NEA President Calls on Education Secretary to Renew Promise to Children
By Staci Maiers
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to provide testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee today on how strong and innovative education reforms can help rebuild the U.S. economy and restore America’s competitiveness. Duncan will discuss President Obama’s education agenda, including his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2011, which calls for Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
In anticipation of that testimony NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association are excited to hear the secretary's proposals about renewing the promise of a great public school made to America’s children through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Educators must have a say in what it takes to improve low performing schools, Van Roekel said. Factors contributing to low performing schools must be examined, including dated or ineffective curriculum, school safety, and socio-economic challenges. Additionally, all education stakeholders must be involved in the decision making process for students to succeed, he said. This combination of collective responsibility and collaborative thinking has a track record for yielding results that are positive for students and their schools.
“Great educators and education support professionals are the backbone of a great public school system," Van Roekel said. "Any revision to our nation’s most important education law (ESEA) should renew our nation’s commitment to these professionals. NEA is committed to working with the Obama Administration and Congress to ensure that ESEA makes sense and works for America’s students.”
Van Roekel pointed to the several examples of union-district-community collaboration and transformation occurring around the country.
In Denver, Colorado, the Math & Science Learning Academy -- a new, union-designed, teacher-led public school within the Denver Public School System -- uses bilingual instruction to increase student interest in math and science. They focus in particular on Denver’s Hispanic population, which comprise 57 percent of the school system's students. The K-2 academy, which is among the first of its kind, provides greater teacher autonomy that continues to positively impact student learning.
In Bridgeport, Connecticut, student test scores significantly improved last school year in all grades at the Longfellow School, a community-based school in the city’s West End. The school also reduced the percentage of below-proficient students by 10 percent from the previous year. One reason for the significant boost in student test scores was the work teachers and parents did with a team from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, which collected and analyzed data for the school. As a result, the school focused on four priorities to close the achievement gaps: student reading scores, best practices, student behavior (positive behavior support), and working to improve the school’s physical plant.
And in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Putnam City West High School was struggling with high dropout rates and getting its Hispanic students to pass the state graduation exam in reading. When the school held its first-ever "Noche de Padres Hispános" (Hispanic Family Night) just a few dozen parents showed up. Fast forward two years later. Because of an energetic partnership between educators and community members, parental involvement has increased and educators are better able to identify the reasons for low test scores. As a result, the achievement gaps are beginning to close at the school. Last year, 77 percent of Hispanic students passed the state English II assessment, and the number of graduating Hispanic seniors rose by nearly 70 percent.
To move such collaboration ahead, NEA is hosting a unique day of talks in New York Thursday prior to the Celebration of Teaching & Learning, among invited local members and leaders, local education agency leaders and the U.S. Department of Education. The NEA Priority Schools Campaign forum will focus on discussing and further developing action plans, in collaboration with state affiliates and their state partners, to inform and influence the federal School Improvement Grant process. The session is closed to the news media.