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NEA Knocks Administration on 'Race to the Top'

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Officials of the National Education Association issued a stinging criticism yesterday of the Obama administration's "narrow agenda" for the Race to the Top program and formally announced the union's opposition to key elements of the $4.35 billion initiative.

Among other areas, the NEA said it would not support the program's goals of encouraging states to use test scores for evaluating teachers, increasing the number of charter schools, and bolstering alternative routes to teacher licensure.

In a strongly worded letter, the union intimated that Education Secretary Arne Duncan was reneging on his promise to promote education reform by being "tighter" on goals, but giving states and districts more flexibility to achieve reforms.

"The administration's theory of success now seems to be tight on the goals and tight on the means," Kay Brilliant, the NEA's director of education policy and practice, wrote in the letter to Duncan that accompanied its formal comments on the proposals. "We find that top-down approach disturbing. We have been down that road before with the failures of No Child Left Behind, and we cannot support yet another layer of federal mandates that have little or no research base of success and that usurp state and local governments' responsibilities for public education."

The tough talk underscores an increasingly complex relationship between the traditionally Democratic-leaning 3.2 million-member union and the administration it helped elect.

NEA officials publicly said that they agreed with the goals of the Race to the Top program, which is oriented around the four "assurances" in the economic-stimulus legislation: to improve teacher and principal effectiveness, turn around the lowest-performing schools, bolster standards and assessments, and update data systems.

Duncan, meanwhile, promised to work with teachers rather than imposing reforms on them.

But the detailed guidelines for the Race to the Top, released last month, conflicted directly with NEA policies, making strife with the union all but inevitable. For instance, it proposed giving a competitive advantage to states that eliminated caps on charter schools. The union strongly supports caps.

"Despite growing evidence to the contrary, it appears that the administration has decided that charter schools are the only answer to what ails America's public schools," Ms. Brilliant wrote.

The criteria also put a premium on using test scores for evaluating, paying, and granting teachers tenure. Two states with barriers to using such data in evaluations, California and Wisconsin, are at various stages of trying to rework them so they can be eligible for the funds.

In its attached comments, the union also raised the specter of legal challenges, stating that the program's priority on overhauling teacher evaluation, pay, and tenure would contravene local collective bargaining agreements. The administration must require reforms to policies involving teachers to be set in contracts, the union wrote.

In 2007, similar concerns about the use of tests for rating teachers and about collective bargaining helped derail congressional attempts to renew the NCLB law.

Requests for comment from NEA officials were not immediately returned.

13 Comments

So the NEA is opposing education reform again. What a surprise - NOT!

They don't like charter schools because they present competition to the NEA's existing monopoly. Of course they couch this charter opposition under the pretense it takes monies away from regular public school necessary to keep them afloat. Baloney! Charter schools are public schools too and as such deserve the same per pupil expenditures allotted to regular public schools. Here in Massachusetts the state also reimburses each public school monies "lost" with kids going to charters for three years. So, not only do the regular publics have less kids to educate they still get those "lost" monies for three years (100% reimbursed the first year, 60% the second, and 40% the third).

The NEA also despises charter schools because many of them operate without unionized teachers. That, of course, translates into less money for the NEA's bank account which eventually translates into less POWER for these purported educational giants.

They don't want tests scores used in teacher evaluations because they want nothing to do with their members being held accountable. If held accountable that could possibly lead to legal battles of who is and who is not getting the job done in the classroom. They also realize their chances of defending an incompetent teacher in court will now be greatly diminished because for the first time school districts will have objective data to prove their point instead of the embarrassing subjective teacher evaluations of the past.

The NEA is an embarrassment to public eduction in this country. Hooray for Obama and Duncan for their "Race to the Top" program and for standing up to the NEA and their transparent facade of doing everything "for the children." For the first time in recent history a Democratic president has had the gumption to oppose the NEA and Obama should be applauded for it.

Mr. Ross obviously doesn't understand that charter schools come in different shapes and sizes. In Louisiana, we have 5 types of charters and one of the types created and most favored by the state is not a public charter. It is a state-controlled property that is farmed out to private, for-profit third-party entities that have no quality control and are funded at twice the per-pupil rate of all public school children. With no quality or evaluative controls, these Recovery schools are still performing lower than the public schools not within the Recovery School District. What's worse, they use the public funds that are given to them to make at least a 12% profit (that comes from Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek in a meeting that I and others had with him this past Wednesday evening in the city of Plaquamines).

Everyone thinks that the theoretical answer to a problem is the cure-all and the only answer and ignore the details. The devil is in the details. Here the details are that charters can cherry-pick students leaving the hardest and most expensive students to be educated by a broken and fund-deplete public school system. Maybe Massachusettes has done their charters right, but that doesn't mean that all other states have the same kind of set up. It's time for people to stop pontifficating and start educating themselves about what really exists and what the real results of Arne Duncan's proposed reforms will do to educating every single child in every state! It's ludicrous to believe that forcing reforms which research has proven to be faulty and deliterious to education will cause things to get better.

Two wrongs don't make a right. A broken education system + unproven reform strategies does not = a healthy, working educational system.

NEA has my vote in response to Race to the Top. I have read the response from Kay Brillant and others from NEA and they have outlined research supported reasons for what is wrong with the proposed reforms and have given alternatives to them. The alternatives are research proven and driven, which should be the acid-test for any changes in our educational systems throughout the US.

Debbie,

Sorry for my anti-NEA bias but as a Massachusetts public school teacher for 34 years I resented every penny they extorted from my paycheck. They are so transparent and so phony, they embarrass many of us here in the Northeast, including their newest members. Their Representative Assembly, which is their governing body, has exhibited the ability to spin issues to make them look like the long lost saviors of public education when in fact they have fought education reform kicking and screaming every step of the way.

As you probably are aware anyone can make social policy research say pretty much whatever they want it to say and the NEA is probably the true master of this hand is quicker than the eye nonsense.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan have not based their entire educational platform of chicanery. They have consulted with the best in the field to develop a pragmatic approach to what needs to be done to take this country's schools to the next level. It's already happening here in Massachusetts as our students have demonstrated academic excellence equal to other educational juggernauts internationally. As well, they have a primary focus on closing the achievement gap between poor/minority youngsters in this country and their middle class peers. Both individuals have demonstrated a level of genuineness on this topic which cannot be called into question.

Not sure if you're totally aware of the NEA's history but you might want to first research their record before you go sticking your neck out for them. They're frauds, hucksters, and snake oil salesmen disguised as professional educators with about as much interest in doing what's right for children as the man in the moon. They have one interest and one interest only - political clout. They don't want to advise the Democratic party they want to be the Democratic party, which is to say, one of the two leading political parties in the US today.

I'm with Debbie. Regardless of how much Paul hates the NEA, their stance on RTT is correct, as is Debbie's formulation:

A broken education system + unproven reform strategies does not = a healthy, working educational system.

Even institutions set on gaining power can be right about certain things. Debbie is right about NEA's position, and the NEA is right to publish their position.

Seems to me, Paul, you refuse to entertain the possibility that there is meat to NEA's position due to your 34 years of paying dues toward something you don't like. I understand that, but that doesn't make you right.

Mr. Ross I am aware of the NEA's structure and methods of forming policy since I am a member and do attend the Representative Assembly each summer. In addition, I am the state vice-president for Louisiana Association of Educators, the state affiliate of NEA. Although I do not always like the stance that the delegates take, I do know and agree with the method in which it is taken. We are the largest democratic association in the US. Everything is discussed and and voted on by the elected representatives present from all states in the US.

If you haven't read the document stating NEA's positions, perhaps you should. It is not just preaching but NEA has taken great care to site independent research to back up its stance on the different points of the Race to the Top document.

Your contention that test scores are a good barometer of teacher effectiveness in my opinion is wrong. My own case is proof. I am a language teacher. Our state does no testing in this course area; therefore, according to Race to the Top I should not be considered for any kind of pay for performance (not that I believe in it) because there are no scores to show that I am an effective teacher. What happens to teachers such as me and others not in core areas? All research points to the conclusion that test data is appropriate when making decisions about curriculum but definitely unreliable when used to evaluate an individual teacher based on the scores of small groups of children. It is unbelievable to me that anyone would think that doing so would be a good idea.

I do not walk in your shoes, Mr. Ross, but I also know that you do not walk in mine. For the USDOE to take a one-size fits all approach to educational reform is at best ludicrous. What works for Massachusetts will not work in Louisiana. The Race to the Top only forces us into a box that is totally inappropriate. Why are we having to swallow inappropriate reforms? Because Race to the Top funds are just too lucrative to ignore. What we need is money that we can tailor to what is good for Louisiana, not Massachusetts or any other state.

In my opinion, every state should share in these funds (since it is tax money from all taxpayers around the US) and it should be used to instate changes that will work for each individual state and be evaluated in that light. If people want private schools, then they have a right to create them, but not with my taxes. The taxes that I pay, I have paid all my working career with the understanding that the money should be used for the common good, which means that in education that there can be no exclusion of any student who comes to an educational institution's doors and certainly should not be paid to a private entity for the purpose of making a profit. Private schools are just that, "private". They are a choice beyond the public system, but if anyone choses that option, they should be willing to pay for it, including charter schools that are not truly public in nature.

Debbie,

It appears as though you've had one too many glasses of the NEA's Kool-Aid.

As I stated, the NEA has demonstrated continually how to spin issues to their advantage. Transparently, their logic is all too often convoluted. And fortunately, most of the country and certainly most of the mainstream media have editorialized their duplicitous tactics for all to see.

"What works for Massachusetts will not work for Louisiana," is a troubling conclusion. Have you ever examined what we've done to become so successful, a model for the rest of the country to follow? If you haven't, your statement becomes even more questionable.

I'll tell you what; you keep doing what you're doing in Louisiana and we'll keep doing what we're doing here in Massachusetts and let's just see how that works out for your students - sadly.

Paul Hoss - not Ross.

My mistake Mr. Hoss. As you can see, I am willing to admit mistakes, but Paul Pastorek isn't. You do not understand the charter school landscape here. We do not have the kind of charter schools that Massachusetts seems to have. When they continue to fail below the level of the existing public schools with even lower scores than when they were taken over, our state governor and his czar of education continue to fund them at twice the level of public schools.

Most outsiders think that all schools in Louisiana are failing, when in fact, they are not. My parish has no failing schools. Mainly Orleans Parish is in that category. With the long history and recent catastrophes suffered by New Orleans, it is going to be a long haul to bring education in Orleans Parish up to par. However, I do know that with a new OP school board, they are working furiously to change things. As they make things better, Paul Pastorek makes them worse.

I have no doubt that Massachusetts will do well with its reforms, but our education czar and governor aren't interested in doing what works. They are only interested in doing what will get them "the money". So far they haven't been able to manage the state money used in charter reform; I hope the USDOE doesn't expect them to be able to make charters accountable for your and my tax dollars because "It ain't gonna happen!" (Excuse my slang). Check the Orleans papers and feast on the stories of equipment and funds that charter schools are unable to account for.

I will not put my stamp of approval on Louisiana's charter schools; they have not earned it. Likewise, I will not give either Jindal or Pastorek my approval. What they are proposing is nothing more than a shell game. You speak of "slight of hand", that's a perfect description of what is going on in Louisiana. Jindal thinks this is his ticket to the presidency. I hope that even you have enough sense to see him for what he is, a politician. He hasn't held a real job and has no real proven record.

Why is the NEA acting so shocked? When Obama spoke at the 2007 NEA Convention he stated, and continued to state he supported merit pay and touted his pleasure with charter schools. How did the NEA think he was going to come up with a formula to pay "the best" teachers? And provide choice?

Given how little trust conservatives have shown for most Obama initiatives, I have to wonder why conservatives are falling all over themselves to support yet another Obama initiative that has not been fully vetted, let alone fully planned or regulated.

No Child Left Behind, although the centerpiece of President George W. Bush's thin domestic legacy, is pretty much a liberal Trojan Horse. State Standardized Tests are largely written to reflect liberal values and viewpoints. Largely liberal state offices of education pull the trigger on local schools when they "fail" to adequately progress under NCLB.

Small, rural schools already function, for the most part, like the much vaunted Charter Schools that everyone wants to see in all the larger cities. Yet, NCLB is especially hard on small, rural schools, making it harder, not easier for them to continu to provide their unique quality of education to young people.

So far, Race to the Top (RttT)appears poised to do more of the same--offer no benefits to small, rural schools and plenty of new challenges to what they uniquely do well.

Deb,

Have read much about Paul Pastorek. He appears to be a very unpopular outsider attempting to run the 69 school districts (or parishes?) in Louisiana.

Bobby Jindal's flame may well have been extinguished before it was ever fully lit. His response to Obama's Inauguration speech was not well received. He got hammered everywhere in the North. Even Rush Limbaugh thought he was anemic.

All I can think is, if he and Sarah Palin are the bright and shining stars in the Republican's party, there's going to be a Democrat in the White House for quite some time.

Louisiana has the empathy of the entire country after what happened with Katrina. You'd think that between George W Bush, Ray Nagan, and Kathleen Blanco someone in power could have gotten something done to help New Orleans recover. Sadly, all they seem to have done was create a trailer park for the victims. What a disaster and what a disgrace. And no, Brownie did NOT do a good job at FEMA. No wonder your schools have had so much trouble.

Back to the subject - charter schools. Here in Massachusetts the big attraction is twofold. Some of our charter schools have produced some terrific results. However, the origin of their popularity seems to have stemmed from poor/minority parents being fed up with the apparent lawlessness of the regular public schools. Kids raise hell and administrators have little or no power to do anything about it until the kid turns sixteen, at which point they can be expelled. A number of these urban parents have done their homework and discovered our charter schools don't have to put up with any of this garbage. If the kids who get into the charters (via a public lottery) don't behave, they don't last long. And all this is legal, even though charter schools are public schools they do not have to adhere to the same strict state guidelines regarding due process for students.

Our governor and the mayor of Boston have both done a complete one eighty on charters just in the past month since Obama announced his lifting the cap on charters stipulation for RTTT monies. We've always had a substantial waiting list for charters and now it appears RTTT will remedy this somewhat, and soon.

Mr. Hoss,

Perhaps if public schools could have the same latitude that charter schools have, there would be no need for charter schools. In Vermilion Parish where I live, we have no such lawlessness perpetrated by students--at least not that they get away with. Our hard-to--handle students are placed in alternative schools and are under strict contracts for behavior or they are expelled. Of course, the largest school here is just over 700 students and it's an elementary school. Most of our schools house about 550 students. We know them by name and most of the time their parents, too.

What RTTT would do to our schools is unnecessary and close to criminal. What we have seen with the third-party for-profit charters is that they do about the same or worse than the school board from which they are taken. I also know that our citizens will be highly incensed if their neighborhood schools are taken over by the state and given to outside charter entities to make a profit off their tax money, especially in this economy. (We're friendly people until you start meddling in our affaires and infringing on our territory--that's especially true with politics and our families and children). I am a teacher, but I also pay taxes and I am more than angry that Paul Pastorek and Jindal would take schools away from those of us who care for our students to bring in "Yankee strangers" to do what we can do as well or better.

None of our schools are in school improvement, but Pastorek is placing the break-score for take over so high that virtually every school system will be looking at some schools being taken over and placing pressure on others to be turned into charters so that he can make his quota of 5% of the state's schools becoming charters to place Louisiana in the "catbird seat" to gain an RTTT grant. IF it were done because the schools are really failing, it would be different, but he is engineering cut scores that will give him the quota he needs.

I could go on and on and say the same things over and over, but what it all boils down to is that our educational system is not broken in most places. We resent arbitray take-overs because Duncan has dangled too much money out there for politicians to ignore. No one will care for our children more or better than we do. More than half of Vermilion Parish's teachers live and work in this parish and are vested in the education of its children because they really are our children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. We are serious about giving them a rigorous level of education and apend our own money and time to attend professional development throughout the school year and the summer. Many of our elementary teachers have no summer due to continuing their inservice training or working in their classrooms to prepare for the following school year.

I may seem unreasonably angry to you; but I have a real stake in making sure the educational system remains intact for my grandchild, Emily and all the others to come. My children live here and I want what is best for their children. I know that they will be taken care of here. One of the things that sets us apart from other areas is our "can-do/will-do" attitude and ability. Everyone has heard of Katrina victims but nearly nothing about Hurricane Rita victims, who were as badly affected as those of Hurricane Katrina. My own daughter and her husband lost their home and live in a trailer 8 feet off the ground due to the intense flooding they endured. Why don't people hear about these tragedies? Because we take care of our own here. We have and we will take care of education here. I will put any of our students up against any other. They are not dummies and they will succeed.

I appreciate that you will fight for what you believe, but so will I. Perhaps there isn't much left to say here other than we need to respect each other's right to disagree. I would hope that you can accept that not every school needs to be a charter school.

I probably won't write further. I've beaten this horse way too much on this blog. I'm sure we would like each other if we knew one another, but I will never abandon my convictions (and I am sure that you won't abandon yours).

The so-called opposition by NEA is a mile wide and mere millimeters deep. NEA is merely playing "Bad Cop" to Obama's "Good Cop" and conservative are doing the lemming rush to the edge for a few more bucks to budget-strapped states. Once again, conservatives think they are sticking it to the teachers, but really, once again the Feds are sticking it to local school districts, chipping away at the local educational autonomy that once was the hallmark of the American educational system.

If NEA were really opposed to "Race to the Top", the organization would be shouting from the rooftops and stirring up trouble for Obama the way they did for Schwarzenegger the "Governator" back in 2005. Other than one tepid letter of "protest", there has been no real opposition by anyone to this initiative, not even by people warning us that Obama is a "socialist" and "radical". That alone should give conservatives pause, but it won't. Obama is singing their tune, for the moment and no one is asking what is still in the pipes by way of Federal regulation. In fact, no one really cares, in this instance, that the Administration wants everyone to race forward while they lag behind to write the governing Federal policies and add accompanying red tape at their leisure.

So, when people wake up shortly to see that union hacks in teaching jobs are still protected and that it is even harder for conservatives to become and stay teachers in an increasingly radicalized liberal bureaucracy, just thank all those conservative lemmings who raced to the top and found open water under their feet instead of a mountain top.

Although NEA presents a good case against various anti-teacher provisions of RttT, I frankly question the depth of their commitment to opposing the initiative. NEA is too incestuously in bed with the DNC political agenda to being doing more than go through the motions of opposition. Being myself a localist in my educational views, I see NEA as being capable of verbally opposing RttT while covertly supporting it because it gives the Feds more overall centralized control of local public education. The bait on the hook for conservatives are the very provisions that appear to be anti-teacher and NEA has the job of making the bait wiggle for the fish (political conservatives and anti-teacher school reformers).

The one thing you can count on with politicians, none of them ever own up to being made fools of. NCLB has failed to improve education but no one wants to own up that one, especially not on the eve of laying "Saint Teddy" to rest. So, RttT will make it all better by throwing those nasty teachers right under the bus. Don't count on it.

NEA will make sure the worst of the worst teachers keep their jobs as long as they continue to support the union. It'll be conservative teachers who oppose NEA that will be out of a job.

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