NEW ORLEANS (PAI) - The National Education Association is openly splitting with the Democratic Obama administration over federal education law, shining a national spotlight on a dispute between the president and the nation's largest union that has persisted even before Obama took over the Oval Office.
In a July 3 keynote speech to the 3.2-million-member union's annual Representative Assembly here, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel criticized the administration's continued use of student test scores to measure schools.
He called on the 9,000 delegates to pressure lawmakers to rewrite federal law to let other factors to be considered in determining if a school gets federal education aid.
The NEA opposed the current incarnation of federal education law, GOP President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, even before it was passed in 2001, and since then as well. NEA also unsuccessfully sued Bush's government for funds the law promised. NCLB is up for renewal this year. Van Roekel says not only is the law flawed, but the funds are still lacking, too.
The teacher union says the law relies too much on standardized tests, forces teachers to "teach to the test," shortchanges anything other than math and English, and makes it too easy to cut off federal funds to public schools and shift them - via vouchers - to private schools, a key right-wing cause.
The NEA also says the law's measures of adequate yearly progress (AYP) are so rigidly pass-fail that schools that make tremendous progress but don't reach the mark in a particular year automatically flunk - even if the only reason is student absences on test-taking day. If a school flunks, state officials can take it over and turn it over to private companies, fire everyone, divert its money to private schools or all of the above.
Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan has kept the basics of AYP and the "pass-fail" aspect of NCLB, Van Roekel, a Phoenix teacher, told his delegates.
"While we applaud the administration for its commitment to fund education, our members are frustrated by the disconnect between what they need each day to support their students and schools and the federal policies that hold up struggling students as products to be tested," he said.
"Tell Congress the reauthorization" of the NCLB "should include real funding and not require us to compete for resources," Van Roekel said. "Tell them it should scrap AYP and instead actually support student learning! Tell them to replace NCLB's mind-numbing, high-stakes, pass-fail testing system with a system of multiple measures and focus on student growth."