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NEA Presents Congress With ESEA Wish List

Congressional lawmakers got a recent present in the form of a thick mailing from the National Education Association. It details the union's vision for the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, i.e., No Child Left Behind.

Your intrepid blogger has read all 170 pages, and the documents largely align to NEA's earlier "positive agenda" for the reauthorization, but are much more detailed and even include sample legislative language. They also underscore just how starkly the NEA's stances on teacher quality and accountability differ from those of the Obama administration's blueprint, as there is nary a reference in this document to "teacher effectiveness" or "school turnarounds."

So, what does the NEA have in mind? The union has long said there's too much testing under the current ESEA, and the documents make clear that the union wants standardized assessments in just two grade spans. That's less than half of what's currently required, and it is even fewer years than required under the 1994 rewrite.

States could also use a variety of assessments and indicators to gauge student progress. They would be required to publish annual school report cards depicting, over the last three years, the growth in student learning during that period toward a target set by the state, progress in closing achievement gaps, and progress in raising high school graduation rates toward a 90 percent target. (This is one part I don't quite understand just yet. How do you have annual report cards if some of the measures aren't administered every year? I hope to have an answer for you after talking with the NEA this morning.)

The indicators would divide schools into three categories, but only those below the 25th percentile on one of the indicators would be subject to interventions. Those interventions would be determined at the local level and would reform the school using "research-based approaches" rather than the restructuring or takeover options now in place. These "priority schools" would also be subject to audits by an external review team. (This section seems to be drawn from the Broader, Bolder school-inspectorate approach to accountability.)

On teacher quality, the NEA says it supports integrating into Title II "most" of the TEACH Act, introduced by Rep. George Miller, which includes funds for induction and career ladders. I suspect that by "most" NEA means it would not support the performance-pay program in the TEACH bill that caused such a ruckus back in 2007.

The union would also disallow teachers still in alternative routes from being deemed "highly qualified" and require all new teachers to have at least 450 hours of clinical fieldwork and pass a performance-based assessment.

The NEA's proposals would also add a variety of new programs and make some legislative changes it's supported in other arenas. Among them, the union would like Congress to:

• Restore the federal class-size-reduction program, including new size stipulations for the upper grades, and establish a national database to track class sizes;
&bull Create a school construction program;
• Add a bunch of targeted school-leader, early-childhood, middle school, and high school programs;
• Increase accountability for charter schools to be certified by the Education Department;
• Create a new program supporting the development of standards, assessments, and professional development to support 21st-century skills, of which the NEA is a strong proponent;
• Repeal the District of Columbia federally funded voucher program; and
• Eliminate federal laws that withhold Social Security benefits from some teachers.

Keep an eye out in particular on the appendices, several of which are basically bills that were introduced in earlier Congresses but never advanced. They could serve as the basis of NEA-supported amendments at the committee level or during floor debate.

And as to the name of the bill, NEA suggests "The Great Public Schools for All Act of 2010." If that sounds familiar, it's because it's basically a riff on NEA's own slogan.

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