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The Promise of a Fresh Start

A new opportunity to make ESEA/NCLB work for all students.

The renewal of ESEA offers the opportunity for a much-needed overhaul. And thanks to you, Team NEA, we are poised to undertake a delicate operation that will help the legislation achieve its original worthy objectives: closing the gaps in student achievement, raising overall student performance, and giving every child a qualified teacher.

Thousands of members have shared their concerns, frustrations, and suggestions to help NEA develop our policies and priorities for the reauthorization. The result of this input is NEA’s Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization, a comprehensive blueprint for meeting the needs of students and those working in America ’s public schools.

Early on, you recognized that NCLB was fundamentally flawed and severely underfunded. You told us how the law falls short in providing the promised tools and assistance that educators and students need. We listened carefully, and our agenda addresses these issues in several ways.

It shifts the focus from a punitive one-size-fits-all testing system to an approach that includes more common-sense and valid ways of gauging school quality and student achievement. Rather than measuring accountability in terms of test scores and sanctions, the NEA plan calls for giving schools credit for progress in student achievement over time and supporting educators who help students learn and succeed.

Five years after its enactment, the reality is that NCLB has failed to live up to its laudable goals. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, “NCLB has not helped the nation and states significantly narrow the achievement gap,” and “NCLB has shortchanged those schools” that serve predominantly disadvantaged minority students.

To address this inequity, NEA’s Positive Agenda embraces proven programs, like smaller classes, and advocates for additional targeted resources to help low-income and minority students achieve their basic right to a quality education. The plan’s principles emphasize factors crucial to ensuring a great public school for every child—elements such as parental, family, and community involvement and engagement; adequate, equitable, and sustainable school funding; and a qualified, caring, diverse, and stable workforce.

The Positive Agenda is NEA’s clarion call to make NCLB more responsive to the real needs of students from their first day of school to their graduation day. It promotes a comprehensive curriculum for all students with a proposed new grant program to help schools enrich and expand music, arts, foreign language, and other non-tested subjects. And it supports funding for adolescent literacy, dropout prevention, counseling, and an expansion of AP courses to satisfy the diverse needs of all students as they progress through their academic careers.

With reauthorization drawing near, we have all the ingredients we need to influence NCLB’s future. We have a new Congress. We have a strategic agenda to improve ESEA. And most important of all, we have 3.2 million members who share a commitment to the vision of a great public school for every child and student.

It is imperative that we let Congress know where educators stand as lawmakers consider changes to this sweeping federal education law. If two is a trend and three is a movement, then Team NEA, you are an unstoppable force that can make a truly extraordinary difference for children, students, and public schools all across America!

NEA President Reg Weaver

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