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All Children Deserve Qualified Teachers, Van Roekel Tells Congress

NEA's president says the association will lead in bringing qualified teachers to high-needs schools

By Kevin Hart

Saying it was time to be "gloriously dissatisfied" with the achievement gaps affecting children in high-needs schools, particularly children of poverty, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told a House committee yesterday that NEA will lead in efforts to ensure every child has a qualified teacher.

Van Roekel testified before the House Education and Labor Committee, which was holding hearings on increasing teacher effectiveness and quality. Of particular concern was how to get more teachers into poorer, high-needs schools, where teachers are often forced to lead classes in subject areas in which they are not qualified.

Van Roekel said a system "designed to fail kids of poverty" was unacceptable, and he spoke about many of the recommendations issued in the NEA report Children of Poverty Deserve Great Teachers, which was released this summer. NEA's president said that teacher education, professional development and mentoring were all critical to recruiting new teachers to high-needs schools, and to ensuring that they don't leave frustrated after a few years, as many do. Even teachers with the right educational background in the subjects they teach need support to learn the art of teaching.

"I don't believe anyone with a degree in math can do what I do," Van Roekel, a longtime math teacher from Arizona, told the committee.

Van Roekel also spoke about programs to help poorer communities "home grow" their own teachers, who would have a deep, personal commitment to the schools. He spoke about having teachers collaborate on National Board Certification, which can be a powerful professional development tool. And, of course, the compensation at high-needs schools needs to be attractive.

"If you're a math major with good grades, you're going to have a lot of options," Van Roekel said, illustrating the difficulty many schools face in trying to recruit teachers in critical shortage areas, such as math and science.

NEA research has found that, when adjusted for inflation, teacher salaries have changed little since the 1970s. Meanwhile, the gap between teacher pay and compensation in other professional fields has widened.

Van Roekel drew praise from members of the House committee, including committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA), for his pledge that NEA would lead the way to ensure all students have a qualified teacher in their classrooms. He said he was asking all NEA affiliates to work with their school districts to remove any contractual barriers that may keep qualified teachers from being placed in high-needs schools.