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NEA Slams Obama's School Reform Plan

Here's a dispatch from my colleague Nick Anderson on the national education beat:

The nation's largest teachers union sharply attacked President Obama's most significant school improvement initiative on Friday evening, saying that it puts too much emphasis on a "narrow agenda" centered on charter schools and echoes the Bush administration's "top-down approach" to reform.

The National Education Association's criticism of Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" initiative came nearly a month after the president unveiled the competitive grant program, meant to spur states to move toward teacher performance pay; lift caps on independently operated, publicly funded charter schools; and take other steps to shake up school systems.

The NEA's statement to the Department of Education came a week before the end of the public-comment period on the administration's proposal, and it reflected deep divisions over the White House's education agenda within a constituency largely loyal to the Democratic Party.

The union, which boasts 3.2 million members, charged that Race to the Top contradicted administration pledges to give states more flexibility in how they improve schools. "We find this top-down approach disturbing; we have been down that road before with the failures of No Child Left Behind," the union wrote in its comments, "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 government's responsibilities for public education."

It added: "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 -- urban, suburban, exurban and rural -- and all must comply with that silver bullet."

An Education Department spokesman had no immediate comment. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said repeatedly he wants to work with unions and not foist reforms on teachers without consultation.

When Obama announced the initiative July 24, Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, praised the administration's intentions to lift standards, raise teacher quality and turn around low-performing schools.

But he said performance pay, charter schools and links between student and teacher data raise difficult issues for his union.

That last issue prompted an NEA objection earlier this year, after Obama expressed his desire to grade teachers through the test scores of their students.

Van Roekel told the New York Times that his members were unhappy with such comments.

''When he equates teachers with test scores, that's when we part company,'' Mr. Van Roekel told the Times.

--Nick Anderson

By Washington Post editors  | August 22, 2009; 10:22 AM ET
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NEA is right. Does the Obama Admin pitch health care as a "race"? No. There its trying to include nearly everyone. But when it comes to education, the administration doesn't mind leaving someone behind (the public school systems of America).

The "Race to the Top" does not distance itself from "Leave No Child Behind"... the irony of the slogans astounds me. Please get with it Obama and meet your campaign promises....

Posted by: KMF1 | August 22, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

If NEA is against it, I am for it. They complain that Obama is advocating a top-down system, but actually, NEA advocates a top-down system, one in which they are able to call the shots. What they're really concerned about is that somebody is going to be at the top that doesn't buy their baloney anymore.

Posted by: crashprevention | August 22, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

"When he equates teachers with test scores, that's when we part company,'' Mr. Van Roekel told the Times."

What utter, self-serving arrogance.

Teachers grade their students' performance (learning) through testing.
Why do teachers think they are above testing their performance (teaching)?

If teachers are not successful at teaching, maybe they need to take up a different profession.

Would doctors that failed to heal be tolerated?
Would a mechanic that failed to repair cars be tolerated?

Most Americans are expected to perform the jobs they were hired to do. If a truck driver consistently failed to deliver the load to his destinations he would be fired.
If a factory worker failed to assemble a product correctly he would be fired.
If a teacher fails to teach our children, he should be fired.

Teaching is the last place we should allow failure or mediocrity to be protected.
Teachers form our youth and our youth form our future.

Posted by: spamsux1 | August 22, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Nothing new here.

The NEA has long adopted an 'over our dead body' approach to both charter schools and merit/performance pay.

At the state level they have the most powerful group of trained lobbyists in their UNISERV reps, who btw. are often publicly paid teachers given ample released time via union contracts to conduct 'union business'.

Charter school legislation has been repeatedly defeated in Maine for over a decade; and even the mere mention of performance pay makes their blood boil enough to purge local school boards who they heavily influence.

I sort of hoped the Chicago super. Obama hired to run USDOE would do more than just offer highly reluctant states an incentive program....on top of the many failed incentive programs including ESEA.

Somewhat Ironically, the States that embraced NCLB and Bush Administration reforms are the ones which will probably embrace the Obama initiative.

You have to remember the 'RED' states that endorsed NCLB were ones who saw their scores soar, and graduation rates increase.

Resistive states like Maine sunk to last place in New England in the College boards.

Posted by: Common_Cents1 | August 22, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

If he really wanted to make a difference, he'd have the equivalent to the CASH FOR KLUNKERS program in a federal school voucher program targeted at kids in failing schools.

They are strongly supported by minority parents...83% of Black parents in Cleveland; and about that high among Hispanic parents elsewhere.

A few million dollars strategically spent on direct school vouchers would be the equivalent of facing down Bull Conner in Missippi and end the DIXIECRAT's resistance to civil rights.

(Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor (July 11 1897, Selma, Alabama – March 10 1973) was a Democratic Party politician and police official from the city of Birmingham, Alabama, during the American Civil Rights Movement. He was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and a staunch advocate of racial segregation.

As the Public Safety Commissioner of Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960s, Connor became a symbol of bigotry. He infamously fought against integration by using fire hoses and police attack dogs against protest marchers.)

Posted by: Common_Cents1 | August 22, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Many of these responses are truly inane. Should your boss be repsonsible for whether or not you wake up on time? Whether or not you do your work? Whether or not your family is intact?

The reason the drop out rate is exorbitant in America has nothing to do with test scores. It as to do with students that see education as pointless because it's all about high stakes testing. Evaluating teachers on a failed system is ludicrous. The teacher is not responsible for making certain that students are good test takers. The job goes way beyond such notions. Although I voted for Obama, this is the most outrageous policy that I have ever heard of. Perhaps he should be paid by whether or not the Republicans do what he wants. He has about as much control over them as I do over children and parents.

Posted by: lk11 | August 22, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

"If NEA is against it, I am for it"?
This sort of mean-spirited ignorance is to be expected, I guess, in a society which cannot bring itself to legislate health care for children! Or guarantee a living wage for working parents! Or resist keeping the kind of non-regulation and avarice associated with insurance companies, gasoline prices, and military "contractors" out and away from public schools!

Maybe all these know-it-all teacher haters (including the masochistic, self-flagellating teachers who can't reconcile being a Conservative with their "Liberal" profession) need to learn that the actual work of being "a teacher" involves far more than just teaching and testing.

Keep firing people who have chosen to do the work of being a public school teacher for the pittance of a salary teachers get for most of their careers, and soon there won't be any teachers left, and even fewer who would choose a profession requiring them to put up with such unmitigated disrespect!

Posted by: iphoenix | August 22, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Spamsux1--just the name you hide behind should have told me your rant is not facing reality. "Would doctors that failed to heal be tolerated?" No, but how about the patients who don't take care of themselves--can a doctor be held responsible for the patient's neglect. Similarly, how can you hold teachers responsible for children who don't come to school ready to learn--who have abusive parents, aren't fed, or have stayed online half the night. Get real.

Posted by: JuneLShultz | August 22, 2009 7:49 PM | Report abuse

When will the NEA start showing some initiatives? They have been in charge of the decline of education in this country. If they do not do something soon to establish tough standards for public school teachers; demand standards for methods of instruction; develop new and interest holding initiatives in delivering instruction, then they all had best learn Chinese, for that is what they will have us all speaking -- DUE IN LARGE PART FOR THEIR DEMONSTRATED INCOMPETENCE OVER RECENT DECADES!! (A REPEAT OF THE AUTO INDUSTRY FOLKS!!)

Posted by: wheeljc | August 22, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

The NEA is a bunch of union goons who have done more to hurt education than any other entity.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | August 22, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

President Obama should overhaul/eliminate NCLB first, not add another layer of confusion to the teachers' and students' lives.

As for home schooling, there's something that needs regulation. The results are wildly variable. I have known excellent home-schooled students and also ones that can barely read or write when they are supposed to have finished the K-12 equivalent.

Posted by: dotellen | August 22, 2009 11:35 PM | Report abuse

The NEA has only themselves to blame. By signing on with NCLB, and not protesting that fully then, they now come off appearing to only object when teachers' are tied to test scores. They should have objected when kids' were tied to test scores. Kids scores on high stakes tests have resulted in high drop out rates and 18 year old sophomores. It didn't matter to the NEA when 3rd graders were held back due to failing tests in New York, Florida, Texas and others, even if they did well throughout the year, and even if the teachers felt the test was an aberration, and not indicative of the students' true ability.
Test scores do not fully tell the students' ability nor do they tell whether or not a teacher can indeed teach (due to a variety of reasons). However, I for one think it is too late for the NEA to complain.
They are in the business of children, when they failed to support children when they didn't fully complain about NCLB, they failed completely and have no right to complain now that these draconian, silly views of what education means, impacts teachers.

Posted by: researcher2 | August 23, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

This problem is so much more complicated than anyone seems to realize. This is an across-the-board social problem that starts at home. Failure and drop-out rates are just the end result. Bottom line -- If students won't come to school and their parents won't make them, how are the schools supposed to get them to pass a test? Does anyone really support firing teachers because kids who refuse to attend class can't pass a test? Unbelievable.

Posted by: margaret6 | August 24, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Margaret says it all when she states that our education problems are complex. It should be obvious to everyone that simplistic solutions aren't going to help.

What puzzles me is that President Obama seemed to understand education's complexity when he wrote his book "The Audacity of Hope" and when he gave his campaign speeches. He repeatedly said, quite correctly, that for education to improve, all involved (parents, students, teachers) must work together. He seemed to understand that teachers must be involved in the decision-making process in order to have real change.

So what has changed? Has the president just handed over education to Arne Duncan, a man with less-than-stellar accomplishments in Chicago? If so, this will constitute a huge political error that will further alienate the president's key supporters and, worst of all, will deny American children the authentic reform that is so desperately needed.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 24, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

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