The complicated dance between Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the national teachers' unions continued today. On a conference call to officially roll-out the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" education reform competition, Duncan said states are "ineligible" for the grants if they have laws on the books prohibiting student performance from affecting teacher assessment. New York and Wisconsin are two such states, and teachers' unions have long lobbied for such laws. In an attempt to encourage states to overturn these prohibitions, the Department of Education will be handing out Race to the Top grants in two phases over the next two years, allowing state legislatures time to revisit issues of teacher compensation.

But Duncan was clear that he wants teachers' union to be "partners" in the administration's education reform efforts. That dovetails with the message President Obama sent in an interview with The Washington Post yesterday, in which he said it was "cynical" to view unions as only an impediment to reform. Duncan said today that the DOE would "give weight" to Race to the Top proposals that include union buy-in, via a signed statement of support from a union leader.

--Dana Goldstein

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