NEA Embraces Reforms for Teacher Preparation and Development

The nation's largest teachers union has voiced its support for a variety of reforms to improve the teaching workforce.

Tougher standards for incoming teachers, a system of peer-assisted teacher evaluations and an injection of teachers into policymaking positions were the cornerstones of a new policy agenda outlined by the National Education Association (NEA) last week.

After considering input from the union's 3.2 million members and the NEA Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel announced these new focuses for the union at a press conference. The union, the largest teachers union in the United States, will put all of its influence and lobbying prowess behind making these changes happen at the local, state and federal level, Van Roekel said.

"The status quo is not acceptable... I hope this (agenda) generates all kinds of conversation," he said. "I will put the full weight of our national organization behind this effort."

The NEA's agenda has three primary components:

  • Teaching candidates would be required to finish a full year of residency before receiving a license. Perspective teachers would also have to pass a classroom-based performance assessment before being licensed.
  • Compensation and responsibilities for teachers would be tiered: Novice, Professional and Master, with advancement based on effectiveness. Van Roekel established a goal having implementing 100 peer-assistance review programs, which are based on structured mentorships and classroom observations, in the next three years.
  • Teachers would be trained to participate in policymaking discussions with administrators and legislators. Van Roekel pledged to train 1,000 teachers for leadership roles in the next few years.
All three goals would require support from policymakers at the local, state and federal level, Van Roekel acknowledged. For example, changes to the requirements for teacher licenses would likely be handled at the state level, and revamping evaluations may be addressed on a state and local basis. Developing leadership roles for teachers will likely be a focus for local unions and school districts. Meanwhile, the federal government has a role to play in providing some financial incentives and ensuring accountability, Van Roekel said.

Some places would likely be more receptive to these ideas, Van Roekel said. He referenced the success of peer-assistance review programs in Columbus, Ohio, and Montgomery County, Md. Others, such as states where state government leaders have recently sought to restrict collective bargaining, would probably not be a focal point for the union in the near future.

The general ideas presented by the NEA are not necessarily new, said Chris Minnich, membership director at the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO), but the union's support could be crucial in seeing them implemented. CCSSO has also been advocating for similar policies, he noted.

In its 2011 report, the National Association of State Boards of Education's (NASBE) Study Group on Teacher Preparation, Retention, Evaluation and Compensation outlined a set of policies similar to the ones proposed by the NEA. While lacking some of the specifics of the NEA agenda, the NASBE group recommended that teacher preparation programs include a residency experience and that teachers be familiarized with how to use data and technology in their instruction. Another recommendation advised states to establish a new system that would monitor the performance of teacher preparation programs.

NASBE also encouraged states and schools districts to institute a multi-year induction program for incoming teachers, which would pair them with mentors for development and feedback, as well as "clearly defined horizontal and vertical teaching and leadership pathways," coordinated between the state, preparation programs and school districts. The recommendations for evaluations included peer assessments and multiple measures of a teacher's effectiveness.

Many of those suggestions overlap with the NEA's directives and other ideas that have been floated in education reform circles. Following the NEA's announcement last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement in support of its agenda. The union's plan "outlines some necessary steps for transforming the teaching profession," Duncan said. "I also applaud the NEA for creating the commission and empowering it to push for what is right for students."

CCSSO's Minnich acknowledged that there will be challenges in implementing such sweeping reforms, particularly in states with tricky political ground to maneuver, and he said teachers unions must be willing to compromise with school districts and administrators in developing specific policies. But last week's announcement represents an important step forward, he said.

"These are really important issues that we have to address as a community," Minnich said. "Rhetoric from the [NEA] is really exciting. However, they've got to deliver on this and work with people as we try to get to these places."

Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.