Federal Opinion

Local Teacher Association’s President: We Must Challenge the Obama Administration’s Education Policies

By Anthony Cody — May 13, 2011 5 min read
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Yesterday I posted some concerns about the recent decision by leaders of the National Education Association to seek an early endorsement of President Obama at their Representative Assembly (RA) meeting in the first week of July. I also voiced concern about a statement on teacher evaluation that allows for the use of standardized tests for this purpose. A friend who is the President of his local teacher’s association wrote me the following note, and gave me permission to share it here.

By Romero Maratea

By endorsing Obama’s reelection without making his administration answer to their record on public education, the message would be sent that millions of NEA members approve of his Education Department’s policies, which are rapidly unraveling our public school systems at the seams. I do not think this message accurately portrays the sentiments I hear expressed each and every day.

As the President of my local Association, a CTA State Council member, past NEA RA delegate and former District Teacher of the Year (It’s funny how I feel the need to qualify my teaching credentials to address the myth of the “union boss”), I speak to hundreds of educators in my area on a regular basis. This includes teachers, psychologists, coaches, counselors, school board members, superintendents, support personnel, etc. I cannot recall encountering one who endorses the Obama administration’s push to privatize public education (a contradictory notion at best) and to increase the stakes on student testing.

I go to school board meetings, PTA meetings, community meetings and meetings of business leaders, and so many are frustrated by what is being done to our public schools. Our curriculum has become incredibly monotonous because teachers are forced to adhere to pacing calendars, classroom practices and testing schedules that focus on getting the lowest test performers up to “proficient.” Exciting activities that stimulate higher order thinking skills and student engagement seem to be afterthoughts, although teachers work valiantly to work them into the jam packed school day.

We’ve dropped music programs, art programs, after school programs and almost all programs for the gifted in order to focus on getting the “bubble kids” up to proficient so the feds will get off of our backs. (We are a program improvement district.). Kids are not as engaged as before and there is little time to go beyond the “power standards” that focus on test content.

This reality has resulted in a mass exodus of many of our best and brightest students to charter and private schools (which are unbridled by many of the guidelines public schools must adhere to and whose demographics are the polar opposite of the community as a whole) as frustrated parents seek a thoughtful education for their children. Whose left? Our schools are becoming increasingly segregated into the charter schools of the “proficient” and “advanced” and the public schools of the “below basic”, the “basic” and the English Language Learner. Not good.

Do most educators believe that education needs to be improved? I have yet to meet one who doesn’t. They are working diligently to do so, absent the flexibility to do what is right for individual students, without a voice in the decision making, minus professional development to help them improve their practice and lacking the funds necessary to maintain vital programs that benefit those who need the most help. Are tests with increasingly higher stakes the solution? They haven’t seemed to help over the past decade since NCLB was passed. Everyone is frustrated by this reality, and it seems a slippery slope for NEA to agree to up the ante on this testing gamble.

As educators we are, by nature, a non-confrontational lot. But I have been involved in political campaigns and elections, and I have learned that power answers to power; whether it be power in numbers (as unions and grass roots movements possess) or power in terms of dollars (as corporations and a few oft-noted billionaires have at their disposal). To gain the endorsement of most organizations, candidates for public office usually have to articulate their beliefs on specific issues. Incumbents usually have to speak to their records. If they have enacted or voted for policies that damage what said organization stands up for, they usually do not get an endorsement.

This standard needs to be upheld for the Obama administration
. This administration needs to be challenged (on record) on their education policies and to address the legitimate concerns of the many educators, parents and community members who have a stake in our schools. And they need to be held accountable for that record. The same should be done for any potential challengers who seek NEA support. If they fail the endorsement criteria, they should not get the backing of the members of the NEA. Even if that means that the NEA as an organization sits this one out. If that happens, future candidates will take notice and shape more effective policies regarding public education. Educators may gain that place at the table.

If sitting out an election is unpalatable, NEA’s Representative Assembly could use the leverage of an endorsement to pressure Obama to replace Arne Duncan (along with his contradictory words and shortsighted policies) with someone who will bring practicing educators into the fold and base policy on what real research says about teaching and learning.

However this endorsement process proceeds, the message should be clear: If your rhetoric and your actions do not mesh, and you are not going to do what’s right for our public schools and the students and families they serve, you are not going to garner the official endorsement of the organization that officially represents the views of millions of educators. An organization that prides itself as a defender of our nation’s kids and the education they deserve.

Regardless of what I think, though, I do foresee a lively debate on these two issues when the thousands of delegates gather this July for the NEA’s Representative Assembly in Chicago. It is a democratic body indeed, made up of a very diverse group of folks from every state. And these elected representatives will have the ultimate say.

Romero Maratea has been teaching since 1995. He has taught grades 2-12 Social studies and language arts in South Carolina, Oregon, and California. He was a middle school teacher for 12 years, mainly with kids of low socio-economic status. He recently received his MA in Teaching and Learning from UCSD, with a thesis on culturally responsive teaching. He was District teacher of the year in 2006, and is the current president of his Association.

What do you think? Do you believe President Obama has earned the support of teachers in his bid for reelection?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.