Teachers March on Washington: A Look at the Issues

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Educators frustrated with federal policies and feeling increasingly under siege by their states will be converging on Washington, D.C., the last week of July 2011 for a rally, conference, and march to the White House. The organizers and endorsers—an array of teachers, advocates, researchers, and bloggers—have several issues that they're pressing with the Save Our Schools rally. The chart below takes a look at the pro and con positions on seven of those issues.

No Child Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, signed into law by President George W. Bush, is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that expanded the federal role in education and set annual testing and accountability requirements.

Supporters of NCLB say it holds schools accountable and pinpoints schools that need the most help, while creating incentives to improve. Many agree that it needs improvement, but proponents claim its goals and methods have been working.Opponents of NCLB believe it has substituted genuine investment and support for schools with high-stakes testing, rewards, and punishments. They claim it does not have the proper research to back up its policies and has failed because teachers are feeling pressure to cheat or narrow the curriculum to the test.

Race to the Top

Race to the Top is the Obama administration's multi-billion-dollar stamp on education reform that rewards states that are leading the way in specified areas: adopting standards and assessments; building data systems; recruiting, rewarding and developing teachers and principals; and turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

The competitive grant program advances the adoption of proven reforms, proponents say. And by challenging states to compete, it encourages them to be innovative.Opponents argue the format of Race to the Top contradicts equality efforts in education and the program's reforms are unproven and mirror some of the worst parts of NCLB.

Standardized Tests

Standardized assessments—and increasingly high-stakes testing tied to student promotion and teacher pay—are a common method for teachers, administrators, districts, and states to measure progress and make conclusions based on results.

These assessments give administrators, states, and the U.S. Department of Education a tool to compare teachers, schools, and districts and hold them accountable, say proponents of testing-and-accountability initiatives. Additionally, improvements in technology and innovation are transforming testing to make their results more immediate and informative. Some education activists say large-scale, frequent, and high-stakes testing puts too much focus on the outcome rather than the learning process, have taken time away from teacher-student interaction, and reduced a once-richer curriculum. They push for fewer multiple-choice tests that demand factual recall and more formative assessments.

Common Standards and Curriculum

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, aims to create a common set of standards and assessments for use across the states.

Supporters believe the framework will elevate student achievement, help students who move to new schools, and enhance national competitiveness. Some fear common standards will stifle innovation, threaten local control of education decisions, and standardize learning for students with diverse needs. Others worry the standards won't incorporate input from educators and parents.

Equitable Funding

Demand for equitable funding stems from concerns that money is being improperly allocated and the perception that the best schools are often the richest.

Supporters argue that all students should be given equal access to the resources and services they need, regardless of the affluence of their district. They feel that federal laws and initiatives don't address inequities in funding, and even amplify them. Some also argue that charter schools and voucher programs are pulling resources from public schools. Others feel NCLB and Race to the Top directly address inequalities in funding by promoting certain reforms, and that charter schools and vouchers are a means to equity by choice.

Merit Pay

An increasing number of states and districts are paying teachers based on student performance, giving rise to debate over evaluation methods and theories of motivation.

Advocates believe financial incentives help motivate educators and reward those who boost student achievement. Opponents of merit pay believe it's unfair, can lead teachers to "teach to the test," and creates an incentive for educators to cheat. They also point to evidence that performance pay doesn't guarantee increased achievement.

Unions and Collective Bargaining

Teachers' unions fought legislation in several states this year that aimed to eliminate or curtail collective bargaining, do away with teacher strikes, or curb union-dues deductions.

Pro-union activists believe in the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain on working conditions, safety, compensation, and benefits. They see a need for unions to advocate for their rights. Opponents blame teachers' unions for budget woes and say they stifle reform policies and protect ineffective teachers. They want to limit their influence.
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