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Testimony of Reg Weaver - March 13, 2007

March 13, 2007

Good Morning, Chairman Kennedy, Chairman Miller, and Members of the Committees.

I am honored to be able to represent the views of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association. 

We believe the ESEA reauthorization presents us all with a unique opportunity to have a renewed national discussion about public education.

We hope that this unusual joint hearing is a signal that you are willing to engage in a larger conversation about what it will truly take to achieve what should be our collective mission as a society: that a great public school is a basic right—not a luxury—but a basic right for every child in America.

I'd like to focus my remarks today on the big picture. What is it that we expect from public education, and how can we fashion our laws to achieve these goals?

As in 1965 when ESEA was first passed, the federal government must step up to ensure that all children, no matter where they live, and no matter what their family circumstances, will receive the world-class public education they deserve.

That is the American dream. And that should be our focus as we approach this next reauthorization—striving to build a public education system infused with innovation and opportunity for all.

Yet, NEA members are the first to acknowledge that our public schools face many challenges. We have too many children on the other side of achievement, skills, and opportunity gaps.

Too many of our neediest students are still being taught by uncertified and under-prepared teachers.

We have unacceptable gaps in access to after-school programs and extended learning time programs; gaps preventing students from accessing a rich and broad curriculum; and significant infrastructure and school environment gaps that hamper learning.

And even more troubling is the dropout crisis in America, with far too many low-income and minority students losing hope and seeing no way to bridge the gaps. These gaps are intolerable. They contradict everything this nation stands for, and they impede our future success.

So, how can we address these gaps?

First, we must commit ourselves to a richer accountability system with shared responsibility by stakeholders at all levels.

Accountability should never be about assigning blame; it should be about improving student learning and identifying, addressing, and ultimately eliminating the gaps.

To achieve this, we must improve methods of assessing student learning.

We should employ multiple measures in assessing both individual student learning and overall school effectiveness in improving student learning. 

States should be permitted to design richer, more accurate systems, based on a wide variety of factors—including growth models—that should be weighed in making determinations about whether or not a school is high-performing.

We also need to ensure that our schools are infused with a 21st century curriculum. How? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Fund grants to states to develop 21st century content and authentic assessments that measure 21st century skills and knowledge.

  • Reform our secondary schools so they encourage as many students as possible to attend college and provide coursework to reduce dramatically the need for remediation in college.

  • Adopt a federal "graduation for all" proposal, including grants to states that agree to eliminate the concept of "dropping out" of school or that raise the compulsory attendance age.

Congress should also think broadly about how to ensure quality educators in every classroom. For example:

  • Reward states that set a reasonable minimum starting salary for teachers and a living wage for support professionals working in school districts that accept federal funds. NEA recommends that no teacher in America should make less than $40,000 and no public school worker should make less than $25,000 or a living wage.

  • Fund grants to help teachers in high poverty schools pay the fees and access professional development supports to become National Board Certified Teachers.

  • Consider other financial incentives to attract and retain quality teachers in hard-to-staff schools including financial bonuses, college student loan forgiveness, and housing subsidies.

  • Address working conditions by restoring a separate funding stream to help states reduce class sizes to no more than 15 students and awarding grants to states that conduct surveys of teaching and learning conditions and agree to address problem areas revealed by those surveys.

My testimony today has focused primarily on the big picture—the ideals and principles that should guide debate on the federal role in education and frame the context for NCLB reauthorization.

If, however, Congress should approach reauthorization by looking to make minor adjustments to the law rather than consider broader policy changes, I have included in my written statement ten specific changes to the law that are of the utmost concern to NEA members.

I also encourage members of the committees to look at NEA's Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization, attached as an appendix to my written statement.

This Positive Agenda reflects the fact that, while No Child Left Behind has laudable goals that we support—closing achievement gaps and raising student achievement for all—its overly prescriptive and punitive accountability provisions have failed to move our nation closer to those goals. It has had many unintended consequences, such as narrowing of the curriculum, that have actually moved us away from those goals.

We now have a great opportunity through this reauthorization to make those goals, and more, a reality.

Thank you.