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Letter to the Education and Workforce Committee on Raising the Bar: How Education Innovation Can Improve Student Achievement

February 13, 2013

Dear Representative: 

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association, we wish to offer the following views in connection with tomorrow’s hearing, “Raising the Bar: How Education Innovation Can Improve Student Achievement.”  

NEA believes that achieving world-class schools for every student within the next decade will require fresh approaches and ideas. The federal government must embrace its role as a supporter of local and state initiatives to transform schools, rather than a micro-manager. Successful, innovative, and autonomous models of public school education already exist. Such models invariably include deep and mutually beneficial partnerships between government, K-12 education, higher education, parent and community organizations, education unions, and businesses or philanthropic entities. These models also have produced new and imaginative ways to develop professional development, deliver student instruction and assessments, and offer time for team curricular planning.  

We would particularly like to highlight the following areas as critical for encouraging successful innovation: 

  • Great teachers and support professionals with the right policy supports and resources are the ideal agents of innovative change. The only way for students to succeed is if all the adults involved in public education work together collaboratively and make decisions based on common understandings and agreements. Teachers and support professionals know that collaboration works. And the best way to transform our schools is to listen to the voices of educators who are succeeding and make this success part of a system that changes. The best-performing schools operate by “collective leadership” — principals involve teachers, parents, and others in decision-making. Moreover, collaboration among teachers strengthens the “professional community” and raises student achievement. Conversely, rapid turnover of principals lowers student achievement. (“Learning from Leadership: Investigating the Links to Student Achievement,” Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, 2010) 
  • NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign focuses resources on school transformation involving educators, communities, and policymakers; collaboration on innovative programs to measure student success and teacher quality; and attracting and keeping the best educators and necessary resources for schools with the greatest needs. Successful and innovative models of public education — already happening around the country —are based on partnerships between government, parent and community organizations, education unions, and businesses and foundations. Additional information about educator-led, union-involved innovative school transformation models is available at www.neapriorityschools.org
     
  • Innovative programs require a commitment of sufficient resources and an attention to teaching and learning conditions to ensure permanent improvements in student achievement. Too many proven programs, like Title I and IDEA, are underfunded, leaving the students most at risk without the supports they need to succeed. Proposals to slash funding for core education programs will undermine the promotion of innovation. We cannot expect positive changes when so many students in high poverty communities attend chronically underfunded, understaffed, and unsupported schools. They must try to learn in buildings badly needing repair and often environmentally hazardous. They have textbooks that are years out of date and lack access to even the most basic technology. Teachers working in these schools are often the most inexperienced and too often the least prepared.  

Promoting innovation cannot take place in a vacuum, but must address these underlying issues. In addition, it must address the non-academic factors that impact student learning, such as access to health, nutrition, counseling and other wrap-around services that ensure students are ready to learn and succeed.  

Attached for your information and use are two NEA backgrounders: “Education and Innovation” and “Common-Sense Flexibility.” We hope these materials will be useful to you as Congress moves forward on these critical issues. Thank you for your attention to this important information.  

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations