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Collaboration is Key to Improving Schools and Decreasing Dropout Rates


WASHINGTON - March 01, 2010 -

Today, President Barack Obama announced new steps aimed at improving the nation’s schools and graduation rates. The President detailed plans that would permit school districts to choose from four reform models to improve their lowest-performing schools. The methods include firing staff, closing schools, restarting schools with a takeover by a charter or school-management organization and transforming schools.

Last week, the Central Falls School District (Rhode Island) chose to fire the entire teaching faculty in the district’s only high school. “The tone used to describe the teachers in Central Falls has been disparaging and unforgiving,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. “It's time for federal officials to get out of the blame game and into the classroom. One thing is certain: Firing the entire faculty of a school that is on the path to improvement is no recipe for turning around a struggling high school. And relying on a magical pool of ‘excellent teachers’ to spring forth and replace them is naïve at best and desperately misguided.”

“Approaches that point the finger at educators do nothing to bring about substantive improvements for students,” Van Roekel added.  “To the contrary, it provides a momentary perception of correcting a problem.  But in reality, we all know that the solution is not blame, it is collaboration…collaboration among school employees, management, parents and communities.  No one benefits when school staffs are summarily dismissed—not communities and certainly not students.  In the end all that approach gets anyone is a good sound bite.”

NEA supports the transformation reform model, which requires comprehensive instructional reforms and other collaborative improvement strategies. This method has shown to be effective in schools like Broad Acres in Montgomery County, Maryland. Broad Acres was the district’s lowest performing school. The superintendent, teachers and other stakeholders worked together to transform the school. In just two years second grade reading scores increased by 18%, language by 28%, language mechanics by 29%, math by 30% and math computation by 25%. Other improvements and details on the collaborative process are explained in a case study by the Tom Mooney Institute for Teacher and Union Leadership. 

Many of the President’s suggestions to increase graduation rates are similar to NEA’s 12-Point Action Plan for Reducing the School Dropout Rate. Some of the tactics NEA supports to combat the dropout crisis include: increasing individual attention, creating smaller learning communities, expanding graduation options and increasing workforce readiness programs.

NEA has partnered with America's Promise Alliance to host and support dropout prevention summits across the country. NEA also offers a publication for educators to use as a resource to increase graduation rates.

“NEA and President Obama share the common goal of wanting to improve student learning and reduce the number of students who drop out of school,” Van Roekel said. “We must examine the factors that contribute to low performing schools like dated or ineffective curriculum, school safety or socioeconomic challenges. We must provide the kind of resources and programs needed for students to succeed. We look forward to sharing strategies that will benefit America’s students.”

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Romana Parks Kirby, (202) 822-7283, rparks@nea.org