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U.S. Competitors Agree: To Beat the Recession, Spend More On Schools

By Alain Jehlen

34--The number of U.S. states that have cut
K-12 and early education funding since the
economic crisis began.

In America, school funding cuts are the order of the day from coast to coast and north to south. But most of our competitors around the world have embarked on a different road to economic recovery. They believe investing in education will  pull them out of the quagmire and move them ahead of the compe-tition (like us) in the future.

That’s the message from a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an organization of the world’s wealthy nations.

“Our competitors are putting their money where they know it can do the most good,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “This survey backs our position that investing in education is not just good for educa-tors. It’s good for the kids and good for the nation. It’s the way forward.”

The OECD survey includes information from 25 of its 34 member nations. China is not a member.

The United States, which is an OECD member, did not respond to the survey questionnaire. But earlier this year, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities released its own survey showing that in education funding the U.S. has gone in the opposite direction from most OECD members. Even counting federal stimulus funding, 34 states plus the District of Columbia have made cuts in K-12 and early education funding since the economic crisis began, and 43 states have cut higher education, the Center reported.

Also, the report said vocational and higher education institutions in the U.S. have boosted student tuition, making it harder for students to attend.

The OECD survey team got responses from many major U.S. competitors, from Korea and Japan to Mexico and Canada.

OECD found that vocational and higher education are where most OECD members added the most investment, believing that hard economic times and stiffer competition made it all the more important to provide more training.

“In general, governments seem to be rather successful in protecting education spending,” according to the OECD report. “Some countries even have increased funding for specific parts of the education system in order to enhance output and efficiency.”

Only a few countries, under severe economic pressure, have cut funding, the survey report says.

And some of the nations hardest hit by the downturn, such as Ireland and Greece, maintained or increased funding at almost all levels of education because they believe education funding is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

In addition to direct funds to schools and universities, some countries are also providing more financial aid to students so they can get the training they need despite the hard times afflicting their families.

Global View

Van Roekel Elected to International Post

By Leona Hiraoka and Steve Snider


Photo credit: Education International

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel was elected vice president of Education International (EI) at the organization’s 6th World Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, in late July.

Centered on the theme of “Building the Future Through Quality Education,” the conference convened some 1,800 delegates from unions in 154 countries. Officials including South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and UNESCO Director-general Irina Bokova addressed the opening plenary, and the local Wellington High School choir brought the crowd at the Cape Town International Convention Centre the student voice in song.

Van Roekel starts his four-year term as EI’s vice president for North America at a time when public sector unions around the world face growing challenges.

“It’s an honor to represent educators across North America and the Caribbean as an EI officer,” Van Roekel notes. “The challenges we face at home on issues like collective bargaining, raising student achievement, and adequate funding resonate around the world. NEA’s involvement internationally is based on the fact that in a global society, we must pursue a common course of action.”

EI President Susan Hopgood echoed that sentiment in her opening remarks. “Public education is under unprecedented attack, both in countries that built their prosperity on public education, and in the countries that still aspire to achieve quality education for all.

“Education remains the key to overcome poverty and injustice, and to achieve peace, social cohesion, and human dignity in this world,” Hopgood added. “But the greatest obstacle to the achievement of quality education for all remains the lack of political will of governments.”

In 2000, the United Nations set the Millennium Development Goal of providing universal primary education by 2015. At that point, some 105 million primary-age children were not in school. Though that figure has dropped to 67 million today, estimates indicate that by the 2015 target date, 56 million children of primary school age will still not be in a classroom.

The challenges facing public education in the United States remain high as well. In March, Van Roekel led the NEA co-sponsorship of the 18-nation International Summit on the Teaching Profession. The New York event underscored the fact that sustainable increases in student achievement require elevating the professional status of teachers (For more on the summit, see For U.S. audiences, the international lesson was clear: High-performing nations, from Finland to Singapore, regard education unions as partners and engage them in the reform process.

Laptops Are Not Teachers

By Tim Walker


Photo credit: computer: Andersphoto;
teacher: Gualtiero Boffi

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s bill to spend more money on laptops for high school students passed the state legislature last spring despite fierce opposition from teachers, students, and parents. Now it’s headed for a referendum on the November 2012 ballot, after citizens collected nearly 75,000 signatures in an effort to stop it.

New technology in the classroom—what could be wrong with that? In Idaho’s case, almost everything.

Luna’s plan isn’t really about integrating new learning tools into the curriculum. He’s using what he calls the “miracle of technology” to cut teachers’ jobs or salaries, and increase class size. Give every high school student a laptop by 2015 and take away educators—they won’t notice any difference!

Testifying against the bill, Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association, said it “trades teachers for technology,” adding that laptops cannot replace caring adults in the classroom.

The final legislation is a narrower version of what Luna had been pushing—four mandatory online classes for every Idaho student, tied to an increase in class sizes and paid for by eliminating 770 teaching jobs over the next two years. While the provision for online classes was dropped, the law will still provide laptops for students at the expense of teacher jobs.

“If teachers are laid off to buy laptops, which is what this bill does, who will be in the classroom?” wondered Republican lawmaker Shawn Keough.

Idaho educators, like their counterparts across the country, strongly advocate the integration of technology in the classroom to enhance student learning. What so many find objectionable about the bill (including Idaho students, who staged countless public protests against the measure) is Luna’s ham-fisted attempt to use these tools to supplant teachers.

“We think he missed many of the bigger, much broader discussions about technology,” IEA Executive Director Robin Nettinga told KIFI-TV in Idaho Falls.

Nettinga’s concern is being echoed across the country as online classes and other technologies begin to take hold in classrooms, particularly in Florida.

Tempted by short-term budget cutting and the lure of private sector dollars, districts might be turning to tools that, while generally beneficial, are being implemented too fast.

Also, the effectiveness of such a scheme is not founded on reliable research. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education stated, “Without a new random assignment or controlled quasi-experimental studies of the effects of online learning options for K-12 students, policy-makers will lack scientific evidence of the effectiveness of these emerging alternatives to face-to-face instruction.”

Specifically, online classes and digital tools could undercut the need to take students’ individual learning styles into account. Any benefits new technology may bring would then be overshadowed by the damage done to student learning and the teaching profession.

“As educators, we talk with business owners all the time,” Sherri Wood explained to Idaho lawmakers. “We don’t hear them telling us they need workers with more technological skills. They say they need young adults who can address complex problems, work as a team, and find creative solutions. These are the things best learned face to face, not in front of a screen. Our students have more than enough screen time.”

Connecting with Students One Stitch at a Time

By Staci Maiers

Innovation doesn’t necessarily require smart boards, computers, or the latest tech gadgets. It can employ tools as basic as needle and yarn, plus a desire to weave success into students’ academic lives.

Many students at Roberts High School, an alternative school in Oregon’s Salem-Keizer School District, have been expelled from the district’s traditional schools for behavior issues. One teacher there has found a somewhat unorthodox way to connect with her students—she teaches them to knit.

“We had students who were a little more difficult behaviorally,” said Ranada Young, an English language development specialist who teaches English language learners. “I sometimes have a hard time staying focused, and since knitting has always helped me, I thought it could help my students, too.”

Young volunteered to pilot the knitting program. Pooling donations from other teachers and calling in favors from her family and friends, she was able to build a treasure trove of yarn, hooks, looms, and needles for students.

“I’m constantly looking for a way to connect with the kids,” says Young. But she was surprised at how appealing knitting was to her students—even the boys. “You can watch their brains calm down. It’s been a huge transformation.”

Behavior incidents in Young’s class have dropped sharply, and her students are better able to pay attention in class. Test scores are showing improvement.

“I was always in class but never did the work,” said Andrew Sosa, a junior who spent two semesters at Roberts before transferring back to his traditional high school. Sosa credits Young’s knitting classes with turning his failing grades into A’s and B’s.

Sosa smiled. “When you do the work, class goes by a lot quicker.”

Young’s innovative thinking on connecting with students is the type of work getting attention through the National Education Association’s Priority Schools Campaign, a multi-year effort mandated by NEA’s Representative Assembly to provide intensive support to help transform low-performing schools across the nation.

Although the program helps students cultivate emotional self-control through knitting, the initial motivation for students to get involved was that the hours spent knitting and purling would count toward their community service requirement for graduation.

The knitting program became so popular that hats, scarves, mittens, and other knitwear started piling up. The group decided to donate their handiwork to a program for pregnant teens and a local homeless shelter.  It’s a win-win situation: Students are learning to tackle their behavioral issues, often the first step to improving achievement, and they are contributing to the community.

“We’re teaching students empathy and compassion,” added Young. “That’s not an easy thing to teach.”

Alonso Correa, a sophomore at Roberts, agreed that the knitting program has had a positive impact on his academic studies.

“I felt pretty good because I finished making hats for the babies and my family,” said Correa. “I had never made them anything before. It makes me want to do more.”

Federal Voucher Schemes

NEA Earns Major Victories

By Brian Washington

Twice this past spring, lawmakers in the U.S. House defeated a voucher amendment opponents said was too costly, completely unnecessary and bad public policy.

The amendments would have given a $7,500 voucher to special needs students of military families to attend private schools. NEA opposed the amendment, along with a broad coalition of grassroots groups including the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

“Our focus should be on strategies proven to increase student achievement, such as increasing parental involvement, strengthening teacher training, and reducing class size,” said Kim Anderson, NEA Director of Government Relations. “And, our goal should be to prepare all students for the jobs of the future, not to allow a few students and parents to choose a private school at taxpayers expense.”

Students with special needs who attend Department of Defense schools already receive an excellent education thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which will cover private school tuition if doing so is necessary to ensure that these students receive full services.

Retired teacher Marian Cameron said she was thankful for the ruling. “Public education deserves all of the funding possible. Our teachers are profoundly underrated by many politicians,” wrote Cameron in response to a story on the voucher wins on

Republicans often tout vouchers as a key part of their education reform agenda. However, 35 Republicans voted against the amendment on the House floor, and 10 voted against the measure when it surfaced in a committee vote. Many thought it was too expensive.

The amendment contained other drawbacks as well. It would only fund 250 vouchers and those students who accept the voucher would no longer be eligible for protections under IDEA.

“At a time when Congress is proposing drastic reductions in federal spending, including a House-passed bill slashing billions from core education programs, there is no reason to divert scare resources to vouchers,” Anderson said.

Here Come the Common Core Standards

By Cindy Long

In Chuck Pack’s geometry class, students learn how many rubber bands will provide maximum bungee jumping thrill for a Barbie doll, dropping her from the ceiling and trying not to let her hit the floor.

“They’re collecting data, making predictions, graphing their results, and learning about slope and linear relationships,” says Pack, who teaches in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. “But the best part is that they persevere. They don’t give up, because they really want to see if it will work.”

The Barbie doll problem is a Common Core Standard in action. “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them” is the first new Common Core math standard.

The Common Core is a set of curriculum standards released in 2010 covering English, language arts, and mathematics. Fifteen school districts are preparing to test the new standards as early as this fall. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia will fully implement the standards in 2014—2015.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association led the Common Core effort, working with educators—including Chuck Pack—national organizations, and community groups. The standards are designed to be rigorous and relevant to the real world.

“Rather than reading drills, we’ll ask students to apply reading skills in a broader, ‘real world’ context,” explains Barbara Kapinus, National Education Association Senior Policy Analyst, who facilitated NEA member input for the new standards. She uses this analogy: “Instead of asking kids to stand in one spot and throw basketballs into a hoop over and over, we’re getting them to play as a team and score points in a real game, using not only their shooting skills, but dribbling, passing, and the other skills necessary to play the sport well.”

Gone are the days of summary book reports. Students will analyze the story rather than rehash the plot.

The perseverance standard is part of that real-world orientation. Pack says when some of his students see that as a complex problem, they cave. They’d rather lose a point than persevere. He often tells them a single problem on a quiz could easily take up an entire piece of paper.

“If your boss gives you a task to complete, I guarantee it’s not going to fit on one line,” he says. “So we need to give them rich problems that force them to persevere—problems that are so interesting they really want to solve them.”

Like bungee-jumping Barbies.

Ricardo Rincon, an elementary teacher at a school with many English language learners in New Mexico, was also involved in developing the new standards. Rincon says the collaboration with many different educators is key: “As a team, our knowledge created a foundation for recommendations that could apply nationwide.”

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Educators, Unions Aid Affected Colleagues

By Cynthia McCabe



Photo: Debra Angstead

As a tornado ripped a path toward Rainsville, AL, teacher Kelly Jackson huddled in a neighbor’s safe room with her son. They emerged to the sounds of neighbors yelling for help and widespread destruction. Down the road at Plainview High School, a K-12 school where Jackson teaches first- grade and she herself graduated, the campus was in shambles. Entire buildings and rooms were gone. Roofs were blown off. The school was flooded. Debris was everywhere.

“When I saw it, I began to cry,” said Jackson. “I cried for all the memories I had there and for all the memories my own child would miss out on. I cried for all the children whose lives had been touched by this tragedy.”

It was a scene that played out across the South and Midwest this spring, as tornadoes ripped through Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia, killing hundreds and causing more than $5 billion in damage.

As news came in the hours that followed the Rainsville tornado, Jackson learned that two of Plainview’s students had died. One teacher lost three family members. Many more lost their homes.

Unable to return to their school in the storm’s aftermath, Jackson and her colleagues headed out into the community, helping at shelters and relief centers. They delivered meals and clothes and helped clean up damaged property. They spent hours on the phone trying to find students and families.

At the same time, the Alabama Education Association immediately began assisting the 16 school systems affected by the disaster. The Association lobbied and helped pass a bill in the state legislature giving school systems relief from the days missed due to the storms.

“We are a strong community that the school is the center of,” Jackson said. “My heart aches over the loss of life and the loss of things, but I feel so blessed to be part of such a wonderful school and community.”

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