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Great Public Schools Begin with Great Teachers

NEA president tells Aspen Institute commission that schools must be revamped for 21st century learning

By Kevin Hart

October 29, 2009 – If we want to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college or the workplace, we must redesign schools and revamp accountability systems for 21st century learning. That was the recommendation delivered by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, a 23-year classroom math teacher, when he testified before The Aspen Institute Commission on No Child Left Behind yesterday.

“A great public school for every student starts with a great teacher,” he said. “As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we have an opportunity to put a policy in place that treats teachers like the professionals that they are. We must commit to dramatically transform the public education system to make that goal a reality.”

Van Roekel’s testimony marked the third time NEA has testified before the commission, which will issue updated recommendations for improving ESEA early next year.
NEA’s president told the commission that the federal government must devote financial support to improving teacher preparation programs and working with education stakeholders like NEA to expand mentoring programs, provide targeted professional development for educators and expand school leadership initiatives.

NEA believes every teacher candidate should receive adequate support and training and meet high standards for teacher skill, knowledge and ability. By overlaying these key components with quality content, universities, school districts and state licensing agencies can help ensure that preparation and licensure programs are producing the quality teacher candidates that schools need and students deserve. 

“We know teacher preparation matters when it comes to teacher effectiveness,” said Van Roekel. “With high-quality preparation come trust and empowerment of teachers. It’s time to ensure trust in teachers again.”

Van Roekel discussed promising “grow your own” approaches to teacher recruitment, including Urban Teacher Residencies. In this program, aspiring teachers, known as residents, are selected according to rigorous criteria aligned with district needs. They integrate their master’s level course work with an intensive, full-year classroom residency alongside experienced mentors.
NEA is urging the federal government to provide incentives to states that create world-class teacher preparation programs. The Association also is calling for the creation of a national education institute to provide a rigorous and relevant master’s degree in education and accept college graduates who are in the top third of class rankings. In exchange for free tuition, graduates would commit to teach in the nation’s highest needs schools for at least six years.

To ensure great teachers are in every classroom, NEA and the Center for Teaching Quality last month released a groundbreaking report, Children of Poverty Deserve Great Teachers, which includes solid, proven solutions to recruiting, preparing, supporting and compensating teachers for high-needs schools.

Van Roekel also highlighted using collective bargaining as an innovative vehicle to accelerate systemic change noting, “Bargaining is an opportunity for the education stakeholders to sit down as co-equals and reach resolution on issues directly related to student achievement.” One example of collectively bargained achievement gap language can be found in the Seattle, Wash., contract, where negotiations produced language on home visits by educators to promote engagement of parents and families in students’ education.

“We look forward to working with the Obama administration and Congress—as well as parents and community leaders—to put in place the right education vision for America through a new and reauthorized federal education law,” Van Roekel said.   

To read Van Roekel's entire testimony, click here.



NEA press release on Dennis Van Roekel's testimony

Dennis Van Roekel (second from right) testifies. To watch video, click the image above.