Education Chat

Union Influence on NCLB

Representatives from the nation's top two teachers' unions discussed how their organizations are trying to influence the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Union Influence on NCLB

Joel Packer, chief NCLB lobbyist for the National Education Association; and
Antonia Cortese, the executive vice president for the American Federation of Teachers.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s chat about how the nation’s top two teachers unions are influencing the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. We already have a large volume of questions waiting to be answered. So let’s get the discussion started ...

Comment from Paula Fahey, Supervisor, CCHS:
We as educators know what works. Small class size, current teaching texts and supplies.State of the art technology and facilities. And respectable salaries for educators in the field. No child left behind not only leaves children behind, but teachers and administrators as well. It places schools in the role of " victim” as we try to appease the “standards for the tests, by taking students out of “learning classes” and placeing them in “drilling classes” that teacht to the test. All the stats show that we have unprecidented drop out rates in our urban school districts since this mandate began. The tests are economically biased and place students of color as well as students who struggle with the language in a hopeless mire of test after test. Please consider these thought when addressing this subject at the forum. Thank you for your tiem and consideration, Paula E. Fahey

Question from Jan, teacher, elementary school:
Why isn’t NEA doing more to educate the public about the problems of this law with the “cute name” No Child Left Behind???

Joel Packer:
Jan, NEA is involved in a major effort to educate our members as well as the public about the flaws in NCLB. Our website, has a wealth of information about our concerns with the law.

NEA leaders and staff also regularly speak about NCLB before other organizations and to the press.

We believe that NCLB has fundamental flaws: it is too focused on test scores; limits how test scores are used in measuring student leaning; is a one-size-fits-all, all-or-nothing system that fails to distinguish between schools that fall short of one of 37 measures and those that fall short on all; and is too focused on sanctions that have little to do with improving student achievement.

Question from Elizabeth Park, Teacher, Dover Middle School:
Highly regarded academic researchers like Jim Cummins (and many others) have said for years that ELLs need 7-10 years to become fluent in academic English. Why is this respected work disregarded by the writers of NCLB? Demanding academic fluency within the guidelines of NCLB seems to be planning for student failure.

Joel Packer:
Elizabeth, you raise an important point. We are concerned that the accountability system in NCLB, called adequate yearly progress (AYP) fails to test and count tests scores from English Language Learner (ELL) children in a valid and reliable manner.

In too many cases, ELL students are being given reading and math tests in English before they are proficient in English. Accommodations provided also often are of limited value and questionable validity.

NEA believe the federal government needs to do much more to assist states and school districts in improving the quality of assessments for ELL students, providing native language assessments, and improving the quality and validity of accommodations. We do think that it is appropriate to extend the current one-year exemption for newly arrived immigrant students’ tests scores counting for AYP purposes to three years. Another option might be to link the English language proficiency tests and the academic content tests and give each one proportional weighting in determining whether this group of students makes AYP.

Question from A. W., Education policy researcher:
Because teachers are under a great deal of pressure to produce positive results for students are teachers going to pushback on the highly qualified and effective recommendation made in recent months? It seems that highly qualified and effective teachers would be the best thing for students, but I can understand how it may put undue pressure on teachers who are already working very hard. With this said, how can we make teachers and principals more accountable without examining outputs, while not penalizing teachers? Examining outputs would be in the best interest of the students.

Antonia Cortese:
We do not have the statistical power now to differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers based solely on test scores. Many people want to put teacher quality into a neat formula, but research shows that these formulas don’t consistently identify effective teachers.

Question from Jim Mordecai, Teacher, Oakland, Ca.:
Do the AFT and NEA demand dropping 2014 goal, AYP, and punctive sanctions for schools not reaching these improved test scores?

Joel Packer:
Jim, NEA believes the current AYP structure is fundamentally flawed. We believe that the next ESEA should include an accountability system that is based on more than two statewide test scores. It should allow states to include both multiple measures of student learning as well as multiple measures of school quality.

We also have proposed that states be allowed to utilize growth models which would measure changes in student achievement over time, which is a more educationally sound method than the current AYP snapshot of student test scores one day a year.

We also believe the current sanctions are overly punitive and have little to do with improving student learning and closing achievement gaps.

Question from Jason Holmes, Principal, Jefferson Elementary:
In your estimation how much per pupil funding is needed to meet the academic needs of students in schools identified as Program Improvement ?

Antonia Cortese:
Good interventions cost money. Currently, schools don’t have the funds to do what it takes to raise student achievement – extended school day or year, smaller class sizes, high-quality early childhood education, intensive reading and math interventions.

Question from Naomi Richmond, paraprofessional, (student teacher candidate for fall 2007) Konocti Unified School District:
While I agree special education students should be held accountable for grade level content, I don’t agree with the way they are assessed. Why is student that is in 8th grade that reads at a 3rd grade level, and receives all core classes (8th grade content) at a 3rd grade reading level expected to take a standardized test at an 8th grade reading level? This is not an accurate representation of their content knowledge. It only represents that they are a struggling reader. Wouldn’t it be more equitable (and produce more accurate results of content knowledge) to test them at the level they are taught? Thank you.

Antonia Cortese:
IEP teams include parents, classroom teachers and others who work closely with the child on a daily basis and are best able to make these decisions about assessments. The AFT recommends that IEP teams decide how students participate in assessments, including alternate assessments, modified assessments or assessments with accommodations.

Question from Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, National Staff Development Council:
One could argue that the NCLB took a step forward by defining professional development and making it clear that “1-day or short-term workshops” are not appropriate activities under the law. Please discuss further NCLB refinements you believe are necessary to improve the quality professional development and its effects on teacher performance.

Joel Packer:
Hayes, NEA agrees that high-quality professional development for teachers, especially that which is linked to their individual classroom instructional needs, is a critical element in improving teacher quality and student learning.

We support the standards developed by your organization (NSDC) and have suggested that such standards be incorporated into the ESEA law.

We also believe that having teacher input into the professional development they receive is important, so that teachers can identify their needs and not just receive generic professional development that fails to directly help them improve.

Question from Jon K., Esq.:
Can you please discuss whether the unions feel enforcement under NCLB could run afoul of collective bargaining agreements and whether Section 1116(d) removes much of the teeth behind the law. Do the unions see future filings of individual grievances based on NCLB enforcement? Will the unions lobby to have similar protections placed in the reauthorization?

Antonia Cortese:
Broadly speaking, we believe school improvement and collective bargaining go hand in hand. The law clearly – and wisely – states that NCLB’s interventions for schools that don’t make AYP can’t trump collective bargaining agreements. We certainly want to make sure that this provision remains in a reauthorized law.

Question from Jessica Walters, Federal Policy Fellow, Pre-K Now:
Research shows that the achievement gap exists before children’s entry to kindergarten. Would you support amending NCLB in a manner that would expand access to and improve the quality of pre-kindergarten programs?

Joel Packer:
Jessica, you are absolutely correct. NEA strongly believe that all children should have access to high-quality pre-K and other early childhood education programs.

Such programs have been shown to have a positive impact on ensuring that children start Kindergarten “ready to learn” and help narrow achievement gaps.

We do support adding to ESEA a program that would provide funds to states and schools to initiate and expand pre-K programs.

Question from Pam Ansingh, Executive Director for Teaching and Learning:
Without national and state accountability built into our school systems, how will we affect long term change in the performance of our students and teachers?

Antonia Cortese:
NCLB mandates a state and local accountability system for identifying schools where student performance has not met proficiency standards. We believe schools ought to get credit for progress – under any accountability system.

Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid Career Student, Penn:
It has been said that trust is lubricant of an organization. In regards to NCLB how can one get the teachers and school leaders to trust each other to do the right thing. How can the “them v. us” attitude be done away with?

Antonia Cortese:
Teachers and school leaders need to work in a collegial relationship to develop a common goal for their school and agree on strategies to reach that goal.

Question from Deanna Enos, Retired Teacher Author Nobody Left Behind - One Child’s Story About Testing:
I am delighted that the Teachers Unions are stepping up to the plate on this one in behalf of teachers. What can I do to help?

Antonia Cortese:
The AFT Web site,, has a legislative action center you can use to contact your member of Congress about the constructive changes you want in the next iteration of NCLB. As an author and former teacher, you’d also be a great candidate to write a letter to the editor.

Question from Jacob Fraire, Graduate Student, LBJ School of Public Affairs, UT Austin:
The Commission on NCLB has recommended increased accountability for high schools, including a recommendation that high school teachers of core subjects must meet the state’s “highly qualified requirements.”

If approved by Congress, how will this and other Commission recommendations affect high schools, and specifically local efforts to redesign (reform) high schools?

Antonia Cortese:
The highly qualified requirements are currently in NCLB. They apply to all teachers of core academic subjects including those in high school.

Question from R. S. Richardson, LtCol, USMC (Ret), Teacher, Kissimmee Charter Academy:
Taking on NCLB appears to be a red herring in the argument in against unions for teachers in general. Can you answer why the profession of teaching is not adequately paid, even though unions are the chief bargainers in contract negotiations, and why the profession is among the least respected by the population as a whole? Attacking NCLB with water pistols is not going to change the demand for accountability in education, is it?

Joel Packer:
NEA believes public education is a critical element in our society. Public schools not only educate children in academic content areas, but also play an important riel in helping children become active and productive members of society, and expose chidden to those from other races, cultures, and ethnicities.

While educating our children should be of utmost importance to American society, in far too many cases teachers are inadequately paid and undervalued. NEA supports a starting salary of at least $40,000 for all new teachers, in an effort to help attract and retain quality people into teaching.

Teacher unions have had a positive impact on teacher salaries and benefits, as well as teaching and learning conditions. Not all states however, allow teachers to collectively bargain.

Regarding NCLB, we believe it is important for teachers and other classroom educators to have a major voice in its reauthorization at the national level, and in its implementation at the state and local level.

Question from Georgia Squires, former AFT local president, retired teacher, trainer in Calif. Beginning Teacher Program:
How can we get the voices of real classroom teachers heard? Are either of the unions’ leaders really, really listening to those voices?

Antonia Cortese:
The AFT has a local political action program, Activists for Congressional Education (ACE) that brings local meetings between union members and their congressperson. We are conducting town hall meetings throughout the country to hear from members. Last year we held town hall meetings to get input for developing our reauthorization recommendations:

Question from Kathryn, legislative assistant, U.S. House of Representatives:
Assuming that testing remains a fundamental element of NCLB, while it may experience revisions to more adequately measure student progress, has any action been taken to decrease the amount of time it takes for teachers to receive the results of the tests? I have heard from educators that in the past they have waited 6 months to receive a response, and at that time, the test appears useless because they cannot tailor their teaching to improving where students need improvement.

Joel Packer:
Kathryn, we totally agree that it makes no sense for teachers to receive test scores months after the test is given. In too many cases test results are not received until the next school year, which makes it impossible to use them in a diagnostic manner by teachers to help improve their students’ learning and achievement.

We believe that NCLB should have a requirement that test scores be received in a timely manner, at a minimum within the same school year as they are given. In addition, teachers should receive additional training in how to effectively use test scores to improve instruction.

Question from Bob Frangione, Teacher,:
Why would any teacher consider reauthorization of such a useless act as NCLB? Is that consise enough?

Antonia Cortese:
NCLB is the federal government’s single largest investment in the education of poor children and began in the mid-60s as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as a part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. It provides funding for the overwhelming majority of schools in this country. We all agree that there are flaws in NCLB that need to be fixed, but we can’t turn our backs on this vital law.

Question from Phyllis Taub-Greenleaf, Child Development Specialist, Author of upcoming book on standardized testing and Grandmother:
State administered high stakes standardized tests are produced by test corporations that have little public oversight. Many teachers and parents and other educators are questioning the validity of the actual tests themselves. Are multiple choice tests the best way to evaluate student learning and teachers’ teaching? I know lots of successful adults who never scored high on a standardized test, but have made valuable contributions in their work and communities.

Antonia Cortese:
Standardized tests certainly have a place in schools; however, these tests must be aligned to strong standards and curriculum. AFT research found that only 11 states had high-quality tests aligned to their standards. A top priority for the AFT is NCLB reauthorization is requiring the development of better tests.

Question from J., Curtiss, Principal, Holt Elementary:
How “uphill a battle” do you see getting some substantial change in NCLB? Is there anyone who is responsible for reauthorization sympathetic to those of us in the field, or is it more likely that we’ll continue the bubbling of answer sheets for another 5 years?

Joel Packer:
There is a growing chorus of voices calling for changes and improvement to this law. There are already over 30 bills introduced in this Congress – by both Democrats and Republicans – that call for improvements and needed flexibility.

We are also part of a coalition of now 121 national groups that have called for changes to the law to reduce the overemphasis on tests. This Joint Statement on NCLB, which has as signers education, civil rights, disability, religious, children’s and other organizations can be viewed at:

Question from Dr. Karen Johnson, Professor, Keller Graduate School of Management:
Given the many things that we know are wrong with the NCLB act, what are the unions proposing as an alternative to its reauthorization?

Joel Packer:
Karen, NEA has proposed a comprehensive set of changes to law, called NEA’s Positive Agenda for ESEA Reauthorization, available on our website (

We propose that AYP include motile measures of student learning and multiple measures of school quality; allow states to use growth models, shift AYP from one based on unproven sanctions to one that provides positive interventions and instructional improvements for schools, and provide some additional common –sense flexibility on how the law tests and counts test scores for both special education students and ELL students.

Comment from Rick Linet 7th Grade Math Teacher:
Alot of NCLB is good to get a handle on consistency of teaching and learning to standards. However, learning is a partnership between the school, teacher, student and family. Right now the only accountability piece points to the school and teacher, when the largest influences are parental involvement and student motivation. Until NCLB addresses students who are frequently absent, do not complete assignments, and disturb others, it is unrealistic.

In addition passing a paper test does not mean that students are capable of using a number of the standards in real life situations. Project Based Learning is more relevant to alot of today’s student as well as more engaging.

Our education system for what it was meant to be, mass education is the best in the world. We accept anyone who enters the front door. A number of different educational options have to be offered to students sooner, starting in 7th grade, rather than 9th.

Let me know how I can be part of a National Committee to influence education.

Question from Christine M. Panarese, Math Curriculum Specialist, K-8, Dighton Public School, Massachusetts:
As uncomfortable and demanding as NCLB is, cannot we not all agree that students and staff members have grown in their content knowledge and understanding of math since its implementation? Have we all not raised the bar on our responsibility for research driven, best practice instruction and student expectation for learning? Is it fair, after all our hard work, to have unrealistic timetables for meeting with “proficiency?” Does this not undermine the growth and motivation of our instructors and students?

Antonia Cortese:
I agree that NCLB has had some positive effects. The AFT supports amending NCLB to give schools credit for students’ progress not just meeting the proficiency target. This would be a fairer and more accurate measure of how our schools are doing.

Question from Lisa Gaither, teacher, Bannerman Learning Center:
With the desperate shortage of teachers in my, and other states, why is the Government making it MORE difficult for teachers to stay in the classroom? Why aren’t they helping teachers get the training needed to make them HQ?

Joel Packer:
Lisa, while NEA believes that every child should have a qualified teacher, we agree that the NCLB “Highly Qualified Teacher” rules have done little to improve teacher quality and created major problems for certain categories of teachers, including special education teachers of multiple subjects and rural middle school teachers.

We would like to see the law changed to provide states with more flexibility in these areas in order to recognize the reality and diversity of schools and teachers.

We also think that ESEA can do much more to improve teacher quality through programs that provide mentoring for new teachers, improved professional development for all teachers, financial incentives to attract and retain teachers in hard-to-staff schools, and improved working and learning conditions such as smaller class sizes.

Question from Melanie Carter, Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher, Baltimore County Public Schools:
In what ways has NCLB impacted gifted and talented education?

Antonia Cortese:
Most schools are reporting an increase in the number of students who are taking AP, IB or honors classes. However, the AFT is concerned that in many districts NCLB has narrowed the curriculum.

Question from R McKanna, teacher, Harvey Elem Santa Ana Unified CA:
What kinds of changes are being proposed for school choice and supplemental tutoring(voucher tutoring)in the reauthorization? Are the unions taking any stance on teacher/tutor qualifications in what has become a national 2 billion dollar industry with no regulations and terrible abuses?

Joel Packer:
NEA has serious concerns with both of these programs. First, there is little research-based evidence that either of them improves student achievement or closes achievement gaps.

Second, the law requires that up to 20% of a school district’s Title I funds be diverted from classroom services to pay for choice transportation and SES.

We are also opposed to loopholes that exempt private SES providers from federal civil rights laws.

NEA proposes that there be a separate funding stream to pay for these programs, that states and schools have flexibility in designing school improvement plans that may or may nor include these, and that these programs be better targeted to students in the subgroups that fail AYP.

Question from Nancy Kleppner, PDRT, Jefferson Elementary:
Respectfully,I ask--what can be done? I do not know any educator who fully supports NCLB. Who has the ability to formulate a plan which fairly assesses teaching? No good teacher minds being accountable (we are first accountable to ourselves), but lets make it reasonable. For example, I have seen good teachers bring children from single digit scores up to 40 or more. Granted it is not the magic “50", but it is a significant score. We need schools and teachers like that, but this is not normally recognized, nor are these schools given much more chance to prove themselves with their methods.

Antonia Cortese:
We agree that teachers do not need more burdensome and demoralizing requirements, such as having their effectiveness judged solely on student test scores or some arbitrary merit pay program. Like other professionals, teachers want to be successful in their work and have a work environment that encourages success. AFT supports changing AYP to include credit for progress.

Question from Diane L. King, Director, Communications and Public Affairs, American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), AFL-CIO:
I have two questions.

1. What are the obstacles to getting NCLB repaired and adequaltely funded? Impeachment?

2. What is happening with the unfunded mandate lawsuits filed by the state of Conn. and also the NEA lawsuit?

Thank you for your excellent work in getting this law fixed and funded!!!!

Joel Packer:
Thanks Diane. As you probably know, NCLB passed Congress with strong bipartisan support. It is not a partisan issue. There are many Democrats and Republicans in Congress who have serious concerns with the law. Every day more members of Congress are either sponsoring bills, signing onto bills already introduced, or publicly raising concerns.

The key to getting the law changed is for educators, parents, and the public to talk to their members of Congress. Let them know how NCLB has affected school and students. Send them an email. Go to their town hall meetings. Call their offices.

NEA has collected stories form 3,400 educators about NCLB. You can see them on our website:

Our lawsuit is still pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Question from Richard Packer, New York Public Schools:
There are 50 states and 50 standards for performance and accountability. If the government is going to get into the business telling schools they need to meet standards. should we have a national Federally mandated standard for all schools in all states?

Antonia Cortese:
It is problematic that we have 50 states and 50 standards. The AFT recommends funding through NCLB for consortia of states to develop common strong content standards, curricula and assessments. This would create some solid models of standards and assessments that other states could adopt:

Question from M. Turner, Research Analyst and former teacher:
I often here the NEA refer to using multiple measures, instead of just standardized testing. Just what multiple measures should be used? And how will you ensure that they are reliable and valid?

Joel Packer:
We strongly believe that an accountability system based on two statewide test scores is not a valid or reliable way to measure student learning or school quality.

We have proposed that states be allowed to include other measures, which could include other statewide tests, school district assessments, classroom portfolios or performance assessments of students, graduation rates, attendance rates, percent of students taking honors or advanced classes. We do not want the federal government to mandate that each state include each of these measures.

Each state would develop a matrix or formula that weights each of these factors, and would have their plan subject to peer review and approval by the U.S. Department of Education.

Question from Debbie Furtado, teacher,Taylor School:
I would like to know what provisions are being made to enable towns and cities throughout our country to provide our schools with new and updated computer systems and the necessary software and hardware to educate our students to meet the rigors of NCLB?

Antonia Cortese:
All schools should have the tools necessary to help students. The federal E-rate program has provided significant resources that have helped schools close the digital divide. Another important component is professional development for teachers and paraprofessionals to use this technology.

Question from Chass Hood, mentor, DPS:
Isn’t it unrealistic to expect all students to achieve at the same levels, regardless of individual differences and needs? For example, how can students with IQs in the 70s achieve at the same level as students whose IQs are, say, 95 and above, when they don’t even understand the test readings/questions?

Joel Packer:
Chass, the issue of how to appropriately test and count test scores for students with disabilities is clearly one of the problematic areas of the law.

The Department of Education has acknowledged that by issuing two policy changes that provide some flexibility for students with cognitive disabilities. They can take tests based on alternate or modified achievement standards.

NEA believes however, that the law should be changed to eliminate arbitrary federal limits on how many students tests scores from such tests can count for AYP. We believe the student’s IEP team should make the determination as to which test is appropriate for each child and if the child reaches the respective proficient level of such test or is on the path to proficiency, then such score should count for AYP.

Utilizing growth models will also help alleviate the problems for this group of students.

Question from Cathy Cuff-Ed Development Manager-Science, Inspiration Software:
What big changes do you think need to take place for NCLB to be a more realistic and functional policy? (Question for both guests)

Antonia Cortese:
AFT has a set of 18 recommendations in the following four areas: assessment and accountability (AYP), support for struggling schools, school staffing and adequate funding:

Question from Phyllis Turner, Winton Forest PTA President:
What role does the NEA and the AFT see for PTA’s in this equation?

Joel Packer:
Phyliss, one of NEA’s goals’s for the ESEA reauthorization is to increase parent and family involvement and engagement in schools. As an example, NEA supports increased resources for the Parent Information Resource Center program.

PTAs can and should play a major role in advocating for federal policies that would help parents become more involved in their children’s education. I suggest that local PTAs work with NEA local affiliates to jointly work for needed changes and improvements to the law.

The National PTA has just released its proposals for reauthorization. NEA is in general agreement with them.

Question from Phyllis Kitchens, Music Specialist, Evans Elementary:
How will new changes give teaching time back to music and art teachers who see children for only 30 minutes per week?

Antonia Cortese:
The AFT supports a broad and rich curriculum for all students. Check out AFT’s professional journal, The American Educator, for an article “The Neglected Muse: Why Music Is an Essential Liberal Art.”

Question from Dave Edwards, Ed Specialist, Organization of American States:
Inherent in NCLB is a tension between the professionalization and deprofessionalization camps over the “highly qualified” standard. Could you unpack this term as it is understood by NEA and AFT and how each are or are not working with teacher education institutions (like AACTE) and others to address the issue of teacher quality from within the profession?

Joel Packer:
Dave, NEA believes that every teacher must both understand their subject (have content knowledge) as well as be able to effectively teach that subject to an increasingly diverse group of students (pedagogical skills).

NCLB’s HQT definition focuses solely on content knowledge. We would like to see the definition for new teachers also include a requirement to demonstrate teaching skills.

We oppose current loopholes that allow people going through alternate route programs to be considered “Highly Qualified” for up to three years before they even complete their program!

The Higher Education Act can also be strengthened to improve the quality of teacher education programs to ensure that teachers have both content knowledge and teaching skills.

Question from Leslie Collins, Staff Attorney:
What changes in the reauthorization do you feel are most important to ensure that NCLB does not have a negative impact upon students with disabilities?

Antonia Cortese:
The best way to protect students with disabilities under NCLB is to have the IEP team determine appropriate assessments for students with disabilities. In addition, the federal government should not impose an arbitrary cap on the percentages of students who can take these alternate tests.

Question from Nikki Steptoe, IEP Coordinator, S. Academy:
I am in the middle of the annual comprehensive evaluation required by our system to determine AYP. My students have a combination of emotional disabilities and learning disabilities. This process is very frustrating for the students to say the least. For test administrators it can be very disheartening to see our children struggle because of the anxiety caused by this test, while we know that our students are very bright and have skills that this test could never show. I was just wondering in general what your views are on AYP in relation to the special education population?

Joel Packer:
Nikki, we share those concerns.

We believe that each student’s IEP team should determine which assessment based on which standards is appropriate for that child. There are currently several options for assessing students with disabilities (more than five + years after the law was enacted!).

As I said in a previous answer, the federal government should not impose national arbitrary limits on how many students’ tests scores from alternate tests can count for AYP. We also believe that the federal government needs to do much more to assist states in developing better quality assessments and accommodation for special education students, as well as train teachers on these issues.

We want all students to be included in the system, but we want to make sure accountability is fair, valid, reliable, and reasonable.

Question from Kendra Hunter,Exceptional Students-Paraprofessional:
When is the government going to address the needs and concerns of NCLB? When are state assessments going to be modified for special needs students? How can I become a lobbyist for NCLB?

Joel Packer:
Kendra, anyone can be a lobbyist on NCLB! All you need to do is contact your member of Congress and your two Senators! Tell them your views in your own words, by phone, by email, or in a letter.

Get your colleagues and friends to do the same. Join forces with local NEA affiliates and other organizations.

Members of Congress do listen to their constituents!

Question from Diane King, AFSA, - the union for school administrators:
Do you think that the fact that the school administrators and teachers were not involved in the creation of the NCLB law in any meaningful way, contributed to the many flaws in the law, the underfunding, and the law’s sheer failure to reach its main goal of closing the achievement gap?

Antonia Cortese:
The only way this law is going work is if it reflects the realities of the classroom. The AFT is doing everything we can to make sure our members’ voices are heard on Capitol Hill.

Question from Ray Phelps North Hardin High School Radcliff,ky.:
Mr. Packer What is the primary goal of the NCLB law? Do you feel a need to have national legislation to reach that goal?

Joel Packer:
Ray, NEA agrees with the goals of NCLB – improving student achievement, closing achievement gaps, and ensuring all students have a quality teacher. These are all goals NEA has long supported in our efforts to ensure every child a great public school.

We do believe the federal agreement can and should play a supportive role in education. We have long supported program like Title I, after school, and teacher quality that were part of ESEA.

Our concern with NCLB is that it is too prescriptive, too focused on tests scores, too punitive, and under funded.

Our Positive Agenda proposes a series of changes that will provide educators the tools and resources they need to improve student learning.

Question from Jim Vaughan, Math Teacher, Riverside High, Pittsburg, CA:
Exactly how does the Federal government get away with dictating requirements without paying the bill for it. The reason I want to know, of course, is I want to try this same trick at the gas pump next time! Another thing I want to know is why is ANY representative or senator backing this joke when they now know, for absolutely certain, that it is based upon the fraudulent and flawed model developed in Houston, Texas.

Antonia Cortese:
The AFT believes there should be significant changes made to NCLB. Congress should keep its promise and fully fund NCLB.

Question from Karen B., assistant professor, Indianapolis:
NCLB has led to many schools and districts creating expectations of teachers that are not sound teaching practices. I would like some feedback on how the groups envision putting professionalism back into teaching. Along those same lines, schools and districts have gone to extremes that are preventing teachers to do what the colleges are encouraging pre-service teachers to do. It’s time that non-educators and those who have been away from the classrooms to stop making decisons for educating the future and allow the professional educators to advance in their practices.

Joel Packer:
Karen, we agree that classroom teachers and other educators should be and need to be involved in decisions that affect schools and students.

NCLB was passed in 2001 with little input form educators. We have worked hard to raise the teacher voice to Congress, through several testimonies by local teachers and by our publication, Voices From the Classroom that has 400 stories of NEA members about NCLB.

We would also like to see provisions in the law that ensure that decisions on implementing ESEA at the state and local level are done in true collaboration with teachers and education support professionals. Our proposed changes to AYP should also alleviate the unintended negative consequences of the law, such as narrowing of the curriculum.

Question from Lynette Waterhouse Teacher -GCS#7:
What NCLB leaves behind are the other content areas that are important for our children-Social Studies, Science, etc. The emphasis on Math and Reading is important, but so too are these other areas. When and how will NCLB address those areas without a constant emphasis on test and report?

Antonia Cortese:
Although the AFT does not want to increase the testing burden on students by mandating tests in every single subject area, we strongly support a broad and rich curriculum for every student. Where there are blocks of time devoted to reading and math instruction, we have to figure out how to infuse content-rich materials into that instruction as well as ensuring that these other content areas are taught during the day.

Question from Diane King, AFSA, principals and administrators union, washington dc:
Do you think it will be reauthorized in it’s present form, or any form for that matter, this year?

Joel Packer:
Diane, getting ESEA reauthorized this year will be difficult. There is no consensus yet in the Congress on what changes should be made to the law. There are conservative Republicans calling for virtual repeal, other Republicans calling for improvements and fixes, others calling for negative things like private school vouchers, some Democrats calling for changes and improvements, and many freshmen who are critical of the law.

In addition to the politics, it is a very complicated statute – 1,100 pages long with lots of interrelated parts.

NEA wants to see improvements to the law. We don’t want Congress to rush through reauthorization without providing adequate time for input from teachers and others, and without adequate time for interested parties to review and comment on proposed legislation. I don’t believe it wil be reauhtorized as is.

Question from Ginny Lane, JD, Retired, disability, Boston Teachers Union Local 66 AFT:
What can be done to ensure building safety and good air quality in the classrooms by both AFT and NEA is consistent. It is critical that children have a healthy classroom environment in order to learn. Also, I am concerned that standardization of requirements for teaching nationally is ‘sterilization’ of the process of teaching which is more artistic than technical because teachers need to be effective motivational communcators in order to attract the children to the subject matter they are teaching. It is troubling that administrators have carte blanche to hire and fire with little consideration applied as to the teachers can hold the attention of the class, with scripts that the teachers are reading from, creating ‘Stepford’ type classrooms?

Antonia Cortese:
A good learning environment depends on building safety, good air quality and other important environmental issues. AFT has just issued a report entitled “Building Minds, Minding Buildings” that can be found at

We are also recommending that NCLB include a “learning environment index” to address these issues and others. See our recommendations for more information on this and other NCLB issues:

Antonia Cortese:

I want to thank everyone who participated in this chat for their insightful questions. We look forward to continuing the conversation.

Joel Packer:
I want to thank Education Week for the opportunity to participate in this chat and share NEA’s views. I also want to thank the people who submitted very insightful questions ansd comments. For more information on NEA’s policies:

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this informative chat on a very important topic. And a special thanks to our two guests for taking time out of their busy days to address your questions. This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly on

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