Laura Waters

NEA Shows It’s Not Focused on Kids, Again

The U.S. Congress is seemingly close to reauthorizing ESEA, now called the Every Child Achieves Act. But the current proposal is overly deferential towards Tea Party-ish members who resent the teeth of federal oversight not only in same-sex marriage but also in education policy. And, in its current people-pleasing mode, this draft of ESEA panders to teachers union loyalists whose determination to undermine any federal role in education policy was on full-frontal display at the recent NEA annual meeting. Delegates there approved three new business items that sacrifice the ability of states to accurately measure student achievement in order to protect teachers’ jobs. But let’s not be too negative. There’s plenty to like about the Every Child Achieves Act, primarily its retention of annual state testing and disaggregation of data. However, as the Washington Post Editorial Board opines:
[Its passage] would mark a defeat for the nation’s neediest students. There would be no consequences whatsoever. No Child Left Behind was too rigid in prescribing interventions, but the proper response is not to remove any and all requirements to improve. The Senate bill would allow schools to turn their backs on minority, disadvantaged or special needs students with no impact on the federal largesse. Dozens of civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, have criticized the bill for that reason; so do business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which know it is foolish as well as immoral to let talent go to waste.
And then there’s NEA’s delegates, led by President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, blithely approving measures to undermine state testing. Last week Eskelsen-Garcia explained to Stephen Sawchuk why her representatives, with their long and distinguished partnership with civil rights leaders, are suddenly turning their backs:
We are working on so many things with our friends in the civil rights communities. We are going to keep sending them teachers that they trust, people in their own ethnic groups.
Right. Anyway, here’s the three new business items approved by NEA delegates:
NBI 32: The NEA will conduct a campaign to end the high-stakes use of standardized tests created by Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), as long as those tests are being used on teacher evaluations and to rate schools. NBI 48: NEA, through existing online media, will highlight the work that locals throughout the country are doing to inform parents and their communities of the negative effects of high-stakes testing and the right to opt out their children. Such informational items will include resources available from state affiliates as well as resolutions adopted by local associations and schools boards. NBI 115: The NEA will work within existing infrastructure to engage and leverage our current partnerships with parents and families to support a national opt out/test refusal movement.
So NEA will encourage local unions, made up of local teachers, to undermine the entire standardized testing regime with parents in their local communities, and will actively support a national opt-out movement. But not because NEA is against standardized testing per se but because student test results are used in teacher and school accountability measures. So regardless of the purpose of standardized testing or the benefits it provides to students, NEA is willing to take the whole structure down to support its own narrow, member-centric agenda. Sure, it’s a labor union and its job is to protect jobs. But at the expense of our neediest children? I don’t know how NEA elects/appoints delegates, but I know many teachers who will take umbrage at this blatant display of self-interest. I'm sure the U.S. Congress is under undue pressure to satisfy lobbyists as it works to improve our federal education laws. But here's hoping that our representatives can see through cynical subterfuge, regardless of its source, and maintain their focus on children.  
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey education politics and policy for WHYY’s Newsworks and NJ Spotlight. She is a mother of four and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for 10 years. An earlier version of this post appeared on her blog, NJ Left Behind as NEA Approves New Anti-Accountability Items at the Expense of Disadvantaged Kids.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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