U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will offer more details on the RESPECT -- Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching -- project on Wednesday afternoon. REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is set to unveil a $5 billion competitive grant program that would push states to reshape how they train, pay and retain teachers.

The proposed fund represents President Barack Obama's latest effort to give states an incentive to adopt its reform agenda. States contended for a portion of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund by overhauling how they measured student growth and addressed failing schools; more recently, the administration has exempted states with ambitious reform proposals from onerous provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.

Program Focus: Improve Quality of Teachers

The latest iteration is focused squarely on improving the quality of teachers. Officials told The Wall Street Journal that the plan would encourage states to make colleges of education more rigorous, link teacher compensation to how students perform and attract better teachers by offering competitive pay.

We need to change society's views of teaching from the factory model of yesterday to the professional model of tomorrow, where teachers are revered as thinkers, leaders and nation-builders, Duncan said in a statement. No other profession carries a greater burden for securing our economic future.

Teacher quality has become a focal point of efforts to overhaul education, and efforts to devise more accurate ways to evaluate teachers have proved highly contentious. Winners of the Race to the Top contest have struggled to create effective systems for gauging teacher performance, and teachers unions have opposed tying teacher salaries and job security to evaluations they say are too rigid to fairly grade teachers.

NEA: Cautiously Optimistic About Program

But Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, told The Wall Street Journal he was cautiously optimistic about the general framework of the new fund. The the program would seek input from state and district officials, union leaders and teachers, The New York Times reported.

It is a systemic look at the issue and gets away from the silver-bullet idea that if we just do one thing -- like rate teachers on student test scores-- we'll fix education, Van Roekel said.

Congress would need to approve the fund, but Obama has faced criticism from lawmakers over his education reform strategy. With Congress' efforts to rewrite the deeply flawed No Child Left Behind Act stalled, Obama has circumvented the legislative process by appealing directly to states.

The administration continues to tighten the federal government's grip on the nation's education system, prescribing more intrusion in K-12 classrooms, U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement. I am troubled by the president's plan to expand the Race to the Top program significantly, forcing taxpayers to fund an even larger slush fund operated at the sole discretion of the Secretary of Education.