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NEA president: a great public school for every student begins with a great teacher

Transforming education system can help elevate the profession of teaching, improve teacher quality

DENVER - October 28, 2009 -

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, a 23-year classroom math teacher, urged The Aspen Institute Commission on No Child Left Behind to focus their recommendations on radically transforming the existing agrarian-age education system to improve teacher and principal effectiveness. Redesigning schools and revamping accountability systems for 21st century learning—coupled with elevating the profession of teaching and improving teacher quality—will go a long way toward ensuring every student graduates from high school and is ready for college and the workplace.

“A great public school for every student starts with a great teacher,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we have an opportunity to put a policy in place that treats teachers like the professionals that they are. We must commit to dramatically transform the public education system to make that goal a reality.”

Recalling the origins of the current education system, Van Roekel noted that it was created in an agrarian-industrial era when students helped their families run farms or households, and when there were plenty of good jobs for people who didn’t graduate from high school. “We don’t live in that world today,” said Van Roekel. “We have an interdependent, rapidly changing world, and our public school system must adapt to the needs of the new global economy.”

On the subject of the hearing, Van Roekel urged the federal government to devote financial support to improving teacher preparation programs and working with education stakeholders like NEA to expand mentoring programs, provide targeted professional development for educators and expand school leadership initiatives.

“We know these factors and this kind of collaboration—with teachers at the table in the decision-making process—are keys to the success of teachers.”

NEA believes every teacher candidate should receive adequate support and training and meet high standards for teacher skill, knowledge and ability. By overlaying these key components with quality content, universities, school districts and state licensing agencies can help ensure that preparation and licensure programs are producing the quality teacher candidates that schools need and students deserve. 

“We know teacher preparation matters when it comes to teacher effectiveness,” said Van Roekel. “With high-quality preparation come trust and empowerment of teachers. It’s time to ensure trust in teachers again.”

Today’s school district recruitment and hiring practices rest on outdated mid-20th century organizational assumptions about teaching, learning, gender roles and the career mobility patterns of young adults. Promising “grow your own” approaches to teacher recruitment include Urban Teacher Residencies. In this program, aspiring teachers, known as residents, are selected according to rigorous criteria aligned with district needs. They integrate their master’s level course work with an intensive, full-year classroom residency alongside experienced mentors.

“Washington could strengthen the promise of such ‘grow your own’ approaches by helping them expand to help schools outside of urban areas such as high-needs rural schools or those schools serving Native American students,” said Van Roekel.  
NEA is urging the federal government to provide incentives to states that create world-class teacher preparation programs. The Association also is calling for the creation of a national education institute to provide a rigorous and relevant master’s degree in education and accept college graduates who are in the top third of class rankings. In exchange for free tuition, graduates would commit to teach in the nation’s highest needs schools for at least six years.

To ensure great teachers are in every classroom, NEA and the Center for Teaching Quality last month released a groundbreaking report, Children of Poverty Deserve Great Teachers, which includes solid, proven solutions to recruiting, preparing, supporting and compensating teachers for high-needs schools. The report focused on the need for strong, qualified principals and instructional leaders, teaching and working conditions, and innovative compensation systems for recruiting, growing and retaining new teachers. The report also encouraged American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, Teacher Incentive Fund grants and other resources to address the specific incentives that matter most.

“Financial incentives are only one piece of the puzzle,” said Van Roekel. “Incentives for educators in hard-to-staff schools should be designed not only to encourage teacher transfers and new hires but to energize existing faculty through opportunities like National Board Certification and the NBPTS Take One! program.” 

Van Roekel also highlighted using collective bargaining as an innovative vehicle to accelerate systemic change noting, “Bargaining is an opportunity for the education stakeholders to sit down as co-equals and reach resolution on issues directly related to student achievement.” One example of collectively bargained achievement gap language can be found in the Seattle, Wash., contract, where negotiations produced language on home visits by educators to promote engagement of parents and families in students’ education.

“We look forward to working with the Obama administration and Congress—as well as parents and community leaders—to put in place the right education vision for America through a new and reauthorized federal education law,” concluded Van Roekel.   

The Aspen Institute NCLB Commission hearing is the second in a series to build upon the Commission’s February 2007 recommendations for improving ESEA. This is the third time NEA testifies before the Commission. The Commission will release a summary following the hearing, and will issue its updated recommendations early next year.

For additional information or to read the full written testimony, click here.

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing
3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Miguel A. Gonzalez  (202) 822-7823,