March 19, 2010 ‘“ When NEA President Dennis Van Roekel testified on Capitol Hill this week about the problems with the Obama administration’s ‘˜blueprint’ for reforming the No Child Left Behind law and called the related education budget proposal for the upcoming year ‘a mixed bag,’ he echoed the sentiments of many of the Association’s 3.2 million members.
In classrooms, breakrooms and online forums like NEA Today’s Facebook page in recent weeks, educators have been talking about what effect the blueprint and experiments like the $4 billion Race to the Top competitive school funding grant program would have on the work they do with the nation’s children. Many were skeptical, and following drastic ‘reform’ efforts like the firing of all teachers at the Central Falls, R.I., high school, worried their profession is unfairly under attack.
‘Why must educators always be stepped on,’ wondered Deborah Meaux, a St. Mary Parish, La., teacher and vice-president of the Louisiana Association of Educators. Teachers who toil in the classroom are not the problem, Meaux said, pointing out that parents, communities, students, and teachers must all collaborate for student achievement. ‘I and all teachers have no problem being held accountable for our portion of the equation. But until Congress and legislators put real responsibility and consequences on the backs of the others involved, beating up on teachers is just grandstanding.’
NEA shares the Obama administration’s goal of fostering innovation and reform to close the gaps in achievement and opportunity in the nation’s schools. NEA members have been part of numerous successful to turn around struggling schools. (Learn more about NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign.)
But NEA opposes labelling schools based on test scores as well as federally mandated criteria for evaluating teachers and Van Roekel called the blueprint ‘disappointing’ upon its release for doing exactly that. While evaluations are of course important, local school districts hire and fire teachers, so they should work to develop evaluation systems with their employees.
Carla Benard, an English teacher from Chicago worries that programs like the blueprint represent ‘more of the same’ when it comes to unfair evaluation scapegoating of educators and that she and her colleagues are ‘an easy target.’ Says Benard, ‘We have been all too willing in the past to try and shoulder more than our share of the responsibility. No one’s shoulders, however, are broad enough to carry this load.’
For veteran educators who have kept their focus on the students in the face of various reform efforts and changing political climates, reaction to the latest incarnation of education reform is tinged with a bit of weariness.
‘I want to continue to inspire and enlighten children and make school their safe haven, whatever their background,’ said Greensboro, N.C., special education teacher Melodie Welborn. ‘I want to continue to change lives.’