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Don’t Be Left Behind

As reauthorization approaches, NEA leaders focus on essential changes.

By Alain Jehlen

We don’t know how many innings there will be in the contest over reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), but this high-stakes game has definitely started.

NCLB, the current incarnation of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, expires in September and leaders of the House and Senate education committees say they want to move quickly on reauthorization. Congress could put off decisions much longer than that, but NEA leaders are going on the assumption that the next few weeks may be decisive.

NEA President Reg Weaver led off the reauthorization push with a strong presentation to a joint hearing organized by the U.S. House and Senate education committees. He told lawmakers that NEA members are the first to agree that public schools face challenges—and he listed some of the biggest, from achievement gaps to high dropout rates. These problems, he said, “contradict everything this nation stands for, and they impede our future success.”

Weaver then laid out some of the key, research-tested strategies that NEA is promoting to fix these problems, including small classes, mentoring for new teachers, and better professional development. He called for higher salaries, at least $40,000 for beginning teachers and a living wage for support professionals, which could encourage more people to go into education and make them more likely to stay in the classroom. He put special emphasis on ways to attract and keep quality teachers at hard-to-staff schools, including financial incentives. Shortly afterward, Weaver also addressed the National Lieutenant Governors Association on NCLB.

NEA President Reg Weaver speaks for educators at a congressional joint hearing on ESEA/NCLB reauthorization.
Photo: Leslie E. Kossoff/NEA

As lawmakers were gearing up for reauthorization, the NEA Executive Committee laid out its game plan in March, deciding on a short list of top-priority changes that would transform NCLB from a law that hurts education more than it helps, into one that supports educators in closing achievement gaps.

The number one priority on the list calls for schools to be evaluated with multiple measures of achievement, not just one-size-fits-all standardized tests in reading and math. The other measures could be district-level or school assessments, performance assessments, and non-test measures such as attendance, percent of students taking high-level courses, and graduation rates.

Number two on the list is the use of “growth models” in accountability—measuring how much students learn at school, so that schools get credit for helping low-achieving students who make good progress, even if those students have not completely caught up yet.

Also on the list: data should be used to help educators do their work better, not to punish them for low scores.

At the same time, the Executive Committee agreed on a list of “non-starters”—provisions that would lead NEA to oppose reauthorization of the law. That list includes vouchers, undermining collective bargaining, and adding new federal testing mandates.

NEA activists throughout the organization are working to make decision-makers in Congress aware of the real-life, classroom impact of NCLB’s test-and-punish strategy and telling them what we need from the federal government. For instance, Pamela Burtnett, president of the Lake County Education Association in Florida and a National Board Certified Teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching language arts, told a Senate panel that the reauthorized law should provide support for a broad array of professional development programs for new and experienced teachers. “I know from my decades of experience that the one thing we do not need are additional federal mandates and hoops for teachers to jump through,” she concluded. “Teachers are motivated by their desire to help their students learn.”


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