Van Roekel: The NEA Plan for Teacher Accountability

By Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association

This summer, the National Education Association took a historic vote and adopted a new policy statement. It put us on the record, for the first time, as calling for a comprehensive overhaul of both teacher evaluation and accountability systems to improve professional practice and advance student learning.

Why now?

The myopic focus of the current education reform debate promotes lowering professional standards, finding quick and cheap ways to rate teachers based solely on tests, and making it easier to fire “bad” teachers while lowering the bar to enter the profession.

The irony is that teachers themselves have long complained that evaluation systems are broken. They have been some of the most forceful advocates for better evaluations linked to meaningful feedback and support. What’s been missing is sufficient guidance – developed by and for teachers – to help navigate this challenging and complicated environment.

The policy statement is an opportunity for NEA and our members to assert ourselves in a debate that has been raging for years. We know that current systems for teacher evaluation and accountability can be improved, but too often in the past we have simply taken a defensive posture, trying to prevent damaging policies instead of promoting those that will actually raise student achievement.

We have heard all of the bad ideas. Now it’s time for us to take the lead, and draw on our experience to propose policies that will actually work for students. This is our profession and our responsibility.

Our new policy statement lays out rigorous standards and delineates the multiple indicators of teacher practice that must be taken into account in an evaluation and accountability system. It clearly articulates the link between teacher accountability and student success and defines an appropriate evaluation system. And it signals a commitment to a new, more prestigious profession of teaching:

  • It includes student learning and growth indicators as one of three key components of evaluation systems.  
  • It calls for a well-designed system for improving a struggling teacher’s practice, and should that teacher not improve within a specific time, the policy statement provides for a fair and expedient dismissal process. 
  • It calls for support for beginning teachers so that they will not just stay and survive, but thrive in the profession.

In adopting this policy statement, our members said loud and clear that we want to raise standards for the teaching profession, not lower them. And we want to provide leadership on one of the toughest education issues today.

Now the real hard part begins, as we start to translate this policy into action. We have a chance to define the teaching profession for the next generation, and we will not let that opportunity slip through our grasp.

Dennis Van Roekel is president of the National Education Association and a 23-year teaching veteran.