RESPECT: Find Out What It Means to Me

02/16/2012 02:04 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2012
  • Alan Singer Social studies educator, Hofstra University,my opinions, of course, are my own

The New York Times online indexes the article "$5 Billion in Grants Offered to Revisit Teacher Policies" as education. It probably should have been listed under politics. After three years of demonizing teachers as the problem with American education with its Race to the Top program, the Obama administration apparently now realizes it will need teacher union support and teacher and public school parent votes to be reelected. Suddenly, Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to "work with teachers in rebuilding their profession and to elevate the teacher voice in federal, state and local education policy."

Other than promising respect, the proposal is called the RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) Project, the Obama-Duncan team is offering teachers very little. The title of the program is apparently taken from a top of the pop charts song sung by Aretha Franklin in the 1960s. What Duncan seems to have missed is that the song is actually a complaint because as a woman she is not receiving any respect.

The sketchy proposal is supposed to follow the format of Race to the Top, which means states will compete for grants to improve teacher professionalism, "keep good teachers on the job and reward the best ones." According to the Times, federal education officials want to "bring together state and district officials, union leaders, teachers and other educators to address a range of issues, among them tightening tenure rules, increasing salaries and improving professional development." Of course the suggestion to "reward the best ones" sounds suspiciously like proposals for "merit pay," proposals that the teacher unions vigorously oppose because they are based on imprecise and invalid measurements and pit teachers who should be working together against each other in the battle for a few extra dollars. The call for "merit pay" has been used as a club against teachers' unions by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City.

In order to be put into practice, the new proposal would have to be approved and funded by Congress, two very unlikely scenarios in the current hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington. It is little more than an election year ploy that could better be named CYNICAL -- a Campaign Year Never Intended to Change Anything Law.

With Race to the Top as its model, if by some miracle the RESPECT Project is implemented, it promises to be a financial bonanza for companies such as Pearson, the publishing giant, and techies Microsoft and Apple who will rush in to sell their services, at a price, to state education departments. In New York, Pearson Education currently has a five-year, $32 million contract to administer state test and provides other "testing services" to the State Education Department. It also recently received a share of a federal Race to the Top grant to create what the company calls the "next-generation" of online assessments.

The Duncan proposal to build new respect for teachers brings to mind a quote by Malcolm X from the 1960s. "You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress."

If you are fed up with Arne Duncan and would like to send a message to Barack Obama about how upset you are with his education policies, you can sign an online petition to get rid of Duncan as Education Secretary at