Written Statement of Reg Weaver
March 13, 2007
Submitted to Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives
Chairman Kennedy, Chairman Miller, and Members of the Committees:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today on these very important issues. I am honored to be able to represent the views of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association at this joint hearing.
NEA is the largest professional association in the country, representing public school educators-teachers and education support professionals, higher education faculty, educators teaching in Department of Defense schools, students in colleges of teacher education, and retired educators across the country. While our membership is diverse, we have a common mission and values based on our belief that a great public school is not a luxury, but a basic right for every child.
Our members go into education for two reasons-because they love children and they appreciate the importance of education in our society. We want all students to succeed. Our members show up at school every day to nurture children, to bring out their full potential, to be anchors in children's lives, and to help prepare them for the 21st century world that awaits them. It is their passion and dedication that informs and guides NEA's work as we advocate for sound public policy that will help our members achieve their goals.
I am delighted that your committees are interested in a larger discussion about the role of accountability in our public schools and what we believe our public schools ought to provide and accomplish in our society. NEA and our members view reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as an opportunity for a renewed national discussion about public education. You, as our elected officials, have an opportunity to lift up this dialogue, to be bold, to embrace not only the call for equity in American education, but the demand for innovation as well. We hope that this debate will ultimately unite the nation as we strive to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student for success in a diverse, inter-dependent world.
A meaningful and productive debate must begin with a look backwards-at the origins of federal involvement in education. We can then look forward in an open dialogue about the impact of our changing work on that federal role. As you know, the federal role in education was established during the Presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, when Congress passed President Johnson's comprehensive package of legislation including Head Start, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the Higher Education Act of 1965, and the Adult Education Act of 1966. These proposals-part of President Johnson's "War on Poverty"-were vehicles through which the federal government sought to address inequities in access, opportunities, and quality of public education for poor and minority communities who lacked the power to equalize resources flowing to their communities and schools.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation to name the United States Department of Education headquarters building here in Washington, DC the Lyndon Baines Johnson building. Passage of that bill serves as an important reminder of the volatile and unstable environment facing our nation in 1965. It was in this climate that Congress passed the first ESEA, to address the devastating impact of poverty on a child's educational opportunities and to ensure that every child, no matter where he or she lived, would have the same opportunities to realize the American dream.
Today, our nation is once again facing volatile times. We are struggling with how to resolve international conflicts, to secure our competitiveness in the world's economy, to ensure that every child will receive the world-class public education that he or she deserves, and to provide all children with the tools and resources necessary to be active, engaged, successful citizens of our democracy.
It is within this context that I would like to offer our views on the principles we believe essential and the direction we believe the federal government should move in with the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.
What Do We Want from Public Education and What Role Should the Federal Government Play in Achieving These Goals?
Public education is the gateway to opportunity. All students have the human and civil right to a quality public education and a great public school that develops their potential, independence, and character. Public education is vital to building respect for the worth, dignity, and equality of every individual in our diverse society and is the cornerstone of our republic. Public education provides individuals with the skills to be involved, informed, and engaged in our representative democracy.
We believe that the expertise and judgment of education professionals are critical to student success. Partnerships with parents, families, communities, and other stakeholders are also essential to quality public education and student success. Individuals are strengthened when they work together for the common good. As education professionals, we improve both our professional status and the quality of public education when we unite and advocate collectively. We maintain the highest professional standards, and we expect the status, compensation, and respect due all professionals.
Obviously, the federal government cannot ensure all of these things alone. However, we believe that it should-at a minimum-address disparities impacting the quality of education our children receive and the resulting disparities in outcomes.
How Should We Use Accountability Systems to Remedy Educational Disparities?
If we agree that public education serves multiple purposes, then we know there must be a richer accountability system with shared responsibility by stakeholders at all levels for appropriate school accountability. Such an accountability system must marry not only accountability for achievement and learning by students, but also shared accountability to remedy other gaps in our education system and flaws in the current accountability model.
Before I address achievement and skills gaps, I would like to take a moment to discuss the opportunity gaps that hinder so many of our nation's children. We believe that policy makers at all levels should fulfill their collective responsibility to remedy these gaps.
Too many of our neediest students are taught by uncertified and under-prepared teachers. At NEA, we are as troubled by that phenomenon as these committees have been. We believe that knowledge of content and demonstrated skills in instructional methodology are critically important in ensuring that all students receive the kind of instruction they deserve. Improving working conditions and student learning conditions is another vital element to attract and retain qualified teachers to hard-to-staff schools.
Other troubling gaps include access to after-school programs and extended learning time programs and curriculum gaps preventing students from accessing a rich and broad curriculum. For example, many poor and minority communities as well as many rural and urban schools do not have access to arts, advanced placement, or physical education courses, nor do they have access to innovative curricula such as information literacy, environmental education, and financial literacy.
We also are concerned about significant infrastructure and school environment gaps that hamper learning. Students clearly cannot learn in buildings with leaky roofs or in classrooms in which one cannot turn on a computer and the lights without blowing a fuse. I agree with Bill Gates that our schools shouldn't look like they did in the 1950s. For example, science labs should not only have Bunsen burners, they should have technology to run experiment simulations. Yet, too many of our schools do look the same as they did 50 years ago because President Dwight Eisenhower was the last President to make a major investment in school infrastructure-$1 billion for school facilities.
Achievement and Skills Gaps
Now, let me turn to the subject of achievement and skills gaps. They exist, they are intolerable, and they impede our future success as a nation. That is why I have made closing achievement and skill gaps a top priority for the NEA. We have dedicated millions of dollars to this effort and will continue to do so. I have included in this testimony just a few examples of the work we are doing in this area (attached as Appendix I ).
While one of the primary purposes and goals of NCLB is to close achievement gaps, I do not believe that has been the outcome. The respected Civil Rights Project at Harvard, in a June 2006 report, found that "federal accountability rules have little to no impact on racial and poverty gaps. The NCLB Act ends up leaving many minority and poor students, even with additional educational support, far behind with little opportunity to meet the 2014 target."
An accountability system designed to raise student achievement and close achievement gaps must include the following elements:
Improved methods to assess student learning, including improving the quality of assessments and giving real meaning to NCLB's "multiple measures" requirement
The term "achievement gaps" has become synonymous with differences in scores on standardized tests between groups of students. And, given the poor quality of tests across the country, those test scores reflect little more than a student's ability to regurgitate facts. If we are truly committed to preparing our children to compete in the 21st century economy and world, we need to develop and assess a broader set of knowledge and skills.
As NEA member John Meehan, an elementary school teacher from Alton, Illinois, has told NEA:
"Assessments are critical to help identify the academic needs of students, but not all students test well. Many are stressed to the point of simply giving up and not trying. Accountability is important, yet giving a test is just one method of measuring student learning and growth. I've seen so many good students who are learning and growing academically yet who do not test well. I was one of those students. To this day, I don't take tests well, yet I'm able to learn. We need to help students learn, not just teach them to take tests."
NEA has been engaged for the last four or five years in a collaborative effort with businesses and other education groups to attempt to define "21st century skills." The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has issued several reports 1 along these lines as well as a set of principles for ESEA reauthorization (attached as Appendix II ). These principles state in part: "Standardized achievement assessments alone do not generate evidence of the skill sets that the business and education communities believe are necessary to ensure success in the 21st century."
We believe the U.S. Department of Education under the previous Secretary made a grave error in allowing states simply to "augment" norm-referenced standardized tests with a few additional test items aligned with the state content standards. In practice, this means that the tests do not measure higher order thinking, analytical problem-solving, or synthesis skills-the very skills businesses want and need from the workforce. Thus, the early decision to put test administration ahead of an examination of desirable content and skills has had a terrible impact on the current accountability framework.
We believe the NCLB "multiple measures" language has two distinct meanings, and that both are necessary in an accountability framework. First, the term "multiple measures" means multiple indicators of student learning. The research is clear that results of one math test and one reading test are insufficient to determine a child's achievement and skill levels. Therefore, we must also employ multiple methods to determine what a student knows and can demonstrate.
We should employ multiple measures in assessing both individual student learning and overall school effectiveness in improving student learning. For example, we believe a richer, more accurate system that a state should be permitted to design could include statewide assessment results at 50 percent, high school graduation rates at 25 percent, and one other factor, such as local assessments, at 25 percent. Multiple measures systems would provide the public with a more complete picture of their local schools and their states' ability to provide great public schools for every child.
Systemic supports for schools and individual supports and interventions for students
An accountability system should ensure that all subgroups of students are being served in a manner that will eliminate disparities in educational outcomes. Yet, doing so must begin with an explicit understanding that every child is unique and that the entire system should be accountable for serving each individual child's needs. The tension between approaches is no better illustrated than by comparing NCLB accountability, which is focused on student subgroup outcomes, to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which uses an individualized approach to accountability through Individualized Education Plans.
In order to close achievement and skills gaps between groups of children, we must acknowledge the need for two simultaneous approaches: changes in the way we provide supports and interventions to the school and changes in the way we provide supports and interventions to individual students who need help. NEA's Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization (See Appendix III ) sets forth a variety of supports we hope will be included in the next reauthorization of ESEA.
What Other Roles Can the Federal Government Play in Ensuring a Great Public School for Every Child?
Innovation and Graduation for All
In addition to accountability for student learning, the federal government should focus on less tangible, but no less important, differences in the development of students as well-rounded individuals prepared for life after high school graduation. Federal policy should support innovative approaches to making students' educational experience engaging and relevant to them. The world has changed dramatically since enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and thus our public schools must also change. Technology has transformed not only our economy, but the world's economy. A wonderful benefit of this transformation is that all nations are more globally interdependent.
Our schools need to reflect the world in which our children live: a world infused with a 21st century curriculum. They need to help students become well-rounded individuals with skills to compete in a changing world and contribute to the rich, diverse societal fabric that makes our country so impressive. Ultimately, an educational experience that is more relevant to a student is going to be more engaging and will lead to greater knowledge and skills. A rich, relevant, and challenging experience can help address all students' needs. It can captivate and challenge our gifted students, while also providing a positive influence for students at risk of dropping out or engaging in high-risk behaviors.
Consider this statement from NEA member Donna Phipps, an art teacher in New London, Iowa:
"I have been an art teacher in three different school districts in the last nine years....Arts education and vocational education are the heart and soul of students. They allow students to explore and expand who they are....These programs have been cut to ensure that schools remain off the watch list and the list of schools in need of assistance. When art and vocational programs are cut, you might as well tell students that the innermost core of who they are no longer matters....Don't allow NCLB to stifle future artistic exploration and invention."
Federal policy should recognize states that have designed a plan to create 21st Century Schools using the Framework developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and a plan to advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. We believe the federal government should fund these states through grants to develop 21st century content and authentic assessments that measure 21st century skills and knowledge.
In addition, all of our schools, particularly high schools, should encourage as many students as possible to attend college and should provide coursework to reduce dramatically the need for remediation in college. At the same time, we also must acknowledge the continued need for a major investment in career and technical education programs. And, we need to ensure that high schools take into consideration the transition needs of all student populations, not just students with disabilities. In other words, we need to do whatever it takes to ensure that a student's next step after high school will be one he or she takes with the confidence that comes from being well-prepared.
Finally, we urge Congress to adopt a "graduation for all" proposal that combines the work of Representative Hinojosa and Senators Bingaman and Murray with NEA's 12-point action plan to address the dropout crisis in America (see Appendix IV). For example, we believe Congress should provide funding for grants to states that agree to eliminate the concept of "dropping out" of school or that raise the compulsory attendance age. We need graduation centers for 19- and 20-year-olds and those who have dropped out of school-a concerted effort to prevent the loss of one more child and to help those who already have dropped out. This is not only in America's self-interest to ensure future competitiveness, it is a moral imperative. NEA will be providing Congress with more specific recommendations regarding the federal role in reinventing our high schools shortly.
Quality Educators in Every Classroom
NEA's Positive Agenda includes a number of proposals to ensure the highest quality educators, many of which were included in Chairman Miller and Chairman Kennedy's TEACH Act legislation last year. Beyond these proposals, we encourage Congress to think broadly about this important issue.
For example, we believe Congress should 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. We have asked our nation's educators to take on the most important challenge in ensuring America's future. Yet, we have denied these educators economic security and respect. It is time to end this untenable situation. Congress must take a bold step and set that minimum standard.
NEA would recommend 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. According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the teaching profession has an average national starting salary of $30,377. Meanwhile, computer programmers start at an average of $43,635, public accounting professionals at $44,668, and registered nurses at $45,570.2 Even more shocking is that the average salary for full-time paraprofessionals is only $26,313, with a wide salary range across job duties. NEA has education support professional members who live in shelters, others who work two and three jobs to get by, and others who receive food stamps. This is an unacceptable and embarrassing way to treat public servants who educate, nurture, and inspire our children. I would encourage you to read their stories.3
We also urge Congress to advance teacher quality at the highest poverty schools by providing $10,000 federal salary supplements to National Board Certified Teachers. Congress also should fund grants to help teachers in high poverty schools pay the fees and access professional development supports to become National Board Certified Teachers.
In addition, you should 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.
Finally, we believe that the equitable distribution of highly qualified teachers depends not just on decent wages, but more importantly upon the teaching and learning conditions in each school. Therefore, we strongly encourage Congress to restore a separate funding stream to help states reduce class sizes. We hope that states accepting such funds would be required to develop a plan to ensure a maximum class size of 15 students in every school at every grade level. We understand the challenges inherent in meeting this goal. However, we believe that ensuring the greatest possible individualized attention for each student should be as high a priority as ensuring that each student achieves at a certain level. In fact, the two goals are inextricably linked, as research clearly shows the positive impact of small class size on student learning.
In addition to class size reduction, federal policy should award grants to states that conduct surveys of teaching and learning conditions across the state and within districts and agree to address problem areas revealed by those surveys. North Carolina has been a leader in this effort, and there are initiatives currently underway in Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, and South Carolina. We would encourage you to look at the work of the Center for Teaching Quality (http://www.teachingquality.org/) with whom the NEA has partnered to expand these initiatives.4
Specific Changes to No Child Left Behind
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 should frame the context for NCLB reauthorization. NEA is not alone in highlighting those areas that need the most attention. In fact, we have signed onto the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, which currently has the support of 113 groups representing education, civil rights, children's, disability, religious, and citizens' organizations. The Joint Statement recommends 14 significant, constructive corrections that are among those necessary to make the Act fair and effective . If, however, Congress should approach reauthorization by looking to tweak the law rather than consider broader policy changes, we would offer the following suggestions, which are of utmost concern to NEA's members:
- Allow states to use a "growth model" as part of the AYP definition (provided that state data systems are equipped with individual student identifiers) to track and give credit for student growth over time.
- Clarify the language about assessments. Tests should be used for diagnostic purposes and educators should receive results in a timely manner to inform instructional strategies. Overall, assessment language should require a much more comprehensive look at the quality of assessments for all student populations and their true alignment with state content standards.
- Encourage 21st century assessment that is web-based and provides timely results useful to teachers, parents, and students. Such assessments should be accessible to all student populations.
- Replace current accountability labels ("in need of improvement," "corrective action," and "restructuring") with a system that rewards success in closing achievement gaps and focuses on helping schools.5 Semantics and policies should reflect the goal of targeting help where it is needed most. Therefore, schools in need of additional supports and interventions should be classified as: priority schools, high priority schools, and highest priority schools.
- Mandate multiple measures in the AYP system. Current multiple measure language is not enforced in a way that gives schools and districts credit for success on factors other than state standardized assessments, including such measures as school district and school assessments, attendance, graduation and drop-out rates, and the percent of students who take honors, AP, IB, or other advanced courses.
- Extend from one year to a maximum of three years the time for an English Language Learner to master English before being tested in English in core content areas. This change would be consistent with research findings about the average pace for English language acquisition. Students who become proficient in English in fewer than three years should be tested in English. However, to expect a non-English speaker to take a math or reading test in a second language prior to achieving proficiency in that language sets that student up for failure. Furthermore, students and schools should not be punished for the failure of the system to make available native language assessments.
- Include students with disabilities in any accountability system, but allow states to use grade-level-appropriate authentic assessment for special education students based on their IEPs. Under IDEA '04, IEP teams are required to ensure that IEPs are aligned with state content standards and state achievement standards. Teams are also required to set annual measurable objectives for students with disabilities, so that growth in their learning is not only expected, but required.
- Provide a separate funding stream for and target public school choice and supplemental services to those students who are not reaching proficiency in reading and math.
- Improve the quality and oversight of supplemental services to ensure they meet the same standards as public schools.
- Close two loopholes in the highly qualified teacher definition. NCLB itself exempts some teachers in charter schools from having to be fully licensed or certified. The Department of Education's regulations allow individuals going through alternate route to certification programs to be considered highly qualified for up to three years before completing their program. Each of these exemptions should be eliminated.
I thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today. I look forward to working closely with your two committees on ESEA reauthorization as we strive to ensure every child's basic right to a great public school.
- Appendix I: NEA Work on Closing the Achievement Gaps
- Appendix II: Partnership for 21st Century Skills - Statement of Principles: 21st Century Skills and the Reauthorization of NCLB/ESEA
- Appendix III: NEA's Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization
- Appendix IV: NEA's 12 Dropout Action Steps
- Appendix V: Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act
1Reports can be found at: http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/
2A recent report from the NEA Research Department (Teacher Pay 1940 - 2000: Losing Ground, Losing Status ), based on U.S. Census data, finds that annual pay for teachers has fallen sharply over the past 60 years in relation to the annual pay of other workers with college degrees. The report states: "Throughout the nation, the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher." Furthermore, an analysis of weekly wage trends by researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that teachers' wages have fallen behind those of other workers since 1996, with teachers' inflation-adjusted weekly wages rising just 0.8 percent, far less than the 12 percent weekly wage growth of other college graduates and of all workers. Further, a comparison of teachers' weekly wages to those of other workers with similar education and experience shows that, since 1993, female teacher wages have fallen behind 13 percent and male teacher wages 12.5 percent (11.5 percent among all teachers). Since 1979, teacher wages relative to those of other similar workers have dropped 18.5 percent among women, 9.3 percent among men, and 13.1 percent among both combined.
3"Why Money Matters," NEA Today, November 2006.
4For more information about state initiatives, go to http://www.teachingquality.org/twc/whereweare.htm.
5 NEA member Marjorie Zimmerman, a middle school teacher from Las Vegas, Nevada, tells NEA "My school was a high-performing school one year. Students, for the most part, are interested in learning and they perform well. The next year, because one too few students took the test, we were in need of improvement. This demonstrates that the requirements for meeting AYP certainly are not indicative of true academic progress by students in the school. Also, given the nature of standardized tests and the difficulty of improving as one moves toward the upper end of the spectrum, most schools will eventually be in need of improvement." See Voices from America's Classroom, with first-person stories from all 50 states about the impact of NCLB.