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NCLB Outrages

Teachers Union Chief Blasts Obama Administration's Education Policies

This is the same union that told its members not to sign the petition against NCLB. Their argument was they needed a seat at the table.

By Masako Hirsch

With the second round of federal money waiting to be doled out through the Obama administration's Race to the Top educational reform program, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel on Saturday discussed the organization's opposition to the program and called on his members to demand changes in an upcoming overhaul of the No Child Left Behind act.

Van Roekel spoke at the organization's annual representative assembly, being held this year in New Orleans. The NEA is one of the largest teachers unions in the country, with an estimated 3.2 million members. About 9,000 teachers and education staff members are in the city for the conference, which ends Tuesday.

Van Roekel, a former Arizona high school math teacher, denounced budget cuts in some states that are causing teachers to lose their jobs.

"In states like Louisiana, Colorado and Florida, policymakers disrespect educators and trample employee rights and call it education reform," he said.

He described the current political climate as "anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student," and said that politicians and pundits blame teachers and unions for all school problems.

Van Roekel focused on what he said are the limitations of the Race to the Top program, in which several states including Louisiana are competing for the remaining $3.4 billion in grants.

The administration's objectives in the program include increasing the number of charter schools and changing the way teachers are evaluated. The NEA, however, has been critical of the program and what it calls a fixation on standardized testing results.

"While we applaud the administration for its commitment to fund education, our members are frustrated by the disconnect between what they need each day to support their students and the federal policies that hold up struggling students as 'products to be tested,'" Van Roekel said.

He said Obama rejected the emphasis on standardized testing during his presidential campaign, but his administration's plan contradicts that position.

He also criticized the Race to the Top program for distributing money to only a few states. In the first round of the program, only Tennessee and Delaware received money.

"We got a system that creates too few winners and far too many losers," he said.

Van Roekel called on his members to be active as Congress considers reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as the No Child Left Behind Act under the George W. Bush administration.

He asked members to send letters and e-mails to legislators and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, asking them to change the act so states do not have to compete for money and to replace No Child Left Behind's "pass-fail testing system with a system of multiple measures and a focus on student growth."

Van Roekel said a newly formed NEA Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching will issue a report on how teachers can gain more authority over their jobs and the quality of teaching in public schools.

"You have the energy and instincts to create a new system of public education," he said.

He closed his speech by telling members to "speak up for public education, for students and for yourself."

Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, the local arm of the NEA, said Louisiana reapplied for a Race to the Top grant last month despite her group's opposition. The other state teachers union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, supported the application.

— Masako Hirsch


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