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President's Viewpoint

On Education, Educators are the Experts

By NEA President Dennis Van Roekel

Not long ago, we marked the beginning of a new year—a time when many focus on new hopes, aspirations, and goals, a time when many take a look back and and take stock of what was accomplished.

Two years ago NEA embarked on an ambitious action agenda to help transform teaching and accelerate student learning. Then, during a speech in Washington, D.C., I outlined strategies to bring the much-needed voices of teachers into the teacher quality reform debate. Our goals were clear: to provide every public school student with a qualified, caring and effective teacher, to strengthen the teaching profession, and to put the full weight of our national organization behind this ambitious effort.

Standing at the threshold of a new year, we can look back proudly on the triumphs of our student-centered, union-led undertaking.

In 2013, delegates to the Representative Assembly approved a $3 per member fee to fund new school improvement efforts. We have to be champions for quality education, and put resources behind the ideas and energy of NEA members who are transforming schools across the country. The added revenue—more than $6 million annually—will support grants to local and state affiliates for projects that improve student learning, school safety and anti-bullying programs, and technology initiatives.

NEA endorsed a major shift in teacher preparation with the rollout of a new assessment of teacher candidates. edTPA, formerly the Teacher Performance Assessment, is helping to provide teacher candidates with real skills, like critical thinking, evaluation, and debate. Our members are integral to this groundbreaking effort. They will serve as edTPA scorers, support preservice candidates, and collaborate with teacher preparation partners to ensure teacher candidates are profession-ready on Day One in the classroom. This is important work—a new era for new teachers—and we are finally getting serious about it.
Teacher education organizations, education non-profits, and teachers unions have all proposed ways to redefine and strengthen teacher preparation. But NEA went one step further: We called for every future teacher to participate in a full year of residency under the supervision of a master teacher. To examine this idea in depth, we convened a task force of teachers, local Association leaders, state Association leaders and staff, and the chair of the NEA Student Program. The group’s report includes recommendations to strengthen teacher preparation and advance our vision of a great public school for every student.

2014 is an election year, and we know that when our members are engaged, we can be a powerful force for change. We have seen it in the political and advocacy arenas. This is the year to harness that same energy to redirect the discussion—reframe the conversation—and reclaim public education for our students and members. NEA is staking our claim and showing the nation that educators are the experts on education.


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