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Changing the Course of NCLB

By Tim Walker

Take your time, just get it right. That was the message delivered in person by NEA President Reg Weaver to the House Committee on Education and Labor on September 10. Weaver was on Capitol Hill to testify on the proposed changes to Title I of the No Child Left Behind law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, outlined in a 435-page draft bill submitted two weeks earlier by Chairman George Miller (D-CA) and ranking member Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA).

While praising the inclusion of several NEA priorities, including multiple measures for evaluating school quality and student learning and growth models, NEA officials concluded that the changes fell short of meeting the goals necessary to truly reform the law.

In his testimony to the committee, Weaver, speaking on behalf of NEA’s 3.2 million members, urged committee members to seize the opportunity to address the numerous philosophical and structural flaws that underpin NCLB. Merely tinkering with the law is not enough. What is needed, Weaver said, is a “major course correction.”

“The bottom line is this: While we applaud the committee for identifying most of the problematic provisions of current law, we do not believe the committee’s first discussion draft of Title I adequately remedies them,” said Weaver.

NEA has long championed using multiple sources of evidence to establish a more accurate accounting of student performance. Although the committee’s draft bill accepts this idea in principle, the list of measures in the bill is too restrictive. The statewide reading and math test scores would still be the overwhelming factor in measuring school accountability, with such scores counting for at least 75 percent of the rating for a high school and at least 85 percent for an elementary or middle school.

Weaver urged the committee to remedy the wide disparities in educational opportunities and resources. Congress should tailor a bill that delivers tangible results across the board to children of all backgrounds, including provisions for early childhood education, safer schools, smaller class sizes, and school modernization.

Such comprehensive legislation, Weaver said, would send a loud, clear message to educators across the country that students are more than test scores, and “the art and practice of teaching is and must be about more than test preparation.”

Because NEA members have lived under the flaws of NCLB for five years, they are counting on a thoughtful, substantive reauthorization process.

“Our members are united,” Weaver told the committee, “and will stand firm in our advocacy for a bill that supports good teaching and learning and takes far greater steps toward creating great public schools for every child.”

NEA President Reg Weaver testifies in front of members of Congress about proposed changes to NCLB. He was part of a panel of education leaders.

Living Wage

States Pave Paths Toward Fair Pay

By January 30, 2008, the Maine Department of Labor will be required to calculate and report livable wages to the state’s Legislature, following the enactment of a bill that statutorily defines a livable wage. The Maine Education Association (MEA) supports the law, but is concerned that averages are based on a family configuration of two wage-earning parents with two children. “Our preference would have been to base the primary definition on a single adult household with one child,” says Joe Stupak, MEA director of Collective Bargaining and Research. The law requires estimates for the state’s counties and metropolitan statistical areas broken down by five different family sizes, as well as statewide averages.

Report Card

We check out who’s making the grade—or needs improvement—in education around the country.

D.C. Public Schools: A
The school system accepted federal funds for educating migrant children when it did not have any, receiving $3.85 million between 1994 and 2004 intended to support the education of children of seasonal employees in agriculture and fishing.
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine: A
He signed a bill guaranteeing post- retirement health benefits for public workers through a PPO with an extensive network of doctors. New Jersey Education Association officials will sit on its governing board.
Bill Sizemore: F
The political activist turned in 130,215 signatures to the Oregon Secretary of State for Ballot Initiative Petition 20, which would base teacher pay raises and job security on “classroom performance,” and eliminate the use of seniority in deciding compensation.    

Meanwhile, education support professional (ESP) members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council in Wausau are campaigning for a living wage, which is roughly $16 per hour in their area, while the Delaware State Education Association’s (DSEA) top legislative priority this year is raising the starting salary of paraeducators to $20,650, the state’s poverty level for a family of four. DSEA also seeks to eliminate some pay steps from the para salary schedule.


Pay Hikes Help Recruit, Retain Teachers

Two Colorado locals became the first in the state to attain $40,000 starting salaries for teachers. Under Westminster Education Association’s new agreement, veteran teachers with master’s degrees plus additional college credit hours can earn up to $80,250, and ESPs received a raise of 70 cents per hour plus steps on their salary schedule. The Aspen Education Association boosted the base salary for teachers from $33,000 to $40,000 (those hired in at $40K remain at step 1 for seven years). Top salaries in Aspen also exceed $80,000. The two victories prompted the slogan, “Forty-K Starting Pay, Eighty-K Before I’m Gray.”

Other states can boast progress in raising starting salaries. Pennsylvania’s Homer-Center Education Association (HCEA) may rank 496th in local wealth out of 501 districts, but it can claim one of the most progressive teacher contracts in the state, with a starting salary of $42,566 this school year and $52,012 in 2009–10. “To attract the best teachers, salary is an issue,” says HCEA President Jane Mastro. “When student success is the goal of a district, then choosing the best candidate for a teaching position is imperative.”

Legislative Victories

ESPs Gain Flexibility While Teacher Benefits Expand

Through grass-roots organizing, the Illinois Education Association helped drive passage of the state’s Reduction in Force Bill, which improves “recall to work rights” for education support professionals (ESPs) and expands the definition of “reduction in force” to include reduction in hours. This gives the union the ability to bargain over the decision to reduce a worker’s hours, which in some cases means workers are protected from falling under a 40-hour week and losing benefits. The bill also allows ESPs who are laid off to be recalled to vacant positions in any job classification for which they are qualified. Previously, workers could only be recalled to their former position.

In Wyoming, school districts have become more competitive with neighboring states, thanks to lobbying efforts by the Wyoming Education Association (WEA). Teacher salaries increased after lawmakers took heed from WEA and others to boost school funding. The base salary in the Natrona County School District, for example, is $41,240 this school year, up from last year’s salary of $40,800. (During the 2004–05 school year, the starting salary was $28,114).


Photos: Sandy Schaeffer

Corzine: NJ Gov. Web site; Sizemore: Official Web site

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