Decision Time for NEA: Students or Teachers?
With the start of a new academic year, the National Education Association (NEA) has begun to promote its new initiatives and practices, which aim to improve public schooling standards in the United States. “Raise Your Hand for Public Education” is one of these initiatives that strives to achieve this goal with input from educators, rather than lobbyists or politicians. “We want to harness the passion of our members – professionals who were drawn to this field because of their creativity and drive to help students – to prepare the next generation of leaders,” said NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel. According to the NEA, “The initiative has identified four simple yet ambitious goals: successful students, accomplished professionals, dynamic collaboration and empowered school leaders.” These are admirable objectives, but the NEA must implement tangible policies in order to meet them.
One such policy is the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which would standardize curricula in participating states in an attempt to homogenize the material taught in public schools in America. On his Back-to-School Tour last week, Van Roekel appealed to NEA members across the country to embrace CCSS: “Even with all the divisiveness surrounding education, 45 states agree on the Common Core State Standards,” he said. “The Common Core standards will help ensure that all of our students are able to think critically, solve problems and attain global competence. “ Despite these claims, educators have expressed many concerns with CCSS. The most prominent of the issues teachers have with CCSS is that they will cause more schools and teachers to be labeled as incompetent, resulting in punitive action against the parties involved. This debate forces Van Roekel and the NEA to find the proper balance between their stated mission of advocating on behalf of education professionals and the mission of their new initiatives – improving public education for the students.
Developing a precise system for quantifying teacher merit is a longstanding education policy issue, and CCSS may be a solution to this issue, as it is beginning to see success in communities that have enacted early implementation systems. Chippewaw Middle School in Des Plaines, Illinois, one of the stops on Van Roekel’s Back-to-School Tour, has seen great improvements in student performance thanks to CCSS. Lisa Kocis, a literacy and language arts teacher at the school said, “it took a while for everyone to get on board, but we’re already seeing the benefits. Our students are speaking and listening differently, they’re thinking more critically, and they’re on the path to successful learning across the board.” While teachers and schools may be unhappy with the prospect of being rated based on their performance according to CCSS, the additional pressure is inconsequential as long as there is a noted improvement in student performance.