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President's Viewpoint


Great Public Schools by 2020? Yes, We Can.



November 4 was a pivotal day for American public education. NEA’s 3.2 million members and their families played a critical role in electing pro-public education allies at all levels of government, strengthening our schools with a friend of education in the White House, and achieving key victories in congressional and gubernatorial races across the country.

If you know our vision and mission, you know that the Association’s work isn’t done when the election is over. The real work—confronting education challenges such as how to give every student who is willing to work hard an opportunity to attend college and reduce the over-emphasis on standardized tests—is just beginning.

We must work harder than ever to make sure that educators have a strong voice and active role in addressing these challenges. The 2008 election was a transformational event that presents us with a great opportunity and a responsibility. At the national, state, and local levels, we now have a chance to do some of the things we have been talking about for years. We also have a responsibility to offer real solutions. As we move from the era of “Just Say No” to “Yes, We Can,” we must decide what we want to do with this opportunity.

As a local president in Arizona, I worked hard to elect friends of public education to the local school board. But once they were in office, I struggled to come up with a positive agenda for improving teaching and learning. Having dealt with a combative school board for many years, I was conditioned to fighting bad ideas. With partners in public office came the need to change from a defensive to an offensive strategy.

Last summer NEA released a report, Great Public Schools for Every Student by 2020. This report discussed the need for the federal government to support and assist local efforts to transform our public schools—one state, one local at a time.

As we embark on the new year, we must make our case and begin the process of transformation. It isn’t enough for us to say we want to close achievement gaps. We have to ask ourselves, what are we willing to do in order to achieve it?

What can you do differently, starting in 2009, without waiting for permission? The students who will graduate in 2020 are already in school today. So the time to start thinking about 2020 is today!

We know that a child who can’t read by the third grade is eight times more likely to drop out of school. Are you willing to go to the bargaining table to ensure that no child leaves third grade without mastering reading? To ensure smaller class sizes for those students who will benefit the most? To ensure afterschool assistance and other interventions to guarantee all children are reading at grade level?

One thing is certain: If we keep doing the same things, we know that we will get the same results. NEA has tremendous human and financial resources to leverage in making our Great Public Schools agenda a reality. The election of 2008 showed what we can do when we focus our efforts and work hard to realize our goals. Now we must put forth the same effort to achieve our vision.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel

 

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1-Jan-09


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