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Duncan Announces new Race for the Drones Competition

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Washington--Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sat with a panel of education reformers to announce the launch of new "Race for the Drones" competitive grants. Available to states already earmarked for Race to the Top funds, unmanned drones will be available for teacher evaluation. Duncan said this modernization of an old, static process is the next rung on the education reform ladder. "Up, up up," said Duncan. "This advanced technology of drones will transform how America evaluates its teachers."

Duncan made the announcement at a meeting of the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Melinda Gates, Thomas Friedman, David Coleman, and Charlotte Danielson joined him for the announcement.

The pilot program of teacher evaluation by drone is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and will make use of drone technology to "accelerate coherent, compelling, and comprehensive teacher evaluation."

Thomas Friedman offered his perspective. "With our flattened global playing field--the convergence of advanced technologies, new ways of doing business, and the rapid introduction of millions of young Chinese, Indian, and East European professionals into the world economy--we have to ensure that U.S. teachers are doing the job that needs to be done," said Friedman. "Drone evaluation is a step in the right direction." He added, "Teachers must realize that America can't keep its comfortable lifestyle by standing still. We must use all available technology to keep us on our toes. I learned about the important role drone evaluation can play from Harish, who drove me to my Mumbai hotel."

Common Core architect David Coleman explained, "Drone winners will be able to ensure that teachers are following the Common Core State Standards and not using too much fiction or employing bankrupt pre-reading strategies."

"This is a war for our nation's youth," acknowledged Duncan. "And these drones can help us do the job of ensuring that every youth receives a high quality education. Some of the drones are as small as a hummingbird and can be equipped with infrared and video cameras as well as radar."

Charlotte Danielson, whose teacher evaluation rubrics are used in districts receiving grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation explained, "A viable evaluation system means a system that allows individual principals to evaluate teachers both accurately and consistently, no matter who is doing the evaluation. These drones will offer an impartial record of lesson content and teacher behavior and thus ensure accuracy and consistency." Danielson added, "The rubrics we have in place provide the matrix for the process."

Under the plan the teacher evaluation drones, similar to those used to track Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will share airspace with conventional planes by Sept. 30, 2015.

Duncan refused to release figures on how many teachers will be under surveillance during the initial stages of drone evaluation. "We mustn't allow ourselves to be distracted by numbers."

Duncan handed out a press release that stated: "Race for the Drone winners will help trail-blaze effective teacher evaluation reforms and provide clear templates for States and local school districts throughout the country to follow as they too are hard at work on evaluating their teachers so that America can be sure of producing tomorrow's competitive workers in a global economy."

Melinda Gates noted that the grant process for this historic program ensures maximum integrity and transparency in teacher evaluation. "We learned that class size doesn't matter. We learned that small schools don't matter. Now we know for sure that it's what the teacher does in the classroom that matters, and drones will keep us informed about that teacher activity."

With 32 musicians playing "The Galop" from Jacques Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld," Melinda Gates led 14 Foundation employees in an original can-can song and dance number, It's 10 a.m. Pah-Boom. Pah-Boom. Pah-Boom. We know what teachers are doing. Pah-Boom. Pah-Boom. Pah-Boom.

Other leaders in education reform weighed in on the new initiative.

  • Our schools need an overarching principle that reflects the challenges we face in the 21st century. In particular, economic competitiveness requires that all students graduate from high school ready for college or a career. The drones will protect the Common Core from slackers and laggards and be an important device in maintaining our country's competitive edge.--John Podesta, Chair and Counselor of the Center for American Progress

  • The drones will help the nation ensure a skilled and prepared workforce and thus the business community will be better prepared to face the challenges of the international marketplace.-- Edward B. Rust Jr., Chairman and CEO, State Farm Insurance Companies

  • American competitiveness relies on an education system that can adequately prepare our youth for college and the workforce. The drones will give us confidence that teachers are paying attention to the lesson template Common Core architect David Coleman has laid out.--Michael Cohen, President, Achieve

  • Common education standards are essential for producing the educated work force America needs to remain globally competitive. Drone surveillance of teachers will ensure that this voluntary state-lead will give all students the college- and career-ready, world-class education they deserve, no matter where they live. I applaud the drone effort to help teachers be the professionals their students deserve.-- Craig Barrett, Former CEO and Chairman of the Board, Intel Corporation

  • We believe that this drone initiative is the critical next step in our nation's effort to provide every student with a comprehensive, content-rich and complete education. Transparent teacher evaluation is an important factor in achieving NEA's purpose of preparing students to 'thrive in a democratic society and a diverse, changing world as knowledgeable, creative and engaged citizens and lifelong learners.'--Lily Eskelsen, Vice-President, National Education Association

  • If we use these drones to make teacher evaluation the foundation for better schools, we can give all kids a robust curriculum taught by well-prepared, well-supported teachers who can help prepare them for success in college, life and careers.-- Said Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

  • The National Council of Teachers of English is focusing its resources on supporting teachers and teams as they make their own professional decisions -- informed by reflection and research -- about how best to foster literacy learning. --NCTE President Keith Gilyard

  • — Susan Ohanian



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