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Letter to Congress on the Aspen Commission NCLB report

February 13, 2007

Dear Senator/Representative:


On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we would like to alert you to the report released earlier today by the Aspen Institute's No Child Left Behind Commission. We believe this report includes both positive and negative proposals for reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

NEA has consistently expressed support for NCLB's goals—closing achievement gaps, increasing student achievement, and ensuring that all students learn from qualified teachers. We believe that some of the NCLB Commission's proposals would support and advance those goals, including those focusing attention on:

  • Growth models that would measure student achievement over time and give schools and districts credit for student gains, even if they have not yet reached the required level of proficiency;
  • Graduation rates;
  • Early childhood education;
  • English language learners;
  • Appropriate assessments for students with disabilities; and
  • Limits allowing school districts to focus restructuring efforts on no more than 10 percent of their schools.

However, the Commission's report also includes one proposal that NEA strongly opposes—a plan to require teachers to jump through more hoops to become "highly qualified effective teachers." The proposal would expand NCLB's current highly qualified teacher requirements for reading, math, and science teachers to include student "learning gains." Teachers would be rated against others in the state based solely on standardized test scores, and teachers of students scoring in the top 75 percent would be deemed "highly qualified effective teachers." A teacher whose students scored in the bottom 25 percent—for whatever reason—would not be deemed effective. This creates a mathematical impossibility: there is no way that all teachers in any given year will be deemed "highly qualified effective teachers." Principals would have to notify parents that their children were not being taught by a "highly qualified effective teacher" simply because the teacher's students scored in the bottom quarter compared to other students. And, if after more time with that teacher, students' test scores still did not improve, the impacted teachers would be barred from teaching in Title I schools.

While the current definition of a highly qualified teacher needs improvement, it at least sets a standard that all teachers can theoretically meet and one that relates to the two most important components of teaching: knowledge of the subject matter and knowledge of pedagogy and good teaching practices. In contrast, this latest proposal pits teachers against each other. By definition, it would label one out of four teachers as unqualified and ineffective. As a result, it will discourage teachers from teaching in hard-to-staff schools, where students may not score high enough on standardized tests.

In addition, we are concerned about the Commission report's supplemental education services proposal. Specifically, we find problematic the proposed requirement that schools open their doors to private providers without requiring them to comply with civil rights laws or hire qualified educators to provide instruction to students.

As you consider proposals for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we urge you not to support this ill-conceived "highly qualified effective teacher" mandate. Instead, we encourage you to support NEA's Positive Agenda for ESEA Reauthorization. If you need additional information on this issue, please contact either Kim Anderson (KAnderson@nea.org) in NEA Government Relations or Donna Harris-Aikens (DHarris-Aikens@nea.org) in NEA Education Policy and Practice.

Sincerely,

Diane Shust, Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody, Manager of Federal Policy and Politics