NCLB: Delivering the Message to Congress
By Alain Jehlen
The postponement is a victory for children and public educators, but a new push to reauthorize NCLB, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, could still come any time, NEA lobbyists say.
NEA leaders spent much of the fall telling Senators and Representatives about the harm that the current law is doing to our schools and organizing members to make the case for fundamental change directly to their federal legislators.
"Our children are more than just test scores and our schools need to be more than just test prep factories," NEA President Reg Weaver told the Congressional Black Caucus at one of his many stops on the NCLB campaign trail.
NCLB formally expired in September, but it is still in effect under an automatic extension.
Last September, the House committee that deals with education circulated a draft of a new law that only slightly reduced the focus on test scores. It also added incentives for school districts to start pay-for-test score salary plans. Some congressional leaders said they wanted a quick vote. But NEA and many other education organizations opposed the draft, and in November, the chairs of both Senate and House committees on education announced they would wait until at least 2008.
For years, NEA members have been working at the grassroots level, trying to show the public and Congress that the law actually does the opposite of what its name says, because it punishes educators who work with the students who are the most at-risk of school failure.
When it passed in 2001, the law had broad support, largely because of its noble name and goals. But the real thing is a different story, and as reality set in, there have been mounting calls for fundamental changes coming from educators, parents, state legislatures, ethnic and civil rights organizations, religious groups, and others working for better public schools.
NEA has put a high priority on getting the law to recognize multiple measures of achievement, not only one-size-fits-all standardized tests, because it takes more to succeed in the modern workplace than an aptitude for multiple-choice questions.
"We need programs that actually prepare children to succeed," Weaver said.
And he listed five keys to better education:
High-quality early childhood education, smaller classes, professional pay for educators, tutoring and mentoring for children who are at risk, and a national drive to reduce the dropout rate.
Weaver and other NEA leaders have criss-crossed the country and knocked on doors in the Capitol asking political leaders on both sides of the political divide to listen to public school educators. Weaver has authored op-ed pieces on the law in leading national newspapers and organized state and local NEA leaders to lobby their members of Congress.
"This law has accomplished one thing: It has provided data and statistics that prove that the achievement gaps exist. But educators already knew that," Weaver told a conference sponsored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
The NCLB situation may change fast. Congress is slated to start its second session January 15. Watch www.nea.org/ ref?leading to see what's happening now and what NEA members can do.
And if you need more reasons why NCLB must change, go to page 24 and read how it's affecting schools whose whole focus is on leaving no child behind—in the real world.
NEA President Reg Weaver speaks at a Congressional Black Caucus event attended by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) (left) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA).
Education Wins Big at the Polls
State Associations Help Elect Allies, Defeat Vouchers
Utah voters recently defeated what may have been the nation's most comprehensive education voucher program. Referendum 1 failed with more than 60 percent of voters in every county. "We believe this sends a clear message," said Kim Campbell, president of the Utah Education Association (UEA). Utah's voucher program would have provided tax-funded subsidies to students to enroll in a private school. The law had passed in the Legislature, but UEA and other voucher opponents led a petition drive that gathered 124,000 signatures to force it into a voter referendum.
Public education was also a winner in Virginia, where state Sen. Edd Houck, recent recipient of the Virginia Education Association's (VEA) Friend of Education award, is expected to become chair of the critical Senate Education and Health Committee. Pro-public education candidates also wrested control of the state Senate. Overall, VEA's political action committee made recommendations in 78 races, and supported candidates who won in 64 of them. "Eighty-two percent is a good winning percentage for us," says Princess Moss, VEA president. Also, members of Virginia's Sussex Education Association swept out the six-member school board after the board refused to support a proposal to pay education support professionals a living wage.
See You in Court
Associations Lead the Charge for Member Rights
The Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) won a state Supreme Court case protecting bargaining rights. ISEA was triumphant in a contract dispute involving the Waterloo Education Association and the Waterloo school district. The court ruled in October that the issue of overload pay is a mandatory subject of bargaining. The court's decision allows public employees to return to the bargaining table with overload proposals that must be negotiated by the employer.
A ruling by a Las Vegas District Court judge, in a case involving local police and firefighters, could require that more than 1,900 retired Clark County teachers be removed from the Public Employee Benefits Program. As a result, the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) filed a motion to allow NSEA to both submit a brief and participate in oral arguments before the court. "It is hard enough to recruit teachers and support professionals to Nevada," says NSEA President Lynn Warne. "This is bound to make matters worse."
Bargaining for the Future
New Contracts Up Salaries, Involve New Members
The Burlington Education Association (BEA) in Vermont recently ratified a contract with the school district that phases in a livable wage allotment for paraprofessionals. BEA sought an hourly wage that meets an individual's or family's basic needs and taxes. The contract calls for boosting pay this year to $10.20 an hour, rising to $14.15 an hour in the fourth year of the contract, which runs through 2011.
In Bethel, Washington, teachers approved a two-year contract that includes higher salaries. Tom Cruver, president of the Bethel Education Association, says the pay hikes will help retain and attract teachers and are a worthy expense that the district can afford. "It's a matter of priorities," says Cruver.
The 35-member Chesterfield Township Education Association (CTEA) in New Jersey bargained pay raises through both member organizing and involvement in a region-wide coordinating council. CTEA President Gwendolyn McCreary says the unit enlisted "newer, younger members who are more involved now." The local secured a four-year agreement with no health insurance concessions and a starting teacher salary of $44,809, which progresses to $48,011 in 2009-10.
Photo: Sandy Schaeffer
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