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As debate heats up on low-performing schools, NEA urges Congress to remain flexible on the methods, not on accountability

WASHINGTON - May 20, 2010 -

“Improving student achievement at low-performing schools means putting to rest the one-size- fits-all mentality. Give educators the freedom to design something that works for the kids we’re serving,” Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the National Education Association, said at a press conference today with Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.).

Eskelsen, an elementary school teacher from Utah, discussed three ways to ensure that the next incarnation of the Elementary Secondary and Education Act (ESEA)—also known as No Child Left Behind— helps fuel the success educators have had in transforming low-performing schools:

  • Focus on what works for kids 
  • Reward collaboration
  • Hold everyone accountable for results

Eskelsen shared the success of educators from Oklahoma City’s Putnam City West High School who have helped boost student achievement.  At Putnam, where a quarter of the students are English Language Learners and most live below the poverty line, educators have used data to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their instructional programs. They have also reached out to parents, many of whom had never attended a back-to-school night or other school activity aimed at fostering parent engagement. Teachers also persuaded local business and the community college to support their transformation efforts. As a result of the teacher-led changes, the academic performance index (a broad measure of achievement across subject areas) went up 27 percent for Hispanic students, while the dropout rate among that same student group went down—by 70 percent in a single year.

Eskelsen appeared at a press conference with Rep. Judy Chu, a key member of the House committee that will revise ESEA. Chu proposed a new framework for reform called Strengthening Our Schools.

Turning around low-performing schools is a high priority for NEA.

NEA launched its Priority Schools Campaign earlier this year to provide resources and support to educators in low-performing schools.

Across the nation, educators, with the support of their unions, continue to launch, participate in and champion collaborative efforts to transform low-performing schools.

In Evansville, Ind., educators launched an equity schools project that aim to transform schools through purposeful professional development for teachers and extended learning time for students.

In Denver, teachers and parents teamed up to build the Math and Science Leadership Academy,  where teachers have the freedom to try new instructional methods and work together to evaluate each others' performance.

NEA's Priority Schools Campaign:

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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: Cynthia Kain 202-213-5971,