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NEA President Announces New Three-Part Action Agenda to Strengthen Teaching Profession and Improve Student Learning

Union sets initial goals for implementation; will invest in training & advocacy


WASHINGTON - December 08, 2011 -

National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel today laid out a new action agenda for the nation’s largest organization of educators that will help advance the union’s goals of transforming the teaching profession and accelerating student learning.

Photo by Gary Dwight Miller/NEA

Incorporating proven best practices from thousands of leading teachers from around the country, and input from an independent NEA Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, Van Roekel detailed three major strategies that will guide the union’s efforts. The net effect of these will be to increase the quality of teacher candidates before they ever reach the classroom, to make sure that teachers remain at the top of their game throughout their careers, and to improve student learning by improving the teaching profession.

“It’s about the kids,” Van Roekel said. “NEA aims to ensure that every student has a qualified, caring and effective teacher. And NEA will support a stronger profession of teaching. I will put the full weight of our national organization behind this effort and expand on proven programs and successful innovations underway in our affiliates around the country. We have to ensure that teachers’ expertise isn’t confined to the classroom.  Teachers should have more opportunities to strengthen their skills and knowledge and inform policy decisions that affect the classroom.”

“This agenda takes up some key recommendations of the commission and addresses long-neglected problems that have inhibited effective teaching,” said Maddie Fennell, the chairperson of the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, and a fourth-grade teacher at Miller Park Elementary in Omaha, Neb. “It’s a crucial step toward more effective teaching and student learning and encouraging the union to meet those needs.”

The agenda has three major components:

1. Raising the Bar for Entry

As we often hear, no one knows what kinds of jobs our students may be competing for in the decades to come. The only certainty is that, in order to prepare the coming generations of students, “All teachers must be effective—period,” Van Roekel said.

The first step, he added, must be to strengthen and maintain strong and uniform standards for those preparing for the education profession, both at the postsecondary-admissions and pre-service stages.

Drawing from recommendations by the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching and teacher-accreditation bodies, and to ensure that all teachers are rigorously prepared for the challenges of teaching, the NEA president called for:

  • Every teacher candidate should have one full year of residency under the supervision of a Master Teacher before earning a full license.
  • Every teacher candidate should pass a rigorous classroom-based performance assessment at the end of his or her candidacy. The union will urge broad expansion of the Teacher Performance Assessment now being piloted in states across the country to ensure that no one enters the teaching profession without first demonstrating classroom proficiency through clinical practice.

2. Teachers Ensuring Teacher Quality

Raising the bar will help ensure that only qualified and capable teachers enter the profession, Van Roekel said, but as with any intellectually challenging profession, educators have to make sure that their skills stay sharp. To that end, the NEA president called for:

  • Advancing a tiered system of achievement for career teachers. Based on the commission’s recommendations, Van Roekel called for a new career path that has different compensation and responsibilities for Novice, Professional, and Master Teachers. Just as junior and senior members of any profession are given differing sets of responsibilities, the NEA president said, it makes sense, for example, for more advanced teachers to take on the challenges of the most difficult-to-serve students.
  • 100 high-quality Peer Assistance and Peer Assistance and Review programs over the next two years. Van Roekel noted that PAR programs have already helped lead to marked student-achievement improvements through structured mentorships, observations, and rigorous standards-based evaluations of teachers in Columbus, Ohio and Montgomery County, Md. Principals recognize that they don’t have enough time to properly evaluate teachers all by themselves, and teachers can help lighten the load by more readily spotting flaws in other teachers’ pedagogy and providing practical recommendations for improvement.

3. Union Leadership to Transform the Profession

As America’s largest education organization, Van Roekel said, it’s NEA’s responsibility to move the field of education toward greater excellence. To make sure this happens, he urged that:

  • Teachers must take on leadership roles. The absence of practicing teachers at the policy table has led to inadequate and poorly designed policies, the NEA president said. Teacher leadership, he added, needs to be something more than a handshake agreement between a given principal and teacher. It must be integrated into the structure of school leadership to leverage teachers’ on-the-ground expertise. “Many local NEA affiliates are helping teachers and schools improve their performance — and raise student achievement — because teachers are taking responsibility for improving instruction, curriculum, and school performance. When great teachers become great leaders, students reap the benefits,” Van Roekel said.

In addition to working with teacher preparation providers to power new high-quality residency programs in the next few years and working to advance peer assistance and review around the nation, Van Roekel pledged that NEA’s training network will:

  • Train 1,000 accomplished teachers for leadership roles across the country.
  • Train thousands of educators in educational leadership based on the innovative curriculum being developed by the NEA Foundation’s Institute on Teaching and Learning.
  • Provide support and training for high-quality teachers to serve as mentors and faculty in teacher preparation programs, strengthening clinical practice to ensure that candidates receive the practical preparation they need.

“I am committing NEA’s strength and resources to making all these changes,” said Van Roekel. “Five years from now, we want people to look at NEA as a major catalyst for bringing about the kind of education all Americans want, all teachers can deliver, and all children deserve.”

Click here for more information on NEA’s efforts to lead the profession. 
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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee 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: Andy Linebaugh or Michelle Hudgins  (202) 822-7823, newsdeadline@nea.org