Despite its opposition to using existing standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, the National Education Association is now supporting the idea that student learning should be used as part of the teacher evaluation process.
“N.E.A. is and always will be opposed to high-stakes, test-driven evaluations,” said Becky Pringle, who is the secretary-treasurer of the N.E.A., while addressing the organization’s 8,200-member assembly.
As the White House has led efforts to improve teacher performance, the N.E.A. has struggled with finding a way to join the administration while still protecting the interest of its members. Yet, due to budget cuts and layoffs, the union has lost over 30,000 members during a time when legislative efforts are attempting to lessen collective bargaining rights in Arizona, Tennessee, Wisconsin and other states. Given all that the union and its members is currently facing, union president Dennis Van Roekel feels it is “the worse environment for teachers I’ve ever seen.”
Last year at this time, union leaders were challenging the Obaman administration’s push for charter schools and for the use of high-stakes standardized testing. This year, union leaders are calling for members to embrace change, but to do it on their own terms. In fact, the assembly voted on Monday to endorse Obama and to provide the president with financial support during his 2012 presidential run.
“There is an organized effort to place the blame for the budget shortfall squarely on the shoulders of teachers and other public workers, and it is one of the biggest scams in modern American history,” Vice Presidentrecently told a group of educators.
According to Biden, the differences between the current administration and the union is more like a dispute between members of the same family. The Republican agenda, on the other hand, is far more detrimental to educators.
“All of the Republicans are worse on education than Obama,” said Bertha J. Foley, who is a middle school teacher in Fort Myers, Florida, in a recent New York Times article. I’m not saying I agree with everything, but you have to pick the least evil, the one who will do the least harm.”
Still, it is undeniable that the teacher’s union is sending mixed messages to its members. On one hand, union leaders are encouraging solidarity. On the other hand, they are asking teachers to embrace reform.
“They’re just shifting back and forth,” said Jana Wells, who is a 53-year-old Republican teacher in Glendale, California. “And on the endorsement of Obama, it’s scare tactics – it’s like if we don’t do this right now, our enemies will win.”
Yet, according to Segun Eubanks, who is the director of teacher quality for the union, the union’s new policy is meant to guide state and local union chapters. Furthermore, the policy is meant to close the gap between local union chapters that have already agreed to use test scores and the union’s policy against their use. By making certain changes to the policies, the union can now offer the proper support to those chapters while also moving forward on research regarding the impact of standardized tests.
“What it says is, now we are willing to get into that arena,” said Van Roekel. “Before, we weren’t.”
Under the new policy, teacher collaboration, teacher practice and student learning are all to be used in teacher evaluations. The tests, however, are to be “developmentally appropriate, scientifically valid and reliable for the purpose of measuring both student learning and a teacher’s performance.” According to Douglas N. Harris of the University of Wisconsin, this policy essentially excludes all tests that are currently in use. Eubanks, however, feels the new national Common Core curriculum standards could make it possible to create tests that can meet the policy’s guidelines.
Nonetheless, how this policy statement will actually affect state and local union practice remains uncertain.
“At the national level, what they are proposing really lacks much specificity at all,” said Sandi Jacobs, who is the vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which is a nonpartisan advocacy group based in Washington. “There really isn’t much to hang your hat on. And with so many states and locals already out of the gate, it’s hard to see what new proposals they are bringing to the table at this point.”
Many teachers who work in states where standardized scores are already being given a lot of weight agree with Jacobs’ assessment.
“It’s already too late,” said Priscilla Savannah, who is a seventh-grade science teacher in Louisiana, where standardized test scores are about to be heavily considered when conducting teacher evaluations. “It’s going to take a major fight, and a lot of money, to change anything now.”