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Bringing Progress to Priority Schools

NEA-led initiative aims to transform lowest-performing schools

By Steve Snider

Monday, October 26, 2009 -- NEA members should seize the opportunity to dramatically increase teacher quality and student achievement in the nation’s lowest-performing schools, said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, announcing the union’s Priority Schools Campaign.

“Plain and simple, the status quo is not acceptable," Van Roekel said. "We cannot continue to do in America what we’ve been doing to students for the last 20, 30, 50 years. The world has changed and we need a different system.”

Van Roekel spoke at a meeting today of 150 participants from more than 40 states and several top officials of the U.S. Department of Education. In addition to NEA affiliate leaders and members from across the country, the audience includes representatives from dozens of state education associations.

The two-day session is designed as a “collaborative dialogue” to develop a shared understanding of the campaign and seize the opportunity to transform schools with the greatest need.

NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign includes a vow to work side-by-side with communities and with policymakers in state capitals, in Congress and the Obama administration; to partner in pursuit of innovative programs to measure student success and teacher quality; and to fight to attract and keep the best educators and necessary resources for the schools of greatest need.

The Obama Administration released on August 26 its $3.5 billion proposal for reforming the nation's lowest-performing schools. 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 formal comments 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 went on to state that it "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.”


NEA resources on achievement gaps