forming an advisory council to help him implement the program and apply for the federal grant to fund it.
Kohl also said that the epidemic of high school dropouts is one of the most urgent crises facing the nation, and that the current No Child Left Behind Act does little to address the problem. Kohl noted that he is the sponsor of a bill to encourage dual enrollment where low-income kids who might think that college is out of reach can make progress toward earning college credits while still in high school. Secretary Duncan expressed his support for early college and dual enrollment programs and anticipates increased federal funding for those initiatives.