Federal

NEA Leads Opposition to Law’s Renewal

By David J. Hoff — November 09, 2007 6 min read

In 2001, the National Education Association took no position on the No Child Left Behind Act. It did not lobby for or against the bill, which Congress passed with large bipartisan majorities late that year.

This year, the nation’s largest teachers’ union is neither quiet nor equivocal.

As Congress works to revise the NCLB law, the 3.2 million-member union and its California affiliate are mounting a vigorous campaign against the law and the most prominent proposal for reauthorizing it.

From its national headquarters in Washington, the NEA’s staff has issued “action alerts” urging its members to oppose a House draft bill that would change key parts of the law. For a September hearing, the NEA flew in union members from all of the congressional districts represented on the House Education and Labor Committee to lobby House members in the hallway and in the committee’s anterooms.

“What we do not need is another bad No Child Left Behind bill,” NEA President Reg Weaver said in an interview last week.

On the West Coast, the California Teachers Association has staged a press conference in front of the San Francisco office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and paid for a series of radio and Web ads that attack the House draft bill.

“We learned from the last time from not getting involved,” CTA President David A. Sanchez said in an interview last week.

The NEA is known for the influence it exerts in electoral politics and legislation, both at the federal and state levels. The 340,000-member CTA is the NEA’s largest state affiliate and one of the most politically active. Last year, the CTA spent $12.6 million on statewide campaign activities, according to reports filed with the California secretary of state’s office.

While the CTA is a powerful force in state politics, its clout on the NCLB reauthorization extends to federal policy because federal lawmakers from California play pivotal roles in the law’s future. In addition to Rep. Pelosi’s role as speaker, two Californians hold the most important spots on the House Education and Labor Committee. Rep. George Miller, a Democrat, is the panel’s chairman, and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon is its senior Republican member.

A Turn Against School Law

When the No Child Left Behind bill—an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, first adopted in 1965—was under consideration in 2001, the NEA decided to remain neutral because the union supported some of its provisions and opposed others. (“Unions’ Positions Unheeded on ESEA,” Nov. 6, 2002.)

The law requires states to assess students in grade 3-8 and once in high school and hold schools accountable for their students being proficient in reading and mathematics by the end of the 2013-14 school year. It also requires that states establish definitions of a “highly qualified teacher.”

By 2005, the NEA had turned against the law and filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three school districts and 10 of its affiliates, claiming that NCLB wrongly imposed unfunded federal mandates.

The NEA on NCLB

The National Education Association and its largest affiliate, the California Teachers Association, have been campaigning against a draft House proposal to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act:

NEA President REG WEAVER, in Sept. 10 testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee:
“The bottom line is this: While we applaud the committee for identifying most of the problematic provisions of the current law, we do not believe the committee’s first discussion draft of Title I adequately remedies them.”

CTA President DAVID A. SANCHEZ, in a radio ad that played in California:
“Now, there’s a proposal to pay teachers based on … test scores. This means more teaching to the test and will make it harder to attract teachers into lower-performing schools.”

An “action alert” sent to NEA members on Sept. 19:
Tell your members of Congress to Reject Test-based Pay Programs Take Action Now!
Co-sponsor the Improving Student Testing Act and the Improving Student Testing Act of 2007 Take Action Now!
Get ESEA Reauthorization Right Take Action Now!
Support Important Principles for ESEA Reauthorization Take Action Now!
Support NEA’s Positive Agenda for the No Child Left Behind/ESEA Reauthorization Take Action Now!

From a Web ad posted by the CTA on Sept. 10:
NCLB is again now up for reauthorization. And the proposal by California Congressman George Miller and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does nothing to improve the law. California teachers are calling on Congress to vote NO on the Miller/Pelosi NCLB reauthorization plan.

SOURCE: Education Week

A federal district judge in Michigan dismissed the case, a ruling that is under appeal.

The NEA’s opposition intensified this past August, when the leaders of the House education committee released a “discussion draft” of a bill to reauthorize the law, which President Bush signed in January 2002 and which stands as one of his biggest domestic-policy accomplishments. Rep. Miller and Rep. McKeon released the proposal as a first step in the reauthorization process.The draft would expand the types of data used to determine whether a school is meeting its achievement goals under the law and would create a program encouraging districts to experiment with rewarding teachers for their students’ achievement gains.

But Reps. Miller and McKeon haven’t been able to agree on details in the draft and haven’t generated enough support for it. A NCLB reauthorization bill is unlikely to pass the House this year.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, DMass., the chairman of the Senate education committee, has said the Senate isn’t going to be able to take up the NCLB law in 2007.

The lobbying by the NEA and the CTA has been one reason for the postponements, said Bruce Hunter, the associate executive director of public policy for the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington,Va.

“This thing you can do best if you’re a big hitter is stop things,” said Mr. Hunter, whose organization also opposes the NCLB law and the House draft bill to change it.

In their campaigns against the main federal law for K-12 education, the NEA and its California state affiliate have highlighted their opposition to the law’s emphasis on using tests scores to determine whether a school is successful. Their biggest complaint about the House draft bill, however, is that it would provide competitive grants to encourage districts to reward teachers, in part, based on their students’ achievement on those tests.

By contrast, the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers has opposed many of those same sections of the bill but has done so in lower-profile ways, such as through testimony before the House education committee and in written comments about the draft.

The NEA and the CTA have been vocal in complaining that the merit-pay proposal would violate the collective-bargaining rights of their local affiliates. Almost all teacher contracts establish a salary scale that bases pay primarily on teachers’ educational credentials, such as attainment of a master’s degree, and years of service.

The national union’s opposition to new forms of compensation is “wrongheaded,” said Brad Jupp, a former vice president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate.

Mr. Jupp, now an adviser to the 72,000-student Denver district, helped design an alternative-compensation program while he was the Denver union’s lead negotiator in 1999. The union agreed to pilot a pay-for-performance plan. The plan, which has since been adopted districtwide, rewards teachers for improving student achievement, choosing to work in hard-to-staff schools, and earning positive appraisals from peer evaluators.

Accepting the new system was the only way Denver teachers could win a substantial raise at the bargaining table,Mr. Jupp said.

“It’s just a matter of time before [union locals] make that bargain,” Mr. Jupp said, adding that national union leaders “have failed to hear the cry that it’s time to change the way teachers are paid.”

Teachers’ Best Interests

Enough states and districts are experimenting with new pay systems that the NEA and the CTA are unlikely to succeed in their efforts to stop them, said Russlynn Ali, the executive director of the Education Trust-West, the Oakland, Calif., office of the Education Trust.

The Washington-based group is a vocal supporter of the NCLB law. “The idea of pay for performance … is not something that is going to go away on the state level or the federal level,” said Ms. Ali, who has opposed the CTA on proposals to change teacher pay programs in California. “It’s going to bubble up in many states.”

But on issues related to testing and accountability, one teacher who belongs to the AFT said the NEA is representing teachers’ best interests. In the nearly six years since the No Child Left Behind Act became law, it has spurred changes in classroom practice to focus on basic skills, and has taken away teachers’ authority to design their curricula and assess students’ learning using their own measures, said John Thompson, a history and government teacher at Centennial High School in Oklahoma City.

“The closer you are to the classroom, the more you despise that law,” said Mr. Thompson, an American Federation of Teachers member. The NEA’s leaders are “just saying the hard truths that people agree with,” he said.

The national union is feeling emboldened by the CTA’s success in stalling the NCLB reauthorization process, said Mr. Sanchez of the CTA.

Mr. Sanchez said that whether Congress reauthorizes the law under President Bush or his successor, he hopes federal lawmakers find a way “to come out with a bill that will bring back the joy of teaching and not have a stringent, one-size-fits-all approach.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as NEA Leads Opposition to Law’s Renewal

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
The Fall K-3 Classroom: What the data imply about composition, challenges and opportunities
The data tracking learning loss among the nation’s schoolchildren confirms that things are bad and getting worse. The data also tells another story — one with serious implications for the hoped for learning recovery initiatives
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
Student Well-Being Online Summit Student Mental Health
Attend this summit to learn what the data tells us about student mental health, what schools can do, and best practices to support students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal How the Pandemic Is Affecting Schools' Mandated Collection of Key Civil Rights Data
COVID-19 has complicated the work of gathering a vast store of civil rights data about schools that is required by the Education Department.
7 min read
Image of data.
monsitj/iStock/Getty
Federal To Get Remaining COVID-19 Aid, Schools and States Must Detail In-Person Learning Plans
Among other things, states and schools must detail the extent to which they will meet CDC recommendations on universal mask-wearing in schools.
3 min read
an illustration of a boat made from a folded dollar bill.
Todd Bates/iStock/Getty
Federal Miguel Cardona: Schools Must Work to Win Trust of Families of Color as They Reopen
As Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced new school reopening resources, he encouraged a focus on equity and student engagement.
4 min read
Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing Feb. 3, 2021.
Now-U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing in February.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal CDC: Nearly 80 Percent of K-12, Child-Care Workers Have Had at Least One COVID-19 Shot
About four out of five teachers, school staffers, and child-care workers had first COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of March, CDC says.
2 min read
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11, 2021. Teachers received their first vaccine during an all-day event at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP