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New Business at NEA: Accountability and the Common Core

By guest blogger Liana Heitin


During a busy afternoon at the Representative Assembly, NEA delegates passed a series of notable "new business items" (NBIs) on issues including testing, accountability, and the Common Core State Standards.

Here's a roundup of what went on:

Toxic Testing: As expected, the delegates approved an NBI denouncing "toxic testing" and calling for "more effective and responsible forms of assessment and accountability." This serves as a nice kick-off for the anticipated election of Lily Eskelsen Garcia to become the next NEA president, as she's made clear her deep concerns on the issue of testing and how it's used. The measure will direct NEA funds towards a national campaign focused on reducing classroom time devoted to testing and ending high-stakes related to test scores.

Public School Accountability: In a much closer runoff (that went to a standing vote after a voice vote), the delegates agreed to convene a group of NEA leaders to redefine school accountability—that is, to identify what the union sees as the markers of a "quality education." In practice, this likely means "more than test scores."

Common-Core Implementation: This NBI calls for working "with state affiliates in states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards or other state standards to ensure that the standards are properly implemented." It passed clearly in a voice vote, but delegates called for a standing vote anyway. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel agreed to the "division" but chastised his members, saying he would not do it again "for an overwhelming vote." 

Core Arts Standards: This NBI, submitted by delegates, called for the union to continue its work with the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards and the advocacy group Americans for the Arts on the launch of the new voluntary core arts standards.

In one of the more comical moments of the convention so far, Bonnie Margolin, a self-proclaimed Badass Teacher, took the microphone to respond to that proposal. 

"I stood up in opposition initially because it says core standards, but I can see that it was written by teachers and educators so I'm rescinding my opposition," she said. The BATs, as they call themselves, are vocal critics of the common-core standards. There were no other objections.

edTPA: In the most-debated item of the day, the delegates eventually passed an NBI to create a task force "to explore the use of teacher performance assessments for preservice teacher candidates." This was an indirect reference to the edTPA, the teacher-licensure exam developed by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, which Van Roekel also showed support for in his keynote. Some delegates were concerned about the cost for candidates who fail the exam—for instance, whether they'll have to do their student teaching again, which Van Roekel said is not a requirement. The item eventually passed without a problem. 

And in other goings on at the Representative Assembly, the California Teachers Association has announced that it will put forth a new business item calling for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's resignation. While this type of NBI has reliably come up for the last several years, it's notable that it was proposed by a state affiliate rather than a smaller constituency. This is the first time the NEA has offered an official response, which a spokesperson said was due to "increased rancor" on the issue.

Here's Mr. Van Roekel's (very tempered) response:

"NEA members are understandably frustrated with Secretary Duncan and many of the Department of Education's policies in recent years. We will continue to push the Department of Education to drive student-centered policy changes that are influenced by those who know best—educators working in our classrooms and in our schools—rather than profiteers." 

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