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N.E.A. Open to 12-Month Contracts

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The National Education Association has taken a step toward putting year-round teaching contracts on the school-reform agenda.

The union's board of directors this month voted to distribute an N.E.A. panel's report advocating 12-month contracts to all its state and local affiliates for "planning purposes,'' union officials said.

The report, which also recommends that teachers devote at least half their time to professional development, has been presented to other national education groups as well, said Gary D. Watts, the executive director of the N.E.A.'s National Center for Innovation.

The center collaborated on the study with a panel of seven teachers that was convened by the union at its 1992 annual meeting. The findings were released last year. But the union's board of directors waited until this month to take an official position on the report, taking time to review it and to decide how the N.E.A. should use it.

Keith B. Geiger, the N.E.A. president, and other union leaders have praised "It's About Time,'' but the study is only now being widely distributed among the union's rank and file.

Observers said that if the suggestions are embraced by state and local union leaders, it could have an impact on collective bargaining and on how school officials and the public view the teaching profession.

Time To Change?

Many educators argue that finding ways for teachers and students to use time creatively is one of the keys to school reform. (See Education Week, March 3, 1993.)

Extending standard teachers' contracts would give schools more flexibility to change the length and configuration of the student school year, to plan and develop new curriculum offerings, and to set aside time for professional development, the report says.

In addition, it says, if teachers had more control over time, decisions on curriculum and instruction would tend to be based on students' learning needs and not on administrative convenience.

The panel's members also say that year-round contracts, along with raising standards for entry into the field and for classroom instruction, are a route to "professionalizing'' teaching.

"I would like us to think of ourselves more professionally, and I think [a 12-month contract] is part of that,'' said Patricia A. Graham, a teacher at Wasson High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a member of the union's time panel.

In the report, the panel says that "the myth that teachers only work nine months a year and a six-hour day is destructive for seeking improved compensation and for garnering increased public support for public education.''

Milton Goldberg, the executive director of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, said he thinks 12-month contracts will be "more of a phenomenon'' as schools restructure.

The federally sponsored group is expected in April to release its report examining, among other issues, the length of the school day and year and year-round professional development for teachers.

'A Pretty Big Money Tree'

"We heard a lot of praise and support for the [N.E.A.] recommendations'' from other education groups, Mr. Watts said.

But the report's authors say their ideas probably will run up against barriers, not the least of which is a lack of money.

"You're asking school districts to shake a pretty big money tree to implement this,'' said Michael A. Resnick, the associate executive director of the National School Boards Association. "Districts want to encourage more staff development for teachers,'' he added. "But it's a practical matter [depending] on budget cuts.''

And, although many union members seem to agree with the report's conclusions, some teachers are resistant to the idea of giving up the two or three months a year they have for independent professional development, a second job, or vacation, Ms. Graham said.

Others said they fear that the report will be misused by district officials or state lawmakers, who might opt to extend the school year or contracts without providing additional compensation to teachers.

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