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N.E.A. Offers a Plan for Better Schools

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Charging that the many recent reports on schooling have failed to adequately express the views of those working on the educational front lines, the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, this summer released its own recommendations for reform.

Assembled by a 20-member "Blue Ribbon Task Force" of ranking nea officials, the reform package was the subject of an extended debate at the organization's annual meeting in Minneapolis in early July.

Writing in "An Open Letter to America on Schools, Students, and Tomorrow," the task force called for a "total restructuring" of schools.

Flexibility Urged

Specifically, it urged schools to ensure that students master material before moving on to new topics, called for greater flexibility in the structure of the school day and the classroom, and suggested that formal schooling begin at age 4.

The task force also called for better methods of evaluating teachers and urged the nea to study the issue. It also reiterated previous nea calls for higher starting salaries (it recommended $24,000), more federal funding for schools, and an increased role for teachers in the governance of schools.

"It is time to return authority to school-building staff, to strengthen the ability of the school staff to manage schools," the task force wrote.

Controversial Idea

But the panel did not include in its report a controversial recommendation made by one of its subcommittees earlier this year that the nea urge schools to allow teachers to assume various levels of professional responsibility and pay them accordingly. (See Education Week, March 21, 1984.)

"The nea is opposed to any alternative compensation plan that acts as a substitute for proportionate, across-the-board salary increases all teachers need and deserve," the panel wrote.

Elsewhere in its report, the panel wrote, "There will be no hierarchical staffing systems within the teaching profession, only an exciting mix of equally important educational roles."

Shift in Position

Strong opposition to alternative teacher-pay plans was also voiced among the 7,000 nea officials gathered in Minneapolis, apparently reflecting a shift in the organization's public position on the issue. After years of strong support for the so-called single-salary schedule, union leaders last summer suggested they were willing to support hierarchical staffing plans.

Said one senior nea official of the debate in Minneapolis: "It was very disappointing. I don't think people understood the concept [proposed by the subcommittee of the task force]. They threw it together with merit pay."

"The idea is to give teachers a greater choice about what roles they want to play in a school," the official continued. "It would allow teachers to assume various levels of responsibility. The reality is that more than 30 states are considering some kind of change in how they reward teachers. A lot of people [in the nea] just don't want to believe that."

The delegates in Minneapolis endorsed the task force's report and approved a recommendation that the organization develop an "action plan'' to suggest ways the nea can implement the task force's proposals.

The delegates also approved the association's legislative agenda for the 99th Congress. It includes sup-port of the American Defense Education Act and a federal collective-bargaining law for public-school and college employees.

Political Action

Politics was also high on the agenda at the Minneapolis meeting.

In her keynote address, nea President Mary Hatwood Futrell repeatedly attacked President Reagan's education policies.

"We've been fighting this attack [on public education] for four long years. Now we say, 'enough,"' she said.

Walter Mondale, the Democratic Presidential candidate, also attacked Mr. Reagan in an address to the convention. He declared himself a friend of public education.

The nea returned the support later in the month, when Ms. Futrell led 279 nea members to the Democratic convention in San Francisco, the largest block of delegates to attend the convention. Some 220 of the nea delegates were pledged to vote for Mr. Mondale.

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