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NEA Signals Contract Flexibility

My colleague Nick Anderson , who covers the national education beat, reports today from Capitol Hill on a notable development in the long-running debate over how to rectify inequities in the distribution of effective teachers.

Data show that schools in poor neighborhoods tend to have a disproportionate number of unqualified, inexperienced or out-of-field teachers. That compounds the schools' many academic challenges.

On Wednesday, the head of the nation's largest teachers' union, the National Education Assn., pledged to the House Education and Labor Committee that the union would push to address that problem.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in prepared testimony that the union would ask "every local NEA affiliate to enter into a compact or memorandum of understanding with its local school district to waive any contract language that prohibits staffing high-needs schools with great teachers. These compacts should also add commitments that would enhance this goal."

Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) took note. "I thank you very much for that," he told Van Roekel. "I think it's very important."

With 3.2 million members, the NEA is a major player in the school reform debate. Any signal that it is willing to bend on contract provisions that affect teacher placement is likely to receive close scrutiny. Critics often accuse the union of standing in the way of reform-- a view Van Roekel sharply disputes.

P.S.: Wednesday afternoon, the American Federation of Teachers, with 1.4 million members, declared solidarity with the NEA on remedies for teacher-distribution inequities.

"Some critics claim that union contracts prevent the assignment of high-quality teachers to hard-to-staff schools," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. "The truth is that contracts can be an effective tool to remedy this problem where it exists, and to make schools positive environments for students and teachers."

Weingarten added: "We applaud the National Education Association for joining the effort to address this issue. With our sister teachers union on board with matching the right teachers to the right school in the right way, we ask our school district partners to join us in this important work."

By Washington Post editors  | September 30, 2009; 2:49 PM ET
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Next: NCLB's Downward Spiral--Letter from a Teacher


I don't think you can rectify this problem by simply forcing highly qualified teachers to work in high-needs schools. If you start doing that, good teachers will just leave the district and seek refuge elsewhere. The fact is, teaching in high needs schools requires much more work and patience than schools that contain students that are proficient. Dealing with students that cuss you out, don't complete homework because parents don't keep tabs on it, and are apathetic is challenging. When the student doesn't perform well on state exams, the teachers get blamed. How can you blame teachers that not wanting to deal with this stress. They get paid the same amount regardless of the stress they deal with!

Posted by: PoorTeacher | September 30, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

I failed to mention above... start paying highly qualified teachers to teach in high needs schools. Or provide some other type of incentive. Loan forgiveness for highly qualified teachers in low income schools is a good start. We need to create an incentive to get teachers into these schools.

Posted by: PoorTeacher | September 30, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

A good part of this goes to what Jay has focused on over the years, that being good/great leadership from the principal.
My wife worked at a Prince George's County public school on the border with Southeast.
The first year, not so good, because the principal didn't want to be there and supposedly didn't like the color of the students.
Her next three years went well because she had a great principal, and the staff responded in kind and worked with him. He continued at that school for several more years until he was promoted to a MS vp.
Also, my wife received a break on her student loans because she worked in a minority school with a majority free/reduced lunch.

Posted by: edlharris | October 1, 2009 12:00 AM | Report abuse

With merit pay and teacher evaluations based on test scores? Good luck! Why would anybody with half a brain wish to pose for a firing squad?

Posted by: Care1 | October 1, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

It is important to find incentives that will get teachers to respond to the clarion call for filling positions at high needs school. Money alone is not enough, if money was the reason people went into teaching very few people would do it.

I'm not saying that the incentives wouldn't cost money, it just wouldn't translate into money in the pocket of the teacher, for example, a shorter teaching day, rather than teaching 5 of 6 periods, teach 4 periods, have 2 hours to prepare and assess, built in teacher collaboration time, in other words have a day a week with a later start so teachers could meet together to plan units, focus on methods, conspire to improve student behavior. Strong counseling department support, kids in schools in trouble tend to be in trouble themselves.

Get away from the model of teachers competing for "merit" pay, most teachers, by nature are not that competitive, if they were they wouldn't be teaching. If you disincetivize cooperation among teachers everyone suffers, mostly the kids.

Posted by: SactoKen | October 1, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I like your ideas for other incentives Ken. More time and less kids would be well worth it. Give me four classes that are capped at 20 students. That sounds like a great incentive.

Posted by: PoorTeacher | October 1, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

"Get away from the model of teachers competing for "merit" pay, most teachers, by nature are not that competitive, if they were they wouldn't be teaching."

As a teacher, I completely disagree with this statement. I would argue that teachers do not appear competitive solely because there have yet to be any real advances allowing teachers to truly exercise any spirit of competition. Merit pay systems still don't offer rewards significant enough to breed any competition. And, until we have a chance to see what happens under a truly competitive system, we cannot assume anyone would be poorly served. To be honest, it’s the lack of competition that has helped maintain the unacceptable status quo for so long.

Posted by: BenJ720 | October 2, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

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