NEA Teachers Step Up

Last year the National Education Association (NEA) took a courageous step by creating a Council on Effective Teachers and Teaching (CETT) and giving them independence and power to make recommendations to transform the teaching profession. On December 8, they moved forward by releasing the commission’s report. In doing so, NEA leaders showed themselves to be serious partners in reform and strong advocates for students and teachers.

The CETT’s report, Transforming Teaching, was written by 20 practicing teachers who took a year to think creatively and imaginatively about how to reform their profession. Their recommendations call for teachers to take on the enormous responsibility to lead their profession in new directions. It treads in some controversial waters–minimizing tenure and last-in, first out practices–in favor of peer review and a focus on identifying, developing and supporting effective teaching.

As Maddie Fennell, CETT’s chair, says, “For educators to be recognized by the public as professionals, they must create a field that has an identifiable body of knowledge, that trains teachers in that knowledge, and that decides who is able enter and exit the field. We–as a profession–don’t do these things.”

CETT has several core recommendations to transform this vision of teaching into a reality, including changes in the way teachers are prepared, evaluated and compensated. The report describes a compensation system under which teachers are paid as professionals based on their effectiveness in the classroom and on their career path, not by current method of rewarding them for degrees earned and years in the classroom. The commission believes that teachers should be evaluated using student growth as one of several measures. Others could include peer review, principal observations, and student or parent feedback. And teachers need to be involved in making school decisions so that professional learning is targeted to teachers’ needs and reflects the realities of the classroom.

The commission’s report reflects what is happening in states and school districts across the country. My home state of Illinois recently passed a new law that tackles some of the most important issues facing the teaching profession, such as when to grant tenure, how to identify teachers who need support and development, and how to use our best teachers to improve instruction in other classrooms. Following the release the CETT report, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said, “It’s up to us to own our own profession. I think the union is an important part of that.” And Maddie Fennell affirmed, “The boldness will come from those who choose to do the work to make this vision a reality.”

I applaud the leadership that the NEA has shown in creating this commission and releasing the initial report, and I look forward to following the NEA’s work in the future.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education


  1. I am also not impressed by rewarding teachers according to years in the classroom, since mere membership in the union assures longevity. Possessing an advanced degree, on the other hand, may be relevant to enhancing teacher productivity. But it is not clear to me that an education degree would pass the cost-benefit test.

    If educators wish to be recognized as professionals, they might consider suspending the union from the classroom. Instead, participate outside the workplace in a professional association akin to the National Society of Professional Engineers.

    • Most teachers do participate in professional associations outside of school?

      And the union exists because, unlike engineers –who work on projects that are quantitative, not qualitative–, teachers exist in a workforce where outside forces tend to dictate job retention. Their individual ability is only as good as what the random politicians believe about the teaching workforce overall. Their skill is only as good as the random member of the public’s opinion (a random member, who subsequently doesn’t have children in the school). Their respect only goes so far as their students’ performance on a test, when outside factors (such as parental support for the student, community support for the school, district level funding and equity in funding distribution, amount of ESL students in the school, amount of students with learning disabilities in the school, and the list goes on. . . .) impact these scores, and are out of the control of the teachers.

      But anyway, the main message is, most teachers, at least the ones in my area, do participate in professional associations outside of the union.

  2. Why is an NEA initiative, a trade union for teachers, being promoted on a Federal website?

    The NEA stifles innovation in education and protects unprofessional teachers. Perhaps if they had higher standards for their membership, society would view the profession more favorably. Unfortunately, the years of damage has been done, which is evidenced by the poor state of the US education system.

    • I have to agree is Fritz. The NEA has done nothing but damage education in this country and promoting the NEA on a Federal website only shows the Department is run by Unions who promote retaining unworthy teachers, not educators, and yes there is a difference between a teacher and an educator.

      • The difference starts in the homes of the children. I have students that come to school without notebooks, pencils, or paper. Their parents do not check up on the progress of their student. As teachers our hands are tied. We want to believe that every child is entitled to an education here in America, although, three disruptive students could destroy a classroom and nothing ever gets done. I don’t blame the teachers. I blame the parents for having children and not paying attention to them or their education.

  3. As a mother of two and as a woman in her fifties who has just earned her Master of Education degree.
    I am poised to serve our nation and her citizens.

  4. This report is not realistic and cannot work. We think that the profession need to be democratize .
    We strongly believe that a system in which everybody is held accountable and share strategies in a collaborative way from stakeholders, to students including parents and teachers would be the best initiative for the 21st century. For this purpose, we advocate for a system that would promote in each district a rotative assignment of highly qualified teachers in different schools (within the district) after a minimum of 5 years or maximum of 10 years in the same school, a system in which after a certain number of years, a teacher meeting the require qualification, should be eligible or be elected at a leadership position ( principal, vice-principal, etc..), a system where teachers are evaluated by administrators in a fair way and administrators are evaluated by teachers in the same manner, a system in which administrators are not appointed but elected staff, and finally a system where teachers are stuff with strong background knowledge in their content and delivery strategies, not just “babysitters” one.

    • Teachers, and especially substitute teachers are NOT just babysitters!!
      What a quaint term used by people who most likely have never been in the classroom.
      I have three degrees.
      Now when I tell people I just received my Master of Education degree, they put their hand on my shoulder and say, “Oh I am sorry, do you have a job?”.

      We are a vital part of our communitites, our nation, the world. Of course teachers are professionals, we invest tens and thousands of dollars, decades of our lives to our communities, adhering and promoting the laws of the land, building character in our youth, and encouraging both the strong and the downtrodden.
      We are the community. We are the parents, we are the neighbors, the consumers, the producers!!!
      As a mother I am very careful whom I allow to ” babysit” my children.

  5. I just read a story where the latest lottery out of the US Dept. of Education went to all swing states in an election year. Nothing political here, right?

  6. The name of the NEA’s new venture is the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching. (See I decided to search for the correct name because the title you published, Council on Effective Teachers and Teaching’s, is grammatically incorrect. The plural of “teaching” is “teachings.” An apostrophe followed by an “s” after a noun forms a possessive. Please edit your blog, and thanks for the updates.

  7. Teachers are backbone of systems.They sow seeds.Why people do,what they do, lies within their parameters of profession.Commended teaching class,when well groomed,brings marvellous results.Family health,including veterans,thoughts,deeds,parenting & country love, can only be written on the clean slate of children,by teachers.Even, after thoughts don’t work. Collaboration of teachers,parents, for students of all classes, is conducive to the prosperity of all.

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