Teachers’ union criticizes Obama for relying too much on charter schools, test scores

By Libby Quaid, AP
Saturday, August 22, 2009

Teachers’ union criticizes Obama on schools stance

WASHINGTON — The National Education Association pointedly criticized the Obama administration, saying the president is relying too heavily on charter schools and standardized tests in his attempt to overhaul the nation’s schools.

“We urge the administration to step outside of this narrow agenda,” the nation’s largest teachers union said in a public statement filed Friday with the Education Department.

The comments reflect that Obama has taken positions on school reform that conflict with teachers unions, an influential segment of his Democratic base.

NEA official Kay Brilliant said the adminstration already knows about its concerns. “This won’t come as a surprise,” Brilliant said. “We’ve done our best to also praise them for the things they’ve done well.”

At issue is a competition for $5 billion in competitive grants for states to pursue innovations sought by President Barack Obama. Obama’s “Race to the Top” competition, funded through the federal stimulus law, prioritizes charter schools and performance pay for teachers based on their students’ academic performance.

Rules for the competition say that states cannot have restrictions on the use of student test scores in the teacher evaluation process; California, Wisconsin and Nevada currently have such restrictions. Education Secretary Arne Duncan also has warned that restrictions on charter schools could hurt a state’s chances.

“Despite growing evidence to the contrary, it appears the administration has decided that charter schools are the only answer to what ails America’s public schools,” the 3.2 million-member union said in its 26 pages of comments.

Charter schools are public schools that operate with more independence, usually without union teachers.

The union also said: “It is inappropriate to require that states be able to link data on student achievement to individual teachers for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation …”

The NEA said evaluations are a local function and that the federal rule would interfere with union contracts.

An Education Department spokesman did not immediately respond to the NEA’s criticism.

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