The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest teachers union in the country. With 3.2 million members, the organization is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to education reform. NEA’s clout was on display last week at its annual meeting and representative assembly, which attracted over 9,000 delegates and eight presidential candidates: U.S. Senators Joe Biden (D-DE), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Chris Dodd (D-CT), and Barack Obama (D-IL), former North Carolina Senator John Edwards (D), Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM), former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R), and U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
On July 2, Dodd, Edwards, and Clinton addressed the delegates, and although all three voted for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, they stressed that the law is in need of serious revision. “It’s time that we get this law right,” Dodd said, adding that NCLB needs higher funding levels, among other things. For their part, Edwards and Clinton focused on the testing aspect of the law, with Edwards saying that the tests “do not tell us what we need to know about our children” and Clinton asserting that the test is “becoming the curriculum when it should be the other way around.” In addition to NCLB, the candidates addressed other education issues. Clinton used the opportunity to call for universal preschool for four-year-olds and smaller class size. Edwards talked about improving low-income students’ access to college.
When he spoke on July 5, Obama called “No Child Left Behind” one of the “emptiest slogans in the history of politics,” adding that Congress had “left the money behind.” Obama also took on the controversial topic of merit pay, saying that that not only should teachers’ salaries be increased across the board, but also that performance-based merit pay ought to be considered in public schools—an idea that the NEA is very much against.
“If you’re willing to teach in a high-need subject like math or science or special education, we’ll pay you even more,” Obama said. “If you’re willing to take on more responsibilities like mentoring, we’ll pay you more.” He added that he wanted to find new ways to increase pay that are “developed with teachers, not imposed on them and not based on some arbitrary test score.”
Admitting that he was “as out of place as Michael Moore at the NRA convention,” Huckabee said that education is an issue that “must cut across party lines.” He said that the presidential debates have focused heavily on national security, but “there is another issue of national security, and it is the education of our children.” Huckabee also said that heavy emphasis on testing has led to a narrowing of school curriculums, which contributes to the national dropout crisis because students need access to subjects that excite them.
Biden called public education his “top domestic priority” and said that lawmakers could provide more money for education by ending the war in Iraq, which costs about $100 billion a year, and by rolling back the Bush administration’s tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, which costs about $85 billion. He also said that the nation must attract 100,000 new teachers into its classrooms and provide them with the competitive salaries and respect needed to keep them there.
Complete coverage of the NEA’s annual meeting is available at http://www.nea.org/annualmeeting/index.html.
|NCLB Reauthorization Continues to be a Top Priority for President Bush
On June 25, in a joint appearance with U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and the 141 high school seniors who were selected as 2007 Presidential Scholars, President Bush called the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) “one of the top priorities of my administration.” President Bush identified more accountability for high schools, an expansion of the Advanced Placement program, and extra funding for underperforming schools as some of his priorities for NCLB reauthorization.
The Congressional committees responsible for producing the legislation to reauthorize NCLB want to see the law’s revision finalized this year. Education observers note that the House Education and Labor Committee is trying to vote on a draft rewrite of NCLB before the August recess, with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee likely to consider its version of the rewrite sometime in the fall. Whether Congress will actually pass a reauthorization of the law before it adjourns at the end of the year is still up in the air.
At the Presidential Scholars event, President Bush explained that students who are selected for the program have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, artistic excellence, leadership, citizenship, service, and contribution to school and community. The president drew a big laugh from the audience when he said that the program started in 1964, when he was a senior in high school. “I didn’t make it,” he deadpanned.
President Bush’s speech to the 2007 Presidential Scholars is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/06/20070625-7.html.
Secretary Spellings’s announcement of the 2007 Presidential Scholars is available athttp://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2007/05/05022007.html.