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NEA testifies on ESEA authorization

WASHINGTON -- If you want to know the chilling effects the No Child Left Behind Act has had on America's classrooms and schools, ask a teacher. Congressional leaders who will shape reauthorization of the law did just that March 13 as NEA President Reg Weaver testified during a rare joint hearing by the House and Senate education committees.

Weaver, leader of the nation's largest organization of public school educators, represented the Association's 3.2 million members who have experienced the law firsthand.

"While NCLB has laudable goals that we support -- closing achievement gaps and raising student achievement for all -- its overly prescriptive and punitive accountability provisions have failed to move our nation closer to those goals," Weaver said. "It has had many unintended consequences, such as narrowing of the curriculum, that have actually moved us away from those goals."

Weaver urged Congress to consider broader policy changes that would, among other things, reduce class sizes, adopt dropout prevention programs, infuse 21st century skills into schools, and recruit and retain qualified teachers by offering professional pay and development.

"We hope that this unusual joint hearing is a signal that the members of these committees are willing to engage in a larger conversation about what it will truly take to achieve what should be our collective mission as a society -- that a great public school is a basic right, not a luxury, for every child in America," Weaver said.

If Congress chooses to make minor adjustments to the law rather than sweeping changes, Weaver recommended several specific improvements. These include allowing the use of growth models, mandating multiple measures of assessment, developing a system that rewards successes and helps schools, extending the time English-language learners have to master the language before being tested in English, using grade-level appropriate assessments for special education students and closing loopholes in the highly qualified teacher definition.

Weaver's testimony follows a Senate hearing, in ealry March, at which a Florida teacher and NEA member stressed the importance of professional development and resources to retain teachers and staff high-needs schools.  Weaver also testified on the law in July before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. He praised lawmakers' efforts to invite teachers to participate in the reauthorization debate.

"We believe the ESEA reauthorization presents us all with a unique opportunity to have a renewed national discussion about public education," Weaver said. "What is it that we expect from public education, and how can we fashion our laws to achieve these goals? That should be our focus as we approach this next reauthorization."