US education chief appeals for great new teachers

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan appealed Friday for a new generation of extraordinary teachers, calling education the civil rights cause of our time.

In remarks prepared for delivery to prospective teachers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Duncan said veterans, retirees and professionals seeking a second career must heed the call to teach. He said the need is especially acute for black men in the nation’s classroom.

“Put plain and simple, this country needs an army of great, new teachers ? and I can think of no better place to start recruiting them than in Thomas Jefferson’s hallowed halls,” he said.

Duncan stressed the importance of teaching as the U.S. competes with an increasingly educated global work force, saying strong education is needed to reduce dropout rates among African-American, Latino and low-income students.

“I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation,” Duncan said in his remarks. “And if you care about promoting opportunity and reducing inequality and social injustice, the classroom is the place to start.”

Duncan was to speak Friday afternoon to Curry School of Education students in the Jefferson-designed Rotunda, the academic heart of U.Va.’s Charlottesville campus.

The Virginia address is the first of several Duncan will make in October to press for bright candidates to enter teaching. He’ll host a virtual town meeting with teachers from around the nation on Oct. 20, then deliver a major address on teacher preparation two days later in New York City.

Duncan noted that a “massive exodus” of baby boomers retiring from teaching in the next decade will only increase the need for new educators. He said the next four years alone could see one-third of the nation’s teachers and administrators leave.

The departure of veteran educators will create huge demand for new teachers ? 200,000 annually in good economic times, he said.

Duncan stressed that the demand for teachers is greatest among “high-poverty, high-needs” and rural schools, as well as in subjects such as math and science.

“It is especially troubling,” he added, “that less than 2 percent of our nation’s teachers are African-American males.”

Duncan said the nation cannot rely alone on schools of education to produce the next generation of teachers. He called for expanding alternatives such as Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in schools in poor communities for at least two years.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.