NCLB Latest: Union Lobbies to Strip Teacher Accountability

Lobbying efforts on Sen. Harkin's ESEA reauthorization bill by two prominent teaching unions appear to disappoint Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and various education reform groups, writes the Association of American Educators.

Harkin, who is also the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and who is working with Senator Michael Enzi on a bipartisan effort to retool the controversial law, planned to put most of the federal focus on schools that are struggling, leaving states to decide what happens when it comes to student achievement in the vast majority of schools, as reported by the AAE.

However, the NEA and AFT heavily 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, writes the AAE.

Following the lobbying over the week, the unions have got their way — a revised version of the bill was put forward by Harkin and Enzi with teacher evaluation stripped from the legislation.

Immediately after, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement in reaction to the omission:

"[T]hat 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."

Insiders insist the twists and turns were set in motion by the NEA long before the original bill was introduced.

"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."

AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner issued his own statement, also in reaction to the alteration:

"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."

The full statement can be viewed here.

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