Teachers Unions Frustrated with Obama Education Agenda
President Obama sent Congress his proposal to overhaul the nation’s school system, and it leaves teachers unions scrambling. Obama’s blueprint for education makes changes to No Child Left Behind created under the Bush administration.
Under President Bush, NCLB created a federal system of student testing and accountability. President Obama’s proposal keeps the focus on testing and accountability, but he alters it.
Teachers unions are disappointed with the proposal. In a statement, Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association, the country‘s largest teachers union said he “cannot support the administration’s plan at this time.”
The other large teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, said the proposal needs improvement. Antonia Cortese, Secretary Treasurer of the AFT, said: “Our barometer for any blue print is how does it help kids and how does it help teachers. So far, I would say, on both of those criteria it’s lacking.”
The proposal uses a series of competitive based grants for school and staff improvement. Some of the grant proposals have been previously released under the Race to the Top program, in which schools would receive funding for innovative programs to improve student achievement.
Failing schools would also benefit from competition. They could receive more federal funding for submitting a federally approved plan for success. Most of the allowable plans include firing most or all of the teaching staff or transitioning the school to a charter school.
School districts could also submit proposals to retain teachers and enhance teacher performance in exchange for federal money.
Also in the President’s plan, students are not the only ones to be tested. Obama proposes to test teachers as well. Teachers’ scores would be based on student growth.
“As we look at the blueprint now, it places 100% of the responsibility for student improvement on teachers,” Cortese said.
In his weekly radio address where he announced the proposal, President Obama said teachers will be rewarded. “We will better prepare teachers, support teachers, and encourage teachers to stay in the field. In short, we’ll treat the people who educate our sons and daughters like the professionals they are,” Obama said.
Pay incentives would be given to high performing teachers, specifically those that choose to teach in under-performing schools.
Van Roekel said: “We were expecting school turnaround efforts to be research-based and fully collaborative. Instead, we see too much top-down scapegoating of teachers and not enough collaboration.”
The President’s goal is to have all students career or college ready by the end of this decade.
Unlike NCLB, student achievement would be measured beyond Math and English. A more comprehensive assessment would include literacy and language arts as well.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan will testify before Congress this week on the proposal. The President says he wants the reforms to pass Congress by the end of the year.