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NEA Reacts to GOP, Tea Party Congressional Victories

The National Education Association invested some $40 million in the 2010 midterm elections, which ushered in major Republican victories at the state and federal levels.
The union was able to help out endangered Democrats, including Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Harry Reid of Nevada, but saw other longtime Democratic allies, such as Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, defeated.

So now what?

Well, the NEA is expecting that incoming GOP leaders and the Obama administration will continue to talk about the need for a bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, said Kim Anderson, the union's director of government relations.

"There have been signals all along that the administration and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to pursue a bipartisan reauthorization," she said. "I don't see that rhetoric changing anytime soon."

I asked her how she thought having so many GOP candidates backed by tea-party groups elected to Congress would shake things up.

The "tea party is certainly a new dynamic in Congress," Anderson said. But she said it's too early to tell what impact the movement will have on the rest of the Republican members when it comes to education. "If it amounts to getting rid of some of the onerous federal intrusion and micromanagement of schools, we're for that," she said. "If it means [Republicans] adopt a position of no federal role in eduction, ... we'd oppose that. We just don't know."

And she said that upcoming decisions, such as which lawmakers get seats and leadership positions on the House and Senate education committees, and just how President Obama frames education issues in his State of the Union address this winter, will be telling.

"That will set the tone," Anderson said.

She cautioned against drawing a lot of conclusions about the direction Congress will take on K-12 policy before the electoral dust has settled. "Predictions are all very premature," she said.

Lots of folks say that the administration and congressional Republicans can find common ground on ideas like linking teachers' effectiveness (and pay) to their students' test scores, not something the NEA has been a fan of in the past.

So does the union really want to see that kind of bipartisan ESEA bill?

Anderson said the union will be looking at any renewal bill holistically, considering whether it uses a research-based approach and improves outcomes for students. "That's our test," she said. "We're going to look at the bill as a whole, to see whether or not the flaws of [No Child Left Behind] are corrected, and whether or not it elevates the teaching profession."

In the meantime, the NEA and other education groups, including the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, are hoping the Department of Education provides regulatory relief from what they see as the most onerous parts of the NCLB law, possibly including the "all-or-nothing consequences" of not meeting achievement targets, which don't differentiate between whether a school misses the mark for one subgroup of students (such as English-language learners) or all its students.

"We think the department shouldn't wait for Congress" to reauthorize the law before making that and other changes, Anderson said.

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