By Mike Antonucci
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Education Association often feels itself to be the target of education reform, so it routinely generates reform campaigns of its own.
The latest in the series has its roots in December 2010, when the union formed the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching (CETT) to “craft a new teacher-centered vision of teaching and the teaching profession.”
The commission produced a report the following year, which was well-received in many circles – including here at EIA – and led NEA president Dennis Van Roekel to hold a press conference in December 2011 to announce a “new three-part action agenda to strengthen the teaching profession and improve student learning,” under the heading of “Leading the Profession.”
The three parts of the action agenda were “raising the bar for entry,” “teachers ensuring great teaching,” and “providing union leadership to transform our profession.” Each item had specific and measurable goals to be reached:
* “…the implementation of at least 50 high-quality residency programs over the next several years and teacher performance assessments in at least 10 state licensure systems.”
* “…establish at least 100 new Peer Assistance and Peer Assistance and Review programs over the next three years.”
* “…train 1,000 accomplished teachers to be voices for their profession, both as instructional leaders and at all levels of policymaking.”
While this had all the earmarks of being a major NEA campaign, it still hit a hurdle at the 2012 Representative Assembly when a group of influential delegates sought to “address internal barriers to organizational engagement about teaching quality and student learning” by involving UniServ directors in teacher quality issues. The idea was a CETT recommendation. UniServ staffers are state affiliate employees partially funded by NEA to deal with labor and political issues. The delegates voted down the proposal by a substantial margin.
Van Roekel is now introducing a new campaign, called “Raise Your Hand,” designed to follow on the progress of the “Leading the Profession” campaign. But Raise Your Hand has a few things Leading the Profession lacked. It has four components instead of three, it has a logo and, best of all, it has a $3 per member special assessment budgeted for it.
The four action items for this campaign are “successful students,” “accomplished professionals,” “dynamic collaboration,” and “empowered leaders.” And, like its predecessor, each item has goals – the training of 1,000 teacher leaders, the establishment of at least 50 peer review programs (down from 100, it appears), the creation of an online professional collaboration system involving 30 state affiliates, 250 locals and 30,000 members, and the development of a leadership training curriculum for 200 selected teachers.
Whether these goals will be reached or, having been reached, will actually result in better public schools, is open to debate. It is also unclear whether these kinds of initiatives will actually generate the laudatory press NEA seems to think they deserve.
The ultimate test of NEA’s reform program won’t be an acknowledgement by the public of the union’s role in improving education. It will be an endorsement by the rank-and-file members and staffers of an approach that places teacher quality issues on an equal footing – at least – with grievance, contract and compensation issues.