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NEA President Talks Teacher Accountability at Education Conference

Van Roekel joins other education leaders to discuss teacher quality


By Cynthia McCabe

March 5, 2010 -- NEW YORK -- A teacher accountability system based on one student test score won’t stem problems like low student achievement or dropout rates, said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and other panelists speaking at a gathering of 8,500 education professionals here today.

Boosting teacher quality – and then measuring the results – must include professional development, mentoring programs, and accrediting teacher training institutions, Van Roekel said. The teacher who benefits from such a system then has “an accountability to (his or her) practice as a professional rather than some individual test score,” said Van Roekel, a former high school math teacher. He joined Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers  and Vicki Phillips of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on the panel moderated by NBC’s Meet the Press host David Gregory.

But current accountability systems wrought by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act unfairly punish educators who work with at-risk students or who are in schools that are desperately underfunded.

A better system must be designed in collaboration with educators, unions, and other public education stakeholders, panelists said. “The teachers union has to be at the table, co-designing and co-developing,” such a system, said Phillips. This week her foundation released a survey of 40,000 educators nationwide that said exactly that: give teachers a voice in reform.

There is great urgency to bettering the system, Van Roekel said. Addressing the thousands of educators and other stakeholders in the room, he spoke about the importance of collaboration among educators, their unions and communities to address a dropout rate that has 1.2 million children slipping away annually. "That is just unacceptable,” he said. “Where is their shot at the American dream?”

Earlier in the day, in his keynote speech, Education Secretary Arne Duncan also tackled the issue of teacher quality, saying he wants impending reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to include moving from the current law’s AYP-based focus on a "highly qualified" teacher to stressing the need for “a highly effective” teacher.

Congress is expected to take reauthorization of the massive law up within weeks and President Obama has pledged an additional $1 billion for education if that task is completed by the end of the year.

Duncan's priorities for that reform include scrapping the current Adequate Yearly Progress system that uses student data to punish teachers who work with at-risk students. “I’m much more interested in growth and gain than test scores,” Duncan said. He also wants incentives created to attract and retain teachers to work in rural and hard-to-staff urban schools.

Dubbed the “World’s Fair of Education,” the Celebration of Teaching & Learning – now in its fifth year – brings together more than 8,500 experts, educators, policymakers, and exhibitors for two days of workshops, speeches and roundtables.


Learn more about the Celebration of Teaching & Learning 2010

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