(New) Business as Usual

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This year's Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly of the NEA produced several notable new business items.  Most scathing, perhaps, is New Business Item C, which outlines the NEA's displeasure with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's methods and priorities.  This thirteen-point treatise could easily overshadow shorter indictments of education reform, such as New Business Item 93:

"NEA will publicly oppose Teach for America (TFA) contracts when they are used in Districts where there is no teacher shortage or when Districts use TFA agreements to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions."

If TFA corps members are paid the same wages and benefits as other new teachers in their districts, what cost savings do they offer (other than negligible recruiting costs)?  And since corps members comprise a minority of district teachers, how does the NEA expect that they can drown out the voices of rank and file union members?  According to a 2009 Policy Studies analysis, 95 percent of corps members' principals rated corps members as effective as other beginning teachers coming from schools of education.

The NEA's opposition to TFA is not new.  We here at NCTQ share the NEA's goal of high-quality education for all children, but we are less concerned with their route to certification and more concerned with their classroom effectiveness.  And as our reviews of ed schools in Illinois and Texas show, traditional teacher preparation has not cornered the market on effective teaching- in fact, they can leave much to be desired.  And yet the NEA takes another jab at TFA in their rebuke of Secretary Duncan, criticizing him for "promoting programs that lower the standards for entry into the profession."  As our Illinois report concludes, traditional teacher prep programs hardly raise the standards for entry into the profession.

It's time for an honest dialogue on teacher quality, including training and classroom effectiveness.  But that won't happen until we leave entrenched ideology at the door.

Marisa Goldstein