ISTE, NEA Tackle Role of Feds in Education

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What should the role of the federal government be in education? With the imminent exeunt of the Bush administration, the National Education Association (NEA) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), among others, have each begun developing their positions on the question in the hopes of influencing the next administration and Congress to embrace significant policy changes.

In its "Presidents Panel" at the NECC 2008 conference in San Antonio, TX Tuesday, panelists got together to discuss what they would tell the next President of the United States about the role of the federal government in education. Responses from the panelists--current and past ISTE presidents, as well as industry representatives--included "the need for strong federal leadership in education technology and adequate and reliable funding to achieve equity" and the "need for authentic assessment models, case studies and research to showcase the many successful ed tech projects and programs."

Said ISTE President Trina Davis, "We can accomplish so much more with our collective voice by getting plugged into organizations like ISTE and advocating at the local, state, regional, national and international levels."

As we reported previously, ISTE has also joined with a number of other education advocacy groups, including the National Education Association (NEA) for a public service campaign designed to bring ed tech funding and other issues to the forefront of the debate between the major presidential candidates.

Meanwhile, NEA itself is taking a more aggressive approach. The association this week released a scathing reproach against No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which it described as failing to live up to promises, and called on the future leader of the United States to transform the government's role in education.

The push for change at the federal level includes a new policy paper called Great Public Schools for Every Student by 2020: Achieving A New Balance in the Federal Role to Transform America's Public Schools. It calls on the federal government to drop its role as a manager of state and district responsibilities and adopt the role of supporter.

To this end, NEA is recommending more stringent enforcement of civil rights laws to improve access and opportunity in schools, funding for current and past federal mandates and legislation, and assistance in creating "capacity at the local and state levels for school transformation."

"Federal education policy needs more than a legislative tweak here and there," said Reg Weaver, NEA president, in a statement released to coincide with the report. "A change in the White House must bring fundamental changes in how the federal government treats public education. The government must move beyond testing, labeling and punishing, and begin partnering with states to close achievement gaps for all students. The federal government has a critical role in public education, and should focus on equity, opportunity and targeted assistance to underserved communities. At the same time, the government must respect the role of states and school districts as the primary providers of education services."

One presidential candidate, Barack Obama, has already expressed support for NEA's position. He sent a letter to NEA members that read: "I applaud the NEA for its efforts to frame the agenda outlined in Great Public Schools for Every Student by 2020. This document provides a roadmap for educators, elected officials, policymakers, and all who care deeply about the future of our children to consider and debate in the days ahead. And it provides critical starting points for a new educational compact."

NEA characterized NCLB as being "obsessive" about testing, as "treating children as no more than test scores," and as judging children "based solely on standardized test scores at the expense of preparing them for the real world ... without providing basic resources."

The complete policy paper, along with additional information, can be found on NEA's site here. (This link includes a PDF of the full report, an executive summary, and additional details.)

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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