Federal Opinion

Will the NEA Endorse Obama and the Use of Test Scores for Teacher Evaluations?

By Anthony Cody — May 12, 2011 2 min read
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In the past week we got news of two very significant moves by the nation’s largest teacher’s union (and actually the largest union of any kind). The National Education Association’s Political Action Committee voted to recommend an endorsement of Barack Obama, and the NEA Board of Directors approved a statement adjusting their stance on teacher evaluations. Both of these recommendations must be ratified by the Representative Assembly, which will meet in Chicago during the first week of July.

To put this in perspective, the National Education Association has more than three million members in the US. That is about one percent of the country’s population. It is the largest and most powerful labor organization in the country. And, I should note, I have been a dues-paying member for the past 24 years.

On the Possible Endorsement of Barack Obama
If the response to Secretary Duncan’s letter last week is any indication, I am not alone in my belief that the Obama administration has been a colossal disappointment in the education arena. I was a supporter of Obama three years ago, and walked my precinct during the primary, and organized a fundraiser attended by dozens of educators. But as I have made clear in this space many times over the past year and a half, Obama has failed to deliver on his campaign rhetoric, or even on his CURRENT rhetoric.

I am not sure what has motivated the NEA to seek such an early endorsement of Obama. But the NEA is a democratic organization, and the Representative Assembly is there to allow the members to have their say.

The Obama administration gets some credit for delivering a bailout to the nation’s schools a year ago, but the response I am hearing from my fellow NEA members indicates some serious misgivings about this early endorsement. Has President Obama earned our support? Are we giving up leverage we might have in the next year to finally reset federal policies as No Child Left Behind collapses of its own weight?

On the Use of Test Scores for Teacher Evaluation
Which leads us to the next political statement from the union, focused on teacher evaluation. The critical paragraph reads as follows:

iii. Indicators of Contribution to Student Learning and Growth demonstrating a teacher's impact on student learning and growth. Such indicators must be authentic, reflect that there are multiple factors that impact a student's learning beyond a teacher's control, and may include the following indicators or others chosen by a local or state affiliate: student learning objectives developed jointly by the teacher and principal/evaluator; teacher-created assessments, district or school assessments, student work (papers, portfolios, projects, presentations); teacher defined objectives for individual student growth; and valid, reliable, high quality standardized tests that provide meaningful information regarding student learning and growth.

This statement is perfectly fine until the last fifteen words. So far, no research has demonstrated the existence of “valid, reliable, high quality standardized tests” that are appropriate for the use of evaluating teachers. The use of test scores for evaluation of teachers is one of the major goals of the Department of Education - even as they profess to abhor high stakes for test scores. I do not need to rehash all the research into this practice, except to say that thus far, it has not worked, even to raise test scores! It does, however, threaten to further narrow the curriculum for our most vulnerable students in high poverty schools.

As I mentioned, both of these recommendations must be ratified by the several thousand rank and file teachers who will attend the Representative Assembly this summer. There is already some vigorous discussion taking place, and there will be more when these issues are brought to the floor in July. That is one of the great things about a democratic union. The members have a real say!

What do you think of the NEA’s Political Action Committee’s recommendation to endorse President Obama? How about the statement on teacher evaluation?

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.