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Union Lobby Strips Teacher Accountability from Senate NCLB Overhaul
posted by: Alix | October 20, 2011, 01:03 AM   

Last week Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, released a large scale bill to reauthorize the current federal education law, No Child Left Behind. Working with Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) on a bipartisan effort to retool the controversial law, the initial proposal heavily mirrored the Obama administration's long-standing blueprint for reauthorization coupled with the NCLB waiver package released last month. However, after emergency lobbying efforts by the NEA and AFT, the bill has taken a drastic turn with regard to teacher accountability, disappointing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other education reform groups.

In a letter dated Saturday, the NEA and AFT criticized the teacher accountability provisions that mandate states create comprehensive teacher evaluations. While it should be no surprise that the two largest teacher unions are once again arguing against reform, the letter suggests the union establishment would rather see no movement on a NCLB overhaul than a policy mandating teacher evaluations.

Following the union push over the weekend, a revised version of the bill was put forth on Monday evening by both Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi stripping the teacher evaluation mandate from the legislation. The bill would largely allow states and districts the decision whether to evaluate teachers. The only exception would be for the small number of states who receive funding from the Teacher Incentive Fund, a voluntary pot of money aimed at helping schools create alternative pay programs which would have to implement comprehensive evaluations for teachers and principals.

Immediately following the bi-partisan agreement, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement of his own firing back at the omission. Duncan said he believes "that comprehensive evaluation system based on multiple measures, including student achievement, is essential for education reform to move forward," claiming "we can't retreat from reform."

Education reform insiders insist the twists and turns were set in motion by the NEA long before the original bill was introduced last week, asserting the initial evaluation language was in line with what the unions were coming to terms with. "The NEA will always goldilocks you," said Charles Barone, director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform. "Harkin took the evaluations statement [NEA President] Van Roekel made a few months ago and put it in the bill, and then didn't have his support. What they wound up with was nothing."

While AAE and other like-minded groups appreciate the Senate's efforts to come up with a bipartisan solution to the issues under NCLB, this latest amendment to eliminate teacher accountability is counterproductive. Reform organizations recognize that the most critical element in student success is an effective teacher. Without steps to steer states toward accountability, an NCLB overhaul would be incomplete.

Following the latest news from Capitol Hill, AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner issued the following statement:

"Everyone from the Secretary of Education to the presidents of the teachers unions agrees that our teacher evaluation systems are broken. Presently, 20 states have passed bills regarding educator evaluation in the past two years, many with bipartisan support. While states like Indiana, Florida and New York are leading the way, abandoning accountability at the federal level is not the answer in creating a system that works. Our teachers and students cannot wait decades for the remaining states to follow suit.

Our membership surveys indicate that teachers want to be held accountable and rewarded for their achievements. While opposition against teacher evaluation based solely on student test scores is strong, the union-led perception that educators do not want to be evaluated by test scores is a sweeping generalization. A solid majority of AAE member teachers support a comprehensive value-added model of evaluation that includes student tests scores among other quantifiers.

Clearly we must find a common ground that addresses accountability. The initial draft of the NCLB overhaul struck an appropriate balance between demanding change and respecting the discretion of states and school districts to tailor policies to their unique needs. We encourage reconsidering teacher evaluations and accountability in the debates leading to passage."

Click here to read the full statement.

What do you think about the teacher evaluation component? Is it necessary in creating meaningful reform?
Comment below.

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