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NEA Backs Obama Plan for Lowest-Performing Schools

By Steve Snider

NEA gave strong support recently to the Obama Administration’s plan to reform the nation’s lowest-performing schools, calling the work in sync “with our long-term commitment to foster great public schools for every student.”

The Administration plan would use Title I school improvement grants and fiscal year 2010 funds to target the lowest 5 percent of schools in each state—those schools where student achievement hasn't improved in years.

“Clearly, the administration is making the nation’s lowest-achieving schools a high priority,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “They’ve set ambitious but achievable goals and matched them with unprecedented funding and dramatic proposals for reform. NEA is fully committed to helping shape this work.”

The U.S. Department of Education released its $3.5 billion proposal Aug. 26.  Under the proposal, districts would choose from four models of turning around their schools, including replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of the staff, closing the school and reopening it under the management of a charter or education management organization, closing the school and transferring its students to higher-performing schools in the district, or implementing a comprehensive “transformation” strategy.

In comments recently filed with the Education Department, NEA gave its strongest support to the transformation model, where “the Department has articulated important reform elements, including high-quality professional development; recruiting, placing and retaining the most effective school personnel; comprehensive instructional reform; extended learning time and community-oriented schools; increased operating flexibility; and sustained support from local, state or external partners…NEA believes that comprehensive school reform requires us to look at more than just test scores. NEA examines the achievement gaps in terms of performance measured by valid and reliable student achievement tests and classroom assessments, access to key courses and educational opportunities as well as quality teachers, and attainment that includes graduation, post-secondary education, college completion, and more.”

Said Van Roekel: “We’re at the very beginning of a process that fulfills a commitment NEA shares with President Obama—to turn around the lives of tens of thousands of students forever by transforming some of the nation’s highest priority schools. We look forward to working with the Administration to find common ground.  We know what works. There are tested improvement strategies that NEA members use every day. We’re excited about sharing these success stories and helping to bring some of the strategies for success to scale across the country.”


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