Thousands Awarded to High-Achieving Schools

U.S. Education Secretary gushes over Duncan

With a whif of politics in the air, the U.S. Secretary of Education awarded thousands of dollars to high-achieving Chicago schools.

Margaret Spellings joined Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Public Schools' CEO Arne Duncan in awarding more than $350,000 to seven principals, which was grant money from the federal government.

"This isn't about compensation. But it's mainly about changing that culture and getting results for kids," Spellings said.

Some teachers and principals received up to $2,200 each as part of the Teacher Advancement Program, also known as TAP. Spellings said that schools with performance pay show an increase in student achievement.

The program goes beyond just money. At the participating schools, classes aren't just for students; they're also for educators. Teachers spend 90 minutes per week collaborating on teaching methods, classroom observation and getting structured feedback on their performance.

The TAP is funded, in part, by a 27.5 million federal grant the city was awarded two years ago, the largest competitive grant that CPS has ever received.

Following the award ceremony, at Westcott Elementary School, 409 W. 80th St., Duncan was called a “visionary” school leader who would make a “great choice” as the new U.S. Education Secretary, incumbent Spellings said.

“He’s a terrific school leader. I consider him a fellow reformer and someone who cares deeply about students. He’d be a great choice,” Spellings said.

Under repeated questioning, Duncan refused to say whether he has had any discussions with President-elect Barack Obama or his emissaries about the nation’s No. 1 education job or about a deputy’s position.

"My whole focus is here in Chicago," Duncan said.

Duncan's name has been floated among several others for the cabinet-level position, including Michael Bennet, the superintendent of Denver's public schools; Jon Schnur, the founder and CEO of New Leaders for New schools; Paul Vallas, the superintendent of Recover School District in New Orleans; and Linda Darling-Hammand, and education professor at Stanford University.

The Chicago Sun-Times has more on the unofficial endorsement Spellings gave to Duncan.

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