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Sec. Duncan praises work of Michigan emergency manager

When Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts announced an overhaul for Michigan’s failing schools yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan took to the stage to praise the initiative.

The plan involves transferring schools to a new autonomous authority and requiring teachers to reapply for their jobs, reforms that would be hard to do without the expanded contract-breaking powers granted under Sndyer’s controversial Emergency Manager law.

Nathan Bomey at AnnArbor.com covered the event.

The new initiative starts with Detroit’s approximately 100 failing schools in 2012-13 but it will extend to the other 100 failing schools in Michigan in 2013-14.

“This city has no viable future if the status quo is allowed to stand,” Duncan said. “Detroit has the potential to be a model not just for the state, but for the entire country.”

Bomey writes that after the event Duncan seemed to modify his support for the project by tweeting:

Just finished press conf w/MI Gov Snyder. I’m encouraged for Detroit schools, but important to give teachers & unions a voice in reform.

Bomey tried to nail down the Obama administration’s position on Snyder’s reforms asking:

Before participating in the press conference, did you know that teachers at failing schools will be forced to reapply for their jobs?

Does your participation in the press conf mean President Obama supports Gov. Snyder’s emergency managers, including Roy Roberts?

Duncan did not respond so Bomey took his questions to Department of Education Deputy Press Secretary Daren Briscoe.

I asked Briscoe whether Duncan — which, by extension, means the president of the United States — supports forcing teachers in failing public schools to reapply for their jobs as part of a broader reform initiative.

In situations where schools are “persistently failing,” the Department of Education sometimes supports “all of the teachers being fired and principals being fired.”

“That’s not a blanket description for each school, but that is among the options that the department endorses, given a certain set of circumstances,” Briscoe said. “Where you have dramatically underperforming schools, persistently underperforming schools, yeah the department does endorse actions that are both dramatic and urgently needed.”

Bomey’s takeaway:

President Obama supports firing teachers when schools are failing — and, if he had a big problem with Snyder’s emergency managers, he wouldn’t have allowed his education secretary to lend his political clout to an event trumpeting one of the biggest education reform initiatives to sweep through Michigan in decades.

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