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Educators call for changes in NCLB draft

NEA President Reg Weaver called on members of the House Education and Labor Committee to reject draft language currently under discussion for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act while testifying to the committee.

Weaver asked the committee on September 10 to slow the legislative process down in order to make a truly meaningful and major course correction in how the federal government supports state and local education initiatives.

In his testimony, Weaver told the committee, "We are not able to support the discussion draft as currently written. We are hopeful that the committee will take the time to make meaningful changes."

Some 40 NEA members and staff leaders from around the country joined the NEA president on Capitol Hill to lobby for rejection of the draft language. Members from targeted congressional districts with members on the committee were invited to take part in the attempt to persuade members of Congress not to miss this opportunity to "get it right."

MTA Vice President Paul Toner and Danvers Teachers Association President Barbara Arena attended the hearing. Congressman John Tierney from the Sixth Congressional District is on the Committee.

MTA President Anne Wass said, "NEA has been taking the lead in fixing this law for a long time now. I am pleased to see that they asked for states to get involved in sending representatives to the hearing. The time has come for us in the states and locals to raise our voices even louder and let our congressmen know the negative effects this law has placed on our students and our members. They should be listening to people in the field as to how to really improve education and make all schools great."

In a letter to members of Congress on September 5, NEA staff noted that the new bill does contain some improvements over the existing law. "While we appreciate that the bill recognizes that a child is more than a test score through its provision of multiple measures in the Adequate Yearly Progress system and are pleased that it includes several NEA priority concepts, we are concerned that in many cases it is still overly restrictive and prescriptive... and still overly focused on measuring schools based on two test scores." the authors wrote.

Chief among educator concerns with the discussion draft is the continued focus on high-stakes testing, punishments, labeling of children and unfunded federal mandates.

While these items are not corrected in the draft language, equally important educator concerns are left out of the discussion altogether. These would include initiatives to reduce class size, increase the training and retention of highly qualified teachers, expand access to early childhood education and provide adequate funding for improved school facilities and materials.

The draft language also seeks to undermine local collective bargaining rights. If this proposed language should become law, local school districts that received a grant to implement a pay for performance program would require that teacher evaluations and their students' test scores be used in determining which teachers receive the bonuses. Still other provisions would curtail employee protections against arbitrary transfers and reassignments.

Part of the problem, according to NEA's Weaver, is that the committee is moving too fast to truly focus on the critical needs of America's public schools.