Teachers of the Year Seek NCLB Changes

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This article was orginally written for Education Week.

America’s top teachers are demanding a seat at the table when Congress deliberates the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Fifty state teachers of the year for 2007 have joined hands to come up with a list of 10 changes they would like to see in the federal law that is due for reauthorization this year.

“We’re here to beg Congress on bended knee to give us a seat at the table. We have no other agenda than the love of our children,” said Joseph Fatheree, the teacher of the year from Illinois. Mr. Fatheree was among 30 state teachers of the year who discussed the changes at a press conference here today, a day after President Bush honored the national Teacher of the Year, Andrea Peterson, from Washington state, at a White House ceremony.

Ms. Peterson, however, was missing because as the national Teacher of the Year she cannot take part in any event unless it has been cleared by the Council of Chief State School Officers, which sponsors the Teacher of the Year competition.

Among the teachers’ demands are recasting the definition of a highly qualified teacher; a growth model that measures school progress based on the improvement each student makes over the course of a year; and language that requires administrators to become instructional leaders who can provide regular feedback to teachers.

Many of the changes are similar to those that the two national teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have been emphasizing for the past few months as discussion around the renewal of the NCLB law has intensified. However, teachers said they feel a responsibility to stand up and speak out directly.

Madaline Fennell, the Nebraska teacher of the year, said there is a long, sometimes rocky, history between the unions and Congress. “Sometimes you need a new voice at the table. ... We are 50 people with no history, and we want to bring a new perspective to the debate,” she said.

‘Fraught With Deficiencies’

The AFT said it welcomed teachers joining the conversation on the federal law.

In a statement, Edward J. McElroy, the president of the union, called the recommendations “thoughtful, constructive, and based on teachers’ experiences.”

“We love the fact that these teachers came to Washington and Capitol Hill to talk about NCLB,” said John See, a spokesman for the AFT, adding that the union wants to ensure that teachers get a seat at the table during reauthorization talks.

Among other demands, the teachers are asking for fully funding education and assessment programs that are federally mandated; language that addresses the special needs of students with disabilities, such as implementing state assessment systems that track the academic growth of individual students; replacing penalties against failing schools with methods to enhance achievement; and multiple methods of assessment that evaluate a student’s progress over the entire year, instead of just through standardized tests.

Ms. Fennell said that while there are positive aspects to the law, it is also “fraught with numerous deficiencies.” The expertise of teachers who have been chosen as the best of the best in their states, she said, can help lawmakers craft a better version of the No Child Left Behind Act.

“Teachers need to be included in this reauthorization,” she said. “Please, leave no teacher behind.”

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