Teachers, Unions, and the NCLB ‘Blueprint’

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 15, 2010 3 min read
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As you no doubt already know, the Obama administration finally revealed its blueprint for ESEA reauthorization.

Much of what’s in the blueprint EdWeek has already reported based on a close reading of the FY 2011 budget documents and stimulus bill. For instance, over a month ago I noted the proposal in the budget for all states to create a definition of an “effective teacher,” based partially on student scores. Second, you can read all about the new teacher-quality programs in this story, including the plans to put revamped teacher evaluations at the center of the Title II state grants program. And finally, the changes to the “comparability” test were signaled clearly in the stimulus legislation.

So, what’s new here? Well, the proposals would also tackle leadership, by requiring states to define what an effective principal looks like. Also, the requirement for states and districts to distribute teachers equitably among high-and low-poverty schools would be strengthened by making “effective” rather than “highly qualified” teachers the measuring unit.

Finally, will there be less teaching to the test? The proposal would maintain NCLB’s annual testing and targets, but by my read, the four school-improvement interventions* spelled out in that federal grant program would apply only to the bottom 5 percent of schools, with some additional work for “warning” schools in the next 5 percent after that. That means states would mostly get to figure out how to intervene in schools, unless they didn’t make enough progress in closing achievement gaps. Over at Curriculum Matters, Erik Robelen surmises that this might relieve the pressure for test prep, but that will probably depend on how this all gets fleshed out by Congress.

Now on to the unions’ reaction: They really don’t like this plan, already. Andy Rotherham wants to know how this is different from 2007, when the unions trashed a draft bill that ended up going nowhere. Indeed, it isn’t terribly surprising that teachers’ unions don’t like the focus in this proposal on incorporating test scores in teacher evaluations, the comparability revisions, or the school turnaround strictures requiring some teachers to be laid off.

But in fact, it is different for this reason: Teachers’ unions were largely ignored during the original drafting of the NCLB law. During the 2007 reauthorization attempt, they had wised up, and came out strongly opposed to Rep. George Miller’s draft proposal. This time the unions are reacting to a 45-page summary document—not legislative language at all. That should tell you something about how high the stakes have gotten.

In their statements on the blueprint, NEA and AFT also have a slightly different focus.

The National Education Association doesn’t like the preservation of annual testing, even though the law would no longer specify interventions for the vast majority of schools. This makes more sense if you’ve ever read NEA’s policy resolution on testing (B-63 for those of you who are as geeky as I am about these things), which lays out more than a dozen different things that the union asserts tests shouldn’t be used for.

AFT doesn’t mention the fact that this draft preserves annual testing at all. Instead, the union’s president, Randi Weingarten, claims that it places “100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent authority.” Perhaps she is referencing the new school-improvement grant program, which led in part to the Central Falls, R.I. situation she’s now embroiled in.

The unions both say there’s too much “scapegoating” and not enough “collaboration” in the proposal.

The proposal would, however, require states to publish annual information about teachers’ working conditions, based on surveys of educators. (Teacher voice, anyone?)

Now, here’s the most important part: What do YOU teachers make of this proposal?

*Side note: It seems surprising that more was not made in national coverage of this blueprint of the removal of free tutoring and public school choice for students in schools not making adequate yearly progress, , i.e., the NCLB “sanctions.” The reason for my surprise is that, coupled with the administration’s decision not to continue the D.C. voucher program, it leaves Duncan and Obama open to claims that they aren’t “really” for school choice, despite their push for charters. You can already hear some hints from House Republicans on this issue in Alyson Klein’s excellent write-up. One could, of course, argue that the NCLB choice and tutoring were both unpopular and had mixed results at best, but that may not matter too much. Political rhetoric and policymaking are frequently disparate.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.